Can the rest of us afford to live in a society constantly auditioning to make an ass of itself on TV?
Jonah wrote this, did he?
--Kia, in comments at Roy's
WE end this week's Accidental Three-Part Survey of the Evil Sixties as told by the Pundits Who Missed Them Entirely with poor, conflicted Jonah, who, fittingly, isn't even writing about the Sixties, except he is. As always.
I readily admit the public-school nature of my little obsession with birth dates and mini-generationlets. I went to high school in the early 70s, in white, suburban Indianapolis, which is roughly when The Sixties began to arrive in those parts. I was well aware of living in a Time Warp, one in which The Sixties, literal and figurative, were officially over, but the silly, superficial, suburban battles were still to be fought. At the beginning of my sophomore year the township district to our north was informed by the courts it could not expel a student because it didn't like his haircut; word didn't get around quickly enough to prevent one of the assistant football coaches at my school from holding down one of the players and shearing him.
When I entered high school (three-year) the middle-class kids aspired to look and act like the Omegas of Animal House, and the poorer kids aspired to find beer and steal hubcaps. Student Council or Car Nazi. Free to Choose! By the time I left, the four-barrels and glasspacks were starting to be replaced by as-yet-un-airbrushed vans, with the Moody Blues on the 8-Track and the smell of Hoosier ditch weed at the back of the parking lot. Versus the Student Council.
So it's impossible for me not to see James Lileks (b. 1958) as the second-chair-trombone-and-dental-headgear victim of related Prairie marauders, and the co-incidental Thai-stick-and-Alice Cooper soundtrack accompaniment as his version of Sacher-Masoch's furs. It's hard not to imagine David Brooks' (b. 1961) pre-Conversion "liberalism" as a mild summer flirtation with Cheap Trick at Budokan that got out of hand one evening when he cranked the volume to 5 and Mummy had one of her spells; and Douthat (b. 1979) as the home-schooled religious fanatic who probably would have turned out pretty much the same regardless of era, but wasn't exactly helped by the marriage of wingnut politics and backwoods kerosine-drinking theology that occurred around the time of his birth, nor the Starr Report coming out when he was just old enough to look up "fellatio" in the dictionary.
And then there's Jonah (1969), product of an ill-considered wingnut mating experiment and the full-on Reagan "Hip To Be Square" Cultural Reeducation Program. Goldberg--and I don't mean to give the man the benefit of human-feeling he doesn't deserve--seems like the sad sack who would've swung with it if a) anyone had wanted him to join in, and b) if he dared stand up to the brutal, hulking, belt-wielding tyrant waiting for him at home. Or his father, either.
No, I think Goldberg's a Star Wars nerd by default. Of course, everything he is he seems to be by default, but that's another matter. It doesn't excuse what he chose to become, but it at least helps to explain it. He's old enough that as a Teen he probably could have sneaked around to get high without having anyone take particular notice of it, and without having to answer for his Nixonian politics while doing so. (Has he, even now? He'll be bringing up---wait for it!--Tiger Woods, shortly, to argue that Woods could at least "afford" to be a cad, in financial terms; doesn't that easy, middle-aged White Boy libertarianism apply to him, in spades (sorry), and not to his "It's a battle for the very existence of Civilization; sorry I'm earning too much money to take part" credit?) But he had to watch the popular kids, the funny kids, the smart kids, and, really, pretty much everyone else not religiously corseted or suffering from Elephant Man's Disease pair off and hump like teenaged bunnies, freed of the social strictures which would have made his virginity a mark of achievement.
It's difficult, if not impossible, to look at this collection and wonder at the psychic cost of their being allowed to rebel by being Anti-Rebels, of being told They were Smarter Than all those kids who were having fun, to have paid no cost, other than as a dodgeball target or locker stuffee, for navigating that unnatural state of affairs known as Teenagedness. Brooks, Douthat, and Goldberg look upon The Sixties the way Lileks looks upon Burnt Orange Shag Carpeting, as a benchmark of their self-proclaimed personal superiority. They're the easy beneficiaries of the Civil Rights movement who didn't have to take sides when that meant personal risk, but can now cavil about Affirmative Action and Race Pimps while insisting their own hands remain spotless; they're the guys whose public international bellicosity was never tested by compulsory boot camp (and certainly not by voluntary service), but who can throw stones at Vietnam-era protesters; they can serve as paid apologists for the worst excesses of trash capitalism while still bemoaning the sort of low-class sucker who gobbles up worthless dreck, or aspires to join in the general looting. Mr. Pantload?
Culturally, this has been the decade of the reality show. And what do we have to show for it? Not much more than the contestants themselves.
