Instapundit called this “a disturbing photo essay” when linking to it a couple of weeks back.
It did disturb me, but perhaps not in the way me he meant it to. (No, I’m not sure. It never does to second guess Glenn Reynold’s intentions.)
What disturbed me more than the pictures was the tone of the post which seemed to – universally – assume that “then” was better than now.
This romantic fallacy, the idea that the past was “simpler” or somehow “cleaner” or “nicer” seems to be part of how humans are built. And it is almost always a hundred percent wrong.
Let me start at the top. First, the “then” pictures are not the same as the “now” pictures. No, not in the obvious way, but in the nature of the shots. The “then” pictures are all, without exception, posed, even those that don’t look it. Trust me on this. I grew up in the sixties and seventies, in a society where few people owned a camera, film was expensive and developing film even more expensive. There is a reason why I – a tomboy in t-shirt and shorts – only have childhood pictures in pretty dresses and holding dolls. This was my mother’s idea of what I should wear and how I should spend my time, and by gum, that’s what we’d show the camera.
Need I tell you that nowadays you can use your phone and take pictures when people aren’t even aware of it? I hope not. At least not if you’re living in the same universe.
So, what is being compared is the “image” someone wanted to project to candid shots. That’s the first issue – and let us pause and be grateful for the material wealth and tech progress that allows us to capture candid shots of men outside Walmart, before we move on.
Let’s move right on to the picture of the people saying grace before the barbecue dinner. Do you see how all the men are dressed more or less alike? All the women are in their Sunday best? This while they’re having fun, mind. And they’re ALL saying grace. (read more…)

No “But I’m not a believer.” No “But I never pray in public.” Imagine either of those there. Can you just hear the “you’re not from around here, are you?” coming from those stalwarts in the picture? Yeah, I knew you could.
Now let’s move on to the gentleman in the t-shirt. Okay, I’ve seen more fortunate sayings to print on your clothing. On the other hand, notice he’s not being jumped and beaten. He’s not even being pointed at by a gathering crowd of gawkers. And I bet you when he got to the register, the cashier called him sir and was polite to him. Beautiful, isn’t it?
The posed picture of the couple is very pretty. If my reading of the time is correct, though, this was a time when the man could have pounded the living daylights out of his wife, and it would mostly be kept quiet, to present a good front to the world. And not only is it unlikely she could have survived financially without him, note she’s wearing an apron in this posed photograph. Can you hear “A woman’s place is in the home?” Yeah, I sure can. Now, mind you, I chose to stay home (and work from home) when we had kids. But would you want that enforced? To the point an apron was a needed accessory of a woman? Think carefully. Would you want that to be societal dictate and assumption?
The lady in the t-shirt is overweight. Many of us are these days and there are many factors. Besides that? Well, she clearly didn’t dress up to go shopping. It is not needed nor expected and no one will think less of her for not doing so. Do you know how many times we realized we were short on milk just as I needed to feed the kid? Or cat food just as the cats started picketing? Her t-shirt? Well, listen, I know women who are that overweight and more and who are very sought after. (And isn’t that lovely, too?) Or even women who wear that type of thing in self mockery. Do we know her? Do we know which she means? Other than elitist assumptions, do we have anything about her? Or are we happy that she can show up in a t-shirt with a funny saying and not an apron? I am! And that women can express their right to reject suitors, in public without fear? Whoo-hoo. We live in AWESOME times.
The next set? Yeah, okay, the “now” picture they’re overweight. Well, by today’s norms so is the “then.” Live with it. Look how vibrantly dressed they are. Their posture itself speaks of the racial equality in our society. This wasn’t true in the thirties.
And the children. Oh, the children. Well, nowadays they’re more likely to see “dancing with the stars” than patriotic parades. I grew up in a village with no tv. Patriotic displays? Sure. You’d do anything to break the monotony. I played at being a princess a lot, and I’m not even a monarchist now. Both of these pictures reveal kids either being manipulated by or trying to impress adults. They mean nothing about what these kids will grow up to be. I can almost guarantee, though, that the modern kids are better fed, healthier and for all the disaster of our public education, have more chances of picking up knowledge outside school than the “then” kids did.
