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Generation Gap

Generation Gap 

One of the more irritating aspects of the twilight years, I’ve discovered, is people assuming that your opinions, regardless of the subject under discussion, are entirely shaped by age.  This reflexive generational stereotyping – which sits alongside blacks having rhythm, Jews loving a bargain, and women driving badly – is nothing new.  It is, however, new to me.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.         

“Well, you need to bear in mind that things have changed since your day,” a person of an earlier generation said to me recently.  (‘Your day’ is code for a discredited fuddy-duddy past.)  Our disagreement, since you ask, concerned the boorish antics of a leading football manager with a well-known aversion to journalists in trying to get a reporter barred from a press conference for asking an inconvenient question.  In expressing my disapproval, I threw in for good measure my frequently-expressed view that football is a beautiful game being destroyed by ugly people.  “Silly old fool,” I could tell he was thinking. “Get with the times.” 

But if the price of getting with the times is a constant lowering of standards, I think I‘d rather be regarded as sadly out of touch.  But am I the one who’s out of touch?  Acceptance of a decline in behaviour as inevitable, and therefore justifiable, is what strikes me as sad.  I choose instead the radical option, which is to reject the decline and work to reverse it.   

My views on a great many of the debatable issues of the day, such as civil liberties, race, drugs and homosexuality, while they have evolved over the years, have often been in advance of the conventions of the day – sometimes no doubt mistakenly so.  People often appear genuinely affronted by such iconoclasms.  “You are, after all, nearly seventy,” they seem to be saying.  “You’re supposed to be behind the times, not ahead of them.”

I can’t help it.  The one thing that hasn’t changed in my attitude to life is an appetite for change.     

The problem, I suspect, is that all too many oldies do tend to laud the ancient and knock the modern, tarring the rest of us with the same brush.  My father was one who deserved to be tarred.  A man clearly out of synch with his time, he was prone to waxing tiresomely about the supposed glories of an earlier age, which he called without a trace of irony the Good Old Days.  I often annoyed him by asking which of the Good Old Days he had enjoyed the most: the First World War, the Second World War or the Great Depression in between.  “Those experiences made us what we are today,” was the invariable response.         

I nurse no such nostalgia for hard times.  The first third of my own life, a working-class upbringing in post-war Britain, remains engraved in my recollection as a time of unrelieved dreariness and relative deprivation. Not that I ever went without food or shelter, but for many years in the 1950s I lived in a house lacking an inside lavatory or a bath, let alone a television, telephone, washing machine and refrigerator.  Even the weather I remember as more or less permanently sullen, the overcast punctuated in winter by sulfurous ‘smogs’ that killed the elderly and the asthmatic by the thousands.             

But I can’t claim that I’m entirely a Modern Man.

My grasp of the technology of modern communications and entertainment media becomes ever more tenuous.  Here there is undoubtedly a generation gap.  I don’t much care for pop music, but then I never did, even in my youth, save for a few isolated tunes associated in my mind with certain happy events, often involving an amorous conquest.  Most of it I find plaintive, repetitive, derivative and tribal – nursery rhymes to a primitive beat.  Nor do I apologize for my contempt for the growing number of films which, though often technically impressive, rely less on an absorbing script (what used to be called a story) than on computer-generated images and bewilderingly rapid editing.  Moreover, I find the endless violence sickening and mindless.    

I also happen to feel that manners and other standards of social conduct are declining beyond the football field.  I’ve no idea why this should be, though my suspicion that parental authority may have been undermined by the obsession of children with the entertainment media – a grotesque waste of brilliant technology, it seems to me – appears to be widely, if sometimes secretly, shared even among parents of the present generation. 

I also regret, as is well known, what I perceive to be the widespread abuse of the language, the loss of the vocabulary that springs from an active mind.  We’re becoming reduced to exchanging jargon.  I’ve been called pedantic.  My first line of defence against that charge is one of practical simplicity, namely that a failure to grasp the essentials of the language invariably leads to problems in human communication; in business affairs, too.  Employers are already complaining in the newspapers that recruits who can’t express themselves properly are hindering the company’s performance as well as their own personal prospects.       

If such observations are regarded as old-fashioned, then I can only plead guilty as presumed.  Off with his head!

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, p.158)

28 May, 2011   

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