Wednesday, June 04, 2008

'In my day...'

Rita justifiably takes issue with one of the sillier and more error-filled denunciations of Young People Today. All I can contribute to the discussion is an anecdote that will dispel all notions of kids these days being the downfall of our civilization. Recently my mother was at the store buying moth balls. An elderly man came up to her and told her, "Moths don't have balls." This man was, by virtue of his age, a product of a better time, a member of the Joseph Epstein generation of superior beings. This is just one example of why claims of generational failure can be entertaining, can make you think, but are, by and large, more "grouchy" than productive.

Where I part ways with Rita on this topic is that I do "think criticisms of youth culture are empty bluster." At least most of the time. For too many conservative writers, it is as though crude behavior were an invention of each new generation. Until these dreadful times, every adolescent was an intellectual, but in a good way, not uppity, but choosing the Great Books over the "Girls Gone Wild" cameras, to throw in some anachronism. All of this stems from a simple misunderstanding: the art and literature of the past seems better than that of the present because we're only exposed to the good stuff. An imperfect but useful analogy is how in America we think of French food as fancy because in the U.S. we only get upscale French restaurants--even French cafés are a bit classier than average--and not the crepe stands or hypermarchés. Which is to say, unless critiques account for this tendency, we will keep being confronted with false comparisons--Saul Bellow versus the winner of "Farmer Wants a Wife."


Anonymous said...

A while ago I came accross and interview with my great grandpa in the NY Herald Tribune. He had been a politician around the turn of the cent and was discussing his 50th wedding anniversay and how NY has changed since the good ol days of 1879.

Immediately he launched into a lament about newfangled jazz and dangerous street crime. He talked about the olds when people KNEW how to throw a real party and yada yada yada

Ofcourse - crime in 1880 NYC was ferocious the obnoxiious popular music of his youth was far inferior to jazz.

But you know how these things work.

I have another grandfather who grew up on the LES (Lewis St.) - when I was young, he portayed his LES youth in nostalgic pastoral hues - But that was just ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

The article is further evidence that some things never change. In a way it's funny because Baby Boomers, who for years have been accused of being the end of civilization as we know it, are now accusing their children of the same thing. That's the problem with lamenting youth culture in any generation. Someone has to take responsibility for the culture as it is at the time you lament it's decline.