Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Cockeyed Optimists in a Crybaby Culture

A pitiful Wall Street parody of 1960s populist protests is a reminder of what has changed in American life over half a century. The hippie trappings are there, but the joyous anarchy and hope back then are nowhere to be seen in today’s crybaby culture.

More real passion was generated by a recent increase in Netflix prices than “Occupy Wall Street,” a diffuse demonstration against corporate greed that started a week ago with street-theater demonstrations by a few hundred activists and dwindled into handfuls being pepper-sprayed by New York Police.

We are deeper into culture than politics here when such a fiasco is seen against the uprising over inequalities against others by race and gender during the 1960s, which is being mirrored now only by Tea Party rage over perceived injustice to themselves by aging Boomers and their political heirs.

Political megatrends aside, this is a significant shift in American values from ideals of fairness and justice for all to rage over being victimized by efforts to care for the poor, the aged and helpless.

After World War II, a wildly successful Broadway musical and movie, “South Pacific,” captured the national imagination with an Army nurse singing of herself as “A Cockeyed Optimist”:

I have heard people rant and rave and bellow/That we're done and we might as well be dead,/But I'm only a cockeyed optimist/And I can't get it into my head.

I hear the human race/Is fallin' on its face/And hasn't very far to go/But ev'ry whippoorwill/Is sellin' me a bill/And tellin' me it just ain't so.

I could say life is just a bowl of Jello/And appear more intelligent and smart,/But I'm stuck like a dope/With a thing called hope,/And I can't get it out of my heart!


We may all have been na├»ve back then, and we certainly made our share of political mistakes, but it’s well past time for a 21st century revival of, if not the musical, the spirit.

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