Hey, that’s me here in the little pic with the Peaky Blinders casual cap. I’ve always thought this was a rather dashing look – in fact, I’ve gotten plenty of compliments on it over the years.
So imagine my delight when a kindergarten mom sent me a photo of her son in a similar cap, flannel shirt, Orvis-looking sweater, and beige khakis. He sported a mustache and a pair of bifocals rocking his sweater. A great look by the way.
“My son told everyone he was Mr. Marshall today at school,” his proud mother said. “He wanted to dress like you.”
My ego instantly took off. What a big kid I thought (and he really is). It made my week.
Later I found out he was dressed like a 100 year old man for his class.
Oh well, that was always flattering. This brings me to the contrast between old and new. Our current world is filled with a dizzying array of platforms for people to voice their opinions about the world. There are bloggers, podcasters, ezines, You Tube channels, influencers, ladies in bikinis, and the rabble that inhabits every comment section. The good, the bad and the ugly fight side by side.
Some of these opinions launched on the electronic highway may even concern you.
Recently, a teenage girl told me that she had “disliked” her mother because of politics.
Can you imagine? Unfortunately, this happens all the time.
When I was a boy, parents and loved ones were easily dodged with nimble feet or unanswered phones. Before Amazon, let’s call it (BA), there were places called malls where people walked around stores, teenagers asked for face-to-face dates, old people sat on benches and there there were food courts with free samples. At that time, there were professionals who offered their opinions in newspapers, on the radio or on television.
Over the past decade, it has become harder for professional columnists to complain and criticize society when everyone else is competing with us. Unsolicited opinions are as thick as salt marsh mosquitoes after sunset these days.
One of the possible reasons for this deluge is on our dear smartphones. Phones are a gateway to a global soapbox where anyone can voice their opinion on world issues, complain about sports, or share bigfoot photos.
Recently, I read some statistics about social media trends. Currently, there are 2.91 trillion active users on Facebook, now renamed Meta, and they spend most of their day there. Meta/Facebook is the leader among social media companies with nearly 70% of American adults using the platform.
Most disturbing is that most get their news from it. Ask yourself where your sources of information come from and are they reliable? Has your feed become an echo chamber of reviews?
To figure it out, we have to be our own editor or risk living in Plato’s Allegory of the Cavern.
Who and what are professional columnists?
Let us examine the gaze of the columnist. They tend to have a photo, so you won’t mistake them for someone beautiful. They often have a facial expression that hints at their preferred style of insight. For example, political columnists tend to wear suits, humor writers tend to have a smirk on their face, and the coolest columnists wear hats. Religious chroniclers sometimes have halos.
The origins of American newspaper column writing began in the 1850s, from a tradition of essays and short humorous pieces. Among the early chroniclers were an eclectic group of literary types who realized that chronicle writing could take many forms. It was also a good way to pick up some extra cash (at the time).
It’s surprising to some (not me) that many of the early popular columnists were women. They reviewed the arts, wrote social commentary, reported celebrity gossip, and even pioneered investigative news. Publishers have appreciated the fact that they have increased readership among women, especially at a time when women read more voraciously. Publishers loved it because it was profitable.
Historically, I have admired three columnists, Ralph Waldo Emerson McGill, Russell Baker and Guy Friddell. It all gave me an appreciation for the craft of column writing.
Two of the columnists are Virginians while the third, McGill, was a Tennessee-born writer best known for his work on the Atlanta Constitution from the 1920s to the 1960s.
McGill has often been called a seeker of truth. He was as good at conveying the natural beauty of the south as he was at confronting its darkest flaws.
He wrote one of the best essays on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that I have ever read. He told family-oriented stories and used a humorous style that could enchant — then strike with the tenacity of a swamp-raised cottonmouth.
Baker was originally from Virginia. He was a master of many genres. At one point it was syndicated to five hundred newspapers. He was also a popular author and Pulitzer Prize winner.
I’ve always enjoyed his nostalgic columns in the Baltimore Sun and his role as host at PBS’s Masterpiece Theater.
My third favorite was Friddell, a longtime columnist for The Richmond News Leader and later the Virginian-Pilot. I liked his quiet humor, his narrative style and his nostalgia with flavors of the south. His collection of columns in the titled book, Jackstraws focused on language, his experiences in the military, and the odd shape of his own head.
For a brief sample of Friddell’s skill as a writer, I present two stellar descriptions of Southern women contained in the “When Southern Women Separate” column.
“Women drop graceful adjectives as naturally as a dogwood tree drops its petals,” he wrote.
He also added this gem: “You should listen, I say, to two southern women talking, the trailing wisteria vines of conversation embellishing a delicate filigree of meaning.”
I salute all the kids who wear flippant hats and speak their minds.