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CSotD: The Homogenization of America

Amid all the cartoons of kids-saluting-ghosts and variations on Iwo Jima, Paul Fell drops an observation which is less cynical than simply realistic.

You could write a book called “Whatever Happened To Veteran’s Day?” as part of a series, or bundle it all into a single book called “The Homogenization of America.”

I don’t have a lot of new things to say today, but I’ll have links to what I’ve said before and what others have said. A good day to follow the links.

That overriding piece, the homogenization, was covered in a 1996 column I wrote, headlined “In Our Village, We Stopped For Things That Mattered,” in which I spotlighted a local holiday our community once called to welcome home the World War II veterans, a day in which schools and businesses closed, and only the banks and federal offices remained open because they were not locally governed.

We could never do that again, I noted, because

… we don’t own our stores, we don’t own our factories, we don’t own our media, and the decision to shut down would have to be made far away in the Land of the Beancounters, where villages are considered small and inefficient.

The column was inspired not by Veterans’ Day but by the observation that a national election no longer dominates television, that, on that Election Night, there are many, many other things you could watch instead.

Which is something to consider as the Impeachment Hearings get under way. In the days of Watergate, the networks took turns dumping their regular schedules to carry the hearings, but, even so, there were only a couple of other places to turn to ignore your nation.

No such problem this time around.

We could have a presidential assassination or a Pearl Harbor and the vast majority of TV channels would carry on with their regular programming.

Specific to Veterans’ Day, while the holiday itself followed WWI, the national obsession with veterans springs from the Civil War, and I would direct you to Drew Gilpin Faust’s “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War,” or to the American Experience streamable program based on it.

Aside from the massive, inconceivable amount of slaughter, there was also the fact that these young men came from true communities, from towns and villages united in the isolation of a world without radio, television or even telephones.

Even cities then were made up of neighborhoods, unlike the homogenized, one-size-fits-all commercial McWorld of today, and that was true, too, of World War I, though the percentage of dead was less astonishing and disruptive.

By contrast, I remember an article in Time magazine in the mid-60s about how Vietnam vets came home to a shrug. It was headlined, “So you’re back.”

And we’ve lost even more of our local identity since then.

As I’ve observed elsewhere, thanks to the Internet, a 16-year-old today knows more about 16-year-olds in Japan and Australia than about the 35-year-old across the street.

 

That’s a picture of Bob, who used to cut my hair, drive my school bus and usher at my church when I was a kid. He’s one of the kindest, gentlest, nicest guys I’ve ever known.

This was earlier than that. He’s the guy with the coil of rope, and, if he looks a little more weighted down than his buddies, it’s because he’s carrying a bazooka folded up in that gear.

They’re about to parachute into Sainte-Mère-Église. Eventually, they’ll get to the Bulge and sometime after that Bob will come home and set up his barber shop, where I learned how to be a man.

I thought guys who jumped out of airplanes and shot people were mean and tough, but Bob wasn’t mean at all. But, if he was a Ranger, that meant he was tough. It made me stop and think that maybe being tough isn’t the same thing as being mean.

I don’t know if there is anything more important for a boy to know than that.

When most kids get their hair cut these days, they go to Haircuts-R-Us or whatever they call the plastic chain place in the plastic mall.

They never read Sports Afield or see pictures of dogs playing poker, or hear the old men talk.

Though maybe I’m wrong.

I’m wrong about most things, because I was born between 1946 and 1964 and we’re wrong about everything.

Our parents and grandparents had nothing to do with the world we are leaving behind.

They handed us a blank slate, a featureless planet in which there was no pollution, no poverty, no racism, no inequality or unfairness of any kind, and we willfully, purposefully, selfishly constructed a hellhole to pass on to our grandchildren.

Or so I’ve heard.

 

A columnist at the Tulsa World borrowed this 2018 David Fitzsimmons cartoon as a jumping-off spot for his thoughts about the “Okay boomer” phenomenon, and his thoughts are worth reading.

But I’m amused by the fact that he — my fellow Boomer — was born in 1962, and so was a year old when Kennedy was killed and has no memory of an event that shaped my life.

When I pooh-poohed this stupid marketing concept in 1996, I said it was no more accurate than the idea that all Gen-Xers were slackers with shaved heads and nose-rings.

People are people and stereotypes are offensive, whether you base them on ethnicity, religion, race or, yes, birth cohort.

You can, of course, draw certain conclusions about people that way.

But most of them are offensive.

 

Tom Toles did this piece in 1987, and he was right: Every complaint, every bit of blame, was valid and well-targeted.

But what do you do with it?

“Greatest Generation” my ass. Those selfish bastards built crappy buildings and failed to maintain the highways and defeated Hitler and cured polio and passed the Civil Rights Act.

If you go back through history, you’ll find countless examples of old people complaining about the young and young people complaining about the old.

It’s what we do instead of digging in and working.

We’ll never be so homogenized that we run out of others to blame, or reasons to fall short ourselves.

 

 

 

Community Comments

#1 Paul Berge
November/11/2019
@ 10:38 am

Every generation has its ideals and idealists, but also its Don Drapers, Donald Trumps, Alex P. Keatons, and Mark Zuckerbergs.

The millennials will be no different, and it’s a pity we won’t be around to give them, as you put it, a hearty “Okay, Junior.”

#2 Mark B
November/11/2019
@ 2:05 pm

While those of us who are Boomers (b. 1959) have some of the blame, let us not forget the “Forgotten Generation” and Gen X. As Paul noted, every generation has its good and bad. Whining about other generations may be fun, like the Facebook quizzes on which Disney Sidekick you are, but it’s about as useful as those quizzes too.

#3 Brad Walker
November/11/2019
@ 3:32 pm

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households.” — Socrates

I first read that in a Lighter Side cartoon, which raises the question: who’s more obscure, Socrates or Dave Berg?

#4 Kip Williams
November/11/2019
@ 4:28 pm

I was enjoying some of Berg’s WW2-vintage semi-comical war stories at Comic Book Plus recently. His early MAD work looks kind of awkward now, but as kids, we thought “Mickey Bitsko” was hilarious.

#5 Denny Lien
November/11/2019
@ 5:00 pm

re “I first read that in a Lighter Side cartoon, which raises the question: who’s more obscure, Socrates or Dave Berg?”

You fell for the obviously nonsensical Socrates ascription? Yikes!

https://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/01/misbehave/

#6 Mike Peterson
November/11/2019
@ 6:00 pm

Interesting piece from the always-interesting Quote Investigator.

What I found, and should try to reconstruct, in doing the 25-50-75-100 years ago feature for one newspaper was a constant bitching about kids hanging out, as well as constant salutes for solutions that were sure to fix it.

One that cracked me up was from the 1920s, when apparently there were socially advanced young ladies who would sit in the window recesses of the new post office building and basically hold court. The writer had no particular solution in mind, but I could so picture it, as well as the level of disruption it actually caused, which was, I’m sure, miniscule.

There were also reports of young people in the 40s hanging out on the streets such that decent people couldn’t get by.

Which was all very surprising, since the opening of the public library in the 1890s was sure to give them a healthy, popular place to go hang out.

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