03 April 2009

Would the Baby Boomers Please Shut Up!

Begin here. Ok, all caught up? Good, because I am desperate to dissect Mr. Charles unbelievable boomer-centric article.

Now please understand, I am VERY biased against any baby boomer who starts talking about art/literature/music/sex "in their day," having gone through art school in the early aughts. Which meant boomers were now teachers and administrators out to solidify their awesome childhood experiences. Which is lovely, if dangerously nostalgic, except the primary mode of enthroning how much 1963 ROCKED was not saying that 1962 sucked, but that my generation were a bunch of snot nosed twits who didn't understand art or passion or protest, and god what was wrong with us. Four years of this is pretty tough on a young artists psyche.

And that is not an exaggeration, I had teachers criticize my personal reading choices, my classmates' "incomplete" understanding of the Western Cannon, my generation's Ameri-centricism, and the fact that we were in art school at all. Any choice that we made (my class was pretty clean when it came to hard drugs, and we had more than our fair share of vegetarians, which got us knocked by a teacher for our asceticism) could only be viewed in relation to the boomers. Even grad TAs often established the value of what we were about to discuss by beginning with an essay about the 1960s.

So Mr. Charles, you're in for it.

1) The composition of colleges is radically different than it was in the 1960s. Not only are more minorities and more women enrolled in college than ever before, a larger percentage of Americans get college degrees (you want numbers? Call a fact checker at the WaPo). College is no longer the rarefied world of upper upper middle class privilege, or a place to wait for an m.r.s degree. With the collapse of the public education system, it is proof that you can read, write and hold down a job (what a high school diploma was back when Mr. Charles wore short pants).

2) The avant garde sure as hell doesn't stay avant. Yes the beats were all very lovely and that, but they have become part of the curriculum! Part of the system, man! And they are over thirty! Not only is there no way the young, ribald and intellectually dangerous 18 year olds that Mr. Charles and his contemporaries were would thrillingly read the avant garde work of the 1910s (oh hell, in the computer world, that might as well be the 1810s) there's no way the avant garde of today is reading the beats. I read the beats in high school and middle school (not all of, and honestly I wasn't that impressed). People today are writing short stories as tattoos, in spreadsheets, and as ARGs (alternate reality games). Mr. Charles doesn't even KNOW what the avant garde looks like (reminds me of those bastards who are all, where are the anti-war songs of the new millennium? where is there Dylan, but they've never heard of Bright Eyes.)

And I did read Barthelme in college - the boy who passed him on to me got a copy of Guy de Maupassant stories in return. Unfortunately I didn't read one of the other books Mr. Charles mentions in college. I read zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at 16, immediately on my completion of the Old Testament, but before my first attempt at reading the Koran. (Even then I found several of the books premises deeply flawed, existing only to shore up the author's ego and validate his psychotic break. Not to mention "Quality" is a concept that is deeply euro-centric and based on observations of reactions of a group that is homogeneous in its educational attainment, ethnic/religious backgrounds, and socio-economic status. But parts of the book are really good.)

3) Tastes change. Now this should be obvious to Mr. Charles, SINCE HE BRINGS IT UP IN THE ARTICLE, but nose, face, can't see, etc. Moby Dick wasn't well received at the time of its publishing. Fifty years later it was. We would not consider the American reader of the time to be illiterate idiots because they didn't love Moby Dick. These were people buying Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables, poetry by Longfellow, and the year after MB was published Uncle Tom's Cabin. In fact it seems the people of the time may have had greatly pressing issues, and no desire for disturbing, audacious avant garde books , when other humans were enslaved and the world around them was about to crumble. They may have been looking for simplistic moral clarity, as only a woman of deep religious faith could provide (sound familiar, Chuck old buddy?)

4) Society has wonderfully charmingly fractured since the 1960s. There isn't a book or a TV show or even a movie that you can guarantee an entire campus has seen/read. I know people who refuse to see something if it is popular (many many people, I went to art school remember?). And they don't need to, they can go be friends with people who love their favorite book or political theorist or clothing designer or activity or whatever online. You don't HAVE to read the same stupid (to you) book of essays as your roommate to have a meaningful conversation about what's important to you. And if you are the avant garde kid (see spreadsheet above) you don't need to get your idiot roommate to read your book of awesome essays to discuss it, you just go online.

5) Literature must exist outside the classroom. Alright, I'm going to quote high school teacher Matthew Cheney (who writes over at the truly happy spec fic and education blog The Mumpsimus) "A healthy culture of literacy needs literatures that aren't sanctioned by schools, literatures that are enjoyed simply for enjoyment, that have a mystique to them, an inability to conform to the central culture of the society." (He goes on about the need for literature education, but you can see his point.)

This last may be the biggest reason college kids are presumably reading Twilight. (I couldn't get past the first chapter, the prose is THAT BAD.) All the crap the boomers loved is now taught to college kids, and they don't care that you used to be young and beautiful and full of potential and discovering sex. College kids actually ARE young and beautiful and full of potential and discovering sex. They don't want to be reminded that they too will become old and be nostalgic.

So get over it, Mr. Charles. Or if you can't, start an online discussion group of avant garde works currently being produced. There'll be some college students, but they'll mostly be grad students of literature and art, the same people who forty years ago went to liberal arts colleges as undergrads to expand their minds and study humanities.

Failing that, may I suggest some rousing choruses of "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them"?


Post a Comment

<< Home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial2.5 License.