|Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982).|
I mean, I was a teenager in the 80s, which means I grew up during what turned out to be the end phase of a pretty steady march from quiet traditionalism to noisy chaos. When we looked at our parents, we figured we knew what it meant to become old and dated: you said things like "Turn that thing down!" "Just say No!" and "That TV show/rock music/MTV is going to rot your brain and you'll be a moron forever."
In that context, what it meant to be young and current was obvious: a taste for noisy loud music, drugs, and general irreverence.
If that was youth, I wondered, how was our generation ever going to age out? How could we become old and dated? I mean, weren't we taking noise, drugs, and general irreverence pretty much as high as they could go? Were the kids going to take these things further? HOW?
Noise was already peaking. The classic 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap boasted of the band as "one of England's loudest," and noted that their instruments' volume "went up to 11." If you look up "loudest band in the world" in Wikipedia, the latest chronological entry is for 2009, where we learn that "in Ottawa, Canada, the band Kiss achieved a SPL of 136 dB measured during their live performance. After noise complaints from neighbors in the area, the band was forced to turn the volume down."
So: 2009, and the band making the noise is a band from the 80s.
Obviously we in the 80s took drugs to some kind of logical conclusion. It was the era of coke at every party, crack babies, the introduction of MDMA -- or, as the kids call it, "ecstasy."
As to general irreverence. can I just point out that there was a band in the 80s called "Scraping Feotus Off The Wheel"?
I asked myself, Where could it go from here that we can't handle? I fount it hard to picture telling the next generation "turn it down!" "stay sober!" or "that's offensive!" We were already loud and obnoxious. Weren't we?
Well. As is the nature of these things, time or culture or whatever did me a really elegant fake out by switching gears entirely. Because we didn't have the internet in the 80s. Or cell phones. Or anything remotely like that.
As a measure of the technological distance we've come, can I just tell you that when I was in college, there was one pay phone per dorm hall? If you wanted to talk to someone, you'd call their hall, and ask whoever happened to answer to go knock on the person's door. Almost always, they were not there. So much for that.
If you wanted to see people, you basically had to show up places and hope they'd be there. I know it sounds ridiculous, but trust me, it had a charm of its own.
So now the answer has become crystally and painfully clear. We became dated not through a distaste for noise and music and drugs, but through our inability to live life on and through the internet. When it comes to the internet, I sometimes feel like one of those early amphibians who lived in water but worked up their courage to climb onto land occasionally. When they got to the land, they were like "Holy shit, this is great! Check out the sunshine! And you can walk around!" Nonetheless, when they wanted to breathe, or spawn, or whatever it is early amphibians did, they had to get back in the water.
That's how I feel about the internet. When I get on it, I'm like, "Oh My God, This Is The Best!" Saturday night my friend and I went to see a production of Verdi's Il Trovatore (whoa, what an opera -- that nineteenth century, they really had things going on) -- and when we got home my friend said wasn't there something about the use of bel canto that was different from how it had been used before, and didn't that mean it was one of Verdi's later operas?
We googled. And we found riches and riches, and learned things about Il Trovatore we never would have known, and I felt fleetingly connected to the other people in the world who care about stuff like this and think about it and take it seriously, which can be in itself a very heady feeling. And I thought, as I so often do, that we need some gesture, word, or sign that means "God Bless The Internet." Everyone bow your heads together.
But living on the internet? Social networking? Commenting on things? Reading comments? Responding to stuff, interacting constantly, dealing with other people and their ridiculous opinions and things they're upset about and turf they need to defend and all that? Seeing their photos and boasts and politics and complaints? Dealing with the constant interactive negativity stream?
It seriously makes me want to crawl back into my ocean home. Gotta go. Bye.
So when young people say to me things like "Pinterest!"-- I feel my age. I shake my cane, and tell them about the good old days, when you could run into people at parties by surprise, and get drunk without your asshole friends posting pictures to Facebook, and generally act like a doofus without fearing that your every move is being recorded, commented on, filed away, preserved forever like a book of rotten memories.
It was a golden era, even if it was a little noisy and stupid.