Adventures in Kafkaland

How to define kafkaesque?  Certainly, the phrase “of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or resembling the literary work of Franz Kafka” doesn’t begin to do justice to the connotation of fuckedupness[1] the word possesses.  Dictionary.com’s number 2 definition is just a bit better: “marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity.”  Perhaps a picture is worth, at least in this case, 20 words:

Back in my glorious undergraduate days, on a Saturday just around midnight one winter, I young woman named Margaret and I were picked up hitchhiking on Main Street in Columbia, South Carolina, after the city buses had quit running. I lived in North Columbia, a seven-mile trek through the nowhere that is everywhere, that souless six-lane Shoneys-studded commercial zone that leads into every municipality in this great nation of ours.  I mention the circumstances in an attempt to mitigate somewhat the sheer anti-Darwinian stupidity of  hitchhiking at night in a capital city with an attractive coed, especially after my brush with kinghell serial killer Pee Wee Gaskins some five years earlier, but that’s another, too-oft-told story.

 

Donald Henry “Pee-Wee Gaskins

 

As we were standing on the curb, thumbs thrust out, a jacked-up Oldsmobile Toronado pulled over, and, of course, we hopped on in.  The driver, whose neck was as red as the background of a Confederate flag, was accompanied by a short black man with an eraser-like afro – an odd couple indeed, as if Early Gracye of Kalifornia and Sammy Davis, Jr. had teamed up to be best friends.  After we piled into the back seat, they said they’d take us to my place, but they needed to pick up some weed first.

Oh great.

What transpired afterwards might be classified as sort of kafkaesque: an outdoor drug transaction in which our chauffeurs purchased a tiny bag of skankass cannabis for twenty 1975-dollars. No, they weren’t ready to take us home.  We had to see the black man’s paintings, so we drove to his concrete block shack where we smoked stems and seeds of the alleged marijuana and the black fellow showed us “his art”  – crude framed caricatures that you might find painted on the outside walls of a body shop.  Essentially, we were their prisoners.   Eventually, Margaret fell asleep on the couch, and the redneck pulled out a handgun and pointed in my face.  Not knowing what to do, I sat stupidly and impassively. The black fellow told him to put the gun away, and the redneck eventually passed out. The black painter finally took us about a block from my house (I wasn’t about to let him know where I lived).

As creepy as that abbreviated narrative might be, it nevertheless lacks the absurdity of true kafkafication, though the black fellow’s paintings skirted awfully close.

 

 

an approximation (the walls were covered with abominations like this)

 

When he was a resident of Hungary, younger son Ned experienced something like the real thing – true Kafkaquesness – as one overnight train ride from Munich to Budapest  demonstrates.

Before I let Ned tell the story, I’ll preface it by sharing that it had been a particularly good week at work.  The first grader he teaches who had threatened to kill everyone in the school wrote him a sweet little note:  Hi, Ned.  I’m sorry I was so evil in your class.

On that bright note, Ned took off to Nuremberg for a fun-filled four-day weekend.  Take it away, Ned.

First off I’ll start by saying the Hungarian word for emergency is vészhelyzet, and the German word is Not. I think the Germans need a one-syllable word for emergency because they get upset and panicked if things don’t go exactly to regimen. I used to make fun of them for their attitude towards efficiency, but after these few months in Hungary, I appreciate it now.

The whole weekend was kind of weird. I don’t know how much I should tell you about it, but I’ll err on the side of too much for the sake of art.

The couple who had visited me in Budapest and I were there, and the girl kept hitting on me, and her boyfriend informed me she had a crush on me. We were leaving through the masses of the crowd, and she started groping me (not unlike the guy that had robbed me in Budapest) and walked away. That was the last I saw/heard from them, which was especially bad because I was supposed to stay with them the next night.

On the bus back to Rasim’s (my Turkish friend), I sat next to a guy who had dug up a five-foot tree from some sidewalk somewhere. There was a trail of dirt from the entrance of the bus to where he was sitting.