We segue right into parenting with the next two photographs. Let me tell you that were it not for the fact the woman is more overweight than I was thirteen years ago (or now) that could have been me, with my second son. My second son, aka Houdini, perfected the ability to vanish in the second you needed to turn away from him. I’d let go of his hand to count change, and he’d be gone. As much as I hated leashes for children and had only used one with his brother during international travel, I had to revise my opinion with child #2 until he was old enough to understand what running off might mean. Note the woman isn’t walking. She’s stopped there. I don’t know about other people, but lying down like that and looking at the ceiling was one of my kid’s favorite activities. (The other was grabbing onto the leash surfer style, lying down on his belly and demanding I pull him. Depending on the clothes he was wearing, sometimes I did, to much giggling.) As for the “then” picture, other than the fact that the whole family looks like it was put through the ringer – and probably was – those kids probably were beaten (not just what we’d consider a spank) on a regular basis. If they fit their time and place, they were all already working hard. And they wouldn’t be encouraged to question authority. Any authority. Parents, teachers or the lady down the street. I’d rather deal with the “now” kids.
Another thing built into the assumptions in those pictures is the fact that the “then” parents on average probably had a lot more children. Discipline had to be tighter, to keep the brood under control. And while the death of a child has always been a tragedy in every time and place, it was not always the same. I grew up in a place and time of large families. Little Johnny running out of the store and getting run over in the parking lot would be sad but not the end of the world. NOT as it would be now, when Johnny is likely to be an only child, or one of two. That leash is not a symbol of neglect, but of excessive caution.
The next two photographs. Sigh. Picture the “now” gentleman walking into the place of work of the “then” gentleman dressed as he is. If you think he’d get what he has coming to him, congratulations, you are in fact a totalitarian and a dictator at heart. Me, I’m happy he doesn’t get more than a second glance these days.
The next two photographs – yes, the modern lady is very overweight. She has two small children. I would argue that someone with two small children getting that obese reveals more an underlying health problem than the leisure to lay around. In fact, I doubt she has time to exercise. I’m finally getting back into shape now, when I can exercise every day without endangering the boys. With kids that small? No way. So… Different living conditions. I’d still rather live now, when food is plentiful and we can deal better with the health problems inherent in our lifestyle. Now, mind you, I’d never have been caught dead in that ill-fitting shirt, but I guess she has other things on her mind. Like… her kids. And the cashier will still be nice to her, and call her ma’am. Beautiful, isn’t it?
The last photographs? Maybe the gentleman is also thinking he wishes this would copulate. Look, again, yeah, the modern lady is being rude… And who cares? Imagine talking to both of the photograph subjects. Can’t you picture getting grievances from both? She’s just expressing hers more openly because she CAN. A society in which cranky old ladies can be cranky old ladies is a free and safe society.
And that brings us to the comment at the end from the author of the post Compare and contrast our noble ancestors with modern Americans. Then: Poor, yet dignified, with strong family and community bonds. Now: Overfed, government assisted trash who look like shambling monsters.
It won’t be long for this country.

Oh, please. Let’s leave aside the obvious elitism in assuming that anyone who is overweight is on government assistance (does this person know any computer programmers or other chair-sitters, whose long hours of work MAKE them obese?)
Strong community bonds? You can say that again. Strong, small communities that enforce conformity. Having grown up in a village, I’m given to saying, “It takes a village to make a child completely neurotic.” Strong community bonds also means “Don’t you dare be different.”
As for It won’t be long for this country – well those noble ancestors let FDR build the foundations of the leviathan now crushing us. The ones in the pictures probably voted for him all four times.
Instead, I’d sum up this photo essay like this:
Then – strained, down on their luck, provincial people who didn’t even know it was possible to live differently from what they’d been taught and whose desire to fit in and behave like their neighbors allowed the government to manipulate them and incite them in petty hatreds against the “fat cats.”
Now – a well fed, vibrant, open-minded people that allow for the outliers in their midst and are, therefore, the engine of innovation of the world.
The future is so bright, I’ve got to wear shades.