Yesterday Is Not Today

"Immortal masterpieces" don't always have the same resonance.

It's commonplace to complain that Hollywood has no good new ideas and that everything they release is a remake, a sequel, a rehash, Yet Another Superhero Blockbuster, or filth so vile they simply couldn't make it before without being arrested.  Yet every now and again an original concept manages to emerge from the fetid lefty swamp that's fresh and thought-provoking.  Such a film is Yesterday.

The story centers around Jack Malik, a South Asian living in Suffolk, England playing guitar in bars and failing to get much of anywhere.  One dark night, he's hit by the proverbial bus and wakes up in hospital.  After a suitable long recovery period appropriate to single-payer healthcare, he's wheeled out into the arms of his grateful friends for a welcome-back party and a new guitar to replace the one the bus smashed.  He tries it out with his favorite song, the Beatles' classic "Yesterday."

To his befuddlement, none of his friends recognize one of the most famous songs in the world, a song he's played for them countless times before.  Instead, they're blown away by his newfound ability to write gripping original music and lyrics!

One montage of Google searches later, Malik realizes that, in this otherwise-similar alternate world he's in, nobody has ever heard of the Beatles!  (Or Coke, or smoking, or Harry Potter, as it turns out).  Having loved the Beatles' music and played it for most of his life, he's well prepared to simply write it all down and start performing it, to thunderous acclaim and vast, surging wealth.

The rest of the story goes more or less as you'd expect it to, and your time will not be wholly wasted enjoying this cheap but well-crafted little popcorn flick.  It raises an interesting philosophical question, though: would the Beatles' music actually be successful if it was newly introduced into the world as we know it today?

The Hour and The Man

The movie even alludes to this question when Malik performs "Back in the U.S.S.R." in a Moscow nightclub to an enthusiastic audience, none of whom were alive when there was a USSR any more than he was himself.  What about this song would be gripping to people who, to the extent that they understood what it was talking about, would have a rather different perspective on the topic from either the actual Beatles or the Beatles' real-world audiences in the 1960s?

Obviously, some themes like love are universal and eternal.  Different eras address them in different ways, though: Frank Sinatra's rendition of "Love and Marriage" has a certain similarity of fundamental subject matter to the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps," but there the similarity ends.  Idolizers of Sinatra from his glory days wouldn't make it through the first stanza of the latter song, and Peas fans would fall asleep or snicker to Old Blue Eyes.

Then there's the question of the performer.  Great artists always infuse their art with themselves - their life experiences, their heartaches, struggles, joys, and triumphs.  Malik, while indeed living in England, was hardly a postwar Englishman; he'd never even been to Liverpool where the Beatles grew up.  Whatever their songs may have meant to him personally, their meaning to him surely wasn't the same as to the Beatles themselves.  Regardless of the technical merits of his performances, how could they be "the same" sufficiently as to have the same revolutionary results?

We see this in other fields of human endeavor all the time.  Try reading Jonathan Edwards' famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."  Even assuming most moderns could make it through to the end without falling asleep or collapsing in laughter, it's hard to imagine much of a response beyond "Meh...okaaayyyy, whatever."

Yet at the time Edward preached it, his warnings of eternal peril were so gripping that, history records, his audience physically grabbed onto the pews with white knuckles for fear that their sins would drop them bodily into Hell that very moment.  You can see where their nails dug into the pews to this very day.  Historical context is everything.

Which brings us to politics.  Many Americans yearn for a president with the eloquence of a Kennedy, the ethics of an Eisenhower, and the sunny optimism of a Reagan.

But if a Republican tried to roll out "Morning in America" today, at least half the country and all of the media would be screaming that he was trying to blow smoke up their backsides, even though, for example, we are currently enjoying an economic boom longer and greater than President Reagan's.  A Republican could have Kennedy's eloquence, but we'd mostly never know it; we know Kennedy's through the incessant repetition of a handful of admittedly historic and meaningful soundbites.  Wanna bet whether the same courtesy would be extended to any Republican today regardless of eloauence?

You might think, well, maybe not a Republican, but surely they would for a Democrat, right?  Well, what memorable words have come from recent Democrats other than debating the meaning of the word "is" or speaking of wiping a server like, with a cloth?

Barack Obama was hailed as a golden-tongued orator.  Quick: think of something memorable he said!  Anything?  Anything at all?  "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor" isn't particularly inspiring and it's hardly reminiscent of Honest Abe in any sense.

People create the culture - and the culture creates people, too.  Consider Donald Trump.  There've been rumors about him running for office since the 1980s, when he was just a local property maven, ant not yet a reality-TV celebrity.

He could easily have run for mayor of New York City, like fellow-billionaire Michael Bloomberg did a few decades later.  He probably would have won, too; and what sort of politician would he have been? Most likely, one much like Mayor Bloomberg was: a competent leader who was fiscally conservative but socially liberal, as Mr. Trump himself was way back then.

A good mayor, possibly a great one; but not presidential timber.  Yet in the 1980s, his style would have had to have been much more cultured.  We know he's capable of this as Dr. Carson said; he just chooses not to because his current vulgarian aggression is what the electorate requires.

Yes, our politicians have changed for the worse, but so has their audience.  An electorate weaned on the crass boorishness of "My Humps" and the women-hatred of rap, the blatant lies and sexual assault of Bill Clinton, and - let's face it - the mangled syntax of George W. Bush and Donald Trump is ill-equipped to appreciate the lofty thoughts or classical allusions that were expected of our leaders right through the 1960s.

The mobs screaming "Christians to the lions!" in the Colosseum in Rome may have been heirs to the cultural richness of Socrates, Virgil, and Plutarch, but like ill-educated and morality-free modern heirs such as Paris Hilton and Hunter Biden, they were unable to add to it or even appreciate what their forebears had wrought.

That's where we find ourselves today.  The music of the Beatles would be ignored today if it were new, just as would Beethoven's symphonies, Uncle Tom's Cabin, or even - dare we say it? - our formally beloved but generally ignored Constitution.

What will replace them?  Well, what do we see replacing it every day?  The political equivalent of "My Humps."


Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

The weight of cynicism and generally half empty glass...aligned with a devolving society makes this article well worth the read.....Sadly, far too true.

November 29, 2019 11:17 AM

Spelling has also been relegated to the past.It's "timbre, not "timber."

December 1, 2019 5:34 PM

Just registering. "Timbre,"not "timber."

December 1, 2019 5:35 PM
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