Saturday, June 25, 2011


First of all, I guess I'd better make a dry-cleaner run really soon -- I'm at an age when I haven't been invited to a lot of weddings lately, but since a hell of a lot of residents of my state might be heading to the Chapel of Love all of a sudden, I'd better make sure my good clothes are looking tidy and fresh. Mazel tov, folks. (And thank you, Governor Cuomo -- you may be a Christie Lite with regard to taxes and public-sector unions, but on this issue you're conducting a master class in arm-twisting for progressive ends, a class I wish a certain rather more prominent Democrat would show up for and take notes.)

Having said that. I want to shift gears extrememely awkwardly, and talk about, um, David Brooks.

Yesterday's Brooks column concerned a Rolling Stone story about a teenage girl who gained some fame posting provocative content online, with ultimately unpleasant consequences for herself and her family. Brooks lives for the moments when he's given an opening to express moral outrage, in a squeaky, soft-spoken, but ultimately noodgy neo-Victorian way (yes, he's both noodgy and neo-Victorian; not many people can pull that off). This is a rather tawdry story, so I guess you can't blame the guy for pouncing on the opportunity to finger-wag and scold.

But the conclusion to which his column builds is preposterous:

She is an extreme case of an enormous uncontrolled experiment that is playing out across the world. Young people's brains are developing while they are immersed in fast, multitasking technology. No one quite knows what effect this is having....

Most important, some young people seem to be growing up without learning the distinction between respectability and attention.

What is he saying? That failing to learn "the distinction between respectability and attention" is some sort of Net-driven, multitasking-derived disease that's utterly new, and that's turned our kids into strange beings we respectability-craving elders can't recognize -- or control? Is he arguing that we have failed to communicate our highly developed focus on respectability to our young?

Has he been living in the same country I have for the past few decades?

Has he watched reality television? Has he missed the entire watch-me-screw-up dysfunctional-youth memoir boom?

For that matter, has he missed the rise of shock-jockery and the infusion of its values into political discourse (Glenn Beck, Michael Savage), or the infusion into "serious" news of politicized tabloidism (hello, Rupert)? Has he missed the last three years of Sarah Palin's life?

This is America. We don't do anything "respectable" -- or at least we have nothing but contempt for those who do what's respectable (e.g., schoolteachers, or people who punch in at a factory and do honest work). "Respectable" labor isn't honored, and, if it pays a decent wage, we want to put an end to that, stat. So, since most people can't be Steve Jobs or Lloyd Blankfein, there's simply no reasonable path to feeling "respectable" than doing something sensationalist.

That's not the fault of synapse-fried teens. That's our fault, as American adults.


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