I believe that nothing new, really revolutionary and new, has come along in the past 50 years.
The Theory crystallized as I was watching Bonnie and Clyde, the 1967 movie that supposedly changed the way we see movies. I caught it first in the cinema. It did feel different then, perhaps because everything felt different in the Summer of Love. Watching it again last week, however, I was struck by how not-different it was from other great Hollywood movies. Apart from throwing in its lot, and by extension ours, with the bad guys, and a shock ending, Bonnie and Clyde is as square a movie as The Jazz Singer.
The two bank robbers, quite early on, meet a mechanic called C.W. Moss. (In the Mad Magazine parody of the movie, he became W.C. Mess, which I have always thought was as good as satire gets. A suite of jokes and a character summary, all in five syllables.)
In that scene, Moss wears denim pants and a denim jacket. Not because it was fashionable; in the Depression era Midwest, such clothing was affordable, which was essentially all that mattered. (Earlier on the day I watched the movie, I had walked about London in exactly the same denim jacket.) While Moss considers opting for a life of crime, Clyde stands by an ad for Coca-Cola. This was the 1930s. I looked down from the computer screen, in 2009, at an exactly similarly-shaped bottle of Diet Coke I was enjoying.
The Depression attitudes in the movie fit neatly into what I'd read in that morning's newspaper: bankers as villains. Nothing new under the sun, they say.
Sputnik and the whole space exploration thing were new. But 100 years after the Wright Brothers' first flight, flying still relies on hurtling down a runway fast enough to achieve take-off, and landing is a matter of stalling the engines a few feet off the ground.
The flivvers Bonnie and Clyde stole were boxy Model Ts, which came only in black. Today's ugly boxes come in any color you like. Big deal. That ain't progress.
as for insurance ...
And then there's insurance. What's changed in the past 100 years? Not much. Oh, we have sophisticated computing power and models and loss dodecahedrons, but the wind blows and half the companies fall down. The Dow sinks, and so do the other half.
My grandmother's life spanned innovation like no lifetime before it. When she was born, no man had flown and lived to tell the tale. By the time she died, men were standing on the moon. The pony trap gave way to the Aston Martin. Medicine was invented. Life expectancy soared. That was an era of change. This is an age of stagnation.
The promise of a shiny new tomorrow has foundered, it seems, on a global lack of vision. Lack of vision? Hell, we're as badly off now as were 100 years ago. Same staggering amount of ignorance. Same people in charge. Faster pace, is all.
Some things never change.
Near the end of Bonnie and Clyde, C.W. Moss takes the injured and hapless bank robbers to his father's house. Unsurprisingly, the father is bitterly disappointed by his idiot son W.'s on-the-job performance.
ROGER CROMBIE is a Bermuda-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
August 1, 2009
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