The next night I bumped into some people I sort of knew. There was this other guy with them…very drunk and aggressive and sociopathic seeming.  He went off with me to buy a drink and said “don’t worry I’m not gay,” and my alarms were raised. 5 minutes later, he asked me to blow him, and I gave him a forceful no and eventually lost him in the crowd. These situations are occurring at a higher frequency this year. Like father, like son I guess [. . . ]

When the Romanian girl came onto the train she asked if I spoke English, which I always like when foreigners ask me. We made small talk for a minute and then crashed in one of those closed compartments on the train.

Sometime later the girl started screaming.  Two thugs had come into the compartment and stolen her bag, i.e., all of her money and her passport.  We chased after them, calling for the authorities.  We caught up with one of the thieves, but when we demanded the bag back, he merely smirked, and the conductor of the train merely shrugged her shoulders as the Romanian girl screamed in English, “He stole all my stuff.  He stole all my stuff.”

At the next stop, he got off the train, but as it ended up, the girl found her bag in the restroom with nothing missing.  A few minutes later, the conductor came with paperwork and became furious when she discovered that the girl had found her purse. The conductor had wasted three minutes of her valuable time filling out paperwork in vain!

After that happened, the Romanian’s mood started improving gradually, as she had escaped the Not. She told me she had just been to Amsterdam and said she still thought she was high. She showed me the Space cakes she was bringing back and was wearing a candy bracelet and would occasionally pull out circus peanuts and other sweets. I guess maybe she was still stoned.   She was 24 but she looked and acted like she was 20. Romanians are often very petit though…

We said goodbye and off I went to work right off the train, wading in the sea of frowns just like every morning. The frowns are etched in the older people’s faces like water carves out a canyon.  I fit right in that morning. I’ve read somewhere that 6% of Hungarians say they are happy, and I always joke that number seems inflated.

I also saw a guy wearing a t-shirt with a Star of David going into a trashcan, a play on this image.

 

I boarded a bus with a tastefully/minimalistically drawn penis and balls on the side.

Just another routine day in Kafkaland.

A nice place to visit but . . .

[1] As they say in writing school, choose not an approximate word, but the perfect word.

 

Yet Another Short Treatise on Satire: In Defense of Bad Taste

[Trigger warning: scatology, smugness, over-the-top sacrilege, typos, insensitivity to disabilities, reckless employment of ALL CAPS and gratuitous exclamation points]!!!!

Look, I desitively dig The Onion, I mean BIGLY. They’re BIG LEAUGE for sure, true heirs of the great early 70’s National Lampoon, which itself was the great-great-great-great grandchild of the GREAT Jonathan Swift, who in his poem “The Lady’s Dressing Room” employs an epic simile to describe turds plopping into a chamber pot:

As mutton cutlets, prime of meat,

Which though with art you salt and beat

As laws of cookery require,

And toast them at the clearest fire;

If from adown the hopeful chops

The fat upon a cinder drops,

To stinking smoke it turns the flame

Pois’ning the flesh from whence it came,

And up exhales a greasy stench,

For which you curse the careless wench;

So things, which must not be expressed,

When plumped into the reeking chest,

Send up an excremental smell

To taint the parts from whence they fell.

The petticoats and gown perfume,

Which waft a stink round every room.

Thus finishing his grand survey,

Disgusted Strephon stole away

Repeating in his amorous fits,

Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits![1]

 

[Enter Horatio, Hamlet’s BFF]: There needs no ghost, [Stephron], come from the grave/ To tell us this.

Yeah, Stephron, what’s the big deal? Defecation is a necessary by product of ingestion, and in the great cyclic beauty of being, animal waste products can be used to fertilize plants.

Hey, Jonathan Smith, what’s up with this coprophobic obsession with feces?

I suspect Swift would answer that his point is not that Celia shits but that she’s a vain, frivolous woman who considers herself better than, say, the hired wench who polishes her silver, yet Celia’s upper class feces stinks just as much as her maid’s lower class shit.

