Saturday, February 28, 2009

What rôle models really meant

It didn't matter how many curls she had, Shirley Temple was always right, and she always got her way.  She was always more important than anyone else, and Rudyard Kipling was rewritten for her to be the hero(ine).  Like Erich Kästner's Emil, she was the clever one that saved the day.   And of course those other paper dolls that little girls of that cohort had came with coronation robes and other wonderful clothes.  And there were five of the Dionnes.  But Shirley Temple, more than anyone seems to have suspected, formed little girls to think that they (not their little brothers) were the important ones, the influential ones, the capable ones.  The little boys in Hollywood, until Roddy MacDowell, either were in backyard or street packs or wore funny costumes as Freddy Bartholomew did.
Of course, I do not mean the real Shirley Temple, of which we got a tiny glimpse only after the War when she married a soldier.  And I don't know why Elizabeth Taylor, even in "National Velvet", never made the same formative impression.  She was an object rather than a subject, somehow.  And when she began both she and we were already half grown.  Margaret O'Brien did start out as a little girl, but she wasn't heroic.  Natalie Wood was younger.
Of course, the War changed everything, too.  The bare-faced fantasy of the Shirley Temple movies gave way to that of Private Roger Young.   The paper doll princess gave real talks on the BBC.  The real Shirley Temple had, one supposed, a reasonably private experience of puberty.
Whether 1930s Hollywood products were wholesome or not I do not know.  One can argue all sorts of ways.

Friday, February 27, 2009

When can one remember?

Does the brain need verbal language to remember?  As a filing system?  I wouldn't believe much that my mother told me, she was so fond, but I believe that I was as young as nine months, as she said, because, such as it is, the memory is non-verbal and because its only distinguishing character is its causing self-awareness.  I remember how things looked but can't name them, the chatter of adults but no linguistic content.  Children today have babysitters, usually.  Wage-earning parents in 1935 usually did not go out, but when, as a couple, they did so, they had to take the baby to the other couple's house.
The reconstruction is very simple.  They went to play cards and put me, already asleep, to share a crib with the other couple's baby.  At some time I woke up and did not stop crying.  They picked me up and held me while they finished the game, then carried me down the garden path.  I remember looking up into the leaves of, perhaps, a loquat tree
Everything was unfamiliar.  I was nowhere.  I couldn't pull myself up.  Out in the light I had my parents, but everything else was an unknown.  I say, they were playing cards only because my visual memory corresponds, sort of, to kitchen-table card games.  I was afraid, and so I knew I was I: I was conscious.  My next real memory is much later and different.  Most of what one thinks one remembers is anecdotal.  Only this first one is indescribable except by reconstruction.
So, is self-awareness the precondition of memory?
Teegee, by the way, is only a childhood nickname, but I want to have this blog simply to write about interests, not to write memoirs.  I have no idea if anyone will want to read it.