Social Commentary

Seven Ages Revisited

LAKE MACBRIDE— One can like Shakespeare and dislike Erving Goffman, the sociologist who used a dramaturgical analysis to demonstrate a relationship between acts in our daily lives and the acting of actors in the theater. Goffman won awards and stuff, but knowing who he is and his seminal work, “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,” is like insider baseball in the 21st century.

With the proliferation of television, and its changing content over half a century— its lean toward programs with people acting out a reality— theater is often forgotten, except in schools and among devotees of the trade. Yet, Shakespeare endures, Goffman does not, the latter’s work being eclipsed by the popular notion that we “don’t need the drama.” In contemporary settings, drama is a thing, recognizable, and something eschewed, especially within the working class.

As much as I like it, “As You Like It,” where the seven ages of man speech is found, was not my favorite Shakespearean play. That honor is reserved for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Richard III,” or “The Merchant of Venice.” In any case, the seven ages may need an American revision to accommodate the post-industrial society. First, the setup,

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages…”

Goffman has not ruined this, but close.

“At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;”

No argument here, as being born and infancy represents our first age in society. In some American circles, people prefer a union nurse as a place for mewling and puking, but that number seems an infinitesimal compared to a global population of more than 7 billion people.

“And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.”

Check with a grade schooler and you will find most like school, like their teachers, and like going to school. I don’t understand why children are so willing to leave home for school, but in the Midwest, they are. Of course the satchel has been replaced by a back pack as the back pack makers association has seen to that via an advertising campaign targeting schoolers.

“And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.”

Such youthful expiration has become an extension of the age of the schooler. It may be the one place where drama comes into play, as a young lad will say or do almost anything, including being dramatic, to secure the heart (among other things) of his mistress. The male centric outlook of Shakespeare rubs the wrong way here, as acceptance of diverse sexual orientation has been becoming commonplace. Combine that with furnace-like sighing continuing beyond what seems reasonable through the dalliance of people who should know better for their age, and one can posit that the age of the lover is not clearly distinguishable from the age of the schooler, which goes on for much too long.

“Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth.”

Soldier is the wrong metaphor for a 21st century age, as so few people serve as such. We hire our wars done by others, soldiers, mercenaries and contractors. We feed soldiers platitudes like “support the troops” and “honor their service,” as a further means of distancing ourselves from the horrors of war. Such distancing contributes to furtherance of a military complex that is already ubiquitous. There are seekers of “the bubble reputation,” and perhaps that is a better name for an age. The age of bubble seekers, where one spins a cocoon around a life fixed in gratification. A place where one can ask the question, what’s in it for me, with impunity.

“And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part.”

The age of justice sounds so much like a time when people spend too much time viewing televised sporting events in a society abundant with sugary drinks and salted snacks. There is no justice here, except when people contract Type II diabetes and other diseases associated with the fat, sugar and salt they consume in excess. This age seems an extension of the bubble seeker age, only living life in the bubble we created, with some experience of what “works for me.”

“The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.”

The age of bubble seeker redux akin to where the baby boom generation is today.

“Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Better known today as assisted living, followed by hospice. Society seems to be trending to replace the age of bubble seekers with the age of assisted living as early as possible, with 50-plus being the new age for admittance to some assisted living villages.

So there you have it. The seven ages of man reduced to five: infancy, schooler, bubble seeker, bubble seeker redux and assisted living. Ye gods, what have we become?

Social Commentary

Main Street Today

Main Street
Main Street

SOLON— The city recently upgraded the street lights, sidewalks and business entryways to make Main Street more appealing. Mostly successful, Main Street is welcoming… and more handicapped accessible.

With the rise of our automobile culture, combined with an ongoing movement from rural to urban areas,  Main Street suffered. What was a stable rural community developed into a place to live away from work in nearby Iowa City, Coralville and Cedar Rapids— a bedroom community.

Main Street Shops
Main Street Shops

What’s left on Main Street is a conglomeration of businesses: places to eat and drink, a grocery store, a hardware store, a barber shop, a newspaper, and insurance and financial services offices, all serving the needs of locals. It is typical of this part of Iowa.

The city bought a property on Main Street and is expected to tear down the existing structure to build a city hall. A microbrewery with a newly imported chef from the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley is under construction, scheduled to open in July. It’s not like Main Street is dead, it’s not.

Main Street
Main Street

What Main Street isn’t, is a place for a person to open a business with the idea of earning a living from the local population. Do the math. The city had 2,037 people during the 2010 U.S. Census. Add in nearby rural subdivisions outside city limits, and there are maybe another 4,000. In order to generate revenues of $100,000 per year locally, that is about $17 from every man, woman and child in the area. Parting with a 20 dollar bill still means something here, and creating a local, sustainable business seems challenging at best.

The key to success in any business is finding customers. There is no foot traffic to speak of here, so a beginning assumption is that every customer will have to be attracted to a business as a destination. With so many destinations, a Solon business must have a unique offering, and that is the challenge for entrepreneurs. In order to start a business with prospects of success, the work must necessarily begin with two elements that are more important than capitalization: a unique offering and customers willing to come to Main Street.

As we search for a sustainable life on the Iowa prairie, one considers opening a business on Main Street. It is possible to open. The better question is can a local business endure? During the coming months, I will be working on an answer.