Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy, Happy Valley

I'm glad I read Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance, a bestselling memoir I borrowed this summer and finally read this fall, in order to return it, reducing my stack of borrowed books. It helped me understand "hillbilly" thinking, and I wouldn't use that term except that Vance does, boldly, to identify the culture he grew up in. In fact, the way Vance talks about financial decisions in his community of origin ties right in with the behavioral economics I have been learning about, summarized here, in the press release related to the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, awarded to Richard H. Thaler of the University of Chicago. We don't always do what's best for us in the bigger picture, or what's rational, and Thaler has helped economists see and accept that psychology plays a big part in financial decisions, which affects the larger economy in often unpredictable ways...

Right now I am reading Paterno, by Joe Posnanski, about Joe Paterno, beloved and hated longtime football coach at Penn State in State College, PA, known as "Happy Valley" until that nickname didn't seem to describe a community wracked and ruined by the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal, which caused the ouster, too, of Coach Paterno. I started toward the end of the book, to gain insight on that aspect of Paterno's career, and now I have started over at the beginning, interested in learning more about him and about football and coaching styles. This is all part of my research for directing For the Loyal this winter, a play Lee Blessing wrote in response to the Sandusky situation at Penn State. In a way, the play is indeed "for the loyal," so they can consider how their loyalty affects everyone else; it is also for everyone else, so we can ask ourselves, "What should be done? What should we do? What can be done? What is the right thing to do?" Looking back, Paterno wished he had done more. Paterno presents us with the dilemma, as did the press at the time, of legal responsibility versus moral responsibility. What should we do?!

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