12 August, 2006

The death of disappointment

Some super-smart and rather funny people wrote recently in dismayed tones about the conquest of irony over satire.* I worry more about the death of disappointment.

Talking to American baby boomers, I sense a national self-image that now seems naive, quaint, and maybe a bit foolish. They felt their country could offer freedom and democracy and hope for the world -- not just as a talking point but for real. I talked to one fellow in June who said that even after he turned against Vietnam, he still applied to the State Department -- not realizing that they didn't much hire Jews.

Who under 30 carries that kind of hope? Without hope, there is no disappointment. Without disappointment, no Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live, no All the President's Men, no "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin-to-Die Rag" or "Ohio." Not even, and this is art that came out in the 80s but was produced by a boomer...

read the whole delicious post by clicking hereBloom County, a daily comic that openly discussed safe sex, had its characters go on a closed-shop union-led strike, and talked of impeaching Reagan.

I think that the detachment and indifference one finds in youth culture and even in protest culture about the fate of the USA -- and maybe of the developed world as a whole -- is based on despair. We've given up hope that Enlightenment-era Constitutional democracy is anything but a cover for the rapaciousness that's cataloged in the million-selling A People's History of the United States and, on weekdays, in the Wall Street Journal. It's like we feel it would be just as well to throw this draft out, ball it up and start over. And that would be great if any real revolutionary sentiment was flowing around, but it's not -- we're not throwing out, we're not starting over, and as we withdraw into negativity and hopelessness, real people are being killed in our wars and factories.

The most terrifying loss isn't comedy or cine verite. It's the loss of a wide-open youth culture in which people get together and commiserate and fix things -- a culture motivated, maybe, by hope and disappointment. I know the Web is nice but no, it's not the same. When veterans returned from Vietnam (forget the "spitting" myths, they are bullshit), the angriest and most alienated were welcomed by hippie and biker culture, each premised on love for different ideals of what America and humanity could be. Even while in Vietnam, they had open organized rebellions against the politicians who sent them to kill and die. (You are required to watch the extended 12-minute trailer.)

So, to draw the parallel, where do people go who return from Iraq? Almost half a million have served there. Many have been broken down. Being under fire for a year and taught to torture and having friends killed amid limited booze and unlimited ammo is not good for the mind.

The people I find on this blergh are, I think, still hopeful and put off by America's turn away from ideals. Many of us are immigrants or children of immigrants, but other than that, I see little unifying theme. Maybe African-Americans have kept this kind of hope more than "whites"; at least their vote turnout is higher and let's just say no European-American celebrities had the huevos to say the obvious about whether George Bush likes black people.

Why do some people continue to struggle for the deeper, more inspiring American dream, the one embodied in the best rhetoric of the Founding Fathers, while so many others seem willing to detach and watch, not even helping create an alternative but rather enjoying clever jokes about the chaos of the fall from Jon Stewart & Co.? Do they really feel so safe? Is it the deathwish of the privileged? What?

*OK, so I am reposting a barely rewritten comment I wrote for another blergh. That is because I have become functionally illiterate as a result of working for the Man. Enjoy this while you can, as I am regurgitating old prose, starting with the most recent, and before long I will have to start posting stories from my high-school literary magazine. At that time, the Internet can be expected to shrivel up in recoiling horror, unwilling to transmit such bad.

note: i moved this post down to make keep saurabh's manifesto up top longer.


i think people just sit around more often these days and play the blame game...there used to be a time when people got up and did something...not anymore...its like. whatever is happening is taking place right under their noses.. and the sad part is they NOTICE it happen. 

Posted by grafxgurl

I think you've really found the issue behind the issue here. Although I do believe Iraq vets. will experience the problems returning in not finding that niche the other vets. found easily, I do not believe the fall of satire will directly lead to the fall of that part of pop culture. Now-a-days children are more politically aware then ever, no longer burdened by the need to agree with parents (its actually going the other direction in these rebellious times). Anyway, keep it rolling and I hope the sudden burst of fame doesn't inflate that head past literate limits or I'll be lost once again.

