Funny how entire generations get painted with the same brush. Tom Brokaw has made a fortune talking about "The Greatest Generation" those people who fought on the beach at Normandy and then came home and did their duty to the state by getting married, liking Ike, and buying a house in one of them newfangled suburbs. Brokaw never talked to MY father. Yes, my father was in the Army, but to the best of my knowledge, wasn't assigned to active combat. And yes, he came home, got married, got a job in a Giant Corporation and moved to the suburbs. Of course because he was a New Yorker, he got a free socialistic education at City College, hung out at jazz clubs, hung out with socialists, and met my mother through a mutual friend who was friends with Mom from a music appreciation class at the New School. The political saint in MY family was not Ike, but Adlai Stevenson. But Nerdy McNerdlingtons like my parents don't make as good copy as good, solid, white people who blindly obey authority and do what they're told.
Similarly, my generation is being tarred with a similarly broad brush. Yes, there's that couple from upstate New York who appeared on the poster for the movie Woodstock
, now seen frequently in interviews, in all their pudgy middle-aged glory, looking like every other older person who gets on a bus in Paramus to Atlantic City. But there were also always people like George W. Bush, the later-sixties Niedermeyers
, who worshipped the military, supported the War in Vietnam as long as they didn't have to fight it, and thought Dick Nixon was a great guy.
Most of us do not resemble the stereotypes of our generations. Most of us did NOT go to Woodstock, even if we ditched school to go to an antiwar march. Many of us were NOT getting high all the time. But every generation gets tagged by the media with a label, and those who create that label are the same ones who always swear they will never do what was done to them.
Enter Peggy Noonan, who would, if she had her way, elevate Ronald Reagan to deity. Noonan, who I'm sure spent the sixties swooning over the Student Government president. You remember that guy, the one in the plaid pants and sweater vest and tie, who always went to the Debate Club prepared to argue why pulling out of Vietnam would result in the entire world falling to Communism. Noonan has clearly been spending too much time with that prig George Will, and this past week in the Wall Street Journal
, officially turned into Grandpa Simpson (reported at Gawker
In today's comical jumble of foggy Victorian wrist spasms, "Youth Has Outlived Its Usefulness," Noonan lashes out at Earth's toddler authority figures and their petty, corrosive effects on discourse. They are incompetent, pre-pubescent. Why do these middle-aged men have no midwives or governesses to monitor them as they sway in the cradle?
Mr. Obama is young, 48, as is British Prime Minister David Cameron (43), with whom he meets next week, and as were Bill Clinton (46 on Inauguration Day) and the somewhat older but still distressingly young George W. Bush, sworn in at 54. Mr. Cameron's partner in governance, Nicholas Clegg, is also 43. Stephen Harper of Canada is 51, Nicolas Sarkozy of France a youthful 55.
Youth is supposed to bring vigor and vision. In general, however, I think we find in our modern political figures that what it really brings is need-for greatness, to be transformative, to leave a legacy. Such clamorous needs! How very boring they are, how puny and small, but how huge in their consequences.
And who enables these petulant 50-year-old rapscallion devils? The bloggers, who are somehow even younger! Look at them, on their "Internet" machines, slamming the typing boards like unmedicated Jacobins.
On the Internet, you read the fierce posts of political and ideological writers and wonder, Why do so many young bloggers sound like hyenas laughing in the dark? Maybe it's because there's no old hand at the next desk to turn and say, "Son, being an enraged, profane, unmoderated, unmediated, hit-loving, trash-talking rage monkey is no way to go through life."
Isn't it strange, how every generation is simply unable to remember what youth is? Perhaps it's having children, because once you have children, it's hard to keep being the rebel. If you have children, you can't sing "Holiday"
at the top of your lungs in the car without your kids thinking you're a total dork. If you have children, you have to explain why it was perfectly OK for you to sit in a blacklight-lit room full of day-glo posters and smoke pot when you were 15, but if your kid does it, it means a life of wretched dereliction.
Those of us without children have it a bit easier. Oh, we're still thought of as dorks no matter how cool we think we are, but at least we don't have to live with it. And I think that because we don't have to play at adulthood as much, we can keep a more vivid memory of youthful rage, because we aren't obligated by the requirements of family life to abandon it.
But where Noonan is wrong is in her notion that "being an enraged, profane, unmoderated, unmediated, hit-loving, trash-talking rage monkey" is no way to go through life. I disagree. There used to be a button that said "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." That saying is just as relevant today as it was forty years ago. Not only is being an enraged, profane, unmoderated, unmediated, hit-loving, trash-talking rage monkey a perfectly acceptable way to go through life, it's a necessary one. Because the alternative is silence, and I can't recall a time when silence was more deadly to not just our own, but the world's future.
Labels: concern trolls, Peggy Noonan