Sentimentality is no longer popular. If this unfortunate news has just come to your attention for the very first time, I will try to let you down gently. Sentimentality, in today’s language, has been replaced by corny, cheesy, and other yellow food-like words ending in -y. I guess up until now I was unaware that these distasteful words had become the official synonyms for this seemingly hated concept. I could sit here at my computer screen and discuss the emotional imbalance rooted from destructive gender roles which in return plays into the effects of the unnerving lack of support of sentiments, but I’ll save my rant for another time when I have more energy and when you have more focus.
When we lose our appreciation for sentiments, cynicism can, and frequently will, take its place.
Let me put this in simple and understandable terms: Frank Capra. Never heard of him? Well, unfortunately, most of my fellow students in a course on Politics in Film have never heard of him either. Mr. Capra, best known for his works like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” is also best known for his sentimentality. Back in the black and white film era, a time of simplicity and what I can only describe as hard times masqueraded as happy to those who did not live in it, these films were applauded and loved by most audiences.
Yes, we American’s still find ourselves taking out our parent’s old VHS tape of “It’s a Wonderful Life” around Christmas time to fulfill a sort of cherished and light-hearted childhood tradition. But do we see the goodwill and truth in these movies the same way that the original audience members did back in the 30’s and 40’s? Will we ever stop snickering or rolling our eyes at the so called “cheesy” or “corny” scenes? Nowadays, we expect the sad or not-so-cheery endings of school readings or the latest trilogies that hit theaters, and give up on the entertainment that filled our youth with happiness and optimism.
It seems that there is an unfortunate window of time in everyone’s life, between our younger years of childhood and the years we begin to have children of our own, where sentimentality means virtually nothing. But why does it have to be this way? Why do we look down upon the so-called cliché thinking and happy feelings? It seems that we are so concerned with looking ahead and racing to become older in this world that we leave the innocence of our past behind us. We willingly let go of our giant dreams for our future because after a certain age, those same dreams no longer seem realistic to us. The hopeless romantics out there have decreased greatly because our generation no longer appreciates soft sentiments or silent acts of kindness. We are consumed by racing ahead to bigger and better things, and in the process our sense of appreciation for sentimentality is lost.
When we lose our appreciation for sentiments, cynicism can, and frequently will, take its place. And when cynicism takes a spot on that list of words that describes our personality, you may as well add pessimistic. So I guess I also have to pose the question, what is so wrong with being optimistic and sentimental? Yeah, optimism. Not every film or novel that is meant to portray the meaning of life has to end with the unknown hardships that lie ahead. Optimism does not mean naivety, but rather to display a positive attitude even when facing those unknown hardships ahead. No need to display a smile 24/7 or hold onto lost moments or things with a death-grip, but there is also no need to be cynical and look down upon the “cute” thoughts of Frank Capra’s sentimentality. Why can’t we look ahead to our future with the same big dreams that may seem somewhat unrealistic, all while appreciating the softheartedness that was once apart of our childhood that actually attributed to our dreams in the first place?
Because in the end, sentimentality can be a good thing. It can help us view the world in the ways we did when we were seven years old, when we thought that one day we would fulfill our dreams and that greatness lay ahead. It can make us realize that those dreams we had so long ago can be possible as long as we stay optimistic. Greatness requires looking back upon the fondness of moments behind, and the hope for whatever lies ahead. So in the end, I choose to be both sentimental and optimistic. I will continue to half smile at the last few minutes of Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, even with your cynicism.