Survey the wreckage. Richard Hatch, the first Survivor champion, was just released from prison (he didn’t pay taxes on his winnings). The marriage of the Octoparents, Jon and Kate, is a shambles. Richard and Mayumi Heene were so desperate to land a reality series, they concocted an enormous hoax, convincing the country their child had been carried away in a balloon. Michaele and Tareq Salahi tried to claw their way onto the sure-to-be-hideous series Real Housewives of D.C. by brazening their way into a state dinner. And alleged wife-killer Ryan Jenkins, a contestant on two VH1 shows, is a stark reminder that fame is not a reflection of good character.
Okay, let's say, to begin with, that I've never watched any of this shit, but I know who all of those people are, thanks to the news, or "news". So let's take it up with them. Now then, I have no idea how many people, or "people", have appeared on so-called reality shows, but surely it's enough so that one Richard Hatch is not surprising. Nor fifty. What is a little surprising is Jonah Goldberg using tax evasion as the mark of Cain.
And I'm from Indianapolis, where in short order, and with no more Reality prospects beyond the reality of trashy consumption and unfettered greed, Marcus "Flyboy" Schrenker, and now Tim "Indiana GOP Bankroll" Durham, have been entangled in the McMansion version of the Balloon Boy Game. As for fame not being a reflection of good character, fer chrissakes. We're reading a Jonah Goldberg column. Is it actually possible to surgically remove self-awareness?
Whose fucking America is it where grabbing for wealth and fame, however mindlessly, however hollow or fleeting, is the highest calling of Our Way of Life? Demanding laissez-faire rapine and then bemoaning the fact that some people just don't know how to behave--this is a sensible approach? And for fuck's sake, that ratio of miscreants to the merely greed-impelled can't be any higher than what we'd find by "surveying the wreckage" of the DeLay-Gingrich Republican Congresses or the Bush Administration. Balloon Boy's parents may be particularly despicable, but so far as I know nobody else lost his life savings in the deal. The Salahis are garden-variety fame-whores; are we to imagine they didn't exist before Reality teevee? Fuck, a decade ago they might've been seeking their fortune writing scabrous yellowsheets about Bill Clinton's sexual proclivities, if such a thing can be imagined.
And look, I know this isn't lost even on you, Jonah, but these are the very same people who, when they were voting for Ronald Reagan and supporting Bush's Mideast Makeover, y'all insisted were the Conscience of America and the Sensible, Hard-Working Voice of Her International Exceptionalism. Now they're tawdy and self-serving and wear too much cologne?
Don’t get me wrong; it’s great television.
So you're still sneaking off to get high and hoping Mom doesn't notice.
But gladiatorial games would be great TV, too.Christ, Goldberg, they're on G4 at 8 Eastern, replayed at 11. And you didn't seem to think so back when that short-lived American Warriors: Abu Ghraib was the cinema vérité hit of the season.
The elite minority’s general acceptance of racial and sexual equality as important values has been a moral triumph. But not without costs.
Your career, to name one.
As part of this transformation, society has embraced what social scientist Charles Murray calls “ecumenical niceness.” A core tenet of ecumenical niceness is that harsh judgments of the underclass — or people with underclass values — are forbidden. A corollary: People with old-fashioned notions of decency are fair game.
Well, far be it from me to contradict as man with as blameless a track record as Dr. Charles Murray, Ph.D, social scientist--his doctorate's in political science, by the way, and his employer is the University of Libertoonian Think Tank Sinecures, which means he's a "social scientist" in the same way that Newt Gingrich is a "Catholic theologian"--but lemme just ask you--maybe if you two removed the hoods you'd hear this a little clearer--Have you ever seen a Frank Capra movie?
Long before the rise of reality shows, ecumenical niceness created a moral vacuum. Out-of-wedlock birth was once a great shame; now it’s something of a happy lifestyle choice. The cavalier use of profanity was once crude; now it’s increasingly conversational. Self-discipline was once a virtue; now self-expression is king.
And so we return to those Evil Sixties, before which no one ever had sex with the lights on, or for longer than three minutes, and women knew they weren't supposed to enjoy it, which was a good thing, since sodomy laws made that difficult to achieve anyway. And when innocent Authority, trying merely to uphold its God-given charge to keep the races separate, the perverts closeted, and the traffic moving smoothly was tossed on its ear by a bunch of dirty hippies Herbert Marcuse riled up...hell, those Jersey Shore humps wouldn't even know what sex was without Hugh Hefner, unless Douthat's gang had stuffed 'em into our still under-utilized prisons. And so we end the week right where it began. Fucking depressing, ain't it, if you'll excuse the cavalier use of profanity?