Monday, January 7, 2013

The Way Of The Adolescent: Not Wrong, Just Not Sustainable

Catherine Deneuve, in The Hunger

What passes for common wisdom at the New York Times:

"When we remember our past selves, they seem quite different."

Translation:  When middle-aged, upper middle class guys, of a certain temperament, remember their teen years, they're surprised by how the zany, silly, risky things they did for fun and sex.

Is this your experience?  It isn't mine.  I'm usually astonished by how little I've changed since I was a Young Person.

Youth was on my mind recently, as I had an encounter with some of the love objects of my earlier self.

When I was about 15 years old I happened to see the movie The Hunger and I fell madly in love.  The Hunger is a vampire movie, starring two of the coolest people ever to live on planet earth: Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie.  They live in an incredibly beautiful mansion, where they teach classical music to children, kill other humans for food, and live forever.

Eventually the David Bowie character learns that he's been tricked:  he is not a real vampire, but just a jiade vampire.  Though he will live forever, he will not stay young.  As the movie develops, he finds himself, after a few centuries of life, suddenly becoming his age.

I was obsessed with this movie.  I wanted the people in the movie to adopt me so I could go live with them and always wear the most beautiful clothes and listen to the most beautiful music and listen to Catherine Deneuve's most beautiful way of speaking English and develop for myself that look of quiet, gentle, amusement that obviously takes the place of boredom in an eternal life.

In the New York Times Theory of Life, clearly an obsession with a vampire movie counts as a youthful taste, the obsession of a Young Person.

But the other day I happened to watch the opening sequence of The Hunger on YouTube.  You can watch it here if you want.  In it, David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve go out to a club to pick up an attractive young man and woman.  Nobody says much.  They look about as attractive and cool as any two people could look, and even though they are at a loud dance club, they have that same look of quiet, gentle, amusement they always have.

I guess the New York Times Worldview has really seeped into my bones, because before I watched it I thought "Oh, probably I will think to myself, 'how silly, what a silly thing to be interested in, to be obsessed with, to love.'

But that was not what happened at all.  If anything I was more in love than ever.  I had pretty much the same feelings I'd had as a teenager:  that desperate desire to make human life into something more than what it really is.

Watching just this brief excerpt had a destabilizing effect on me.  I stayed up late, and drank a few extra glasses of wine, and felt strange and unhappy.

And I thought to myself as I often do:  the Way Of The Adolescent, it isn't wrong, it's just not sustainable.

The desire to live in a different and more intense way, to make human life into more than what it really is -- it's easier to satisfy when you're young.  You can drink too much and take drugs and spend your evenings out on the town and listen to music too loud and stay up late -- and you can still feel that inside you're a special and interesting person who is going to accomplish great things eventually

If you try to do those things in middle-age:  you're just another idiot in poor health.

People always make fun of teenagers for their willingness to take risks and do dramatic things for fun, and they always take up this very condescending attitude:  "oh, adolescence, you know!" [eye-roll].  Secretly, I've often wondered if they protest too much.  They actually worry that the dumb boringness adolescents associate with adulthood is actually dumb boringness, and that the adolescent worldview is the accurate one.

So.  I conclude that if people change their habits, it's not necessarily because they've changed their tastes or preferences in any deep way.

The Times story goes on to say there's new evidence that people underestimate how much they are going to change.  But honestly, the examples in the story are pretty underwhelming.  Here's a quote from the Times:

"When asked about their favorite band from a decade ago, respondents were typically willing to shell out $80 to attend a concert of the band today. But when they were asked about their current favorite band and how much they would be willing to spend to see the band’s concert in 10 years, the price went up to $129."

Sorry:  80 dollars to watch the band of your youth, compared to 129 for the future, and the conclusion is that people underestimate change?  This seems to me like evidence that people stay astonishingly the same. 

And, as one Times commentator put it:  "They had to do a study to determine that we're better at remembering the past than predicting the future?"


Daniel said...

I totally love The Hunger and your post. I don't know about you, but The New York Times often makes my eyes roll. The stuff about remembering and youth that you mention here is particularly egregious. I'm exaggerating a little bit for effect, but I have doubts that we ever really change much at all - we just add more layers. Go Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie and Bauhaus!

Patricia Marino said...

Thanks Danny! -- and yes, I'm always amazed at how little people change.

Bauhaus definitely, and also Iggy Pop, whose amazing song _Fun Time_ features so memorably in this movie.