As a writer, and perhaps as an old one, I’ve been thinking more about childhood lately. Because I grew up in the ’40s and ’50s, without computers and computer games, and at a much slower pace than kids do today, I’m sure I have a different sensibility than younger writers. In the middle class suburban years of those decades I, like everyone I knew, was very earnest. Listen to any song sung by Patti Page or Vic Damone to see what I mean. I know–there was other music out there: blues, jazz, café singers.. and my mother practiced classical piano incessantly–but the air in the suburbs was thick with all those sweet yearny numbers from “Your Hit Parade.” Most jokes were silly or corny; humor was almost gentle (Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Bob Hope, etc. No one told me about Mort Sahl until I was out of there.)
Today, in contrast, most humor is laced with irony or satire; as often as not it’s bawdy. Above all, it’s quirky and provocative, and it makes you think. Popular music is usually loud and verbose, and full of invention. Contemporary culture is shaped by the drive to always do something new, and while that may have been true then too, the drive has been intensified considerably. In mass culture especially, the urge to create is all about youth and novelty.
I’m not being critical of today. People like May Wilson (my last post) grew up as I did, and reacted against it. My generation helped shape today’s, especially in the ’60s. But growing up that way, with all that sincerity, all that idealism, and the conviction that moral decisions were simple if people would only make them, all that must make a difference in how we create.
Old people come from another country.