Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!


The Peter Pan-ification of America

I was reading a very interesting article by Adam Sternbergh in New York magazine. Actually, I was reading it in a magazine we get that summarizes all the big news stories of the previous week, but it originally appeared in New York, so let's give credit where it's due.

The article is very long. If you want to read it, start here and go from there. It's about, well, the lack of growing up in America these days. It's something that has bothered me for a long time. But I'm not a hoity-toity writer for New York magazine, so nobody cares what I think!

It's a very funny article. Sternbergh wants to know why people in their 30s and 40s refuse to grow up. They're listening to Death Cab For Cutie; they're wearing New Balance sneakers; they're forcing their kids to wear Misfits T-shirts; they're buying pre-ripped jeans for $400; they're reading books like Neal Pollack's Alternadad: The True Story of One Family's Struggles to Raise a Cool Kid in America. I know very little about Pollack, but what I do know suggests to me that he is, indeed, a tool.

Sternbergh makes an interesting point, one that I have noticed for a long time: music no longer defines the generation gap. He writes:

Once upon a time, pop culture, and in particular pop music, followed a certain reliable pattern: People listened to bands, like the Doobie Brothers or Cream or Steely Dan, that their Frank Sinatra-loving parents absolutely despised. Then these people had kids, and their kids became teens, and they started listening to bands, like the Clash or Elvis Costello or Joy Division, that their Cream-loving parents absolutely despised. And, lo, the Lord looked down and saw that it was good, and on the eighth day, He created the generation gap.

Now, he says, the parents who liked Joy Division think Interpol is totally awesome because the two bands sound alike (I've never heard Interpol and hate Joy Division, so I don't care). This is a very cogent point. When I taught, I listened to as much of the music that the kids did as not, and it was weird having conversations with them about bands that we both knew and liked. There is no longer much in terms of music that can be done, admittedly, and even hard core rap, stuff you might think parents today would object to, is passé. Can parents today really be offended by 50 Cent when they still have their copies of Fuck Tha Police? Sternbergh even quotes a guy - the creator of Love Monkey, the canceled television show - who mentions this phenomenon and can't decide if it's scarier for the kids or for him. I blame the kids. Get your own damned music!

The issue isn't just the music that has "collapsed" in on itself, but culture in general. Everyone looks the same - there are no markers for how old someone is or what kind of job they have. The only thing everyone agrees on is that suits are uncool. We are pursuing the aesthetic - "cool" - to the detriment of everything else. This also means that we are pursuing nostalgia to the detriment of everything else. As Sternbergh points out, new music sounds like music of twenty years ago, vintage rock T-shirts and ripped jeans are hot - and not rock T-shirts that you bought at a concert twenty years ago, but one you got on the Internet for $60.

Sternbergh mentions the work ethic of the Grups, as he calls them, and it's rather fascinating: they are much more interested in doing what makes them happy than doing what makes them rich. This is a great idea, and something everyone should pursue. He mentions that a recent survey showed 54% of people wouldn't want their boss's job no matter how much money you paid them. This is a complete reversal from the way the corporate world used to be structured, and speaks volumes about how companies use, abuse, and throw away their workers these days. I don't have a problem with people wanting to work for themselves, but in his interviews, it's amazing how many of these people want to do one thing: work in entertainment or sports. They want to be famous or near famous people. Fame has replaced riches in the hierarchy of what we want in America. I would love to see a survey about which people would choose if they could only choose one.

There's nothing inherently wrong with all of this. It strikes me as pathetic, but maybe I'm a Grup (Sternbergh's term) myself and don't know it. The problem with this is in child-rearing. As Sternbergh points out:

Here's the bad news about kids: They're not cool. Especially little kids. Like, 2-year-olds? Forget it. Left to their own devices, they don't dress well, they have no sense of style, and frankly, their musical taste sucks.

Here's the good news about kids: They're defenseless. So if you want to put a Ramones T-shirt on your 2-year-old, you don't need his permission. All you need is for someone to have the great idea to make a 2-year-old-size Ramones T-shirt. (And trust me - someone's had that idea.) And if you want to play the Strokes for your 4-year-old son, what's he going to do? I'll tell you what - he's going to learn to love the Strokes.

