Headnote: "We" means my generation—although I disagreed, I know how "we" thought... "We nerds" means me, specifically—I did not conform with the rest of the herd into rebelling: I kept my independence.
Normally we like to have praise for the youthfull baby boomers in their glory days of campus protest. Today I would like to stomp on the 60's mystique- trample it down and bury it. Beyond a regard for the truth I have reasons: 1) to put "occupy wall street" into clearer perspective, and 2) to be willing to face modern behaviour. For now, let me say it is indeed Politically Correct for me to bash the boomers: I was born in the 50's. I remember where I was when the Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan (variety) Show.
After walking a trail down the long decades I felt at last financially secure enough to risk some university courses. This meant studying alongside young people: first generation X and later gen Y. Whether from youthfull competitiveness or whatever, some of them expressed being fed up with the boomer's 60's hype... Me too.
I remember how every Sunday night I'd watch a Beatles derivative, The Monkeys, on TV. Their theme song went "...we're the young generation, and we've got something to say..." What we said was, "Don't trust anyone over 30!" and we cautioned against being judgmental. A popular ironic button went "Here Comes the Judge." This while being judgemental of the "establishment" and the "older generation." As we saw it: Our parents, incredibly, didn't know that war is wrong. Imagine! In their day, we told ourselves, no one had realized the importance of giving peace a chance. They were too old to learn that love is the answer, peace is the way. Lord knows we tried to tell them, over and over again, my friend. We tried with our words and with our song lyrics. "I'd like to build the world a home, and furnish it with love..." So went the cola song that our school band played.
(In the groove)
And if you were a nerd like me, back then? Whether from Stockholm syndrome, (boomers were savage with anyone who disagreed) emperor's new clothes syndrome, or whatever—You wouldn't be a spoilsport. You were probably literate enough to know that after the horror of the Great War people tried to avoid a second world war by demonizing arms and peace time soldiers, by trying to make war almost unspeakable and thereby almost unthinkable. During the little fascist wars of the 30's, in mainland Asia, Africa and Europe, it was not just economics but also ideology that kept the armies of the English speaking world so small.
And then later, in the 60's, as we youth reinvented the peace wheel, we nerds either kept silent or, like my friend Keith, shouted slogans along with everyone else. Talking about my generation: We thought we were so special. Every previous generation, we thought, had forgotten what it was like to be young while we were new improved and, like I said, special. And we had our new rock music to prove it.
We would put down the rich kid who tried to feel good from racism while we felt OK with feeling good from temporalism. (time-ism) Special indeed. A "generation gap" meant the older folks were not "with-it," not hip. We had "our" music which "they" despised and would never understand. Now I am finding it harder to keep a straight face around aging boomers as generation X is followed by generation Y while the beat goes on. Surely it's time to put this snootiness behind us.
I hate to be a nerd spoilsport but hey, I am a nerd and I hate prejudice. Temporalism, which sounds so innocent coming from a fresh teen who still has baby fat, sounds sadly inappropriate coming from gaunt people old enough to have teenagers of their own.
Suddenly I envision old pony tailed men sitting in a row on a campus quadrangle. They are protesting, chanting, "Hey hey, ho ho, temporalism has to go." Behind them students of religious studies are passing by. Philosophy students are passing too. And further away, in time and space, a sage is passing through Chinese villages in his quest for a king who will support peace not war. The kings of the Chinese city states valued that man's war knowledge. He, Confucius, always told them the same thing: if they carried out his ideas of economic development, and gave the peasants a more democratic deal, then the king would be unconquerable. The very peasants of the fields would rise up from the land to defend him against another king's horses and men. Alas, Confucius never did find a king worth working for. But at least he tried. Such a good man. At the risk of offending my mainland Chinese readers I must say I think confucianism, as a religion or a philosophy, will be with us long after communism has left the building.
One of his acute observations was this: As he approached a village he would hear music. From this he could discern the people's character before he even met them. To me today it's obvious: if youth in Asia and America are characterized by an enthusiasm for rock music it is because they are so youthfull. Not smarter. Not better. Just different.
(Oh wa oh)
In the mid-sixties, suddenly, the electric guitar spread as fast as today's i-pod or cell phone. Folk music suddenly plummeted out of favor. Electrics killed the acoustic guitar.
I remember how every fall the radio disc jockey would intone, "Rocktober" and play, "The history of- rock 'n- roll!" In his booth the DJ would press "play" and a forgotten star would proclaim, "Rock 'n roll is here to stay!" meaning: To heck with our old parents complaining about our newfangled awfull music. Of course R'nR actually came from an earlier time than the 60's, being from the acoustic 50's. How I love that era of cruising and sock hops, of Archie and Betty. Remember Archie's affordable old ford model T?
Henry Ford had famously said that a customer could have a car in whatever color he wanted—as long as it was black. As "affluence" came to the land there appeared a new thing called "marketing" and "market segmentation." Cars began coming in various colors while being designed for various socioeconomic groups. Back in the roaring 1920's Betty's father could barely afford a record player for his family. And a soda pop was a rare treat. By the 1950's he could give young Betty her own record player. He gave her a big allowance too, big enough for her to afford lots of soda pop, as well as several single-song 45 rpm records. And a market was born. In my day, with vacuum tubes abruptly replaced by transistors, teens could suddenly afford a personal radio. And a market grew.
To consume from this new market did not require being smarter or better than previous generations; there's no mystique, no mystery: you just had to be born at the right time.
My mother once darned my socks. Not any more. Hand-me-downs are no longer common. As affluence has increased history has repeated. Lately I have been seeing articles about a surprising new market: "tweens." Parents are lamenting how their pre-teen girls want to dress like their sexual pop idols—and can afford to do so.
The arrogant boomers, with their temporalism, believed that not all decades are equal. It follows, by their own logic, that maybe this current decade is less equal.
Maybe the latest "now generation" is devoted to a sort of mental inbreeding... ignoring library texts for text messaging to each other, forsaking hard reading, hard thinking and high culture in order to invest their time in using twitter, face book and screen games. Maybe the willingness to invest their man hours in anything requiring self discipline and tedious effort is now being postponed by a decade or more... Or maybe not.
I was only slightly disturbed to read a new up-to-the-minute book review of The Dumbest Generation, a book which posed such questions. What truly disturbed me was the reviewer noting that baby boomers—those old campus protesters, those high I.Q. university graduates—are constitutionally unable to face such questions about modern behaviour. Blinded by their creaky old belief in youth mystique.
But the question of whether youth of today have less willingness should be faced.
"Hey hey, ho ho, youth mystique has got to go."
originally posted at
the end of the summer of lovely 2008
I remember Ed Sullivan.
I understand that today kids have personal TV's in their personal one-kid bedrooms, in their one-child families. How bizarre. In my day TV's still had vacuum tubes and the whole family would watch together: Dad in the easy chair, older people in other chairs, children squished on the couch and the youngest ones on cardboard boxes or on the floor. Younger kids, in those days, commonly fell asleep trying to watch big kid shows. We all conversed together about the performers on Ed's variety show, such as tight rope walkers, puppets, tap dancers and, of course, singers.
Looking back, I guess Ed got into televison before the standards had tightened up; then the people liked him so much the studios couldn't get rid of him. He had real stiff shoulders, a stiff manner and he looked more like Richard Nixon than Regis Philbin or any handsome Hollywood entertainer. He was real and we liked him.