Monday, October 29, 2007

Breakfast Club

My son, who is 16, has seen some of the teen movies of the 1980s. He's surprised and somewhat dismayed at how much of the normal modern range of youth behavior and self-expression was regarded as wicked and curable as recently as 20 years ago. The Ally Sheedy character gets a makeover from the popular girl at the end of "The Breakfast Club" and winds up attracting the jock. My son found that disappointing.

Nowadays, there's a whole accepted sub-culture in high schools of kids who dress like psychotics about to rampage. They hang out at the entrance of the mall and try to look intimidating to conventional people who shop at the mall. They do this by wearing clothes they all bought at the Hot Topic store in the mall. Nobody aims to "cure" them. That's just how they are. Engaging in one of the endless variants of modern consumer freedom.

I had sort of the same reaction when I was a teenager in the '70s watching movies from the 1950s: "Rebel Without a Cause." What was so bad about any of those kids? They didn't seem like delinquents to me. They seemed pretty normal -- really, almost innocent compared to the kids I knew.

[Warning: Quantum leap ahead] This is the other side of what's gone on in politics and governance in America roughly since the Cold War began. We citizens can do more of whatever we want than we ever could before. But so can the government. We can act out anything, and we do, and we pay less and less attention to what goes on up in the castle. I'd rather be able to choose my range of behaviors than to have them chosen for me. But the price of that freedom seems to be an inattention to the hard things in adult life.

Somehow, the people with a fetish for power seem to sense this. Perhaps 100 years from now what will be noted is how Russia, China, and America all evolved the same way at once: an old paradox was resolved, and governments granted more freedom while they took more power. Or maybe it's just a bad night here.