Discover more from Howard Chaykin...as ever, I remain...
Unsafe at any speed.
Four years ago, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Woodstock Art, Music, and overflowing portable toilet festival, there was an upsurge in the universal and general loathing of my generation by those born in the years after that nearly two quasi officially designated decades, an era set in motion with we have to assume was one serious post war fuck fest of 1945 and anchored by the arrival of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in the post mourning priapic Spring of 1964.
To be perfectly honest, this was ageist vituperation that was almost comical in its bilious, foaming at the mouth collective depth.
The primary subtext of all this cross generational shit talk was the perception that those of us born in that eighteen-year span had had, you know, some special thing, an evolved consciousness if you will, and had somehow betrayed the principles of a countercultural generation that stood for something unique, some higher purpose, some greater moral good.
Notwithstanding that there were few five year olds born in 1964 knee deep, or in their case neck deep, in the mud, swill, and yes, completely media generated overwrought bullshit of that weekend—trust me on this, I was there—this was a fairly typical example of a complete misunderstanding of another era’s culture, or, to be perfectly honest, the buying whole hog of media’s selling of the representation of that or any culture, with no real commitment to back up the lip service to reporting anything bearing a resemblance to objective truth.
And to be perfectly honest again, as I pointed out in a screed in regard to this celebration, Woodstock had far more in common with comic convention cosplay than culturally curated commitment. There was no betrayal of any higher calling in the half century that followed. Rather, all that mud, sludge and dressing up was for the most part performance, a lot of representation that, like so much of the modern iteration of that overvalued, nonsensical pandering descriptor, was all too much smoke and all too little fire.
This canard of the betrayal of principles, along with the usual accusations of hypocrisy, selfishness, narcissism, racism, and sexism, is all rolled up in a tightly knit little ball of “OK, Boomer,“ with just enough actual truth and merit to carry more weight than is comfortable to casually dismiss as just sour grapes bullshit.
Sorry, but after all is said and done, it was just a weekend, of weekend warriors, getting high and getting laid.
Try it sometime. You might like it. Just a thought.
In a typically digressive aside, it’s worth noting that every generation, certainly every generation since the dawn of the twentieth century and the advent of what we can identify as modern media, knows full well that that media’s portrayal of one’s generation, its convictions, its principles, its values, is often barely distinguishable from complete nonsense.
And, despite this, every generation turns right around and takes whatever that self-same media said or says about every other generation as the gospel truth. “It says so in the (fill in at your leisure with wherever you’re regularly misinformed as you will.)!”
In this regard, as just one example, I fondly recall teenaged me, disabusing my then fortyish newly single and seriously on the make mentor of his notion, expressed with barely concealed envy, that my generation was just rutting at will; roll me over in the clover, indeed.
The reality that we had to work on it—perhaps not as hard as he and his contemporaries had had to, but, really now—came as a surprise, information he digested with a beautiful combination of vicarious disappointment and visible relief.
As absurd as his presumptions might seem, it’s worth noting that, despite the fact that there had been people under the age of twenty one for a number of years—thousands more years than the flat earth, two by two, great flood, evolution denying Christists would have you believe, believe you me—my cohort was the first in modern history which gave no indication of having the slightest interest in adopting adult postures, mores, or manners, of growing up, of accessing the contemporaneously accepted mature ideas of, well, maturity.
I have coffee every weekday with a guy who just turned eighty. He refers to women under the age of seventy as girls, and men under the age of seventy as kids. He dresses in the modern version of the same outfit he can be seen wearing on the set of JAWS, where he did props on the shoot. All this, I promise, without a whiff of irony.
Of course, the same is true of me, and for most, if not all of my contemporaries, in regard to dress. While our parents, at our age, dressed like what we would all call adults—coats, ties, dresses, sensible shoes—we are old people who dress like children.
As do our children.
And our children’s children.
I was first introduced to the work of Thomas Frank, founding editor of THE BAFFLER, with a piece, entitled COMMODIFY YOUR DISSENT, a quarter century ago. In the course of this piece, I found Frank, a very smart guy, to be oddly naïve in his surprise at attending a congress of media types—influencers, in a pre-internet influencer age—to find out he was the only one present wearing a suit and tie. His text indicated that he felt that such an outfit was the only one appropriate for such a get together. And yet, he was surrounded by that era’s equivalent of boho hipsters.
