The Rear-View Mirror: The Spanish Flu (1918)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

No-one who consciously experienced the year 1918 is alive anymore, but if you ask the old folks around here, sooner or later you will encounter someone who knows about someone who died from the Spanish Flu. The might be puzzled by your question, they might be reluctant, but some of them will remember the dead. It might even be someone from their family, one or two generations back. You could even go all morbid and count the headstones in a graveyard and calculate if the year of death 1918 seems overpopulated. There is hardly any male dead from the First World War around here in Switzerland, so if 1918 is a peak year, you will know why.

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In living, dying and killing colour

We all know what the past looks like. Go back a hundred years, and the world was black and white, sped up and weirdly jerky. People talked in ornate title cards – which was lucky, because how else could you hold a conversation over the din of a dramatic piano score? Philip Larkin once wrote that sexual intercourse began in 1963; it seems that sound and colour began before that, but not by all that much, compared to the history of the world. It is strange to think that two entire world wars were fought entirely in monochrome.

They Shall Not Grow Old

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