Perhaps I have watched too many episodes of Murdoch, a detective series set in the 1890s and early 1900’s. But I find myself yearning for a nineteenth-century point of view, where (I imagine) there would be no confusing good and bad, or wrong and right.
In my high school days, we spoke with reverence about the great debates of American history. I remember marveling to learn, that once, long before the microphone, a general education emphasized oratorical skills and logic. Skills, which are often sorely lacking in the public discourse of today.
In law school First Amendment discussions, we spent a great deal of time, talking about the Public Forum. This location, like the Roman or Greek forum, was supposed to be a place, where free speech was allowed and debate proceeded, unfettered.
The public forum seems to have morphed, over time, from the Roman forum or colonial town square, to the hustings and soapboxes of the nineteenth century, to various private places, like shopping malls, in the twentieth, to the very devices we carry around in our pockets, today.
At the same time, we have gradually shortened our attention spans. We tire easily of political speeches, and prefer the gratification of splashy entertainment and the split-second flash, of something new on our feed.
The content of our debate seems to have changed over time, as well. More and more people–including myself–consider their opinion worth sharing, without regard to age, education, or expertise on any given topic. And–at the risk of sounding like a snob– also without regard, to whether the topic, itself, is worthy of discussion. A plethora of experts means, it is much harder to find the real experts in the bunch.
I’m afraid all this historical pondering has led me to use obscure, archaic vocabulary in my poem. For which, I heartily apologize.
Hope you enjoy! And thanks for coming by to read.
Complaint is the currency of our age,
The ticket to the Great Debate–
Or podium. Young buck, or sage,
Each struggles, to ingratiate
His listening public, fandom, with
His own uniqueness, point-of-view,
And others listen, gauge his pith,
Remix a version of his brew.
And so the cycle goes, and we,
Who stand aside and hardly speak,
Are quite confounded, secretly.
They wail. We would not make a peep.
Some still recall the Public Square,
Once grand and mighty, full of men
Debating, till they gasped for air,
With elocution, gravamen,
On politics, morality,
On what is art and what is not,
On Life, in its totality,
Why we deserve the things we’ve got.
Look how reduced, the Public Square!
But little pixels on a screen!
No wonder, that they fill the air
With idle gossip, vented spleen.
For while they spin their precious tales,
So self-absorbed, delirious,
We shake our heads and wonder why
TV seems almost serious.
Where are those voices that can lead,
That dare, “Eureka!” to declare?
Drowned out, I fear, by all this screed.
So, rest in peace, the Public Square.
Copyright 2021 Andrea LeDew
For more musings on law school, read River of Grass, written shortly after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.