The aforementioned tool, Neal Pollack, says his son like the Hives. Well, duh! Pollack probably plays them 24-7, which is a crime against nature (the Hives aren't very good). Good job, Neal!

But one wonders if this is - wait for it - good for the children! Won't someone think of the children???? I will admit, I listen to my own music around the kids. When we're in the car or occasionally while I'm feeding them, I'll put in something of mine and we'll all rock out. But a lot of people these days are trying to specifically turn their children into little versions of themselves - because, let's face it, they're so very cool, and nobody wants their kids to be uncool. And the parents run the risk of becoming uncool themselves.

Pollack again:

"You have to have a little bit of Dora the Explorer in your life," he says. "But you can do what you can to mute its influence." Okay. "And there's no shame, when your kid's watching a show, and you don't like it, in telling him it sucks." Yeah! There's no - wait. What? "If you start telling him it sucks, maybe he might develop an aesthetic."

Can you imagine telling your son or daughter to stop watching the Wiggles because they suck? What the hell is wrong with these people?

Sternbergh does interview some parents who are slightly less insane, but they still have this idea about raising kids that doesn't seem to be about raising children and more about raising cool people. He asked one of them what her worst fear was and she said that her kids become Republican. Consider that for a moment. "Republican" obviously means "uncool." I hope she was being facetious, because if my daughters become Republican but have successful lives without being raped, killed, turned onto drugs or alcohol, or abused in a relationship, I'll be a happy goddamned parent.

The problem with this is the kind of people our children will become. The lack of delineation between the generations breeds a lack of respect for the older generation. I'm certainly not the kind of person who thinks that everyone older is deserving of our respect, but what I'm talking about is a general lack of respect for anything that has come before. It is something that is infecting, for lack of a better word, our entire culture. These Grups are a product of the baby-boomers, who thought they could do everything - have a high-stress job that demanded long hours but paid well AND be a full-time parent. They grew up in a system that demanded more maturity from them when they were young, so they therefore rejected that when they reached a point when they were expected to be mature. This leads to a breakdown in respect, as I pointed out. Why should kids respect "adults" who go to the same clubs as they do? More importantly, why should kids listen to those same adults when they tell the kids what not to do? That would be "uncool." It stems from a desire by these parents to be cool, which translates into a desire to be liked by their kids. These people (yes, I'm generalizing, but bear with me) were denied a close relationship with their parents, because their parents were adults and were more concerned with providing a stable life for their kids then bonding with them. There's absolutely nothing wrong with bonding with your kids, but it seems like the people in this article have swung the pendulum completely the other way. It's stuff like this that leads to the parents of Ned Flanders telling the child psychologist about disciplining young Ned: "We've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas." Kids don't need their parents to be cool - they might want it, but kids want to stuff themselves full of marshmallows a lot, too - that doesn't mean we should let them. This also leads to another phenomenon we see all too often in society today - a lack of taking things seriously. I've mentioned this before - we don't take the war in Iraq seriously, for instance - but it's worth pointing out that we have become much more casual about things, and I'm not totally convinced this is a good thing. I'm as casual as anyone - I don't like wearing suits and I dig jeans. But some things I think we do need to take seriously in our lives. Graduations, weddings, and funerals, for instance. It drives me crazy when people act like children at these things. At parties afterward, act however the hell you want. But during the ceremonies, take them seriously. This bothers me because we as a culture are slowly learning that everything is casual, and when something serious comes up, we don't know how to handle it. We're passing this on to our children.

This trend bugs me because I'm in the age group that Sternbergh describes. I don't know what's cool. Am I cool because I bought the new, stripped-down Neil Diamond album? Is that cool? Am I cool because I read comics, or does that make me a geek? Am I cool because I listen to the White Stripes and wear Teva sandals? Beats me. Personally, I don't give a shit. I'm sure these people aren't evil, but when your cultural pursuits override your commitment to your children, we have a problem. Kids like the Wiggles. Deal with it. When you have kids, you might have to skip going out to trendy restaurants and seeing Brokeback Mountain. You might have to miss that Yeah Yeah Yeahs concert occasionally. Your kids are moldable, as Pollack points out during his interview, but that doesn't mean you should force them to like something just because you do. I hope my kids like comics, but I'm not going to tear my hair out if they don't. I hope my kids like me, but I hope more that they respect me and listen to me, because I like to think I've had more experience than they have.

