It’s true. It has happened. Somewhere along the line I became one of those people that, at least occasionally, begins a sentence with, “When I was younger……” I’m not saying that I have completely fallen off the deep end into the age thing. In fact, I am still a relatively young man, cognitively intact, and I keep up with current events. Still in the process of raising teenagers, I remain fairly in touch with what is going on in the world around me. In fact, it is because I am still raising teenagers that I have become aware of something that I find completely amazing, and that leads me to say, “When I was your age…..”
When I was in my late teens and early 20s, my contemporaries and I were eager to learn the fine art of small talk – especially small talk and banter that might get us at least a little closer to getting a woman to be interested enough to notice that we existed. I figured it out pretty early, although I was way too shy to even think of attempting to engage in the art of seduction, and as a result I had a lot of female friends and spoke with them on a regular basis. My male friends were amazed. They would ask, “What do you say to them?” Frankly, they were terrified at the prospect! It was, in so many ways, a different time. I had no idea how different until I found myself with three female teen aged children.
Small talk is a lost art. In fact, as proof of this I offer the reality that when someone says they are “talking to” someone, it does not necessarily mean that conversation is taking place. It also means that the “talking” is clothing optional. Is it any wonder, then, that we find that young males are unable to hold a conversation – as in a verbal conversation, clothing mandatory – with a woman? Frankly, when the entire corpus of mandatory conversational skills amount to, “So, do you wanna %&*$ ?” it is little wonder that the finer communicative arts are developmentally delayed.
This becomes really apparent if you spend any time at all in internet chat rooms. User names among twenty-something males almost always have some reference to the fact that they find their own genitalia the most fascinating subject on the face of the earth. The discourse with women is either inane or completely inappropriate. If an outside observer with no insight into our culture were to eavesdrop on these conversations, they would think that “bitch” was a term of endearment. Even more horrifying is the fact that most of these young women tolerate that treatment and find nothing offensive about it.
Changing a cultural trend is never easy, and it always takes time. Certainly, the notion that degrading speech is not only acceptable but desirable is fed at least in part by the art forms of our time. Lest we be too hasty to call Tipper Gore and engage in a campaign against certain song lyrics, I would remind you that music reflects the culture. Stay with me on this journey now….
Music that has originated in the urban areas of our larger cities reflects the absolutely unconscionable way we treat the urban poor. If I have no money, if my education is poor, if most of the companies where I live have vacated to the suburbs where I cannot physically get to them, at least two things occur. The first is that I feel hopeless and lack a feeling of control over my own life. The second is that I will seek a way to feel better and gain some sense of control. I may seek to escape my psychic pain through substance abuse, I may seek to escape my economic pain through crime, I may seek to escape my feelings of powerlessness through violence, and I will seek to be loved through sexuality. The music and movies of our simply reflect these realities.
Since we don’t talk about these things in our schools, when suburban and rural kids see the movies and listen to the music, they believe that normative behavior is being portrayed. Parents compound the problem by saying things like, “stay away from those people” or by ignoring their children’s blossoming sexuality and instead preaching nonsense like abstinence only as comprehensive sexual education.
If we are going to change this trend, we are going to have to become honest with ourselves and each other. We will have to be willing to invest at least as much in fighting poverty and improving education as we do in funding our military exploits and national defense. If we don’t, the only thing left to defend will be anarchy.