Satire is a great leveler, a way for powerless wretches like I-and-I to vent our spleens upon the powerful, the foolish, i.e., politicians. Think of Mitch McConnell when you read the following:

 

Io venni in luogo d’ogni luce muto;

The stench of wet coal, politicians

. . . . . . . . . . e and. . . . . n, their wrists bound to

their ankles,

Standing bare bum,

Faces smeared on their rumps,

wide eye on flat buttock,

Bush hanging for beard,

Addressing crowds through their arse-holes,

Addressing the multitudes in the ooze,

newts, water-slugs, water-maggots [. . .][2]

Some satirists have defended their employment of the grotesque, cruelty, etc. on the need to shock people inured the horrors of the nightly news [punctuated every eight minutes by laxative commercials (and, later, by smiling segues into human interest stories)] into the realization of the true nature of the horror. In other words, to slap some sense into them.

Here’s a paragraph from Tony Hendra’s 1972 editorial from the infamous National Lampoon issue “Is Nothing Sacred?”

To a generation that, when it sees starving babies on the screen, knows it’s almost time for dinner, not much is sacred. All around us, the idols, ikons, and cows of 6,000 of Indo-Aryan culture lie shattered, and daily another paragon goes down to ignominy (Kissenger, Richard Speck) [and] another cherished tradition is lost (see Esquire’s stinging attack on cordovans). And now with Jim Morrison gone, there isn’t really anyone left to look up to [. . .]  it is possible that a society to whom nothing is sacred might just be a better one.

Take, Michael J O’Donoghue’s “Vietnamese Baby Book” from that issue, an affront to good taste that makes Swift’s poem seem like a Barney the Dinosaur picture book.

The Vietnamese baby in question, Ngoc, has her first couple of years, including a list of “firsts,” catalogued in her baby book:

First whimper: Two weeks

First cringe: Two-and-a-half months.

It gets worse. Baby’s first wound, baby’s first word (medic), baby’s first funeral, etc.

Hey, that’s sick, cried the bourgeoisie when the issue came out, the bourgeoisie who reelected Nixon in a landslide and whose tax dollars went to making sure our military had enough napalm to incinerate the requisite number of Cambodian villages (or to update the example, has enough drone missiles to obliterate Syrian encampments).

In this sense, as self-righteous as it sounds, O’Donoghue considered himself a sort of moralist.

The Onion has at times crossed the over from the realm of gentle, good-natured mockery into the shadows of bitter sacrilege. For example, here’s an image with something to offend virtually every one.

 

WASHINGTON—Following the publication of the image above, in which the most cherished figures from multiple religious faiths were depicted engaging in a lascivious sex act of considerable depravity, no one was murdered, beaten, or had their lives threatened, sources reported Thursday. The image of the Hebrew prophet Moses high-fiving Jesus Christ as both are having their erect penises vigorously masturbated by Ganesha, all while the Hindu deity anally penetrates Buddha with his fist, reportedly went online at 6:45 p.m. EDT, after which not a single bomb threat was made against the organization responsible, nor did the person who created the cartoon go home fearing for his life in any way. Though some members of the Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths were reportedly offended by the image, sources confirmed that upon seeing it, they simply shook their heads, rolled their eyes, and continued on with their day.

I admit I included that image hesitantly, knowing some of my readers would find it highly objectionable, but The Onion’s point is well taken. You don’t go off and murder satirists no matter how tasteless, offensive, mean-spirited and/or stupid their product is.  Their target here is not the great religions of the world but religious fanatics who do real, palpable harm.

