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    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

The upside of escapism
March 2, 2009 - 12:41pm

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to watch an old (old, old) movie -- Trouble in Paradise. It was released in 1932, and starred Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis. Particularly enjoyable to this Rocky & Bullwinkle fan were Edward Everett Horton and Charlie Ruggles in supporting roles. (If that reference doesn't make sense, you haven't watched "Fractured Fairy Tales" nearly enough. And a fairy tale is what this movie is, through and through.)

In the depths of the Great Depression, Hollywood knew what sold -- escapism. Trouble in Paradise is about a rich thief, in love with both an impoverished thief posing as rich and a truly rich widow. With the exceptions of a couple of servants, all the major characters live very, very large. (The foyer and grand staircase in the widow's mansion have to be seen to be believed.) If you're willing to accept the film on its own terms, and the terms of the period in which it was made, it's extremely well made (Ernst Lubitsch directed) and highly enjoyable.

During the opening act, as part of the establishment of the major characters, the writer gets in a number of digs about impoverished minor nobility. One king of a small country is referred to as "the tennis player"; the industry of noble families in general is described as "selling jewelry".

So it struck me that the Great Depression was a significant factor in ridding Europe of the trappings of a system -- monarchy, landed gentry -- whose time had truly passed. Nineteenth century nationalism and World War I were surely major combatants, but the Depression -- if you will -- served the purpose of bayonetting the wounded.

And that leads me to wonder: what will be the broad, systemic changes wrought by the current Great Recession? What major system(s), limping along as recently as last year, are about to drop dead? It's impossible to know what the eventual replacements will look like, but can the likely victims yet be identified so that they can have "do not resuscitate" orders issued?


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