One of my other quibbles about the current era is that childhood is disappearing. Kids don’t just get up on a summertime morning and get on their bikes to round up their friends and play ball, or go fishing, or to the movies. Everything is sponsored and supervised, chaperoned and “for the kid’s own good,” and development, which to me guarantees that it won’t do any good and will cause no development. My other nephew Kevin was on a travelling basketball team before he was even a teenager. Kids spend the summer practicing the violin or competing in swim meets, being tutored for the SATS, or working in a soup kitchen so it will look good on their transcript when they apply for college.
It seems there is something good about kids being removed from the world of adults for long periods of their adolescence. Let them figure it out for themselves. And let them critique us while they do so. Huckleberry Finn escapes from the “sivilizin” influence of Aunt Polly, and Holden Caulfield wanders Manhattan during the Christmas Season alone, his encounters with adults, teachers, nuns, and the mothers of classmates all comically absurd or tragic. He is only safe and happy with his little sister.
Let Ryan spend the hours I did on the playground, alone with my dreams except for the ghostly apparitions that defended me as I drove to the rim. What dreams do kids get now, except ones that are manufactured for them?
And what kind of world are we leaving them? Baby Boomers, what have we wrought? All that idealism, and sex and drugs and rock and roll, came to this? Dancing with the Stars? Survivor? The Biggest Loser? Obsessions with the Kardashians, and with Bruce Jenner as a woman? Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have gone on for ten years, with nothing to show for it and no one screaming about it because it is not their sons and daughters who are dying there, but the urban poor who have no better alternative than to sign up and take their chances? We are less concerned with feeding the poor than ever, and there are going to be a lot more poor as time goes on.
It’s not just the entertainment industry that has gone south. We were shocked by Watergate, at least a little, but now there are scandals worse than that in the news daily. The government continues to facilitate the sinful financial shenanigans of the rich. And a credulous country stands by—The S and L scandal, Enron, the subprime mortgage debacle. And the government keeps telling us that if it weren’t for the War on Terror we would all be blown to bits. And so they take more and more of our freedom away in the name of freedom. How do you argue against something like that? It is like George W Bush defending his service in the Texas Air National Guard by pointing out that the North Vietnamese never attacked Houston.
Everyone seems to be a fanatic, or has become fanatical in their opposition of those they would consider fanatical. Conspiracy theorists all—the vaccine naysayers, the ones who insist President Obama is not a citizen, those who state flatly that AIDS was created by white scientists in order to infect blacks. Then there is David Koresh, and Scientology, Timothy McVeigh, our unwillingness to restrict gun sales and ownership. And finally there are those whackos who put their faith in charlatans, those who spend all their time and money on doctrines that tell them how to succeed without spending any time and money on succeeding. It works, if you are the one selling the book.
I can’t help but think that everything now is bread and circuses. Distractions to divert us from what really matters. We even have gladiatorial combat, in the form of mixed martial arts, where serious and even fatal injury is almost a surety. Boxing is bad enough (although I am a fan) but letting guys and girls fight with what are basically their bare hands while using use their feet and elbows, and allowing them to “choke each other out” is so beyond the pale that I am disgusted.
And how about these gripes: Arguing about illegal aliens while our children are among the most poorly educated in the first world. Ignoring the fact that we incarcerate more of our population than any other democracy in the world. That we have the highest percentage of the obese and the highest infant mortality rate in the first world, and yet go on and on about how we are the best country on earth, as if being founded on democratic principles was a guarantee that you will remain a democracy, and that the above problems can all be ignored since we all still have the vote.
Yes, there are those who still cry out for social justice. But not as many and not as loudly as in days gone past. And more and more we are not marching to free others but to make sure that we get ours. In a culture of victimization, we are suing and whining about what we deserve. I swear that it is as if everyone feels that every time life proves to be not fair, it means that somebody needs to compensate you for that.
I was too young to have to fight in Viet Nam. So I don’t speak from a place of piety and righteousness. I sometimes smile sadly at myself when I make my meager contributions to the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, The Food Bank. But at least I recognize the value of sacrifice.
And what of the idea that this generation feels that it is owed a living. I don’t know if that is true. My niece and nephews compete for unpaid internships. All that education and they have less opportunity than we did. Will we reach the point where an education is no longer a guarantee of a middle class lifestyle? I think we will. When Ryan is 52 like me, I am afraid he will still be renting, or just going out on his own, having lived with my brother until my brother and his wife have moved on from this world. I hope not, but if he does, at least he will be entertained.
Yes, we had selfishness and shallowness in the mid 70s. In some ways, it was the bitter end of the 60s and to postwar prosperity. The return of Ronnie Raygun (Reagan) in 1980. Stagflation. Inanity on TV. But the news was the news, and it was separate from, and expected to be separate from, entertainment. Now I don’t see the difference.
OK, that’s it. It’s not that I think today’s youth are any less intelligent or compassionate or self-sacrificing than past generations were. But they need to be less distracted by what doesn’t matter, and more aware of what does.
© 2015 Mike Welch