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April 13, 2006

End of Civilization? Episode 2

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

My sneaky and never-quite-frankly-admited-to Larger Question in a recent posting about upscale book-jackets was this: Are we undergoing a cultural collapse into a value-set that is self-absorbed, masturbatory, and adolescent? Are the technological shifts that we're experiencing helping to promote this development?

A few more pieces of evidence. First up, a home-made rock video by a 22-year-old woman.

Just to get a few things out of the way: Cute! Talented! Better than I could ever do! Nice job!

Still: Interesting, isn't it, what EZ new technologies can lead to? Give a girl the tools to make what she wants to make and the freedom (and wherewithal) to make it as she sees fit, and it turns out that she'll make ... a rock video starring herself. Why? Presumably because she can.

Next up, a long (and very NSFW) sample clip from the website Beautiful Agony.

Just to get a few things out of the way: Clever idea! Riveting performance! Beautiful imagery, if of a hyper-decadent sort!

Still: Interesting, isn't it, what some people will do when you give them the means to, er, express themselves? They'll broadcast their self-enraptured narcissism to the entire world. (BTW, I'm not condemning this. It's hot, it's fun, it's probably harmless, and why not? I'm just raising my eyebrows at some general cultural trends.)

My small-t theory is that there's something about the put-it-together-for-yourself convenience of digital media that caters to the desire many people seem to have to be adolescents forever. Not to put too fine a point on it: I'm getting the strong impression that digital tools lend themselves more to spiritual/ psychological/ aesthetic masturbation than they do to going out and interacting with the world.

Is this a bad or a good thing? I'm not entirely sure, and I'm probably not competent to say. Kids raised on the digi-media will undoubtedly be able to amuse themselves and to express themselves like no kids ever before. And, as long as you're burning up with life, why not broadcast the fact? Are these bad things?

I do find myself worrying about one question, though: What happens when the adolescent, self-pleasing, burn-it-all-up energy runs out? While interacting with the traditional media is often frustrating and infuriating, it can also deepen a person, develop his resources, and lead him out, away from the self and into the world. It can leave him able to set aside ego, and to dig down deep when the crunch comes. But, when the crunch does come, what are the digi-kids going to have to fall back on, or to draw from? I guess we'll see in due course. And perhaps I'm rationalizing anyway. Perhaps all those pre-digital trials 'n' tribulations were pointless, and had no soul-developing effects at all.

Has there ever been a culture as infatuated with adolescence as we are? Adolescence is short, and it's boring, even if it can be good for a few sexy memories. But the tendency so many people have (and that's so strenuously-promoted by the general culture) to view being a happy adolescent as the goal of life is bizarre. It may be a fun idea and and a fun fantasy: All the energy, resilience, and freedom of a kid joined together with the sexual equipment of an adult! But adolescence lasts for five minutes -- most of which are mopey and pimply -- and then it's over. And then, if you're lucky, you're faced with five or six more decades to live through. These days it seems like it's all decline from 19 on, doesn't it?

Does the general culture promote the ideal of adolescence simply because adolescents (flighty, stupid, easily swept-away) are so easy to market to and to take advantage of? In any case, America at the moment seems to me to be doing a lousy job of cultivating the being-an-adult experience.

Long ago, I wrote here about America's (to my mind alarming) embrace of adolescent values. Here's an interview with the founder of Beautiful Agony.