Anyway, the last word in Sternbergh's article goes to an unnamed musician who thinks all of these people are ridiculous. He said in the article, "And you know what? Giving your kid a mohawk is fucked up, too." This is funny because the parents of one of the kids at Mia's school, who may be Grups (or they may be in their early 20s, of course, in which case their behavior is forgivable), named their kid Anakin and gave him, yes, a mohawk. Today his head was shaved, so perhaps they realized how stupid he looked. Three-year-olds should not be deliberately made stupid-looking by their parents. That's just cruel.

Or am I guilty of taking this all too seriously?

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Blogger Roger Owen Green said...

I think it's been going on in both directions. Kids listening to the Beatles, fer cryin' out loud..

I blame cable, too. Once upon a time, one could tell about one's common life markers - "remember 'The Brady Bunch'"? But with TV Land/Nick at Nite, EVERYONE can remember 'The Brady Bunch'. Or whatever.

The lines have blurred, that's for sure.

20/4/06 8:09 PM  
Blogger john sweet said...

"In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principal, stand like a rock."
-Thomas Jefferson

21/4/06 10:48 AM  
Blogger Jake said...

I tell my daughter to turn off the Wiggles because they suck. The same goes for Dragon Tales. Doodlebops "creep Daddy out." Dora and Diego have political agendas. Berenstain Bears are so dull Mormons from the 1920s would say, "Come on, jazz it up!" Tom and Jerry is an "uberviolent crapfest with pointless plots that merely reminds us how starved for entertainment people were during the Depression that they actually found this amusing."

I don't see any reason not to lay it all out there for her to know the truth.

21/4/06 12:24 PM  
Blogger Another Damned Medievalist said...

Grups is not original ... it's from the Star Trek episode with kim Darby adn Michael J. Pollard. I think it was called "Miri."

Erm ...

21/4/06 11:55 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

That's where he got the name, ADM. A planet where all the adults have died, and the kids are running everything. I like the term - good and nerdy.

22/4/06 8:28 AM  
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

Satan loves parents who give their young kids mohawks and punk rock t-shirts. He does.

It's the Grup reaction to their kids that freaks my ass out. To sound all academic-ish, this sounds like the Tyranny of the Image.

The "Grups" have so much invested in their image of themselves, an image rooted essentially in consumer goods, that they cannot be flexible about it. To change the consumer goods around them (e.g., replace Snow Patrol with the Wiggles in the CD changer) is to change their image, and, by extension, themselves. From an extremist point of view, to change consumer goods and allegiances is to betray oneself.

(They'd never frame it that way, I'm sure.)

If you know who you are inside, the crap on the outside takes less importance. You're less likely to confuse symbols with reality. But that takes time and effort.

There were olde tymey methods for defining a person, shortcuts to self-definition, such as religion or various ethnic traditions. These old defining mechanisms have faded in Modern America in favor of all-powerful consumerism. Consumerism and teevee try their best to blur the border between surface symbol and inner reality, 'cuz it helps them sell their goods.

Sounds kind of like the old-school idea of "commodity fetishism."

And it explains why "Fight Club" is a cult hit. "You are not your khakis." Indeed, Mr. Durden. Indeed.

22/4/06 3:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neil Postman (two-time winner of the George Orwell Award for Clarity in Language -- no, really) covered this in "The Disappearance of Childhood", whose thesis is that it isn't childhood that's disappearing at all, but adulthood.

I liked that article a lot more than I thought I was going to -- rare to see a little pop-soc magazine piece of the generational type actually add up to something, however modest. There is not one magazine in my whole country that would have published that thing as anything other than a kind of manifesto of pop-culture analysis. And it would have totally, totally sucked. So colour me impressed.

7/5/06 4:29 AM  
Blogger T. said...

Ann Coulter's right, what's up with that Taliban guy? Larry Summers gets tossed from Yale for daring to say that women don't like math, but an elite university can't wait to admit the spokesperson for a regime that publicly beat and raped women?

But the right-wingers are crazy?

Johnny Triangles

14/5/06 10:42 PM  
Blogger T. said...

I meant to say "tossed from Harvard" not "Yale" by the way.

14/5/06 10:42 PM  

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