The other night a friend’s teenage daughter showed me a photo of her senior prom dress. You know, what we used to call “gowns.” It was beautiful, bare midriff and all.
“Bare midriff?!” I turned to her mother, a little shocked. “Is that her belly button?? She’s not quite 18!”
“It’s always the ones who were wildest in their own youth that get that shocked,” she said. Yeah, I thought. And those of us who don’t have kids.
But it got me thinking about how our culture has changed over the past 75 years or so.
It’s been 50 years since I was in my middle teens. It’s jarring to even type those words–where did the time go? When I was 15, people 50 years older were born in the early part of the 1900s. Their teenage years had about as much in common with mine as mine have in common with the teens of today. Which is “nothing.”
Now, I know that every adult generation thinks the younger generation is “going to the dogs” –that’s what they used to say back in the day. I’m no different. Every time I’m around the teens of today I’m gobsmacked at how different their lives are from my own teen years. I want badly to say that some things are better. But that’s not always how I see them.
Back when I was a teen, kids would come home after school and have a snack there. If your mom was a happy homemaker, you’d have home-made cookies. If not, you might have a couple of Oreos and some milk. Maybe you’d go to a soda fountain and sip Cokes with a friend. As a child, I was concerned, because I didn’t like Coca-Cola. Did that mean that when I got to be a teenager, I couldn’t have what we called “Coke dates?” So, I began drinking Coke to get used to the taste. Oh yes, that was the innocence of the times.
Things are way different today. Visit a Starbucks near any school–elementary even–and after school you’ll see students charging sugary drinks and snacks on their smart-phones. The products above cost around $20. Multiply that by at least five a week–where do these kids get that kind of money? I wonder.
When I was a kid, only the very luckiest had a phone number of their own, or even a phone in their room. We all coveted these pink Princess phones. If we didn’t have our own phone, we were forced to use the family phone, which is to say the only phone in the house. Of course, we wanted a long cord so we could pull the phone into a closet or other private place to giggle with our friends.
Where I live now, most teens have their own smartphones. That means a phone number of their own with a data plan and a phone they can take anywhere. They aren’t cheap, either.
Concerts were different, too. We all lit our Zippos or other cigarette lighters at concerts–we had lighters because smoking (pot or tobacco) was still part of our culture in the 1960s.
Today, concert-goers light their candle apps on their smart phones. It’s just not the same.
At home, we’d amuse ourselves with board games that had actual boards and pieces. Who didn’t like Monopoly? Or Risk? Scrabble? Yahoo? I still love to play those games and sometimes can even coax M. into playing one.
Today’s teens play apps on their phones or XBox. They’re usually action-packed and violent. Even young kids play violent games. And it’s no surprise that our nation has gotten significantly more violent.
Music is always an interesting bellwether of where our culture is. Songs in the 20th century had true innocence. Do you remember this obscure one? Listen to the words.
Elvis did it in a 1960 film. I heard it the other day and had to compare to the songs popular when I was a teen. Remember when Ed Sullivan wanted the Rolling Stones to change “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together”? Compared to Wooden Heart, it’s very risque. But today, that seems so mild, compared to this goodie from a few years ago:
By the time I was 17 I’d smoked marijuana and later, small “c” coke meant something entirely different. I’m a proponent of legalizing pot; I think alcohol is the bigger problem in our society. But marijuana is small potatoes today. Today, kids take Adderall as if it were candy and are way too familiar with drugs like Klonopin, Oxy and Ritalin. And not because they have some sort of physical problem. They take these to get high. Or low, as the case may be.
The world keeps turning, evolving or even devolving and we can’t stop it. Time moves us inexorably forward and we can’t stop it, no matter how much botox we use.
If you’ve ever responded to a phone survey on some political issue, you’ve heard the question, “Do you think the country/city/state is going in the right direction?” I don’t like that question because I really don’t know what it means. If it means the direction our culture is taking, I can’t help but feel it’s the wrong direction. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a prune-faced prude. I’m pretty liberal. But I do think we’ve gone way over the edge and accept things that will bite us in the ass long after I’m gone.
After I’m gone. Those are words that had no meaning when I was younger. But now, I find myself saying to M, “Thank God we’ll be gone by the time X happens.”
I’m curious, though. I hope I get to look in from the afterlife and see what’s next for our culture. Will the pendulum swing back? Or will it go further and further out until it reaches a point of no return?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.