posted by Michael at April 13, 2006


It is an interesting phenomenon. I went to highschool with Sam Raimi (of "Spiderman" fame) and his highschool homemade movies were...movies. About other people. Sometimes he cast himself, sometimes not. Mostly about adolescents taking the roles of adults in the plot of the film--the hit man, the teacher, the cop. Not "Here I am, Sam Raimi, in my room at home, dribbling a basketball---aren't I fascinating?" There is a definite aren't-I-fascinating element to young people now---as opposed to the Gosh-I-hope-I-turn-out-to-be-fascinating-someday-coz-I'm-not-feeling-terribly-fascinating-now feelings of adolescence I remember. You do wonder whether these folks will ever truly connect to another person. If they'll really even need to---as long as they've got a webcast audience! I remember that comment Warren Beatty made about Madonna--in her own ultimate trip to Narcissism Lane, that reality video movie thing she did about 1990-ish---when he said that if it didn't happen on camera, it simply didn't happen to Madonna. That there was a whole element of life that actually happened off-camera to most other people. In all those college courses and books about Madonna's influence on modern society, you wonder if they noticed the disconnected self absorption that she may have instilled in her wannabe's. Clearly, her adolescence lasted longer than until 19. Unfortunately for most of her followers---they will NOT get a record deal and make millions and therefore get to have their own way all the time. They might have to actually go to work with other people eventually. As Joan Cusak once said in a movie. "Sometimes I sing and dance around in my underwear. Doesn't make me Madonna, never will."

Posted by: annette on April 13, 2006 3:06 PM

Being from the pre-TV generation (up till about age 12, anyhow) I could be waaaaay wrong about what I'm about to say. (I never experienced at that age the media post-1980 kids did, and it's hard to put myself in their shoes.) And having an optimistic disposition also could make me waaaay wrong. (Calling John Derbyshire for the antidote!)

Nevertheless, I think reality and the cold, cruel thingy out there will eventually (by age 40, almost surely) rein in every prolonged adolescent lacking a really sweet trust fund.

Crazy thought experiment: If everyone is a narcissist, selfsame narcissists will find that nobody else gives a RF about them just as they don't give a RF about anyone else. Clearly this flies against a great swath of human nature and is therefore unworkable. (Hmm. Wonder what Razib makes of this?)

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on April 13, 2006 3:34 PM

Around here (rural Montana) people of all sorts repeat again and again, "Your high school years are the best part of your lives. After that it's nothing but work or welfare." Often cut short by auto crashes, booze and meth. The girls are a little luckier because they have babies and it is with their babies that they achieve true intimacy. Of course, they value boy babies more than girl babies and an athletic boy more than a bookish boy. The tie between a star basketball player and his mother (whatever race) is stronger than any marriage.

Humanities are despised as useless.

When I was preaching in Portland, to upscale educated people, I talked once about kids feeling floaty, unattached, without goals or consequences. I talked about their need for commitment, attachment to something permanent and irreversible, a need to test limits, to experiment wholly and without caution, to be adventurers. I said, offhand, maybe that was the appeal of tattoos -- permanent and transgressive. But what came next? It was a small congregation that often talked back. The teens in the audience said: "Mutilation. Amputation." They could tell about kids who cut off fingers or toes. After all, no one told them not to. And if someone had said, "Don't," that would have made it more attractive.

Sure, it's fun to record one's intimate physiological reflexes and even fun to see what other people look like in that moment. What happens when your boss sees that -- or some punk in your neighborhood who comes over to demand his share? And what happens in a real and loving relationship when those old images invade your mind when you don't want them to?

Without running into definite boundaries, without having any relationship to the past or idealistic goal for the future, why NOT take drugs, get a tattoo, act in-your-face and all the rest.

Or is this a construct that adults like, given that we often barely know what we're doing and even an air line pilot -- a Captain of the Ship -- can be brought down randomly by terrorists and strikes. An existentialism.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on April 13, 2006 3:52 PM

OK---on the other hand...I was just in an elevator and two people in their forties were trying to explain to a third woman (in her forties) the rules of "rock/paper/scissors." The third woman said "I'll never play it, I can't keep it straight, the rules are just too complicated." This woman has fulltime employment and was not impaired in any way. So, maybe filming yourself doing a rock video is, y'know, downright brainy.

Posted by: annette on April 13, 2006 4:11 PM

One of my favorite writers is the novelist/memoirist Edmund White. Anyway, he once said that whenever people have real power and freedom and wealth -- European aristocrats, Hollywood movie stars, etc. -- they organize their lives to resemble adolescence. Flighty, passionate, playful, easily bored, fascinated with beauty, etc.

He's gay so he was being a little tendentious in defense of gay male life I think, but it's still IMO a very interesting point.

