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A Shout From The Attic: Notes

...I like America in spite of its mistakes and the ignorant foolishness of some of its people. I have never understood what we used to call the colour bar, or racism. All arguments against outsider groups are monotonous, repetitive, and lacking scientific or common sense foundations...

Ronnie Bray's early impressions of America were formed by Hollywood films.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's vivid life story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

The cinemas were full of films intended either to remind us of the war, the part played by our brave lads, their allies, and the evil nature of our brutal enemies, or else they were meant to transport us from the terrors and anxieties of war, into a world of plenty, phantasy and spectacle. For the most part, they did their jobs well.

It was from the movies that I learned about America, its inhabitants, and its institutions. While I have learned that exaggeration is an essential part of the movie maker’s art, I believe that at least they represented the aspirations of most Americans. I like America in spite of its mistakes and the ignorant foolishness of some of its people. I have never understood what we used to call the colour bar, or racism. All arguments against outsider groups are monotonous, repetitive, and lacking scientific or common sense foundations. Ignorance and fear lie at the heart of prejudice and sinister manipulators overplay their accompanying anxieties. I find all forms of prejudice nauseating.

American films portrayed Native-Americans, Mexicans, and Afro-Americans as simple-minded buffoons. Native Americans or ‘Indians’ were untrustworthy, bloodthirsty, and cruel. Irish-Americans came out a little better, usually portrayed as Catholic priests, policemen, corrupt politicians, or simple-minded buffoons. Chinese, except for Charlie Chan, were half shadows, scurrying and pusillanimous. Only the ‘All-American’ hero had any thunder in his guts or fire in his belly. The American hero was a mixture of devout, invariably Protestant Christian, ethically driven mountain-man, world-class athlete, and all round good guy.

Women according to Hollywood were of two types: angels and devils. Angels waited patiently while their menfolk did whatever needed doing without worrying their “pretty little heads about it”, and the devils got involved with the wrong man, fell in love with the hero and died altruistic deaths to save her love rival and prevent any sort of mess being left after the dénouement. This kind of imaging distorted perception in a young lad whose contact with women was generally unsatisfactory, since they were always in positions of authority, but never in sympathy

There was a greyness about the war that overlaid many aspects of life. Its symbols were everywhere: constant reminders that the nation was in danger. Toy aeroplanes, ships, and military vehicles were normal playthings. The language of war - as we understood it from film and fiction - was the common language of childhood, and yet it all seemed so far away, as if it was happening to another people in another place and in another time. It was at once close and distant.

We had a lodger called Jack, whom I really don’t remember, but I do recall hearing a lot of talk about him. He had joined the army and eventually been posted to Hong Kong. One particular day I overheard talk not intended for my ears that he had been killed in action. Some time later in the day in front of the living room fire my nanny told me gravely, “I have something to tell you.” “Jack’s been killed” I said innocently in a neutral voice. Nanny hit me hard on the side of the head: I had stolen her thunder, which was an unforgivable crime.

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