Monday, January 12, 2009

Dissing the Fifties

Last night's Golden Globe awards were another reminder that the Obama Generation can't get enough of trashing the Fifties and early Sixties with "Revolutionary Road" and "Mad Men" just the latest examples.

This follows an election phenomenon noted by Joan Didion that "only the very young were decreed capable of truly appreciating the candidate. Again and again, perfectly sentient adults cited the clinching arguments made on the candidate's behalf by their children. Again and again we were told that this was a generational thing, we couldn't understand. In a flash, we were back in high school, and we couldn't sit with the popular kids, we didn't get it."

But it may be time for a little Fifties/Sixties backlash. In the New York Times, Judith Warner recently wrote about her "brief obsession with mid-20th-century American anomie. I read 'The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit' and 'The Organization Man.' I re-read 'The Feminine Mystique'" only to realize that her sense of superiority was tinged with envy:

"How we seem to love and hate those men and women we never knew. What we would give to know their secrets: how Dad managed to come home at 5 p.m. to read the paper or watch TV while Mom fixed dinner and bathed the kids. How Mom turned up at school, every day, unrumpled, coiffed, unflappable. And more to the point: how they managed to afford the lives that they led, on one salary, without hocking their homes to pay for college, without worrying about being bankrupted by medical bills.

"How we make them pay now, when we breathe them back into life. Our cultural representations of them are punishing. We defile the putative purity of the housewives--those doe-eyed, frivolous, almost simple-minded depressives--by assigning them drunken, cheating, no-good mates. We discredit the memory of the organization men by filling them with self-loathing and despair."

A survivor of all that can testify that those who were idealized as the Greatest Generation and are now reviled for wanting what they thought was the good life for themselves and their kids when they came back were only human after all.

Racism, sexism, religious bigotry and materialism were surely rampant but so were hope, decency and a kind of naïve love of country that Americans of all generations would welcome now as Obama and his people go about repairing the ruins created by the wised-up middle-aged in the Nineties and the new century.

If their children want to keep hammering their grandparents with "American Beauty," "Revolutionary Road" and all the rest, so be it but their creations leave an aftertaste of disguised patricide and unearned self-righteousness.

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