Posted by: MQ on April 13, 2006 4:27 PM

But, if you don't mind me saying, certain blogs can be an antidote! I mean, do you find that you are interacting with people of all ages through blogging, some younger, some older? I don't think I converse with fifty or sixty year olds outside of work much, but in the blogosphere, it's what I'm into that directs me and the age range of blog-authors I read is broad. I used to go to a bloggy group here in Boston, and we'd all go out to dinner after, and it was so funny to see all the ages and 'types' ranged together in one place. It didn't look like any other social group I'd been in before. But maybe that's too small a drop in the bucket?

(Annette, what that woman is really saying about rock-paper-scissors is that she not going to pay attention to the rules, so go away! That's what I think, anyway :) )

Posted by: MD on April 13, 2006 5:54 PM

Maybe I'm oversimplifying, but I think what we're seeing is the technological manifestation of what I long ago dubbed "The Kindergarten Rule": in any K class, 5 kids will be outstanding geniuses, 5 will be irretrievably slow/stupid/evil, and the remaining 20 will be average sheeple, going along with whatever the mainstream dictates.

So the tools that put the ability to make x in the hands of all result in output along those same lines. Genius (or just medium-great) filmmakers and broadcast/podcast/vidcast journalists will create primarily interesting output, freaks will put out inadvertent, "trainwreck" stuff (Brown Bunny, K-Fed's output) and the vast majority will blog and record and shoot crap.

I agree that there is an alarming obsession with the quick fix these days. Lottery mentality is rampant and critical thinking is becoming a quaint notion. I actually like that the digimedia (love that!) are turning kids (and big kids) into creators, however crappy, instead of just consumers. The passivity that TV cultivates is what scares the beehonkus out of me.

The bigger question of why America has become so short-sighted/narcissistic/ill-disciplined I leave to you smarties. But I wish you would solve it, and quickly. I grow weary of the spoiled behavior of my road-hogging, SUV-driving, me-first neighbors.

Posted by: communicatrix on April 13, 2006 8:07 PM

Despite their predilection to self-indulgence and self-dramatization, the experiences which I had as an "adolescent" made more of an impression on me than any others I have had before or since. They are the ones I still dream about in midlife.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on April 13, 2006 8:22 PM

What you see as self-indulgent I see as the constraints put upon public taping. You can't tape anything outdoors these days without getting a consent form. Also, when you're taping on the cheap, inevitably you do a lot of stuff yourself. for the record, I'm working on a vid project that is as self-indulgent as you going to get. Hey, someday I'd love to shoot Hamlet (and maybe someday I will). But most of my projects are going to be 2-3 actor things--for the immediate forseeable future. You may be confusing aesthetics with production constraints.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on April 14, 2006 12:13 AM

"While interacting with the traditional media is often frustrating and infuriating, it can also deepen a person, develop his resources, and lead him out, away from the self and into the world."

What do you mean by "interacting with the traditional media"? Do you mean getting published in the traditional media? Working as a "real" rock star? Or do you just mean reading traditional media?

Because taken as a general rule, this just doesn't seem true to me -- we hear awfully juvenile things pop out of the media all the time, and rock stars et al., as discussed above, are often just as adolescent as their fans, for all that they may be ten or twenty years their senior.

Posted by: Taeyoung on April 14, 2006 7:25 AM

Annette -- That's interesting about Raimi. Interesting too that he seems to have found a spot for himself these days directing comic book movies. I wonder if he's eager to get away from it. It is funny, isn't it: Kids used to rehearse for growing up. These days the whole grown-up thing seems good for a horse-laugh and not much else.

Donald -- "Unworkable" is a very good word to invoke! As a model for personal development, the current adolescent-forever scheme seems unworkable, at least to this old fart. I guess we'll see how they manage it.

P. Mary -- I wonder if there are a lot of people who think of high school as their last good time. God knows it has its fun side. But is the rest of life really that grueling for most people, do you suppose? Do we have a special knack for making it so? I hate to fall back on France, but what the heck. Part of what struck me during my year there was that they didn't take the 13-20 age span terribly seriously. It was unfortunate, occasonally sexy, mostly something to be endured ... And then real life started. French life was oriented around grown-ups -- their pleasures, their experiences. Kids and teens sort of fit in around the grown-ups, not vice-versa. I thought they were a little excessively harsh about this. At the same time, the whole idea of "adults having a good time and finding life rewarding" came as a revelation to me.

