Sunday, October 03, 2021

How Soon They Forget

      Channel-surfing documentaries, one of the surest signs of my own age are the anachronisms that have already started to creep into even serious media.

      One biopic made extensive use of audio tape recordings made by the subject -- interviews and dictation, high-quality, probably on reel-to-reel tape.  And the documentary often used images of tape spooling past the heads of just such a machine to accompany the audio.  Except for one thing: it wasn't magnetic tape.  It was white plastic "leader," used at the beginning (and occasionally end) of a reel of tape to ensure silence and protect the magnetic coating of the actual tape.  It was distracting to hear a voice from the past as plain leader rolled over the tape heads....

      Elsewhere, the subject of a biography graduated first in her class at law school and won a scholarship to Harvard Law's post-grad school, hooray!  Except for one little problem: she did it well before 1950, when that institution finally decided that perhaps us distaff types might be capable of reading for the law.  So she was sent a (polite, give them that) letter of rejection, which was shown on the screen in an over-the-shoulder view of the typewriter as the letter was typed, beginning, "Dear Ms. ...."
      Um, no.   Extremely no.  Feminist Sheila Michaels, though she did not quite invent the title "Ms.," was one of the first serious promoters of it.  Ms. Michaels pushed that boulder uphill from 1961 to 1972, when Ms. magazine hit newsstands* and the U. S. Government Printing Office allowed as how the prefix was acceptable for government documents.  Even at that, using "Ms." carried a faint whiff of brassiere smoke well into the 1980s or even 90s and the easy way out for a woman working among men as an equal was to simply avoid honorifics.  This might not avoid every instance of superglued toolbox locks or "interesting" edits to one's posted licenses, but it helped.
      A pre-1950 letter from a notably stodgy law school would have used "Miss" and been downright sniffy about it.
      These days, "Ms." is invisibly mainstream ("Mx." has stolen the social-critic spotlight, a can of worms with a purple label that we'll leave on the shelf†), so much so that it passes without notice -- even where it should not. 

      If you're making a documentary set within the last, oh, hundred or so years, it'd be pretty cheap insurance to have some old people look at it before the final edit.
* Gee, remember newsstands?

† I'll leave it be other than to note that I will happily use whatever prefix people want to apply to themselves.  It's a harmless drop of oil for the gears of social interaction.  There's plenty of sand in 'em already, and plenty of nitwits trying to pour in more.  I'm not going to make them grind worse.  If someone wants to be "Mx. Smith," or "R. Daneel Olivaw," I'm going along: I am not the boss of them and I'm not the prefix police.  Is it attention-getting to use an uncommon prefix?  Sure -- just like wearing an expensive bespoke suit or having bright-green hair.  Is there some law against wanting to attract attention?  It's a thing humans do.  Not all humans do it, but think of the unwanted attention they're sparing the rest of us!


Bruce said...

Period pieces where photographers misuse Speed Graphic type press cameras bother me. There are enough of us still living who have used them

Boyd said...

Thanks for mentioning Daneel's name. I just watched the second episode of Foundation and the robot assisting the Emperor(s) made me think of Daneel, but I struggled, in my dotage, to recall his name.