Thursday, May 27

Dear God, I Think It's Contagious

Dahlia Lithwick, "The Kagan Kids: Why the younger generation doesn't care about the debate over the latest Supreme Court nominee." May 26

JACK Casady is one of the finest players ever to pick up a bass. And he (and Jorma Kaukonen) played with a collection of megalomaniacal gits known as Jefferson Airplane. This is essentially how I feel about Dahlia Lithwick appearing in Slate.

(Unless you were TV Guide, in which case they were The Jefferson Airplane rock combo. The Guiders thought such Way Out monikers had to be explained. Guests: Hal Holbrook, Vickie Lawrence, and The Who rock combo. Special guests The Jimi Hendrix Experience rock combo. Featuring The Procul Harum vocal group. Always with the article, too. The Cream. The Ultimate Spinach. Somehow, though, if The Lettermen were on Sullivan they were just The Lettermen. Apparently the Guide figured sports fans were harder to confuse.)

Every time I've been on a radio show on the subject of Kagan's wardrobe/softball playing/marital status, some twentysomething caller has taken me to school. It turns out, they invariably tell me, that twentysomethings just don't care if their Supreme Court justices are black, white, Jewish, Protestant, gay, or straight. Every day someone under the age of 30 either sends me an e-mail or tweet or a Facebook post reminding me that those of us making a huge big fat media deal about the nominee's race, religion, sexual preferences or marital status are quickly becoming cultural dinosaurs.

Y'know, more than a little of this is because these are the sorts of people who call in, or Tweeter, to shows about Elena Kagan coverage that include Dahlia Lithwick on the panel. Because that's what those people believe, and it's what all their friends say they believe, and so it's what they pretend everyone they'll admit to having in their potential mating pool believes. What're they saying on FOX?
Young people reading Robin Givhan's article on Kagan's scandalously open knees think they're reading something hilarious from their grandparents' stack of dating magazines from the 1950s. When they hear us yelping about racial diversity at the court, they think about the fact that their classrooms are already incredibly diverse and their Facebook friendships span continents. When they hear us shrieking over women's softball, they shake their Title IX heads and figure we're just idiots for thinking straight women don't play sports. And when they hear us whispering behind our hands about whether someone is gay, most of them tell me they think we're just freaking idiots. Just as they embody Barack Obama's post-racial America, they identify almost completely with Kagan's post-gender America—in which womanhood simply isn't defined by skirts, babies, or boyfriends anymore.

Delightful. If true.

But forgive me for being stuck in The Evil Sixties, when another miracle generation, better educated, more open, and tolerant, and less driven by material acquisition than the doomed reptiles that gave it birth morphed into Reaganaut Yuppie Scum. Jebus Magic was supposed to disappear under 19th century scientific advancement, too. I'm not saying we're going to see Ozzie and Harriet III, or Amos and Andy 2025, or the Get The Gays Back Out Of The Military movement. I am saying that perhaps this is a tad overblown. Perhaps people tend, if not to become their parents, to become a lot more like them once they discover the shocking fact that they aren't going to be twenty-two forever.

I'm saying that the racism, sexism, and homophobia in our present politics come from somewhere, and that somewhere is not restricted to AARP members. None of that stuff was invented by anyone living today, no matter how old or unfashionable, nor how undesirable the demographic. The "attitudes" of "millenials" that "pollsters" detect sure haven't prevented Barack Obama from being slimed, or put FOX News out of business, any more than it prevented the Reagan Counterrevolution, any more than "moving beyond old-style politics" salved the presidencies of Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. We will see. In the meantime: if you're Way Beyond crypto-Lesbian bashing by softball photo, then either do something about it, or shut th' fuck up. Apparently the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal aren't really scared of you. The Indianapolis Racist Beacon, for whatever this is worth, thinks the way to attract your spendthrift demographic is to display photos of cleavage models hoisting their favorite alcoholic beverages, not to display their careful respect for multicultural diversity. Tell them about it. Or don't fucking care. The one thing you might quit doing, like as of two years ago, is blaming both sides of the argument for some reason.

It's the goddam real world; just because I have a mortgage doesn't mean I like it any better than you do. But who th' fuck's responsible? The Post and the Journal used that softball photo. This blog didn't greet her nomination with "Yay, Lesbians!" If you think you're smart, then try being wise. If you think the culture is going to turn into the perfect paradise of meritorious, color-blind diversity without someone doing the grunt work; if you think such diversity will be achieved, or maintained, simply because of your superior social views, then you aren't paying attention.

Barack Obama has made two Court nominations. The first was attacked for being a Latina, and the second has been attacked for being an insufficient breeder. And both times he was attacked for making the choice "just for diversity's sake". Is this half his fault?
Both Obama and Kagan have been at great pains to distance themselves philosophically from those crazy "judicial activists" of the '60s and '70s. Yet the president and his nominee are also reaping the benefits of an America that every day becomes more accepting of difference and personal choice as a result of that very same judicial activism. When Obama and Kagan talk about the landmark victories of Thurgood Marshall's era with a nostalgic smile and express their confidence that such battles are behind us, they really aren't wrong. But they also ignore the ways in which the Supreme Court has used the argument that the old intolerance is behind us to upend voluntary desegregation programs and threaten affirmative action in recent years. These open-hearted twenty somethings are proof that integrated schools and affirmative action and gay rights have created a more tolerant nation. But what today's twentysomethings should know—and what one hopes Kagan will remember—is that that this tolerance is partially their own choice, and partially an inheritance they need to fight to protect.

And, Dahlia, I still love ya. But let's add that all of the above need to know that partly through ignorance, and partly through a Texas-like, decades-long effort to camouflage inconvenient truths, the incredibly brave sacrifices made in the name of civil rights and cultural diversity have been reduced to King on a Postage Stamp and Chicks on the Court. Just as Vietnam gets treated as a museum piece no one under fifty should be bothered to look at, the very real lessons are lost on people who insist they're Over It, and too advanced to care. We forget the sacrifices made more than a century-and-a-half ago to end chattel slavery at peril of our mortal souls, and at risk that the whole thing gets rewritten for the next generation by Confederate sympathizers. Old French postcards are quaint; Matthew Brady's photographs are not. If young people are "concerned about the economy" then they're concerned with Hamilton vs. Jefferson, with the First World War, and Plessy v. Ferguson. They're concerned with Wounded Knee, and incontinent militarism, with the transcontinental railroad and the subjugation of women. Or else they're just a few more jackdaws which can imitate human speech. Wi-fi doesn't exempt you from this stuff. You stand where you stand because of the sacrifices of others, and that's not just the people who got marched off to war. And if you don't know, or don't care, then people who do have to keep schooling you until you get it.

And don't get me wrong; it's great that the bright young teenager next door told her Republican father to stuff it. It's great that she won't make overtly racist comments in public (though this hasn't proven she's immune). But, y'know, I'll try to report back in a few years, when she's more concerned with property values than looking good.


guitarist manqué said...

Saw Jack and Jorma a couple of weeks ago and they were in amazingly fine form.

luminous muse said...

Beg to respectully differ about the Airplane. Marty Balin wrote wonderful songs ("Coming Back to Me", ""Young Girl Sunday Blues.") Jack and Jorma alone didn't make After Bather at Baxters, the greatest psychedelic experiment in history. Even old Grace graced it with ReJoyce.
Yeah it was downhill after that, though I think the problem was more drink and drugs than megalomania.

bjkeefe said...