The Good Old Days
It seems I have reached the age at which my contemporaries have taken up the re-writing of history to suit their current mindset and have begun to bemoan the current generation of young people for their clothing, their music and their morals. Memories, it seems, are selective at best.
Case in point, I have seen memes lately stating things along the lines of: “when I was a kid, we were out playing with each other, not texting or facebooking.” True, because it didn’t exist, but now that it does, what are you doing? Jumping on Facebook, Pinterest, texts, e-mails, etc. to say how shitty kids are today for paying so much attention to Facebook, Pinterest, texts, e-mails, etc. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty of abusing social media as anybody. Hell my hobby is to write long diatribes to friends and strangers detailing my thoughts for the week. How self-absorbed and introverted/extroverted can you get? But I digress. Let’s get back to you and your haughtiness towards today’s youth shall we?
Think about it. Our parents could say the same thing about us. “You know, when I was forty, if we wanted face-time with someone we went to their house and talked to them! We had one phone, and we kept the line open in case there was an emergency. If we wanted to chat with a friend we went down to the tavern and met them, we didn’t sit alone typing to them- those were called letters and when you got one of those it usually meant someone had died or you’d been drafted. And if you wanted to see a naked woman you had to pay a nickel to sit in a filthy little room with sticky floors and… wait, there’s porn on the Internet?”
But that’s just the beginning of this trend I’ve noticed in my own generation. First off, for those of you with short term memories, before you lash out at kids today for playing their PS 4 instead of going to the park, think about how often you sat in front of your Atari 2600 avoiding scorpions and campfires with your Pitfall guy.
Actually, if I remember correctly, our parents’ generation did say the same thing about us. There were news reports about the lost generation and our addiction to video games and the arcade. Boston even prohibited the licensing of arcade games in residential areas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F70EXLwqQHk. Remember the flack we took for all hanging around the Ms. Pac-Man and Q-Bert and Jungle Hunt machines? “Why don’t you kids go out and play?”
But it goes beyond how they spend their time. Today’s youth are criticized for their exposure to sex and violence. First off, who allows this? We do. But before we decry that Miley Cyrus licking a wrecking ball is poisoning their fragile little minds, let’s not forget that Madonna was singing about being touched for the very first time Like a Virgin and Cyndi Lauper was practically going blind a she She Bopped, and name one Prince song that isn’t about that little androgynous weirdo getting laid. And they all played on a constant cycle on B-96 and MTV. Let us also not forget that before there was PG-13, nudity and swearing were allowed in PG movies. Don’t believe me? Watch an uncensored version of Airplane and notice while the naked boobs go bouncing by that it’s rated PG. The Man With Two Brains opens on a tracking shot of a woman’s bare breast. Yep, big tit in the middle of the screen – also rated PG. (Learned that the hard way when I went to watch it with my 7-year-old son) Most of the movies directed at us seemed to assume we’d all already ‘done it’ (which when you’re a dorky kid with thick glasses gives you a pretty skewed view of reality, when you think you’re the only one who hasn’t and isn’t really even sure how). Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, National Lampoons Vacation and Caddy Shack, all of my favorites, all featuring kids having sex and doing drugs. And we turned out all right, right? Again, I digress. Don’t even get me started on Blame It On Rio.
It seems to be a right of passage though. Just as tossing aside the values of your parents’ generation, criticizing the mores and work ethic of the new generation must be a part of the human experience. As I pointed out above, we aren’t the first. Our parents, the Baby-Boomers, they weren’t sure where we were heading. We didn’t have the social-consciousness, the work ethic, didn’t know the meaning of sacrifice.
Ironic behavior for a generation that found itself virtually, and literally, at war with its preceding generations. But they reached that age, that age when what they knew had changed into something from the past and the world had moved on. Mutton chops and cut-off denim shorts and tie-dye shirts were out. Neon stretch pants, oversized sweatshirts and oversized earrings and oversized everything else, and turned-up collared shirts on preppy, label-conscious kids, or black lipstick and nail polish on the misfits from Tom Petty’s Zombie Zoo (Petty’s take on 80’s Goth, he’s a baby boomer btw) were the in-things. No more acoustic singer-songwriters. We had synthesizers and computerized music for the computer age. The future was ‘now’ and Max Headroom was the proof. Michael Jackson and Madonna competed to see who could grab their crotch the most in one song.
The space-age wonderment of the 1970’s erupted in a ball of flame and showered its ashes all over Florida in 1986. We lived in constant fear of the Nuke and the Day After. Live for now because there might not be another tomorrow. The cold war, the Iron Curtain, and in a heartbeat Ayds went from being a diet pill to AIDS, the disease that will kill you for having sex. Oh shit, just as I’m about to start dating. And according to John Hughes, all these girls have been around before. I hope I don’t get AIDS and die because I made-out with a slut while I had a canker sore in my mouth.
