Never the Same


In my latest novel Never the Same, I sketch  the shift in societal norms from the generation born during the 1930’s to the beginning of the twenty-first century. I view the omnipresence of mass culture through the media of radio, television, and movies as fueling these changes. The entertainment industry and advertising inexorably shaped tastes and stimulated consumerism. Frugality gave way to conspicuous consumption; unwed motherhood eventually lost its stigma. None of these social changes are entirely detrimental as some doomsayers would claim, charging that  all society’s problems stem from the decline of the family and rampant materialism. The openness has also given space for diverse opinions and tolerance of differences.

I see the decade of the 1930’s as a turning point in American history. It marks the end of the insular farm and the beginning of the stark realization that the rugged individual determining his own fate by hard work is a myth. Economic depression taught us that other forces are at work that make or break a family, a community, and a nation–social, intellectual, economic, and geopolitical factors–beyond a single man’s control. The radio best symbolizes the penetration of the outside world into the consciousness of the average American. The music, the soap operas, the commercials, the variety shows, and news broadcasts all would coalesce as taste and opinion makers over the next decades whether we were conscious of its impact or not. Television advertising exploited subliminal messaging. Both the programs and the commercials gradually grew more sexually explicit and employed less wholesome language, making it difficult to decide if they reflected societal mores or were actually creating them.  In any event, the phenomenon seems to work as a reversible chemical reaction–in either direction the results are the same.

The novel is cultural history in that the ups and downs of Ellie Finnegan’s life reflect the changes that are occurring on a national and global scale. They penetrate her story at every turn, although she may be barely conscious of their impact as they happen. She is that Depression era girl who experiences a World War II childhood, comes of age in the 1950s, marries, lives her middle years in comfortable suburbia, develops a career later in life, and has to come to grips with her past. This is a story about America and its heartland. I have synthesized in this novel everything I have witnessed in the course of my own nearly seven decades.  I see my own mother in the Bachmann family–a mother who loved ballroom dancing, who could not miss her soap opera, who loved the stars of stage and screen of the 1930s. As her daughter, I am part of that legacy. The American idol dominates our popular culture–inescapably plastered on billboards and forever gossiped about on talk shows, photographed and written about in the tabloids. This is our reality, too, as 2017 dawns.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Judith on December 28, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    I love the picture of the old radio! We can’t forget the impact of automobiles on the culture, either. My parents went from horse and buggies and very early autos to the space age in the course of 50 years. We’ve gone from the space age to the WWWeb in about the same time. It is a wonder anyone maintains sanity– and the recent presidential election probably reflects the fear people have and the failure of critical thinking–perhaps we are just overwhelmed. Change is generally good, but too much in too short a time frame can be toxic. How to deal with all this without becoming rigid?


    • Definitely the automobile had an impact on our cities, the design of our houses, even dating habits. My father had a love affair with the automobile. He always had to have a new car, and he loved to drive more than anything else. The automobile has changed our landscape drastically with a network of highways. It made possible suburbia. As for mass culture’s effect on critical thinking, that has been profound also. Our opinions are packaged and handed to us through the media and entertainment industries. Teachers have to design entertaining activities rather than using a lecture format to classes as a way to maintain what little attention spans remain. I know I generalize, but I have to agree that the failure of the educational system is reflected in the recent presidential election. Critical thinking was sadly lacking at all levels and segments of our society. Thank you, for your contributions, Judith. It is always gratifying to have my blog post spark comment.


  2. Posted by Jay on April 4, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Really enjoying reading your new novel. Always appreciated the development of your characters. Intriguing, contemplative, & robust. Especially appreciate how the novel reflects current events. Like your characters in the book, we stem from genetics but progress results from experiences, our environment & our choices. The world is dynamic, kinetic, never the same, cell division is necessary for growth, sometimes war & chaos is necessary for peace. I feel a great connection with your novel, thank you.


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