What worries me more is that in the latest Onion output the satire doesn’t seem all that hyperbolic:

WASHINGTON—Amid concerns that a U.S. attack on a Syrian government air base would only escalate the ongoing conflict in the region, President Trump assured Americans Friday that his decision to order a missile strike came only after carefully considering every one of his passing whims. “I want to make it perfectly clear that the decision to launch a military intervention in Syria was the result of meticulously reviewing each fleeting impulse that I felt over the last 48 hours,” said Trump, adding that after learning of chemical weapons used by Bashar al-Assad’s forces to kill innocent Syrian civilians, he gathered his top military aides to pore over dozens of his sudden knee-jerk reactions to the situation. “I examined many different options that whirled through my mind in the moment, including authorizing drone strikes, deploying U.S. troops to Syria, sending in SEAL Team Six to take out Assad, getting up and grabbing a snack from the kitchen, doing nothing, and dropping all our nuclear bombs on Damascus at once. Ultimately, I concluded that an airstrike was the best option at that particular second.” Trump went on to say that if the Assad regime’s behavior continues, he will not hesitate to order further military action if he hasn’t already completely forgotten about Syria by then.

Except, the quotes from Trump appear in sentences far too well-crafted to have emerged from his mouth, and I doubt seriously “meticulously” isn’t in his working vocabulary.

At any rate, I say rage on Juvenal, rage on Swift, rage, rage against the stupidity of all ages, though, I suspect it does very little good when it is all said and done.


[1] Stephron had been rummaging around his girlfriend’s dressing room when she was out and stumbled upon a cleverly disguised, which he mistook of a cabinet.

[2] Ezra Pound, “Canto XIV”

A Bitter Old Bald Codger Chasing Kids Off the Lawn of Their Own Aesthetics

Hitler Youth Sporting Pre-Hispster Undercuts

Let me get this out of the way upfront. I’m bald. Chrome-domed. When I wear my standard black hipster turtlenecks on Fridays, I look like a roll of deodorant.

In other words, I couldn’t sport the current hairstyle craze, the Nazi-Youth/Kim-Jong-Un do even if I wanted to.[1] With nothing but a few lonely wisps to contrast my buzzed or naked sidewalls, I’d look more like Howie Mandell than the Dear Leader.

Come to think of it, though, I could cop a toupee and maybe pull it off. The trouble with toupees in general is that it’s hard to match the fake hair in color and texture with the wearer’s authentic hair. Indeed, the Nazi-Youth/Kim coif might make a toupee look more realistic, so never mind. If I really wanted to, I could affect the look.

Kim-Jong-Howie

But the thing is I don’t want to.

Why?

 

Because IMHO it looks like shit.

According to the dilettante scholar’s best friend, Wikipedia, the undercut originally signaled poverty, the not-so-handiwork of makeshift barbering. Indeed, when I see some guy or gal sporting the undercut, I imagine a barber with clippers abuzz succumbing to a massive heart attack or being stricken with a grand mal seizure as he falls forward desecrating the side of his customer’s head.

The anthropological question arises: Why do prosperous people want to affect the look of poverty, spending their hard earned (or in many cases inherited) money of hack-job haircuts and ripped jeans?

The short answer is “I dunno.” However, Jackson Lears in No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920[2] writes about a “disaffected cultural elite” who try to appear not so boringly bourgeois by mimicking hipper cultural milieus like Seattle’s ‘90’s grunge scene. These elites coopt the workingman flannel and ripped jeans look of Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder, but the overlords of capitalism eventually cash in, mass producing and selling prepackaged rags to moms and dads who want to provide their children with the latest, most popular commodities. These are the same parents who write $30,000 tuition checks to top tier independent schools so their sons and daughters can get into elite liberal arts colleges. The idea of Bennington (the boy) and Madison (the girl) one day wearing their jeans out via manual labor is a horror the equivalent of shopping at Food Lion.  Meanwhile, since we live in a youth culture, these moms and dads are dressing like their teenaged children. This popularization of the style, of course, renders it uber-unhip so the hipsters are forced to take things a step further and cover every square centimeter of their epidermis with tattoos or to take a weedeater to their locks, and guess what, the next thing you know your CPA looks like he got his hair caught in a Veg-O-Matic.

This pattern, unfortunately, doesn’t spill over into the automobile industry. These people don’t tend to buy used Saturn sedans or vintage Yugo GVs to look hip.

