Common Enemy

August 25, 1997

Martinis. Cigars. Full-contact dancing. What's happening? Where have all the flowers gone? Why is today's youth acting like my parents?

My generation has re-invented the art of dim-witted hand-wringing. Blaming the resurgence of the popularity of smoking on the magical powers of advertising instead of seeing it for what it is: a rebellion against the whiny "we know what's good for you, and we'll make you do it whether you like it or not" habit that we picked up in the Peace Corps, the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War Movement. Shoving the virtues of our home-grown brand of goodness and virtue down everyone's throat; so sure we're right that we never pause for a moment in our intolerable smugness to take a look at our missionary zeal and see it for what it is: a swift pain in the ass. The more warning labels we put on alcohol and tobacco, the more enticing it becomes. You want people to stop smoking? Then shut the hell up about it. Lose the warning labels and the feeble, government-sponsored anti-tobacco advertising. Lighten up, as it were. People smoke because it's fashionable and they quit smoking because it's unfashionable, and the more their parents groan and fulminate about it the more likely they are to check it out.

Remember, we're the generation that rejected tobacco and hard liquor, and embraced as a gift from Heaven every kind of vicious, addictive, brain-destroying drug that we could get our grubby little mitts on. The arch response to "Got a cigarette?" of "I don't smoke . . . tobacco (nudge-nudge, wink-wink)," is what's bringing back the Marlboro Man and it has nothing whatever to do with seductive ol' penis-nose Joe Camel. We told our kids that drugs were good and tobacco was bad. We should not therefore be surprised that they mistrust much of what we say.

We're the ones that held up the banner of "Turn on, tune in, drop out," and now we're pissing and moaning about Slackers and Generation X. Personally, I've seen little evidence of actual slacking, at least as far as emulating their wimpy stoned-out Flower Power parents goes. About the only noteworthy thing I've observed is that the Thirteeners seem more respectful of their elders than my generation (which made a virtue of rudeness and bad manners) ever was. So what if they smoke and wear black. Beats that horrible tie-dyed hippie free-box look any day.

We're the generation that revived venereal disease, and spread it around with a bold and liberal hand. In 1958 the incidence of VD in the United States was 4 per 100,000. So low that the health department stopped gathering statistics. Thanks in part to the Summer of Love, nowadays you better bag that Bad Boy or risk not pregnancy but a death sentence. Gee, thanks Mom and Dad for turning teen sex into a minefield. And where are all those jobs that I'm supposed to get after wasting four to seven years in college. Just wondering.

If our children are the Gen X'ers, wandering in the wilderness, mine is the Peter Pan'ers that never want to grow up. We embrace not youthfulness but childishnessmine is the selfish, self-righteous, pain-in-the-neck, I-want-it-all-now, two-year-old tantrum generation.

Why do children and their grandparents get along so well? Because they have a common enemy. The reason that cocktail parties are coming back is that this generation wants to be the grownups their parents never were.


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Common Enemy

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