This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

January 27, 2005 - popular culture

My family has found some new favorite movies. For a long time, our household was dominated by the extended versions of Lord of the Rings. You do NOT want to play LOTR trivia with my wife and daughter; their knowledge is encyclopedic.

More recently, we brought home some oldies from the library. "Duck Soup," "A Night at the Opera," and "Road to Morocco." The first two, of course, are Marx Brothers movies. The last is one in the series of "road movies" featuring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour.

These movies are just wonderful. And it does my heart good to hear my ten year old son humming "We're off to the Road to Morocco." I myself have mastered some of Groucho's wilder dance moves.

And because both my wife and I are librarians, the flood of additional movies, books, quotes, websites, etc., has begun. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from Groucho (Julius Henry Marx, although probably written by the screenplay authors):

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

"From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter.
Some day I intend reading it."

I'm intrigued by several things about these movies. First, the whole family can watch and find them funny. Second, there's not much meanness in them. People tend to poke fun at themselves, not others. Although not all contemporary humor is mean-spirited or vicious, much of it is.

On the other hand, these older shows often have a hidden bite, surprisingly sly cultural commentary. You can see both the rough handling of immigrants, and their own warmth for the downtrodden, in "A Night at the Opera," for instance. "Duck Soup" is a hilarious parody of war and politics.

Over the past couple of weeks, there's been some metro area newspaper coverage about the rising purchase and use of non-book materials at Denver Public Library. Some view this as the cheapening of culture, a turning away from serious literature. Others see it as "giving the people what they want." A similar battle, notes Denver Public Library's Head Librarian Rick Ashton, went on a hundred years ago when libraries opened children's departments.

My take on the topic is that movies (and music) are an important part, even an index, of what goes on in our culture.

Should libraries stay away from videos because Blockbuster sells them? Well, there is indeed some overlap between the video store and the library, just as there is between the bookstore and the library. But my experience is that libraries tend to spur use of both, not rob them of business.

Moreover, just because we buy movies doesn't mean we don't buy serious books. Let me recommend one I'm reading now. It's called "Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime." It details the conflicts between our magnificent federal constitution, and the alarming attacks on civil liberty that have often attended national conflict.

Like other public institutions, the library operates in an environment of both changing and differing expectations. Offer comedy, and you're abandoning your educational role. Offer serious literature, and someone is bound to think you're seditious.

"A Night at the Library" -- it would make a good Marx Brothers movie.

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