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K.S.Sivakumaran's columns!
In Search of America! 
by K.S. Sivakumaran 

John Steinbeck Travels with Charley (A French poodle) or the famous writer's Love Affair with America was a best selling paperback published some 40 years ago. In 1960, John Steinbeck (then 60 years old) travelled all over America to rediscover his own country. 

John Steinbeck
John SteinbeckHis first hand experiences are beautifully described in his inimitable style in this book. It was indeed an extraordinary odyssey. His novel The Grapes of Wrath was written 84 years ago. Recently I saw a movie adapted from his novel in a classroom in a High School in Cincinnati. It was part of a learning process in a Language Arts class for Grade XI students. And his other books including East of Eden and Of Mice and Men were classics. Some of his books are taught in High Schools in the U.S.  America in the early 21st century is not what it was in the 1960s, naturally. Reading this travelogue recently, I found several passages of striking interest. 

Here is a sample of Steinbeck writing: "I thought I might do some writing along the way, perhaps essays, surely notes, certainly letters. I took paper, carbon, typewriter, pencils, notebooks, and not only those but dictionaries, a compact encyclopaedia, and a dozen other reference books, heavy ones. 
I suppose our capacity for self-delusion is boundless. I knew very well that I rarely make notes, and if I do I either lose them or can't read them. I also knew from 30 years of my profession that I cannot write hot on an event. It has to ferment. I must do what a friend calls "muller it over" for a time before it goes down...." 

Fifty years of TV guide in America 
Reading about the launching of Crusz's book on Lankan television prompted me to write a little note on a book on 50 years of a Television Guide in the U.S. One of the most popular weekly magazines in America, reaching 30 million readers is "TV Guide" Since April 3, 1953 it is in continuous publication. 
The publishers brought out in 2002, a volume of 272 full-colour pages with more than 250 photographs. It also included more than cover pictures of the Guide with relevant notes. 

The book presents an overview of American popular taste. When the Independent Television Network in Sri Lanka started operating first within the premises at Torrington Square, I could remember the late Chandra Munasinghe, Arjuna Ranawana, Sharmini Boyle and a few others working for the ITN then. 
For entertainment, some American and British TV programmes were channeled. ' Jesus of Nazareth', 'Who Pays the Ferryman', "Dynasty", "Charlie's Angels", The Knight Rider", "Sesame Street" "Crown Court", "The Cosby Show', "The Jefferson", were just a few entertainers the Lankan audiences enjoyed. Brief accounts of a few productions like this along with colour photographs of these productions are included in the "TV Guide Fifty Years of Television". 

The Great Gatsby 
One of the earliest American novels to portray the 'American Dream' was 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitgerald. Power, Money, Luxury, Social standing - that's the dream described in the novel. Nick in this fiction struggles to attain his vision of the perfect American Dream. 

But he is disillusioned. His encounters with the cream of the society - the upper class- teach him that the perfect life he perceived was not really perfect. He soon realizes that what he thought was great life was really marked by loneliness, superficiality, disregard for the others and the like. 

The portrayal of the High Society is remarkably executed. Through the eyes of Nick Carroway, we see an illusive world. Nick's neighbour Gatsby, imagined to be a happy man, is not really happy. Nick feels for Gatsby, who is lonely and not cared for despite his throwing of big parties to which many come but have not met him nor cared to know about him. Gatsby's love interest is also a failure. 

The girl Gatsby loves Daisy does not want to marry Gatsby, because he doesn't have enough money to get married to him. But Daisy too is lonely. Her husband Tom while loving her has also an affair with another woman. Daisy pretends to be a fool or ignorant and hopes her own daughter would also remain a fool and live in a pretended world. Please read the novel to form your own opinion. 

Hugging warms the heart 
I read this news item in the USA Today: "Cuddling may be good medicine for the heart. A brief hug and 10 minutes of holding with a romantic partner greatly reduce the harmful physical effects of stress, according to a study reported over the weekend at the American Psychsomatic Society meeting in Phoneix." 

In the U.S. if a woman hugs a man, it is not something unusual, but if a man touches a woman even accidentally, it could be construed as 'sexual harassment' But if the touching or 'grabbing ' is mutual, then there is no problem. 
However, in a feminist world, a woman can initiate touching, but not the man, unless she is close to him. The legal implications are confusing and my first impression is that civil and permissive society in the west is partial towards women these days. 

Please do not get me wrong - I am not an antifeminist, male chauvinist. The reality, however, is unreasonable towards males. If a woman seduces a man and the man doesn't want to respond, then he can report it as sexual harassment, a friend says. Maybe, I am not sure. 

The news story further adds that" the findings suggest one reason that isolated, lonely people tend to have poorer health. The older you are, the more fragile you are physically, so contact becomes increasingly important for good health ". 

Attraction of the opposites
What do men and women, boys and girls look for in the opposite sex ? Here are some aspects of sexual attraction, as found in a survey: Looks, Personality, Athlectism, Confidence, Sense of Humour, Intelligence, Popularity. 

Teenagers seek advice most often about the opposite sex from the Internet, magazines, radio call in shows, parents, friends, siblings, an opposite sex friend, teacher/school counsellor, mentor/preacher. Dating and premarital sex even among teenagers are permissible in the west. Sex, divorce, remarriage, adultery and the like are not a big deal in this part of the world. 

Not that it is absent in our part of the world, but not so openly primarily because the damaging effect in aping the west in this regard would be much worse. That is why such shocking cultural traits in the west are not for us Lankans. The editorialist of the Daily News (May 26) said that the private lives of public figures are carefully scrutinized by the public. 

American Heroes 
Who are some of the public men of style in America currently ? Razor, a magazine published in Arizona but edited from Toronto in Canada has picked 30 Mavericks among the top 50 Men of Style in its May 2004 issue. Most of these people, I must confess, I have not heard about. 

This is because I was never interested in people who are in the limelight as most popular people fancied by people at large. However, some of them featured in this magazine had attracted my attention because they had individuality and stuff. 

I shall mention a few names from the lot, but some readers would have known almost all of them. For instance, some of you might have listened to Howard Stern. I have not. We learn that he had long been America's most popular radio personality (eight million people tune in each week for his host show). 
I surely know people in the movie world in the like of Mel Gibson (actor/director), Sean Penn (actor/director), Dan Brown (novelist), Clint Eastwood (actor/director), George Clooney (actor) and I admire some facets of their personality. 

The other names among the 30 besides Howard Stern are: Donald Trump, Jonathan Ive, Russel Simons, Mark Burnett, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Ford, 50 Cent, Al Franken, John Currin, Michael Arad, Larry David, John Galliano, Outkast, Troy Hutubise, P. Diddy, Andrew Jarecki, Oliver Theyskens, Tony Kushner, Eli Pariser, Jamie Johnson, Paul O'Neill, Thomas Keller, Roger Ailes, Guy Laliberte. 

Memorable lines 

Ezra Pound: In a Station of the Metro 
The apparition of these faces in the crowd; 
Petals on a wet, black bough. 

K.S.SivakumaranAlvin Toffler in The Third Wave almost 24 years ago wrote: ...many of today's changes are not independent of one another. Nor are they random. For example, the crackup of the nuclear family, the global energy crisis, the spread of cults and cable television, the rise of flex time and new fringe-benefit pakages, the emergence of separist movements from Quebec to Corsia, may all seem like isolated events. Yet precisely the reverse is true. These and many other seemingly unrelated events or trends are interconnected. They are, in fact, parts of a much larger phenomenon: the death of industrialism and the rise of a new civilisation. 

Contact: kssivan316@hotmail.com 
Courtesy: Daily News, Colombo

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