Annette 2 -- Funny, the combo of technological adeptness crossed with complete-idiocy-otherwise, isn't it? I run into that all the time too. Another hunch I have is that these kids are, while quick and funny and talented, etc, completely content-free. Maybe that's what makes them seem especially blank and happy. Maybe they *are* blank and happy. I've been playing computer games for the last couple of weeks instead of reading at the end of the day -- just an experiment, as I have no gift for playing computer games. And it's been interesting. Quite enjoyable, and certainly a nice way to drift off. But it's more like playing solitaire or Sudoku than it is like engaging with a book or a movie: enjoyable, content-free. And a little addictive -- the whole explorign-an-environment thing infects my dreams. It isn't unpleasant, and I start to understand why kids gravitate more to video games than to traditional media experiences. But although it's full of puzzles and surprises and things to figure out and solve, it's also amazingly content-free. Which of course is part of what's nice about it ...

MQ -- That sounds about right. Another one of my completely unsubstantiated hunches is that it's time economists stopped trying to come up with one model for economic behavior.Seems clear to me that people who are struggling with the basics act in one set of ways, and that people who start at the middle-class (or higher) level act in another set of ways. One's about getting fed and sheltered -- priorities organize themselves really fast. The other is more please-yourself and whimsical -- as you say, kind of an aristocratic/adolescent approach. And it makes sense that gay guys would be more articulate about this than traditional straights -- also jibes with the appearance on the menu of gay-like straight people ...

MD -- There's a lot about these developments I like! Thanks to blogging, for instance, I get a chance to get my little observations out there and (even better) to interact with lots of terrific and interesting people. I feel very lucky -- I've got roots in traditional culture, yet electronics have made a lot available to me that never was before. What could be better? Interesting to watch younger people, though, who have no such roots. They sort of float around whimsically, getting their own buttons pushed, looking for the next electronic "whoa!" But maybe that's the pattern cultural-life is going to take in the future. Seems hard to believe it has any long-term viability, but that could just be me being unimaginative.

Colleen -- Didn't you recently do a posting about how your travails as a performer have made you a better performer? I wanted to link to that but couldn't find it. Maybe I was bleary ...

WS -- Events during adolescence really do hit hard, don't they? Something about those hormones makes everything very dreamlike and oversignificant ...

Robert -- You're going to be filming *other people*? That seems mighty traditionalist of you!

Taeyoung -- Nothing very complicated. Just that book-reading, for instance, is a very different experience than blog-surfing. Reading books is usually thought to develop "depth" -- patience, thoughtfulness, contemplativeness. Blog-surfing is much more interactive and lickety-split: quicker, more interactive, but also shallower. (Incidentally, I'm not arguing that either has to be this way, just that they tend to ...) Watching a traditional movie vs. playing a videogame -- part of the watching-trad-movies thing has always been talking it over afterwards. You sit quietly, you have your reactions (you're cultivating private experience), then you check in with friends, open up to their reactions, maybe read some, give that a little thought, etc etc. Gamers don't seem to do the same kind of thing. They often game together, talk while they play -- they like a lot of noise around. And they don't often go somewhere and read about what they've seen or experienced and reflect on it. On the creative side, making a traditional magazine, for instance, is very different than putting a website up. You're forced to think in a linear fashion -- frustrating, but also a way of developing skill at prioritizing. Kids raised on electronics seem to be in the habit of wanting it all, now. Pre-electronic people seem to be more willing to wait, and more able to decide what's important to them and what's not.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 14, 2006 11:28 AM

The civil rights movement distorted the blues so dramatically. Particularly on the coasts, blues became identified as the music of the civil rights movement... and became entirely (in the minds of white libersl) black music.

The blues is really the music of old men, the wisdom of old men.

In this video, the music is just disconnected trash... no history, no references to tradition... nothing.

One of the solutions to this culture of narcissism is to return to the music that brings you the wisdom of old men, and that is the blues.

