It’s 1945. The sunshine is shining through the clouds that give you the hint of something beautiful, something lovely, something immeasurably and so longingly hopeful. The milkman drops off his bottles at your home, and just after you have your first glass of the day, you ponder the endless possibilities of the universe. You hear a knock at the door, you open it, and it’s the morning paper. You wave at the paperboy as he gets on his bike and waves back before returning to his run. You come back in and take a deep breath closing the door behind you, you brace yourself for whatever news might await you. You take a long draught from your glass and you quickly open the paper so you don’t change your mind. The headline fills you with boundless joy:
“JAPAN SURRENDERS, WAR ENDED”
You imagine all the things and people that made that headline possible. You think of your son Jim, a marine with eyes like almonds and hair like so many bristles on a brush. You think of your cousin Harry, grinning ear to ear, dancing at his high school dance with a girl whose name you can’t recall. You think of your friend Joe, a seaman who liked wine and talking about poetry. He hasn’t sent any letters back, and you hope it’s because it’s hard for people at sea to get letters anyhow. With any luck, they’ll all be back soon. Everything seems so beautiful and shiny and new. We have defeated the greatest evil to plague the earth. Who knows what man can achieve?
It is 1965, and you wonder how so much has changed. You wonder how people could hate your country so much. You wonder why they protest and why they see the need to change things in your country. The ’50s were great and things were on a really great track. But America is losing its way. What about the way things used to be? Why do they have to change things? Things used to be so peaceful before they started boycotting buses. It used to be so great before they started filling the streets with bodies. The police have to restore order. What is happening to our society? Why are we letting them win? The other day you heard Harry knew a guy who had a run-in with one of those thugs trying to infiltrate one of our schools. You wonder if your country is starting to become some sort of wasteland where tradition doesn’t matter anymore. Your thoughts remind you of something Harry said the other night, of communist and Jewish sympathizers, riling up those people to overrun our cities and force our government to capitulate. For a brief second, you think maybe those guys who used to run things in Germany might’ve had the right idea. Sometimes you wish you could take a time machine and just live in those golden years, those 50’s all over again. Back when everyone followed the rules. Back when you could count on everyone around you doing what they’re supposed to and being the same
Well, we here at Duke David Studios have just the film for you!
Tired of waking up and seeing those pesky liberals, feminists, and —err— others protesting in the streets? Tired of extremist violence being more common than the cold? Feeling a case of those old-world blues? A viewing of Pleasantville might be just what you need as an elixir! A film from the good old ’90s, Pleasantville is a satirical film about either conservatism or nationalism or both. Truthfully, I couldn’t tell. Starring familiar faces such as Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, and Jeff Daniels, Pleasantville is a film about a teenager in love with a traditional TV show from the ’50s called Pleasantville. In Pleasantville, everything is perfect. Everyone does what they are supposed to do and without complaint. Without change. Everyone is the same and no one or nothing ever changes. This call changes when Maguire’s character David and his sister are sucked into the TV town they love. Pleasantville goes from a town where it never rains, where every basketball shot makes it through the hoop, where people barely hold hands in public, to a place that starts to look somewhat like the real world. People’s clothes start to have color. Couples begin to kiss even when not behind closed doors. The owner of the local soda shop began to paint, and it seems like things are getting better for everybody.
But people in the town begin to panic. Basketballs aren’t making it into the hoop every time! The soda shop owner’s paintings contain hints of nudity! A committee of like-minded people come together to complain about the erosion of the “old” Pleasantville and all the people doing things other than what they ought to do. They march out in white polos and black pants and harass those who are “colored” (this was the part where the film got a little heavy-handed). They put up signs in shops saying “no coloreds allowed,” until finally, they riot, destroying the soda shop because of the painting the soda shop owner put on the front of it. They throw bricks through the window, then a bench until people go inside and start destroying first the owner’s paintings then all the books in the town. After this, the same community of “non-coloreds” (conservatives for short) passes town-wide laws such as a ban on books and music that isn’t classical or “pleasant.” They bar from entry the parts of the town where “obscene acts” are committed. No colors may be used in any painting apart from black and white, and many other laws are passed that serve to keep Pleasantville “pleasant.” The soda shop owner, Bill Johnson, and that interloper-who-caused-everything David team up to create a huge mural on the side of the police station depicting various things that have been banned.
In the aftermath, David and Bill are put on trial for their depiction of “unpleasant” things such as depicting “colored” women but also various other colored people and untraditional imagery that is deemed indecent and thus unpleasant. David asks for a lawyer but is denied one and his accuser rattles off the list of colors used that had broken the law. David stops him. He gives his accuser a “reasons you suck speech” and talks of liberty, of individuality, and of freedom of choice. He speaks of a new world, full of choice and color and imperfection. He speaks of the notion that all things being the same is a misguided notion of a perfect world. He says that it’s not only natural that things change, but it is beneficial that they do.
Pleasantville resonates deeply with me. When I was younger, I often played a game called Fallout. Most of the game was filled up with various songs like “Civilization” and “Call Out to the Fallout” from Cold War-era America. Their catchiness honestly led me to yearn for the world described in the music, a reborn America pre-Civil Rights Movement, one that seemed shiny and vibrant and new. Today, it is very easy to be nostalgic for a time far removed from our own, especially one more seemingly “peaceful.” Things would have been easier, or at least easier for people like you. But times have changed and things have gotten better for a lot of people. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be even better. And just because the news is filled with pandemics and tyrants and fascists once again, less than 90 years after we beat them in Europe, doesn’t mean we won’t beat them again. We can beat this pandemic and make America greater than it was. The “old world blues” are contagious and have infected a lot of people already sick with ideas about border walls or the pandemic being a hoax. The old world was awful for a lot of people. A lot of them couldn’t vote or live in the same places or go to the same shops or even learn in the same schools as others. Today is better, but it won’t improve without the actions of individuals willing to put their nostalgia where the sun won’t shine.
An Ode To The New World
It’s 2021. You check your phone and don’t really see any inspirational tweets from President Biden. You’re a little surprised but you get one with your day past news about all energy being converted into alternative and sustainable sources by 2035 and focus on the last COVID-19 victim having fully recovered from his illness. You stare at that for the moment and focus on a video of Donald Trump being escorted in handcuffs to a courtroom and turn off your screen and think about how a great many things seem so possible. You think about your friend Seriah, and how her braids fell like strands of the night past the sides of her face and how much safer she feels with the laws passed that increased police accountability. You think about your Cousin Victor and his bouncing, blue-eyed giggling children who are so happy and free. Their neighborhood has gotten much better once a great deal of funding from their police department was redeployed into schools and neighborhood utilities like the library and roads. It reminds you of an article you read stating that the new generation was the happiest in the last decade. You think of the future. Everything seems like it’s going to be shiny and bright and new.
Jay Pade is an editor for Culture & Entertainment at Next Generation Politics. He is a voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy novels and films and is fascinated with how often the situations in them correspond with real-life events. On his average day, he can be found playing a Star Wars video game or talking about how blatantly political most fiction really is.