Paul Andersen: Talkin’ ’bout ge-generations
When I declared in a recent column that I was over the X Games, I also declared myself over the hill. That column drew a line between me and the values of a younger generation, and it reverberated among a number of my peers.
Maybe it’s all a matter of age. Last week I turned a venerable 53, which lands me smack dab into middle age, a stigma I have avoided like Geritol. Until now, I had defined middle age as my parents’ generation ” old and in the way.
I held that generation accountable for the Vietnam War, Agent Orange, the Nixon administration, Love Canal, the Reagan era, smog, the Iran-Contra arms deal and Lawrence Welk. I was anti-establishment then, so why is it difficult to embrace the youthful anti-establishment of today?
It’s about ideology. Growing up in the ’60s, I believed that young people were more idealistic than old people, more inclined to question authority, protect the environment, fight for social justice and act as if the future mattered.
That’s why the X Games was sobering. Vibrant, youthful energy was strong, but so was fawning over Jumbotron TVs, big-name sponsors, sports celebrities, snowmobiles, dirt bikes, product giveaways, and a reckless kind of vanity that makes a statement by showing off one’s underwear or midriff.
It’s not fair to judge a generation by one event, but there is a strong connection between the hype of the X Games and the dubious values of the prevailing culture. The Super Bowl halftime show took it to the next level and revealed, not only a naked breast, but the commercial/corporate media’s addiction to spectacle.
The X Games generation prides itself for flaunting convention. My generation did the same. Youth has a mandate to “dis” the old guard the way the “Princess” did on her way to martyrdom; the way The Aspen Times did by quoting the f-word from the lead singer of The Offspring.
Thirty years ago, many in my generation rose up as activists against an unjust war, crooked politics, racial and gender discrimination, rapacious foreign policy, plundering of the environment and the inequitable distribution of wealth.
We failed, and these issues stand today, but there were no protest placards at the X Games. The event was a manic rave fueled by blatant commercialization, which is at odds with the higher values we need so desperately today, values that have traditionally come from idealistic youth.
I watched the ’60s revolution end when flared pants co-opted bellbottoms, when shag haircuts and sideburns were sported by the men in the gray flannel suits. The counterculture was absorbed by popular culture, diluted by the commercial mainstream, prostituted by materialism. My generation surrendered to the status quo.
And what of today? Spurred by media images, the offspring of us baby boomers happily conforms to the music, clothes, jargon, body piercing, tattoos and attitude of celebrity icons born of marketing firms. A vague, ill-defined culture war is being waged with prime-time commercial sponsorship.
In 1964, as Sproul Hall at the University of California, Berkeley was besieged by riot police, the Free Speech Movement coalesced into a nationwide idiom. When an activist named Jack Weinberg was dragged away by the goons, he shouted: “Don’t trust anyone over 30!”
Now that I’m way over 30, a homeowner, taxpayer, husband, father and critical observer of today’s baggy, halfpipe, hip-hop revolution, should I be trusted? I will leave that decision up to my 11-year-old son.
As for trusting those under 30, I hope to do so, but only if their values are significant enough to warrant my advocacy. For now, I see this anti-establishment movement shackled by image, status and, ironically, by complicity with an establishment that hopes to suckle them with Janet Jackson’s right boob.
[Paul Andersen knows somethin’s happenin’ here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear. His column appears on Mondays.]