I have, for some reason, approached life from the other end of the spectrum. I didn't have any interest in kid music when I was a kid. When I was 12, I admired guys in the 40s, 50s and 60s, and I could see clearly that they played better music and that they had something to say. The kids couldn't play, and they had nothing to say.

You'll excuse me for seeming a fatalist, but this will get solved in the war into which we are slowly slipping. It's almost unnoticeable, but we are slowly rendering ourselves soft and defenseless. The evil eye out there is taking notice of this, and planning on taking corrective action.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 14, 2006 11:42 AM

Michael --

Here’s the irony: On Monday, Wednesday, Friday, we praise the Internet, blogging, technology for allowing individuals to be independent of monolithic, corporate, or mainstream biases. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, we blame the same technology for turning individuals for being puerile, narcissistic, adolescent tools.

It’s interesting to note that some of the most popular TV shows starring adults pretending to be teens (The O.C., Buffy, Veronica Mars, Smallville,) are actually popular with many adults, some of whom (in personal conversation) have claimed with an odd insistence either that “all of life is really just like high school” or who admit that they value their high school years more than their current life. Then there are shows like The Howard Stern radio and TV program, which seems permanently frozen in the attitude of a college sophomore, with its odd combination of anti-authority rants and obsession with crude jokes. And even the long running show “Friends” had an adolescent focus in which the main characters worried more about being popular and getting a boyfriend or girlfriend than about paying the bills or succeeding in their careers. Typically, the show ended when some of the main characters got married, had children, and finally showed signs of growing up.

Earlier TV shows like “Happy Days” were also set in high school, but in the background there was more of a sense that the younger characters, no matter how “wacky” their antics, were nonetheless headed toward adulthood and even had a thing or two to learn from their elders. But in some of the current shows (Veronica Mars is a both a high school student and detective of Sherlockian expertise) the younger characters are often shown as being more talented and mature than the adults, and never seem to have anything to learn from anyone.

But even though some of these shows are very popular and watched by millions, there are millions more who don’t care, so I am not sure that current cultural and technological trends are heralding a cultural collapse . I’ve argued before in other posts that there has always been a strong anti-authoritarian and anti-intellectual strain in American life. For some, maybe, this results in a healthy skepticism, but in others leads to the mindless lack of curiosity and perpetual narcissism that you observe.

Posted by: Alec on April 14, 2006 12:17 PM

Alec -- That's a brilliant set of connections and musings. Like you I have some faith that something resembling "normal life" is still with us, and stabilizes all the zaniness. That said, it really seems (in terms of popular culture, anyway) to have faded so far into the background as to have completely disappeared. Then, bizarrely, retirees pop up on the radar screen, helping advertise bran cereals and talking about reverse mortgages. What becomes of all the years in between?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 14, 2006 1:22 PM

Heh, I actually wrote a paper about his in college where I discussed the difference between Hollywood icons before and after the 1960s (you guessed it, it's the Boomers fault). Pre 60s, the paragons of adulthood were people like Humphrey Bogard and Frank Sinatra, ADULT men who enjoyed ADULT things. Post 60s, it was Jack Nicholson and his eternal rebellion against, what? The system? Adulthood itself? This of course mirrored the predominant culture at the time, millions of Boomers proclaiming their eternal youth.

So this phenomenon you write about here is just the latest version using the newest technology to broadcast their tail-eating to the world at little to no cost.

Of course, I wrote a lot of total crap in college, so this may be a fine example of that.

Posted by: the patriarchy on April 14, 2006 3:30 PM

You comment about kindergarten students has me wondering whether a similar sort of distribution applies in other places. Two things I heard in past jobs makes me think that way. About 15 years ago, an older co-worker was talking about his experiences in life insurance sales. I can recall him telling me a small percentage (he wasn't specific) of the people who start selling insurance do very well and prosper; a similarly small percentage fail very quickly and leave the field; and most people just sort of plod along for years, scraping by but hardly prospering.

