It wasn’t necessary to serve in World War II to know such fellowship. Well into the ’60s, many Americans grew up in towns that had no private schools or gated communities. They lived among, went to school with, worked next to and got to know all kinds of people. Starting in the ’70s, though, America started to undergo a demographic transformation that has since been dubbed “the Big Sort.” More and more Americans started seeking out people who shared their cultural and political inclinations, moving to regions that over time became populated with like-minded citizens. In the words of Bill Bishop and Robert G. Cushing, who identified and named the Big Sort in their 2008 book titled after the phenomenon, they chose to live in “communities of sameness…whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible.” The result is postmodern America, a walled-off land in which you need not spend time with, much less befriend anyone, who disagrees with you about anything of importance—and in which you thus become more likely to demonize the strangers with whom you do disagree.
The fact that we now live in such a country has, I suspect, something to do with the steadily growing popularity of “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Whether we realize it or not, Wyler’s poignant portrait of a nation recovering from war reminds all who watch it that America used to be a far friendlier place—and makes you wonder what will become of a land whose angry, distrustful citizens are increasingly choosing to live solely among their own kind.
ICYMI, I revisit William Wyler’s “The Best Years of Our Lives” in my latest @wsj “Sightings” column, and consider what it has to tell us about the polarization of present-day America. Would that it were less timely: https://t.co/UydSsJtRnp
— (((Terry Teachout))) (@terryteachout) October 27, 2018