Dylan or Beyond the Bang 

Posted by Dylan

Speaking from the Baby Boomer generation. The 60s are over, done. Yah had to be there. Time to turn the page. Same with the greatest generation ever--those who lived and fought in World War II. America is changing, morphing into something else. Who knows what? We morphed from an English colony into the greatest country in modern history. How did we do that? Our values and traditions are bending as this country tries to absorb all the hate from countries still living in the 13th century AND try to reach into the future at the same time. Sitting around drinking big gulps of angst won't do much. Think America has issues, travel to other countries. Europe. Africa. Mexico. Why do 700,000 people a year leave Russia? Why do people swim rivers, risk their lives to come here? Why do we let the real terrorists--big banks, credit companies, pharmaceutical firms, health insurers, oil companies--control our behaviors? When will we learn to think globally? Accept change. Embrace it. Don't sit and wax philosophically about what is gone. Grab what is to come instead.  

Posted by Casey Turton

I guess I am a baby boomer because I was born in 1960. But you are being incredibly "general" with your comments. Baby boomers also lived through U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Now, I was barely cognizant of the war, until towards the end, but I remember images on TV, the photos from 1975 when South Vietnam "fell," and the photos of dead soldiers in Hustler.

Not to mention I went to college and learned about "events" such as the fall of Allende. This gave me a different political orientation than that of the average neoconservative.

Many many "baby boomers" were appalled by the lead up to war, and figured, if you ever read the fiction book Armageddon by Leon Uris, about the military government in Germany post-WWII, that the U.S. government would f* things up big time.

Not to mention that if you understood even a little about the Middle East (when I was in college the Shah fell and I wrote a paper about it) that Iraq is three different "countries" -- Kurd, Sunni, Shite -- held together by oppression, and when the strictures were removed... can you say "Yugoslavia"?

But when you lead with ideology, you aren't objective, and you end up, unless you are very very lucky, making very serious mistakes.

The one thing our country is very good at is not learning generally, and not learning from history specifically.

But given the state of the world, we can no longer afford to waste trillions of dollars in mistake-based learning. 

Posted by Richard Layman

You can only be disappointed by hope if you put a time limit on the results. May God Bless you.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Hi Hedgehog
I was reading you and remembering thousands of young adults students of mine who feel this acid disappointment and all of you are absolutely RIGHT.If you are not totally stoned or delusional, you HAVE to feel disappointed. I have to thank you all bright people now in your 30's because you gave me inspiration to rethink life and go deep in the roots of many aspects. You can well see the symptoms and made me look for the cause of this cancer. Because of you, I have just started my blog. I'll be soon sharing with you some insights about mistaken survival strategies, stupidity and evolution. You know, T, your generation does not need to despair because there is one thing called mortality. The children of your children will soon be in this world, and you can always teach them in a totally different and better way than the parents of our parents taught you. That's the beauty of being mortal, you know? You do your best and then give way to change and evolution. 

Posted by Mariesaintmichel

Unfortunately, there won't be much of a life for T's kids or his kids' kids. Global warming, honey.


Posted by CrnuchySpaceman

Dylan:  Don't worry, if you read my older postings, you'll see I my head went past literate limits years ago.

Casey: good point, and I am all for change. But if someone drops a diamond ring in the toilet, there's no need to flush right away, even if there's also a turd in there. It's good to see what is getting lost so that we can choose to hang on to it if we want.

Crunchy: You might be interested in this.  

Posted by hedgehog

Anyone who doesn't believe in hope hasn't set foot in a classroom--any classroom--in recent times. Every adolescent cry of 'it's not fair' or 'man, that's jacked' is a cry of hope for something better. Every time a kid acts out, HOPING for some attention, there's a moment of lightness, because that is a chance for the Universe to improve. Everytime someone celebrates a moment of actual thinking (not just regurgitation or brainwashed test scores) there is hope that this person can change the world. Hope is still here--it is where it always is...it's in the hearts of the young. (Young people are born with a hole in their hearts. As they get older they fill it with cares and broken dreams, but when they are young, if they listen to this hole, it will take them where they need to be the most.--Barry Hughart) 

Posted by Amy Lane

Amy Lane : You're right - too long out of the classroom. Another schoolteacher pal of mine said something similar: "I definitely see hope in the kids I work with every day. My kids will know that the world is not fair. We talk about the fact that black and brown kids are treated differently then kids in the hills... Maybe hope has just moved to different populations." 

Posted by hedgehog

i think we're still having a business 2.0 problem, that a better world is invented-not-made and change requires the judicial application of a technocratic expertise. i blame star trek. 

Posted by hibiscus

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