A couple years after that, I was working as a criminal courts clerk when one of the judges told me that criminal defendants fell into three categories (he was speaking of people facing felony charges). He said that about 10% of the defendants are total predators, a huge risk to society and almost certain to keep committing crimes as long as they're out of prison. Another 10% are respectable, usually law-abiding citizen types, who've made one huge mistake that they'll always regret (often involving drugs), and are at almost no risk for future offenses. And the mass of defendants, as much as 80%, are born losers whose lives consist of stumbling from one bad situation to another, who might well find themselves in circumstances that will lead them to commit other crimes but who aren't, by and large, beyond all hope of redemption.

Posted by: Peter on April 14, 2006 3:31 PM

It's not so much the tools available nowadays to enable SPAM (spiritual/psychological/Aesthetic Masturbation),it's a gathering consensus that any output, organized or spastic, considered or ejaculatory, insightful or entirely opaque, has value, as long as it is in some regard, felt. It was only a matter of time before the threashold descended to the warm glow of self regard. We should have seen our doom in the fools who wander in and out of the local news stand-ups waiving and making faces.

I guess it's easier to make something presentable with a camcorder and Adobe Premier than with paper and charcoal but there will always be those who transcend the tools and those who debase them. It's just that the latter were always discarded and quickly forgotten. Today there's a market.

Posted by: Sluggo on April 14, 2006 4:12 PM

Peter, your triage accords pretty well with what I saw as a social worker in the Florida juvenile justice system. Unfortunately, a major chunk of the funding goes to the 10% (although I would say more like 20 or 30%) who will never be anything but purely evil and will end up at 18 in adult prison. And the malleable middle learn bad things from watching how the system pampers the bad guys. Stanton Samenow wrote a hard-hitting acount of this analysis. It's one of the few books I've ever seen that has a negative Publisher's Weekly review! The liberals couldn't even choke back their bile in the cause of selling books!

Posted by: Robert Speirs on April 14, 2006 4:20 PM

While I'm inclined to agree with you, I remind myself that one of my favorite forgotten authors, Jack Woodford-wrote that Americans are eternal 12-year-olds-in 1943!

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on April 14, 2006 4:43 PM

Isn't the 10/80/10 ratio basically the bell curve?

Robert, Malcolm Gladwell would have you think the opposite.

Posted by: the patriarchy on April 14, 2006 5:29 PM

"Give a girl the tools to make what she wants to make and the freedom (and wherewithal) to make it as she sees fit, and it turns out that she'll make ... a rock video starring herself. Why? Presumably because she can."

Why? Presumably because typically, music videos star the band/soloist.

I don't think this example strongly supports your thesis. Assuming this is a woman who wants to express herself making music videos, it is hardly surprising that she'd star in her own video. I simply can't see how, given the standard conventions at play in music videos, there is any "spiritual/ psychological/ aesthetic masturbation" going on here. (At least, no more so that any self-expressive act.)

Posted by: RAE on April 14, 2006 7:42 PM

RAE -- I feel you are misreading Michael's statement. It is not "Why is she making a music video of herself? (Because she can)" it is "Why, of all things, is she making a music video [of herself]?"

This also ties into Robert Nagle's comment about how we are just seeing some form of technical limitation --

If you browse YouTube or GoogleVideo you will see literally hundreds, possibly thousands of videos in the exact same genre -- Young girl "showing off" (with music).

I think what Michael's pointing at here is not concern over any individual video, but concern about the phenomenon of having so many young girls willing to put themselves out there and "perform" ... for what? Are a few comments from anonymous strangers on some BBS fulfilling?

I don't want to summon up images of feminist fantasies here, but it seems to me like this sort of thing is actually very degrading. Why should young people feel no compunction about performing all manner of normally private, foolish, or other types of actions? Is performance in front of a camera just a natural extension of a perceived performance in life?

(Yadda yadda yadda...)

Posted by: . on April 14, 2006 8:11 PM

From the Times of London for Good Friday:

"At the Third Station of the Cross, where Jesus falls for the first time, Archbishop Comastri (Vicar General at Vatican City) has written: “Lord, we have lost our sense of sin. Today a slick campaign of propaganda is spreading an inane apologia of evil, a senseless cult of Satan, a mindless desire for transgression, a dishonest and frivolous freedom, exalting impulsiveness, immorality and selfishness as if they were new heights of sophistication.”