To quote the great Kurt Cobain, “Whatever.”

.

One Last question. At what thigh-circumference do “skinny jeans” become “tight britches?”


[1] Otherwise known as “the undercut.”

[2] A fascinating study I highly recommend.

 

1984 Revisited — Doubleplusscary

orwell-1984-propaganda

Last year, I taught 1984 for the first time in decades, and when I finished, I slapped together a blog post to provide inexperienced teachers with an overarching plan to teach the novel.  I figured that this post would receive scant attention, given its small target audience: however, it has received 1,378 “views” since May.  Many more than far more brilliant posts like “Kafkaesque Security Questions,” (93) “Why I Ain’t Inviting Jesus to My Fantasy Dinner,” (101) and “What Kind of STD Are You?” (58)

How come?

Because, believe it or not, Orwell’s 68-year-old novel is now a very hot commodity.  It hit number #1 on the bestsellers’ list on January 25th, and today, April 4th, several art movie houses around the country are re-screening the 1985 film adaptation starring John Hurt and Richard Burton.[1]

Fake News Outlet CNN attributes the sudden spike in sales to Kellyanne Conway’s coinage of the phrase “alternative facts” when aiding and abetting Sean Spicer’s contention that the Trump Inauguration crowd was larger than Obama’s.  Indeed, both “alternative facts” and “fake news” embody the Orwellian concept of doublethink.

Doublethink is essentially paradox, a mental action in which inherent contradictions in a concept cast equal doubt on the antithetical alternatives that make up the concept. Here’s a description of the protagonist, Winston Smith, thinking about how to begin his diary.

His mind hovered for a moment round the doubtful date on the page, and then fetched up with a bump against the Newspeak word doublethink. For the first time the magnitude of what he had undertaken came home to him.  How could you communicate with the future?  It was of its nature impossible.  Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him, or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless.

Essentially doublethink results in confusion, if not paralysis.  Doubt is cast upon who and/or what to believe.

For example, the propagandist Trump organ Fox News, whose Orwellian tagline is “fair and balanced,” provides the President with “alternative facts” so that he declares any story with which he disagrees to be be “Fake News.”  Truth = lies, and lies = truth.

In other words, “Ignorance Is Strength.”

Meanwhile, Russian bots assume avatars on social media claiming to be Christian patriots who in turn disseminate “information” on Twitter and Facebook that Hillary Clinton is abducting, then cannibalizing, unvaccinated babies.

Vaccinations Are Doubly Deadly.

President Trump awards his Appalachian voters by allowing coal mining companies to dump slag in their streams.

Pollution Is Healthy.

An Intelligence Committee chair investigating the White House sneaks into the White House and receives classified information and returns to the White House the next day to share that information with the White House.

What Goes Around Comes Around/Treason Is Patriotic.

It’s doubleplusscary!


[1] Both, alas, now exiled to “that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.”  By the way, 4 April 1984 is the day Wilson Smith begins his diary.

Desolation Be-Bop

illustration by WLM3 from sampled images: Wallhaven, Roy Eldridge Got His Finest Chord by Loal Lonli, and Street Dance by Pedro Alvarez

 

Swing, swang, cut the rug, sweetie pie,

swirl, smirking as you spin,

your skirt defying gravity,

spinning like a top tilting

after three too many

Singapore slings.

 

Step up the syncopation.

Manhandle that trumpet, Roy.

Shriek a long drawn-out high C.

Shatter glasses, dislodge the earwax of

the bald-domed ogling codger

sitting in the corner sipping.

 

Stop clock, your tick-tocking.

Let the night remain forever young.

Allow no morning Sabbath sunbeam to stab

dyspeptic these jitter-bugging beboppers.

In the name of Bacchus, don’t ever stop,

but keep keeping the beat, let the sweat drops drip.

 

Nouveau-Riche Rusty’s Cognitively Dissonant Multi-Media Almanack


Metaphorical fact: The President of the United States of America is a former reality TV star who PT-Barnum-ed his way into the spleens of descendants of snake oil addicts.

illustration by WLM3

Note “spleens” not hearts.

