Strong Decades and the Other

I lived through the eighties.  I didn’t like the eighties when I was living in that decade.  But one thing I will say that I do like about the eighties is that the decade had a theme, a core, a strong culture to it.  I can list the prime values of the eighties:

  1. preppy–there were actual t-shirts then that said, “Preppy and Proud.”  Movies were made about prep schools.  The prevailing fashion of the day was preppy.  Part of this trend was the drive to attain Ivy League Schools.  The plot of “Risky Business” was the hunger for Joel (Tom Cruise) to go to Princeton.  The world’s most notorious preps were married in 1981–Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles of Wales.
  2. money–when I graduated from Harvard Divinity School (1985), the Business School had its largest graduating class in Harvard’s history.  Again referencing “Risky Business,” Joel wants to major in business and most of the movie is about his successful prostitution business.  “Working Girl” was about working-class Tess (Melanie Griffith) climbing the corporate ladder of the business world and competing with preppy Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver).  “Wall Street” was all about money, wealth, and power.
  3. cocaine–the drug of choice in the eighties for everyone, especially business-oriented, success driven executive types.
  4. technology–Bill Gates and Steve Jobs started their huge empires in the eighties.  The script of “Ghostbusters” was replete with techno-sounding jargon.
  5. lastly, the eighties had a distinct style of music.  We called it techno-pop.  But it was distinctive enough for my present TV music channels to have a station devoted to eighties music.

I didn’t like the eighties because all this was a rebellion against the values of the late sixties/early seventies.  Peace and love, back to nature, contempt for materialism and money, contempt for authority, dropping out of society, and love of art dominated the values of that generation.  Woodstock, where 500,000 young people all gathered for music and fellowship WITH NO POLICE OR LAW ENFORCEMENT, in peace, happened in 1969.  I think of song lyrics like those of Jethro Tull–“I didn’t care if they groomed me for success (yukk), or if they said that I was Just a fool,” “I’m sitting in the corner feeling glad/Got no money coming in but I can’t be sad.”  And that famous song from Pink Floyd that is still being played today, “Money, get away/Is the root of all evil today.”  The strong culture of the eighties seemed to be the opposite of all that the apocalyptic ’60’s and ’70’s were about.

But after the eighties, culture faded away.  There was a lack of gravitas to the succeeding decades.  By way of documentation, my TV movie channels have no station dedicated to ’90’s music, or 2000’s music.  There are indeed channels that are called “Clubbing” and “Urban” but these sounds are not likely to be memorable decades from now.  There may be a cause for this apparent cultural vacuity.  The ’60’s and early ’70’s were a rebellion against the strait-laced family values of the ’50’s, which, in turn, were a retrenchment from the horrid whole generation of war the early 20th century lived through.  And in the ’60’s and early ’70’s, the Vietnam War was spewing out carnage printed in living color in Life magazine each week.  But after Vietnam, there was no war or other strong ferment in society.  The ’50’s were the product of the World Wars; the ’60’s and ’70’s of the Vietnam War; and the eighties were a rebellion against the “Flower Children” of the ’60’s and ’70’s.

By no means am I wishing war upon society so that I might enjoy a strong culture again, and find memorable contributions to western history!  This blog is only an attempt to account for the apparent cultural vacuity I now live in, compared with the strong cultures I lived in when I was young.  I expect I will offend readers who are young now, as what I am writing may seem to be criticism of their world.  Elders criticized my generation when I was growing up, and it is a perennial fact of existence that elders criticize the young–it’s in the Renaissance Book of the Courtier.  But we rebelled against our elders, and their disapproval was a kind of badge of honor.  I am not criticizing young people.  As an olding man, I enjoy the company of the young.  But I’m not happy with the blandness I see around me in society.  It’s an easy way to live, but growing up in a world steeped in philosophy, with strongly held values, the world in which I now find myself is as bland as bread without gluten.

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Trends, Styles, and the Self

It seems that every time period is plagued by trends and styles.  I am old enough to have seen many come and go.  In my teens, it was “Do your own thing; be an individual; peace, love.”  I watched some of the music, now rock classics, yield to the sensitive, bland, forgotten music of the late ’70’s.  I remember fading out of pop culture in the late ’70’s and listening to classical music (symphony, not rock).  Then came the ’80’s with money, power, cocaine, preps and Yuppies.  I rebelled against these values angrily, though I was, myself, a prep at Harvard.  I can’t find a trend that dominated the ’90’s.  But today, it seems that LGBT is the centre of gravity, along with eco-justice, women’s issues, and pop culture.

I’d like to think that in universities there is free intellectual inquiry.  But this is not the case.  There are styles and trends there too.  Back in the late ’50’s, symbolic logic was the rage.  Philosophers and even anthropologists wrote their ideas in those strange (laughable) symbols trying to look all mathematical and scientific.  That eventually got debunked.  Then I remember existentialism coming around.  When I was in grad school and when I graduated from grad school, it was all gender issues, power dynamics, wealth and poverty issues, and Nietzsche was the prevailing world-view, along with Richard Rorty.  I watched Derrida and deconstruction come and go in about a decade.

The thing about trends is that there is power behind them.  If a person wants to talk to others in society, he or she needs to buy into the current trends.  The alternative appears to be isolation.  And if a person wants to publish, one needs to write and think in the terms that are current.  But I believe that everyone has an intuitive sense of the true.  I believe that Emerson called it the Oversoul.  We know when a given trend is ridiculous, or doesn’t fit with human experience we know.  We sense the vacuity of certain ideologies.  I believe that’s why I turned to classical music in the late ’70’s, for instance.

Some people dedicate their lives to following trends.  It is their quest to recognize the prevailing trends immediately so that they can be in the vanguard.  In the ’90’s it was goatees, in the mid-2000’s it was mountain-man beards.  Maybe in Hollywood or fashion this is a necessity to survive or to make a fortune.  But I suppose there is enough of the old hippie in me not to worry too much about trends and to follow my Oversoul.