Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Convenience Store

One of those Chicago Seven guys -- Jerry Rubin, maybe, or Abbie Hoffman, once counseled the Youth of American, "Don't trust anyone over 30." the Chicago Seven, of course, left their thirties behind at about the same time that people stopped listening to Sly and the Family Stone, which gives broadcasters the occasional opportunity for some lazy man irony.  Some old Hippie's birthday will just happen to fall on a slow news day, and that night's "Before We Leave You" segment on Eyewitness News Albuquerque or Eye on Boise or Fox News Duluth will be about the guy who used to be a long-haired, flag-burning, adult-hating freak is now eligible for Social Security benefits, and Dave, the anchor who's been at the desk since the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, will exchange a knowing, slightly world-weary glance with Sharon (pronounced "Sha-RON"), the co-anchor young enough to be his great-granddaughter, while Doctor Stan the Weather Man shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head and says, "It's a crazy world."

I am well into middle age.  This is no great discomfort: my sister, when we were growing up, was very fond of telling me that I had been born at age forty-two, so having my chronological age moving in lockstep with my attitudinal age is really quite nice.  It's comforting to be able to complain about my aching back, and have people take it seriously (no one listens to the "Oys!" of a teenager).  Middle age is nice, for a guy who is perpetually leaving the house with either a belt of combed hair; people accept that you are a Frazzled Dad, and they give you a little leeway.  It's a nice break between the soul crushing bookends of Weird Young Guy and Creepy Old Dude.

The Hippies had it wrong, of course.  Not their message: most people over the age of thirty, particularly most men over the age of thirty, are completely untrustworthy.  So are most people under the age of thirty, and therein lies the problem.

What the Hippies established was an artificial order of battle, based on their rather narrow, decidedly narcissistic view of the world.  First off, these were privileged, educated kids (poor kids don't have time to be countercultural; they're too busy working), kids long on entitlement and chock full of Daddy issues.  It wasn't so much that they wanted change; they wanted to be the ones making the decisions.  So they drew up fighting lines, old versus young, fresh versus stultified, vibrant and alive versus dessicated and mummified.  


And nothing changed.


Well, one thing changed.  The more I see of the generation of Americans between the ages of 25 and 35, the more I hate the Hippies, and the more I despair for the future.  The central themes of the Hippie message -- old is bad, young is good; young is always right -- have soaked into these kids like gasoline on bales of cotton.  They are self-centered.  They are spoiled.  They are, to appropriate a line from an old Neil Young song, "poisoned with perfection": blessed with exquisite educations and amazing opportunities and wonderful chances to better the world, and they spend endless hours whining about their struggles and gazing at their navels and endlessly endlessly looking for the easy route, irrationally convinced that all the world is Seven-Eleven, perpetually open and eternally ready to meet their needs.


It comes in a flood.  Christianity, once the place where Grace and Works joined hands, where adherents served the poor and sacrificed their time, talents and energies to bring Hope to the hopeless, is now some warn, thin gruel of aphorisms and pop songs and megachurches, Miley Cyrus and Pastor Joel and "Our God Is An Awesome God", the worshipers swaying to the beat, dazzled by the light show, using the closing prayer as a quiet opportunity to decide if they'll grab Sunday brunch at Luby's or at Papdeaux's this week.  Populism, the people's voice in the halls of power, is some crazy moose killer from Alaska, whose dullard sensibilities makes the gals on "The View" seem like the writers of The Federalist Papers.  Sexuality is something easy to sell, no moral compass guiding choices, no thought of restraint or repercussions.  Always -- and I have heard this from numerous young men, all of them well-educated and affluent -- the question is not, "What can I do?" but "What am I getting out of this?"  These are shoulders sculpted by weightlifting, backs toned by rec league basketball and swimming laps at the club and taking the odd spin class.  It's phony, all for show.  These are not backs willing to be bent in the service of others.  They aren't shoulders wide enough or strong enough to take up any burden that matters.


Entertain me.  Dazzle me.  Stroke my hair and tell me I am good and do not EVER hold me to any obligations.  It is a dreary, appalling, nearly useless generation  That is why I say, in my middle-aged body with my middle-aged outlook, "Don't trust anyone, but REALLY don't trust people between 25 and 35.  and if the opportunity arises, dope slap them once in a while."

(I do know a couple of young men who don't fall into this morass.  One is a young bishop.  Another is preparing for a mission.  They are like the North Star to me, constant and bright and pointing the way.  I commend them.)







1 comment: