INSITEVIEW- - tom shugart's weblog

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Illusion, Anger, and Helplessness

I've been away from the computer for a while, so I'm forced to play catch up on responding to some items that others have posted a few days back--e.g., Shelley's point about anger as the only effective response to the "learned helplessness" cited by Maria; and Elaine's reactions to my rock 'n roll reminiscences.

What's the connection here? Well, while it was nice to have Elaine--my contemporary--respond to my post with recollections of her own, when she inferred that pre-Elvis was a sweeter time, she misses the point of what I was trying to communicate. I won't assign the blame to her, however. I'll simply assume that it was inadequate communication on my part.

What I was trying to express--and thus the connection to Shelley's post--was the anger that was brewing beneath the surface of the sweetness to which Elaine refers. It wasn't political in the beginning. It took Vietnam to develop that aspect of it. But the anger was there nonetheless. It was real and it was potent. To get a sense of it, all you have to do is watch the early flicks of Brando, Dean, Mineo, Hopper et al.

It was cultural and it was generational. My generation's elders were extremely out of touch with the reality of their own experience. They tended to live their lives in dishonesty because everything was about appearances and pretense—chief among them that life was sweet. Just watch the mass movies of the time or listen to the lyrics of the songs.

Kids have good bullshit antennae. Despite their inexperience, or perhaps because of it, they frequently have a keener sense of some truths than a lot of their elders. Kids of the pre-Elvis era knew that something was off. There was a lot simmering underneath the illusion that the parents, the media, and the entertainment industry were trying to project and protect. Mumbling was the youngster’s vocal expression of choice (again, see above-mentioned movie stars)—indicative, I believe, of the fact that we were hunkered down, waiting for some cultural phenomenon to blow the lid off all the societal self-delusion.

We don't have that kind of a generational gap today. This is wonderful plus, of course. As a parent of young adults, I certainly appreciate the lack of warfare. It's very nice to be on the same wavelength. However, there’s a problem with it. There's no youthful resentment to tap into politically (I’m not counting the resentment of the left-wing intellectual class. It’s too small of a minority—which we tend to forget here in left-leaning blog circles).

In the society at large, the kids are no different from their parents in their fears for national security, their desire to have the government be preoccupied with it, and their trust of the Bushies to handle it. As distasteful as it is to admit it, poll after poll has demonstrated this unsavory fact.

So without the conscription and forced military service of my young adulthood--which I'm certainly not advocating and isn't going to happen anyway--and with the generations getting along so well--I just don't know where the anger that Shelley advocates is going to come from.

Which leaves the positivism that Maria talks about as the alternative. This positivism requires a charismatic public figure who can both articulate and project it. I see no such figure on the horizon (including the much-admired Howard Dean--his main attraction is his on-the-mark sniping).

How do we get out of this box? (Neil Young's plaintive voice is ringing in my ears):

"There is a town in north Ontario
With dream comfort memory to spare
And in my mind I still need a place to go
All my changes were there

Blue, blue windows behind the stars
Yellow moon on the rise
Big birds flyin' across the sky
Throwin' shadows on our eyes
Leave us

Helpless, helpless, helpless
Oh, babe, can you hear me now?
The chains are locked and tied across my door
Baby, baby, sing with me somehow

Helpless, helpless, helpless
Helpless, helpless, helpless
Helpless, helpless, helpless
Helpless, helpless, helpless
"

(from "Deja Vu"--Crosby, Still, Nash and Young

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