Found in virtually all mammals, a spleen is a whack-ass lymph-node-looking ductless organ blood-filterer that way-back-when became associated with morose or angry feelings.

Black clad Hamlet uses “spleen” this way as an adjective as he warns Laertes he may be in for an ass-whupping:

For though I am not splenitive and rash,
Yet have I something in me dangerous,
Which let thy wisdom fear.

Of course, snake oil salesmen have become immortalized via Hollywood and television.  In several movies and episodes, these quacks pull their horse drawn brightly painted circus-like wagons into some godforsaken Kansas hamlet and start their spiels, selling cure-all elixirs to unsophisticated citizens.

Here’s a short clip from the movie Little Big Man.

“Quacks,”  not surprisingly comes from “quacking” like a duck.

Here’s a peek at the etymology of the word I copped from the Online Etymology dictionary:

Quack, “medical charlatan,” 1630s, short for quacksalver (1570s), from obsolete Dutch quacksalver (modern kwakzalver), literally “hawker of salve,” from Middle Dutch quacken “to brag, boast,” literally “to croak” (see quack (v.)) + salf “salve,” salven “to rub with ointment” (see salve (v.)). As an adjective from 1650s. The oldest attested form of the word in this sense in English is as a verb, “to play the quack” (1620s). The Dutch word also is the source of German Quacksalber, Danish kvaksalver, Swedish kvacksalvare.

(I wish English had retained German’s facility to string words together to form a unique word like quacksalver so I didn’t have to string nouns together via hyphens as in “lymph-node-looking ductless organ blood-filterer.”)

Non-wealthy Trump voters, the descendants of these purchasers of snake oil, have been the focus of much controversy lately.  The standard “progressive” view expressed in the above sentence is that they voted against their self-interest.  Some news stories tell of “hayseeds” who didn’t realize that the ACA and Obamacare were the same thing.  Some “progressives” pity these “folk” while others, like Frank Rich, take a more social-darwinian outlook and say let natural selection do its work.

Whatever the case, Nouveau-Riche Rusty argues that these people have a good reason to be “splenitive.” They have for centuries been shat upon and ridiculed by their so-called betters. Check out Nancy Isenberg’s 400 Years of White Trash. Even today, mocking ill-educated white under-class is not frowned upon, the way that stereotyping Mexicans is. I attended a performance of amateur improv-Second-City-wannabes not long ago that exclusively targeted what they called “rednecks.” The actors mocked poverty, ridiculed folk for taking pride in owning “a doublewide trailer home.” No one in the audience seemed put off by the prejudice or bigotry.

white_trash_main_427_320

image from In These Times

Yes, it’s too bad so many have abandoned that old rugged cross for the meth.  But imagine American culture bereft of hillbillies. None of that fingerpicking. No sad lonesome wailings of loss. No Hank Williams. No Lucinda Williams.  As far as culture goes, we owe more to them than to Ward and June and Ozzie and Harriet.

lucinda-williams-435

Lucinda Willams

I’ve been told that my mother’s paternal grandmother smoked a corncob pipe and was as mean as a snake.  She forced my grandfather to quit school in the third grade to work the fields.  He definitely would have voted for Trump, essentially because he hated African Americans and Jews, not because he was for the entrepreneur class, whom he referred to as  “bigshots” and “crooks.”  In fact, he and my maternal grandmother lived forty years on social security yet voted for Nixon and Reagan and the Bushes.

This paradox could possibly relate to Reconstruction. My grandparents were born around 1900, so they would have as children encountered Civil War amputees.

When I was a growing up in Summerville, South Carolina, every native boy perfected his very own rebel yell. Supposedly, Confederate soldiers shrieked rebel yells when they swooped down on their distant Northern cousins. I’m not sure if these shrill raptor/demonic outbursts were harmonized or individual when rebel soldiers attacked Yankees. I know when I played junior varsity football, our rebel yells weren’t synchronized when we ran out on the field.

