Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Obscurity of the Day: Those Were the Days

One of the things about our world that makes me despair is that most of us lack even the most basic knowledge of history. No, wait, that's not quite it. I have pretty much come to terms with the idea that many people don't know who was president during the American Civil War, or know when the Great Depression occurred. What actually bothers me is not outright ignorance, I guess. It is the fantasyland people have built around the past. Witness Art Beeman's Those Were The Days, which affords a perfect example. This genre of feature, in which the cartoonist paints an idealized portrait of the past, has been popular since the dawn of newspaper cartooning.

Many of us idealize the past, forgetting all the ills of those times, and repainting them in gay Disney-bright colors. Everything was better then, and if only this horrid modern world would stop moving forward, everything would be just great. This attitude goes well beyond nostalgia, which I suppose is pretty harmless, to an absolute rejection of the world as it is, in favor of one that supposedly, but didn't, exist in the past.

The past was not some idyllic time when everyone was nice to each other and everything cost a nickel. There were the same murders, kidnappings, rapes, and every other vice known today. For every decade you go back, sicknesses become more and more deadly, and its not too long you have to go before simply being born becomes a crapshoot. Government was not once full of earnest Jimmy Stewarts; it was corrupt in many truly spectacular ways that make today's politicos seem downright angelic.Rapacious businesspeople ran roughshod over workers and ruined the environment with immunity. Minorities were treated with all the courtesy of lepers when they weren't being taken advantage of, or, if we go back far enough, enslaved outright.

Every generation longs for the world of its youth. Life and the world seemed so simple then. Well, of course it did, for crying out loud! You were a child. You didn't worry about keeping your job, you weren't wondering if that weird pain that won't go away is cancer, you didn't sit in traffic for two hours a day, and you didn't have a honey-do list a mile long waiting for you when you got home.

You can bet your prized mint-in-box Flash Gordon raygun that people who had rotten childhoods don't feel much love for the 'good old days'. Being smacked around at home as a kid, or worse yet, not having a home at all, is a sure way to avoid the pitfall of revering the "good old days."

Okay. Got that off my chest. On to business.

Those Were the Days was by Art Beeman, the only comic strip credit by him of which I'm aware. The strip was produced for Al "Mutt and Jeff" Smith's weekly syndicate service. It debuted in 1951, almost certainly as one of the original line-up of strips and panels for the new service. (I still haven't been able to pin down an exact starting date for the service -- anyone?). As with most of the Al Smith Service features, Beeman's strip probably went into reprints at some point, but the strip was included in the service's offerings until 1983, an impressive 32 year run. I just don't know how much of that 32 years was new material, and how much recycled.

The strip was consistent not only in content but in format -- each strip began with a superfluous title panel, ignoring that the strip was titled in a headline above, and a middle panel with the caption "But now -- Wow!"


This reminds me of the old line, "The great thing about living in the past is that you can't be evicted."
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