At roughly the same time, George W. Swift Trow, in his slim and brilliant monograph WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF NO CONTEXT, personified the schism between my generation and that of my parents with a specific piece of menswear—the hat. A man of my father’s generation would have acquired a hat at about the time he was measured for long pants. Among my contemporaries, as Trow wisely points out, such a thing would only be worn ironically.
And this sea change of permanent adolescence manifested by my generational swarm, this cultural paradigm shift to a life of endless youth, has been visited upon all those born after us, to become the social and cultural default of our time. All those born after me have been inducted into the culture of childishness—even, and perhaps especially, those hipster shmucks in their porkpie hats—worn, naturally, with self-conscious flair.
And, of course, to an embarrassing extent, we behave like children, too.
For all the various crimes with which my generation is charged, the one for which it remains unindicted is this state of universally embraced permanent adolescence in all its insipid and infantilized inanity, a sobering shitshow that infects every generation that followed. And to be clear, those next generations have embraced this get out of growing up free card with a gusto and zeal that should embarrass anyone with anything resembling self-awareness.
Of course, self-awareness has been rebranded as guileless self-regard, so fat chance on that.
Fuck you, John Bradshaw, and your inner child hooey. Oh, the damage that bullshit hath wrought.
As this blight of aged infantilism has metastasized over this well over a half century of its existence, this nonsense has found new and often catastrophic ways to maintain the status quo of damaging bullshit, recrafting the public and private sphere into the equivalent of the worst fucking schoolyard playground ever.
As it was happening on January 6, 2021, the attempted overthrow of the United States government by violent means, was immediately identifiable as a National Socialist Woodstock, replete with the cosplaying/role playing/representation/performance that made the original festival so attractive to the mass media, and so available to that mass media, now and then, for its own read on both events.
As asininely adolescent as this bunch of beta bullies seeking and finding an outlet for their toxic masculinity and, yes, femininity too might very well have been, it’s the “hold my breath ‘til I turn blue” tantrum of shock that followed, in a nearly universal attempt to reject objective reality and come up with a series of increasingly more ridiculous explanations of the experience, to separate from the guilt, caught so perfectly on video, by, for the most part, the perpetrators themselves.
That guileless self-regarding narcissism can really fuck you up, without any help from Mum and Dad. But in this case, as per Philip Larkin, you can probably continue to blame them. I certainly would.
When I listened to the near daily torrent of self-serving bullshit from this swarm of assholes who seemed genuinely shocked to be called out on what I dare call treason, all I could think of was a five-year-old, chin covered with cookie crumbs, the shattered cookie jar in shards at his feet, denying that he had anything to do with the crime scene at hand.
And true to form, the denial metastasized into a full body tantrum from the body politic in thrall to these shitweasels, mountebanks that insisted this was no act of domestic terrorism, but a senate tour that might, just might, have gotten a little, y’know, boys will be boys rowdy, and only just a touch out of hand.
And then of course, there’s the inane, not to say fucking insane, presumption on the other side of the schoolyard, of an entitlement to “safe spaces,” of narrative delivered equipped with “trigger warnings,” only two of the modern presumptions of entitlement that leave me weeping at what left of center politics has become.
Somehow, there is now a cadre of people, of, for fuck’s sake, voting age, who seem to earnestly and honestly believe that they are entitled to societal protection from offense, from insult—from, you should pardon the expression, hurt feelings.
Talk about being utterly unprepared for actual reality as it’s lived.
While their whiny right wing brethren seem to take exquisite delight in playing army men, this cadre of crybabies weaponizes its fragility, apparently believing that the helicopter hovering of their parents, who might very well have treated these children as pals at best, or accessories to their lifestyle choices at worst, translates out here in, how shall I say this, the real world, into an undeserved and unearned entitlement of protection from what for the rest of us accept whether we like it or not as the casual predations of life.
The legacy of arrested development with this crowd often acts itself out as a string of expectations of a fair, just and ordered world, as opposed to the generally chaotic and random experience that life too often is, certainly for those transfixed and bamboozled by these ridiculous wish dreams and worthless promises of a safe and carefree coddled life.
