In my boyhood – we’re talking the Fifties and Sixties – I loved movies from the 1930’s, the Marx Brothers, WC Fields, and Laurel and Hardy especially. Jean Harlow in her shimmering white gown seemed from my limited perspective almost as far removed as the Civil War. Nick and Nora Charles epitomized a world glamour forever lost; in short, for ten-year-old I-and-I, the decade of the Thirties was a Golden Age (despite its soup lines and empty Christmas stockings).
Of course, nowadays for me, thirty years is merely half a lifetime ago, the blink of the old proverbial eye, seeming like yesterday, as they say.
Yet it was a time before email, before downloading music and movies, before smart phones, before same sex marriage, and certainly 1984 – that sinister Orwellian year – must seem as distant to a ten-year-old today as 1932 did to me in ’62 – the year Dylan released his debut album, Marilyn Monroe was found dead, and a U2 plane (not the Irish band) espied missile sites going up in Cuba.
[cue] “[Our] old road is rapidly aging
Of course, as Heraclitus pointed out many moons ago (29,772 or so to put an approximate number on it), change is the one constant of the universe. Nowadays, though, at least as far as Western culture goes, change has accelerated at warp speed: cell phones seemingly morph instantly in our hands as we switch from punching buttons to swiping screens. The landfills are probably overflowing with those whatcha-used-to-call-ems – oh yeah, floppy discs. What’s amazing is how fluidly we have waltzed from teletypes in the early ‘80‘s to Skype in the 20-teens to FaceTime in the Twenties..
Less smooth, however, has been the transition from the cultural conventions of the 1950’s to the Brave New world of this Millennial decade.
Who looks more wholesome, Robertsons or Stones?
These are not comfortable days for fundamentalists with genetics suggesting that homosexuality is not a Satanic perversion but a orientation encoded in the double helixes bequeathed to us by the random collision of sperm and ovum. We have a not-easily- reconciled Biblical schism between the love and compassion of Jesus’s preaching and Paul’s seemingly more traditional stances on women and homosexuals. These beliefs end up being personal, and it is clear that expressing one’s beliefs publicly – no matter which side you fall on – is fraught with danger.
My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?
And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only
Bob Dylan “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” 1965
Which brings me to a subject near and dear to my cerebral cortex – language. Paradoxically, we have now a coarsening of language* while simultaneously political correctness forbids our use of once scientifically sanctioned words like retarded.**
*E.g, our stuff (i.e. personal belongings like books and recordings) has been downgraded to shit as the patois of the hood via hiphop is aped by the middle class.
**A friend mentioned last week that she had been verbally excoriated for using “retarded” in the sense of “backwards looking.” From infoplease: The treatment of mentally retarded people has always reflected the changes in society. They have been officially referred to as idiots and as the feebleminded. The introduction of the IQ test was followed by a classification system that used such terms as moron (IQ of 51–70), imbecile (26–50), and idiot (0–25); later these terms were softened and classifications redefined somewhat to mild (IQ of 55–70), moderate (40–54), severe (25–39), and profound (0–24) retardation. The term mentally retarded itself, although still commonly used, has been replaced in some settings by the term developmentally disabled.
I myself have recently gotten in a bit of trouble for using figurative language (an instance of anatomical synecdoche, if you must know) which underscored for me the absurdity of mistaking a word for the act or condition it describes.***
*** As I once told my mother, “I’ll bring in a jar of piss and a jar of urine, and if you can distinguish which is which, I’ll quit using the word “piss.”
Come to think of it, perhaps shit is a more appropriate word than stuff for the manufactured, almost instantly obsolete artifacts we now call our own (as opposed to grandfather’s golden pocket watch or the Swiss army knife we used to carry).
Whatever the case, the tension between accepted vulgarities like shit and out-of-vogue elocutions like homo suggests cultural confusion amid all of the dizzying change we’re exposed to, so you better watch those tweets, Steve Martin,and your mouth Rusty Moore.
All that I ask is that the Politically Correct Police and the Bible Thumpers keep their sanitized hands off my vocabulary.