Times may seem dark because, well, honestly, they are. The world is being torn by plague, my country may soon face another civil war or worse, and there’s no clear end in sight.
So, as a palate-cleanser, I want to take the opportunity of this April 27th to highlight a few good things that have happened on this day in history.
- 1981: Birth of the mouse
No, not Mickey. He’s a lot older than this. This date 39 years ago was the beginning of the revolution in computer interfaces that you are still using today. Only it wasn’t IBM or Apple who created it.
Nope. That would be the company whose name was once synonymous with photocopying things — i.e. the Google of their era — Xerox. And their mouse was created as a user interface for their Star workstation.
It was an inverted variation of the trackball, which had been first created in 1952. And it was called a mouse for reasons that are probably obvious — its shape, it crawls all over your mousepad, and it has a tail. Well, it did back then. Your modern mouse may not.
- 1759: Birthday break 1! Mary Wollstonecraft
You might know her by her married name, Mary Shelley, or you might not know her at all. But you no doubt know her most famous creation — Baron von Frankenstein and his monster.
Mary and her gang were basically the Instagram Influencers of their day. Young, hot, into questionable games and drugs, and very, very emo. They invented the entire genre of gothic romance. One wild weekend involving Mary, her husband Percy, her step-sister Clair, a perverted doctor named John Polidori, and the notorious Lord Byron led to a bunch of famous fiction and the possible creation of the monster movie genre.
Frankenstein wasn’t the only thing created that weekend. Poilidori created the vampire at the same time. And it was all a bunch of kids hanging out in a really expensive house and daring each other to do wilder and wilder shit.
Hm. Sound familiar? Although I really doubt that Danny Duncan or the either of the brothers Paul are ever going to give us great literature.
Here’s the trailer for the Ken Russell film inspired by that momentous weekend. Yes, it’s a cheesy 80s trailer. The film itself is actually very good. Strangely, given the subject-matter, it’s actually one of Russell’s more understated efforts.
The real reason to remember Mary, though, is that she was a strong and early advocate for what eventually became the feminist movement.
- 1992: Madam Speaker
You would think, given that the place has been (and currently is) run by a few famous queens, and had their first female prime minister in 1979 — who proved that she could be as evil and cold-hearted as any man — you’d think that Britain would have had a woman in charge of the House of Commons a lot sooner than the early 90s, but that was not the case.
The first female speaker was Betty Boothroyd, an MP from the liberal Labour Party, who assumed office about two years after Thatcher ended her reign as Prime Minister. Currently, she is one of only two still-living Speakers of the House. Compare this to the U.S., where four of our past Speakers of the House are still alive.
Fun fact: the Speaker of the House does not actually have to be an elected Representative. The position goes to whomever is elected by a majority of votes when the new session starts. Of course, that’s just a hypothetical because, to date, no non-member has ever been elected.
As for Baroness Boothroyd, her great interest was in getting young people interested in politics. She voluntarily resigned her position as Speaker in October, 2000 to great acclaim.
- 1932: Birthday Break 2! Casey Kasem
While the idea of social media influencers might seem new, it’s not. The main difference is that the means of production have become so available to everyone, so that some kid in their bedroom actually can have an impact via Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, Twitch, Snapchat, YouTube, or even Facebook when their proud grandma shares.
But before the internet, there was TV, and in a different era the big influencers were the VJs on MTV, guiding the musical tastes and interests of their audiences back when the “M” in “MTV” actually meant “Music” and not “Merde.”
Side note: Yes, the concept of “vlog” being a portmanteau of “video” and “blog” comes directly from the idea of a “Video Jockey.” Of course “vlog” itself is a triple portmanteau, since “blog” is short for “weblog.” And Video Jockey comes from Disc Jockey, the radio equivalent, the idea being that their job was to hold the reins on the records they played. Modern DJs take the riding a little more literally with scratching and skipping and other techniques that physically manipulate the disc, whether actual vinyl or just an analog controller of digital sound. Personally, if I were a DJ, I’d go with the analog device over the actual vinyl any day for so many reasons, not the least of which is that I wouldn’t have to haul around vinyl with it inferior sound quality and easy ability to be damaged.
Back when Casey Kasem was an influencer, though, he didn’t really have that choice. Well, okay, later in his career, he would have been able to jump from vinyl to CD. Cassette was never a choice in radio because of the inability to easily cue a track on the fly But his big influence was in creating something called American Top 40 fifty years ago, in 1970.
Oh, sure. You’ve heard of it with a different host, but it was Kasem who presided over it (on and off) for (oddly enough) almost 40 years, and it was the musical tastemaker of its day. But that’s not all he did.
Right before he started AT40, he had this little voice-acting gig in some cartoon show called Scooby-Doo Where Are You? as a character known as Shaggy. It was another endeavor he stuck with for 40 years, although with a slight break.
Finally, being of Lebanese descent, Kasem was active in working to support the rights of Arab-Americans, probably the least well-known part of his public life. Sadly, he died in 2014, but he left a lot of positive behind.
- 1994: Enfranchised at last
Other things you would have expected to have happened a lot earlier: black South Africans finally got to vote for the first time in the elections of 1994. For perspective, that was two years after Bill Clinton was first elected president in the U.S.
And it’s an object lesson in how a tiny minority can keep the vast majority oppressed as long as they control the money, the media, and the political system — which the white Afrikaners did for centuries, although it got really bad when apartheid came along in the late 1940s.
If you don’t remember the South African election of 1994, you’re probably aware of the outcome. Anti-apartheid activist and long-time political prisoner Nelson Mandela was elected president of the country. Yes, despite rumors to the contrary, he was quite alive.
To put this in perspective for Americans: this would have been like Martin Luther King being thrown into prison on trumped-up charges of sedition or treason in the late 50s, being released around 1990, and going on to be elected president in 1992.
Oh… and that whole part where black people weren’t allowed to vote until 1992 as well, instead of technically having been allowed to vote since the 15th Amendment in 1870 (men) or the 19th Amendment 50 years later (women) complicated things
I say technically because, well, racists gonna racist, and come up with all kinds of tricks to keep people from voting.
Oh, wait. I said “no bad news.” So the good news here is that on this day in 1994, changes in South Africa led directly to one of the opposition leaders finally being put in the position of authority. And what happened there and how is an object lesson to all of us today to be aware, forewarned and forearmed to prevent the whole “oppression and suppression” part from happening again here soon.
So there are just a few good things that happened on April 27th throughout history. I know you’re probably still stuck at home right now. Well, if you have smart leaders who haven’t yet cut down the number of new cases or deaths while increasing testing, anyway, then you’re still stuck at home.
Take a moment, then, to make one small good memory for this April 27th. Contact a friend through text, PM, Zoom, or even good ol’ phone call, and let them know you’re thinking of them. Write something, read something, learn something new. Go through that old box of random crap that’s been in the back of your closet forever.
There’s a universe of possibilities in the place you’re stuck in now. That’s the good news. Explore it to its fullest. You don’t need to go outside yet. There will be plenty of time for that later. As for now?
Bring yourself your own good news. It’s all literally within your physical reach right this second.
Image: Zane Gray Cabin, (CC BY 2.0)