The Good Ole Days
I haven't mused here in quite a while, so let's muse a bit, shall we?
I was listening to a local NPR show today which was focusing on the so-called "hook-up" culture now (supposedly) pervading college campuses. The guest was making the case that relationships are (like, totally) out amongst young adults these days, with no "courtship" (the show's word) going on, but rather college kids are just having lots of one-night stands and such.
My first thought, of course, was-- Why wasn't it like that when I was in college?
My second was-- Hey, wait, it was like that when I was in college, just not for me.
My point here is not to wax poetic about all the poon-tang I missed out on because I was a shy, withdrawn, nerd in college, though I could if you really want. But no, I'm getting at something else.
It occurs to me that kids have always spent much of their youth "hooking-up" and that I'm unclear what, exactly, has changed, or why anyone would even think it had. It's common, across the span of human history for each generation to think that successive generations are crazed, immoral beasts about to bring down the collapse of civilization, sort of like how my parents' generation thought '80s heavy metal music was an indication of inevitable moral decline.
Every generation thinks they are living in the "end times" and that "things are always getting worse" and dreams of some mythical "golden age" either of their youth or of some idealized past. You know:
Old person: "It wasn't like this in my day. We didn't listen to the rap music and wear short skirts. We had discipline and dignity and every day a rainbow appeared overhead..."
But, at the exact same time, as each generation gets to child-rearing age and starts having kids, they also think they know everything, have seen everything, and that nothing their kids experience or feel could possibly be unique. You know:
Child: "You just don't understand!"
Parent: "Oh, I understand! I was young once just like you! There's nothing about your life that is unique or that I haven't already been through!"
We've all heard these kinds of things before, from our parents, or perhaps from friends who have become parents, or even you've said them to your kids yourself. But what I find interesting is that, quite often, I think adults hold these two views simultaneously without even realizing it. The same parent who poo-poos the idea that his or her child could possibly have thoughts or feelings he or she hasn't already had turns around and goes off about how he or she can't understand kids today and why they all think they need a cell phone. Those "kids today" are either just carbon copies of their elders, or completely alien, depending on what mood the parent happens to be in.
Well, here's what I think: Things change, but not that much, and certainly not as much between generations as the generations think. I have a really hard time believing that college kids are "hooking-up" and eschewing relationships more now than they were in my day, or in the sixties, or really whenever.
If humans didn't like casual sexual encounters, there wouldn't be so many prohibitions on sexual activity in ancient religious texts like the Bible. Some guy on the NPR show was talking about how casual sex was the result of the weakening of marriage, as if marriage is the natural state and sleeping around is the new innovation. Of course, the truth is that marriage, a societally-sanctioned and enforced contract between two people to be faithful and monogamous, is almost certainly a response to rampant promiscuity, not the preexisting condition it decays into.
If there is any difference between today's "hook-up" college culture and the culture when I went to college, it is simply that there's now a new term -- "hook-up" -- coined for it, which makes it easier to talk about. It's easier to say, "I hooked up with him" than to say, "I fucked him," just like it's easier to say "collateral damage" rather than "murdering innocent civilians." There's probably very little difference in how much sex kids are having. They're just talking about it more.
I don't think this generation is more immoral, lazier, or made of weaker fiber than mine. Their experiences, on the whole, are very similar. Sure, not exactly the same, but is the difference between arguing with your parents about how you want a cell phone that different from arguing with them about how you need your own phone line or arguing with them that you want to hike over to the next farm to see your best friend? Not really.
But I do wonder how it comes about, the psychology of believing both that kids are alien and yet that you know more about them than they do themselves. Of believing that their experiences are trite and no different than your own, but that they still are utterly different than you were.