In my circle of friends, we didn’t smoke pot or do coke, although coke was the drug of choice for those about 5-10 years older than us. But we drank. We drank like, well, like our grandparents. Remember, things skip a generation. There were gang shootings, unrest in the Middle East, the constant threat of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, and AIDS, don’t forget AIDS. Drink up boys. I’d say half of my generation used some form of tobacco – either cigarettes or chew. And there were still those who smoked pot – burnouts we called them.
Minus the cell phones and the texting and snapchatting, my bet is, if you were to turn invisible and follow around a group of high schoolers now, they wouldn’t be much different than we were at that age.
I don’t know what it is that makes us lash out at the upcoming group, but it happens to every generation. Take for example this quote about the lazy, privileged generation:
The counts of the indictment are luxury, bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect to elders, and a love for chatter in place of exercise. …
Children began to be the tyrants, not the slaves, of their households. They no longer rose from their seats when an elder entered the room; they contradicted their parents, chattered before company, gobbled up the dainties at table, and committed various offences against Hellenic tastes, such as crossing their legs. They tyrannized over the paidagogoi and schoolmasters.
Kenneth John Freeman wrote that in 1907. He was describing the attitudes of ancient Romans to the upcoming generation.
It is eternal. Don’t believe me? Watch an Andy Hardy movie from the ‘30’s or 40’s. The teenybopper flicks of the day. There is an obvious generational divide that spurs the comedy of those very popular pictures that made Mickey Rooney a star. Yeah, Mickey Rooney, the Justin Beiber of his time, well maybe not quite Beiber, maybe more like the Justin Long if Justin Long looked more like Patton Oswald. Still not a great analogy, but you get it, he was in a lot of movies.
What I’m trying to say is, this is nothing new. We like to remember the good old days as having been good, but they weren’t. Why can’t we go back to the way things were when I was a kid? Nuclear threats? AIDS? Howard the Duck? Our parents thought in those difficult times, ‘why can’t we go back to when I was a kid?’ The beginning of the cold war, Korea, Viet Nam, civil unrest, riots, racial inequality, the civil rights movement and separate drinking fountains in the south?
And the previous generation… why can’t we go back to when… the world was at war? Hitler was very close to taking over the world while he slaughter 2 million people and Americans fought and died on two fronts? When every family on the block had at least one, if not more, loved one overseas in harms way and the fate of the world rested in the hands of elected old men and the young men willing to lay down their lives for the rest of us?
And before them, the Great Depression? The Dust Bowl? Prohibition? Gangland violence in the streets?
And before that, the World at War. Chemical warfare, gas masks, air assaults for the first time in human history.
We can go back and back and back and find the same thing. The world is shit. Been that way forever. Will be that way forever. But as kids we don’t see it. We only know what we’ve always known and the rest is a new experience given to us by those in charge at the time mingled with our imagination of what it could be. We tend to look back on those days through rose-colored glasses because, though times were bad for the world in general, we were just kids. We were busy discovering ourselves and each other and freedom bit-by-bit, friends, and bugs, and worms, and love, and ‘like’, and lust, and infatuation, and music, and movies, and tastes of our own in those things and food and drink and we tested the limits and we had fun and we had some responsibility but not much and that made those times so much better than today… And that’s the point.
Today isn’t worse than yesterday, it’s just that we’re in a different place now than we were then and that place just isn’t as good as the place we were in yesterday when everything was new and regrets were few and opportunities were something that hadn’t even presented themselves yet and anything was possible and how it is at that age must be how it’s always been. But that’s not how it is now. That’s what’s changed – our perspective, our place in the world – more than anything else, that’s what’s changed. And it’s not so nice. So we look back and we remember things differently than they really were. But not entirely because a lot of what we criticize these young kids about, are those things we look back on in our moments of honest reflection and regret. “Don’t waste your time in front of the TV” is really “Don’t waste as much time in front of the TV as I did because if I could trade places with you or go back I would in a heartbeat and I’d eat it all up, I wouldn’t waste a second watching Alf.”
So cut the kids some slack. As Billy Joel said in 1983, “the good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems”.
They’ll learn. One day they’ll be forty and they’ll be telling their kids how wonderful things were in the twenty-teens, when life was so much better.
And to think, you wasted these good old days wishing you were sometime else.
– Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941)
P.S. To support my thoughts, here are some quotes about teens and generation gaps from throughout the years. Seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same:
“Every generation wants to be the last. Every generation hates the next trend in music they can’t understand. We hate to give up those reins of our culture. To find our own music playing in elevators. The ballad for our revolution, turned into background music for a television commercial. To find our generation’s clothes and hair suddenly retro.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby
I never expected to see the day when girls would get sunburned in the places they do now. ~Will Rogers
“Now I am old-fashioned. A woman, I consider, should be womanly. I have no patience with the modern neurotic girl who jazzes from morning to night, smokes like a chimney, and uses language which would make a billingsgate fishwoman blush!” ― Agatha Christie, Murder on the Links 1923
Nothing so dates a man as to decry the younger generation. — Adlai E. Stevenson
Images from The Good Old Days:
But you were having fun until the streetlights came on, right?