One unifying element of these two extremes is a dangerous tendency to see all experience through the scrim of entertainment, a filter of fun, of, for fuck’s sake, “likes.” Finding and taking pleasure in life is wonderful, as long as we accept the reality that we might be called on to actually earn these pleasures at the expense of effort and time, from time to time.
And in both cases, there are enough sleazy shitheads with a modicum of power, real or imagined, it often makes no difference, endowed with some authority, signing off on their separate nonsense, for reasons which I tend to doubt have anything to do with shared convictions, and more to do with knowing am easily manipulated fool when he/she/they show their hand(s).
How easy it would be to write this off as stupidity. And, yes—it’s pretty fucking stupid, in the impact it has on society, culture, the fucking future, for fuck’s sake. But as I’ve noted before, stupidity, as practiced by mankind, is an unwelcome endowment granted to the unfortunate many. Dumbasses abound, but that’s just the law of averages working for and against us in equal measure.
Ignorance, on the other hand, requires work, and yes, a commitment to its maintenance.
Observing the shmucks of the right in their catcalling across the aisle, and their willful—I can only hope it’s “willful,” otherwise they really are piss poor protoplasm unsuited even to be organ donors—misreading of objective reality is chilling.
The chill is matched by those on the other side who feel that drowning out the voice of anyone they disagree with, let alone the now deemed dangerous description of potential disagreement, or of language of offense in the reporting of such language, is an acceptable form of political and social discourse.
And tying all this up into a perfect bouquet of bullshit is when each side, guilty of this contentious and contemptuous drowning out of the other on so regular a basis, chastises the other for such behavior.
And, to step away from politics, although, of course, thanks once again to my fucking generation, everything is political, or at least politically adjacent, there’s the generalized collapse of critical thinking, of an understanding, let alone an embrace of nuance, of human scale, in entertainment of every form.
Lazy genre writing, all too often in the realm of superspacemutantdragonmonster bullshit, is argued over, analyzed, criticized and defended by grown men and women as if it were holy scripture—which, of course it is, for these keepers of the flame. Minds are reportedly blown by the fan service at its most pandering. Daily, it would seem to me.
These people might very well have to get out more.
Grown men—mostly men, but more women than should know better, but maybe that’s just old school presumptuous sexism at work—are discomfitingly grateful to have their long held in check twelve-year-old wish dreams satisfied even as they careen towards retirement age.
The flip side of this is that same cadre of almost ready for AARP mooks who are furious at not being as entertained as they would have been at twelve by the arrival of these pathetically obvious naked cash grabs.
As actual religious life and observance has retreated from modern culture, leaving the supernatural bullshit to the troglodytic believers who justify their heinous behavior with any old interpretation of any old scripture, secular religion—or as it used to be called, toxically proprietary fandom—has become an overwhelming social plague, overhanging popular culture like a shitstorm.
I feel like a complete idiot, having never until recently understood how grown men and women—the few who actually read anymore, for fuck’s sake—are satisfied, delighted even, reading children’s books. This foolishness is just one more corporately contrived means to keep that inner child numbed and happy.
Coloring books, too. Without any attendant irony.
Thus, from Baby Boomers, to Generation X, to Millennials to Generation Z, from past retirement age to barely absorbed by the work force, we have an entire culture that is best represented—there’s that word again—by a grade school cafeteria, of the cliques of middle school, incapable of anything resembling empathy for another point of view, willfully isolated and divided by biological age, yet unified in the glory of an “I’m rubber, you’re glue” defined state of emotional, moral and ethical immaturity.
Freaks and Geeks for an entire culture, from cradle to grave.
So, yes, it was my generation which made permanent youth, or, to be brutally honest, and call it by its true name, arrested development, the way of the USA. And, as the voice of a generation—hey, someone has to do it—I’d like to apologize for making entitled infantilism the default for American culture, laying down the groundwork for a society so fatuous in its tastes, so credulous in its beliefs, so easily offended and so easily patronized, and so readily played for a sucker…
…It’s like taking candy from a baby.
And, of course, I’m guessing this brings the bespoke tailored Morlocks all the joy they could possibly desire.
Trust me on this.
As ever, I remain,
Howard Victor Chaykin, a prince; but like Charles, way past my ascension date to any particular throne.