Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.
At first I was surprised that the film NEWS OF THE WORLD was a western with Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel, a talented young actor I hadn’t seen before. The title didn’t seem to suggest a western, but it hinted at the most universal aspect of the story. In the film (based on a novel), Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) is a Civil War veteran (previously a printer) who makes his living traveling from town to town, reading excerpts from several newspapers for groups of locals who pay a dime each to learn what’s going on beyond their immediate environment.
My first thought was that many, if not most, of his audience members probably wouldn’t be able to read even if they happened to have access to newspapers. They were doing their best to cope with a seriously unsettled, damaged world filled with villains and heroes. So, the first gift of news was and is the gift of information. One of the worst side effects of being illiterate or merely isolated is that you’re not in the loop—one of the reasons fast, efficient internet even for rural areas is fair and desirable today, and many honest yet less entertaining newspapers are failing. Without accurate, timely information, you have fewer opportunities to anticipate or adapt to changing conditions. You’re more vulnerable to propaganda. In turbulent, troubled times such as the years after the Civil War…or today…being updated can be critical.
My second take-away was that reading opens the doors of thought—not merely for children but for us all. Kidd was portrayed as a wise, well-read, ethical man who could gauge which bits of news each audience needed most. He didn’t use his talent for stirring human interest to manipulate or deceive. His time in the war had provided him with a sympathetic view of humankind and the basic needs people have in common. He understood that an unblinking look at the big picture supports better decisions and broader sensitivities. In one instance, the material he chooses to read helps town citizens, who have been used and abused by a self-established dictator, learn from similar mistreatment wielded elsewhere by individuals in power. Sometimes mirror images are the clearest—unblemished by denial. Grievances, once realized, can be successfully countered. Ignorance is not bliss. We stand taller on open, trust-worthy history.
Kidd’s time spent with a white girl raised by the Kiowa after her family was murdered addresses blind spots in his experience and book knowledge. She teaches him to understand a cultural concept of the world and a person’s place in it that is less linear than that held by whites of European descent. She can think “outside the box” to find novel ways to face challenges. Contrary to her defensiveness, he can step away from his prejudices to accept help extended by people on the bottom rung of the social scale. The outward appeal of NEWS OF THE WORLD is as an uplifting tale of people finding a home in love, but the greater themes beneath speak even louder. Reading can open windows into other cultures, can lend us empathetic glimpses of people in extreme circumstances, can feed our need to think critically and with open eyes about the world around us. Information is a tool or a weapon. We choose.