Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Acceptable In The 80's

January 27, 2008

"I've got love for you if you were born in the 80's", says Calvin Harris in his song, "Acceptable In The 80's". I know what he means. He was born in 1984. I'm now 40, and despite feeling the escape of my years quicken slightly, I'm far from becoming one of those stereotypical old codgers who inevitably adopts the attitude of, "Today's generation has it easy compared to mine—they don't know what it was like". In fact, I love this next generation just hitting their 20's: the Y generation. You won't catch me repeating the negative narrative our parents' generation did about my generation, the X generation.

In the 80's, there was a grey cloud over the horizon. And that cloud was a mix of Cold War fears, Aids, the proliferation of "McJobs". There were more, of course, but those are some that come quickest to mind. Some people really feared Jesse Helms, the Christian Coalition, and the Moral Majority. Others feared black helicopters, a UN takeover, and the Council on Foreign Relations. It wasn't a time of innocence and naivette', just because it started nearly 30 years ago. Sure, for a time in the early 80's it was actually fashionable for guys to roll up the bottom two inches of your jeans, which hadn't been seen in the American landscape since, yes it's true: the 50's. But that's where the myth of the 80's being some kind of 'Golden Age' repeat of the 50's ends.

When I entered my teen years in the late 70's, what you heard a lot of (if you were part of the hip "in" crowd, natch'), was this disdain, nay, condescending attitude towards this one illegitimate instrument which rock bands from Led Zeppelin to Queen railed against: the synthesizer. Why? Because the synthesizer created the facsimile of a true guitar, drum, or horn. A synthesizer compressed and recoded the trumpet's natural sound. One man could replace three (or more). For those of us who had been weened on understanding this thing we call music in two ways, the sound and the band, the thought of a couple of keyboards replacing our band was unthinkable.

The element of sound is self-evident. But the other aspect, knowledge of the band, is multi-dimensional. Personalities are involved. Egos compete. And in this aspect, it is illustrative to understand the problems of ego when you notice the divide between the Baby Boom generation and the next. The Baby Boom generation was forged from a 60's decade of deconstruction. It was the first generation to insist that it was more special than any other before it. Other generations met challenges in front of them, and answered when their country's sanctity was in peril. That is what allowed each generation to show great fortitude in improving social and economic conditions from the past.

Take the question of civil rights. When WWII was fought, there was a strong push already old by that point, to integrate the armed forces on racial lines. By 1952, there were mostly-African American units in our Army who fought in the Korean War. After the wars of the 40's and 50's were over, those men who were former soldiers were then in the Senate and Congress, affecting laws and society. The most important US legislation for African Americans in the past 100 years came about in the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights Acts. They did away with poll taxes, literacy tests, and other barriers to full equality of access to the voting process in this great country. They also made it illegal for businesses to practice prejudice when both hiring and selling to African Americans. The same generation that stormed the beaches of Normandy in their youth grew into the ones who understood the need for a respect for the rule of law.

Survivors of D Day will tell you the truth: draftees made up a large portion of the initial bodies that ended up on the beaches that morning. Does the fact that many of them who may have had questions, misgivings at least, about our involvement with Germany (a country that hadn't done anything to us! And the US was invading-gasp-France, which also didn't have anything to do with 911, er, I mean Pearl Harbor), still put aside their fear and anger with their government and did what was asked of them mean anything anymore? Many of the Bedford Boys were drafted, as they were from farming families who couldn't easily afford to lose another set of hands. But it was those Bedford Boys who survived that horrific day who went on to be part of the clan who made the Civil Rights Acts of the 60's possible. At that time, Baby Boomers were under 25 as a generation, not in places of power such as congress or on town councils.

Our awakening into adulthood, we X-Gen'ers, was ushered in with the Baby Boomers telling us we were a bunch of "slackers". We were a do-nothing crop of brain-numbed, lazy, unmotivated youth. They were already printing nostalgic memoirs of their protest-filled 60's awakening of adolescent to adult. I read quite a few, actually. Some while I was young, myself. That's when all of that fuzzy-headed relativist cotton candy tastes best. When you don't have any idea of sacrifice, servitude, and faith in your whole being, it's easy to mock those of us who take those notions seriously. It's not all relative. And all it takes to realize that is to travel and live in a developing country for a year. Of course, for those who have never done that, this perspective may be lost. But it was important to me when I was 20 years old, entering my third year in the US Army, an infantryman being stationed in S Korea from Jan '88 through Jan '89.

It used to offend me a little to hear my parent's generation have such a low estimation of us. (now, I don't give a damn what they think of us.) My dad's cousin Jimmy belonged to the same hunting club my dad belonged to, and we would all see each other once a year during early trout season. I remember Jimmy extolling his disbelief at my generation. I was 16 at the time, and the drinking age had recently been raised from 18 to 21. Jimmy said that was bullshit, and that if it was his generation (my dad's--Baby Boomers), they'd be out in the streets about it, blah, blah. He said he can't believe my generation, taking it like that. So, in their eyes, I can see why they would consider us, "slackers".

Movies were made with those titles, books were written, and it was allowed to thrive unchallenged. But it is my generation who are the upper NCO's and officers of this latest war, (where the average age of combat death is 27 years old. In Vietnam, it was 23) and the enlistees and young seargants of the last one: the Persian Gulf I, or Desert Storm. My generation has been a quiet return to the best of American qualities: faith in something other than yourself.

We were told that our generation will be the first to be unable to achieve what the previous generation had. They were talking financially. We were coming of age when the notions of "downsizing", and "exporting of jobs" were placed in front of us. Those factors are still all over the ever-changing American domestic workplace. The proper term now is "outsourcing". To know that job insecurity will constantly be your reward until your death keeps you in need of something that enables you to meet each day with an air of gratitude and contentment...and for many it is faith. Faith in something bigger than yourself.

It hasn't been easy for the last 20 years. Moving from job to job, state to state. Relationship to relationship. Hardly time to sit and navel-gaze, wondering how I can think of a new way to protest in the streets for more.

I enjoy the largest free-market existence in the world. A startling experiment in self-government, coupled with a (mostly) free market economic engine. No other country has done so much for so many, in such a short time, while asking so little.

And finally, after a sad display in the 1960's of some of our American citizens and their lack of commitment to sharing in the responsibilities of maintaining this benevolent, reluctant empire, I am proud to be a part of the NEXT generation: a generation who didn't run and hide. I'm proud that we entered these last three wars (Persian Gulf I [Desert Storm], Afghanistan, and Persian Gulf II [Iraq War]) with a proud, determined, soulful acceptance of our place in this whole mix.

It is when you lose the ego that you can truly serve.

It's not hard to see why the Pink Floyd generation, with their Roger Waters-size egos, can't understand what the quiet, determined, focused Chemical Brothers are all about.

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