Here’s a speculative guess of what the originals sounded like.

Metaphorical fact: The Vice President of the United States is a former talk radio personality who calls his wife “mother,” has since his marriage never dined alone with a woman other than his wife, avoids venues where alcohol is served yet clasps the “pussy-grabbbing” hand of his boss who no doubt considers his vice president a rube.

113258355_Republican_presidential_elect_Donald_Trump_R_shakes_hands_with_Republican_candidate_for_Vi-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqcfQdyHMCwP880y7YY3bXHzzRJDPMaJNXBGI4lQHEkF0

cog·ni·tive dis·so·nance
noun PSYCHOLOGY
the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

7 Ages of Man Revisited

shapeimage_2

Audrey Kawasaki

If you’re a devoted reader of this blog, you’re undoubtedly highly intelligent, impressively learned, and therefore familiar with Jacques’ “All the World’s a Stage” speech from As You like It:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the canon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything

Seven_ages_of_man

William Mulready: The Seven Ages of Man

Note, tweens and pre-sexual adolescents are missing from the above. We jump from “whining school boys” to lovers/soldiers, who seem much more like young adults than the high school seniors I teach who for Spirit Week come to school costumed as characters from video games (Mario/Luigi) or as insects (bubble bees/lightening bugs) or even as consumer items (e.g., Junior Mints). Surreal – a dozen highly intelligent adolescents arrayed with false mustaches and zombie make-up and insect wings seated around a Harkness table discussing how the limited omniscient point-of-view in Mansfield’s “Miss Brill” relates to the short story’s themes of alienation and illusion vs. reality.

It almost makes one wax nostalgic for the draft.

Paradoxically, as childishness stretches into the third decade in the West, girls are menstruating and boys ejaculating earlier and earlier.

small_jenniferlinton-catholicgirls-2005

Jennifer Linton Catholic Girls

Yet, even though humans are capable of sexual reproduction much earlier, the latest brain research proclaims that the human brain doesn’t reach maturity until 25 or so. In fact, the NY Times reports that:

JEFFREY JENSEN ARNETT, a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., is leading the movement to view the 20s as a distinct life stage, which he calls “emerging adulthood.” He says what is happening now is analogous to what happened a century ago, when social and economic changes helped create adolescence — a stage we take for granted but one that had to be recognized by psychologists, accepted by society and accommodated by institutions that served the young. Similar changes at the turn of the 21st century have laid the groundwork for another new stage, Arnett says, between the age of 18 and the late 20s. Among the cultural changes he points to that have led to “emerging adulthood” are the need for more education to survive in an information-based economy; fewer entry-level jobs even after all that schooling; young people feeling less rush to marry because of the general acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation and birth control; and young women feeling less rush to have babies given their wide range of career options and their access to assisted reproductive technology if they delay pregnancy beyond their most fertile years.

So, if adulthood doesn’t really start in earnest until our late twenties, then over a third of our lives are spent in immaturity? Is this phenomenon also true in developing and third world countries? Is evolution retarding industrial countries’ citizens’ independence so that their brains can fully form while along the Steppes Mogul nomads skip emerging adulthood for the rigors of survival?

Over here in sitcomland and on Nickelodeon, we’re seeing children cynically wisecracking and forever flummoxing inept adults. Worse, (at least to me) advertisers manipulate the images of babies to lip synch in bored adult voices as they shill products. Certainly, true innocence seems lost ever earlier.

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At any rate, what a bountiful kingdom childhood has become, a continent of enchantment stretching from Candyland and jump rope to beer pong and bungie jumping. Kids get to boss their parents around until the “youngsters” verge on thirty yet get to enjoy the financial wherewithal those pushed-around progenitors have accumulated. Pity our poor ancestors, their playtime cut short by plagues, famines, and wars.

Take, Master Will, for example, here in his 30’s whining to young Southampton that he – the Bard of Avon – is getting fairly long in the tooth:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

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