Was it that old book, Future Shock that prognosticated the coming days when our society would be subjected to a constant stream of changes that would shock the system? I don’t really know, I never read that one. Let’s see what else I can remember about the topic. I can remember my father telling me that “People always resent change.” I think my dad was talking about how people tend to fall into a comfortable embrace of the status quo. And then there was that great line in Jailhouse Rock where popular young singer, Elvis Presley, says to washed-up country singer, Mickey Shaughnessy, “Music changes every six months. If you don’t want to get left behind, you got to change with it.”
So where does that leave us? Is change good or bad? I think it can be both. Think about the changes we’ve gone through in the last couple hundred years in this country. Aside from all the wars there was the Lost Generation and the Roaring Twenties, which gave way to the big stock market crash of 1929, the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. A pair of tough guys named Hammett and Hemingway started a new style of writing that proved that less was often more. A journalist named john Steinbeck followed the migrating hoards westward to the new Promised Land: California. He wrote a series of articles on their trials and tribulations which he would later fictionalize in his novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Across the sea, on both sides of the ocean, drums again began beating. A brutal civil war raged in Spain, with the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany supplying opposite sides. While the Japanese began a brutal march to conquer all of Asia, a former house painter named Adolph Hitler, who had been one of the most decorated enlisted men in the German army in WW I, rose to power in Germany and began his sinister campaign to conquer Europe.
Initially, the United States was reluctant to send our boys overseas again to fight “Europe’s war,” was opposed to entering another conflict. Then something changed again on December 7, 1941. We entered the largest, most brutal conflict in recorded history. While World War I was horrendous, it was a war that combined the elements of Nineteenth Century warfare (Horses and human message runners) with a sinister new innovations (enhanced machine guns, airplanes, tanks, and poison gas). By the time World War II got under way, the weapons had become even more sophisticated. We beat Hitler, uncovered the extent of his monstrosity in the death camps of the Holocaust, and managed to split the atom to end the conflict with two definitive punctuation marks: the mushroom clouds at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a changing world, all right.
Some great American writers came out of the War: Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, and James Jones to name a few. The pulp magazines continued to provide, as Elmore Leonard said, “a place to be bad.” More great writers honed their craft on those rough paper pages and came to prominence in a new format: paperback pocket-books. Originally designed as quick, portable reading material for our GI’s, the format quickly gained in popularity. Paperback originals became best sellers. At one cocktail party in New York, a haughty literary critic purportedly accosted tough guy writer, Mickey Spillane, and said, “I find it absolutely disgraceful that eight of your books are on the list of the top selling books of all time.” Mickey squinted at the guy, looked him up and down, and replied, “Aw, shaddup. That’s only because I haven’t had time to write the other two yet.”
The times, they were a changing . . . especially in the book world. The pulps disappeared, leaving a big gap in places where young writers could learn how to write. Mysteries, once the red-headed stepchild of the literary world, emerged as one of the most popular genres, along with sci-fi, romance, and horror. Literary critics lamented, but some of the best writers of the Twentieth Century began to emerge in those genres. Publishing houses merged into the big five after being bought by some European conglomerates. The midlist writers were left dangling in the wind a couple times by uncaring publishers. (“Keep your advance; we’re not publishing your novel anymore.”) Book stores, once the plentiful refuge of readers everywhere, began disappearing faster than ice water on a hot, July afternoon. Enter the kindle. Books, as we know them, are dead, many proclaimed. “E readers are the way to go,” they said.
Are they right? I don’t know, but I sure hope not. I’d like to bring up another old saying: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
So how do we cope with all this constant change in our lives? I guess the same way we always did, by taking it one day at a time.