Posted by: winifer skattebol on April 14, 2006 11:43 PM

Michael – Thanks for the kind words!

The patriarchy – I’m afraid that I might not have given your college paper a high grade. Bogart was a huge icon of Boomers, rediscovered and championed via college film societies in the late 60s and early 70s. Boomers also loved such distinctly masculine, but cynical or rebellious types as Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Paul Newman and Robert Mitchum (whose biography has the wonderful title “Baby, I Don’t Care”). On the other hand, the spirit of eternal rebellion was noticed (not created) by filmmakers much earlier on, as in this bit of dialog from 1953s “The Wild One,” with Marlon Brando:

Mildred: What're you rebelling against, Johnny?
Johnny: Whaddya got?

Shouting Thomas – That the “blues is really the music of old men, the wisdom of old men” is flat out wrong. Although some bluesmen were first RECORDED when they were older, their most productive performing years occurred when they were much younger and more vigorous. And a great bluesman like Muddy Waters was first recorded when he was 26, but even here had honed and displayed his talent for many years before this.

Also, I doubt that we are becoming soft and defenseless. Americans always surprise critics, foreign and domestic, who continually mistake our softness for weakness. Yeah, we play too hard or work too hard, and shrug off political, ideological and religious fundamentalists who stridently (and impotently) insist that we should sit up straight, pay attention and rigidly demonstrate that we know how to live “correctly” and obey the rules or strut our toughness. Astute historians have had fun noting that the young generation of the Roaring 20s was written off as being indolent, hedonistic, irreverent, shallow and feckless. Yet this same generation showed a steely resolve in weathering the Great Depression, and then dug even deeper to kick Hitler’s Nazi ass. And then went back to playing hard and working hard. Same thing today. As a bluesman would say, we've still got our mojo working.

Posted by: Alec on April 15, 2006 5:34 PM

This "softness" and "hardness" stuff is total nonsense in an era of nuclear weapons and technological armies. A modern army needs at a maximum a few hundred thousand truly "hard" people in the old sense, and in a nation of 300 million that is perhaps one tenth of one percent of the population. All the rest is engineering and pushing buttons, stuff that pale fat geeky people can do effortlessly.

Our biggest danger isn't that we will get "soft", but that in our technological and imperial arrogance we will blow up too many people for the wrong reasons and make enemies who will get hold of a nuke and return the favor.

Posted by: MQ on April 15, 2006 7:33 PM

MQ - I'll go ahead and play the contrarian.... and say that the "hardness" or "softness" of a nation is still extremely important. Yes, we have technological/nuclear capability, but we may lack the will to use them.

For example, look at the apparent provocations by the Mexican army on our border a few weeks ago. 60 years ago, this woudl have elicited a *massive* punitive response from us. Today? Ha!

I am not saying that we are in a state of Eloihood -- but it's possible that willingnbess to fight might be more important than actual weapons.

Posted by: hugh on April 15, 2006 7:41 PM

You are afraid that we will "lack the will" to use our destructive capacities, I pray that we will have the wisdom not to use them. Both for our own sake and the sake of the world. It takes very little "will" to press a button and condemn hundreds of thousands of people to death. In fact the very use of terms like "courage" and "willpower" to characterize the willingness to bomb other populations, or (for the great majority of us), to cast a vote for other people to bomb other populations, rests on a false analogy to tribal forms of warfare which really did require entire male populations to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Unfortunately our evolutionary heritage means that these kinds of analogies still have a dangerous and pre-rational emotional grip on us.

Our motivation for not screwing around with Mexico, by the way, is clear enough -- they are a major supplier of low cost labor that our ownership class would like to keep flowing trouble-free. Since WWII we have shown ourselves very willing to kill hundreds of thousands over very minor provocations, that does not really seem to be a problem for us.

Posted by: MQ on April 15, 2006 8:03 PM

When greed ( business is not necessary bad )meets indulgence ( fun can be ok )what could happen ?

but I tend to concern . I guess it's all up to education.

look fr studioLDA

Posted by: look on April 21, 2006 6:18 AM

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