Wednesday, April 25, 2012
"I Weep for the Future"
Without being condescending, I will have to say that it continues to amaze me how little these young people know--and I'm not even talking about history, for that is a given. I am referring to the very popular culture that defines them in every way. They seemingly have little to no knowledge of any cultural currents that precede their present and immediate past. Last Monday night, I was introducing my class to the 1980s--Reaganism and Republican economic theorizing and all that. To try and explain "Supply-Side Economics" which then-candidate George H. W. Bush correctly labeled "voodoo economics," I referenced the opening scene from Ferris Beuller's Day Off. (Every informed reader here will undoubtedly remember Ben Stein portraying a boring high school economics teacher---"something d-o-o economics, voodoo economics.") My class of 23 had absolutely no idea of what I was talking about. Not a single one of them had ever seen the film. Now, if I wanted to get on an intellectual high horse, I could dismiss this movie as a bit of inconsequential, superficial fluff about the improbable adventures of 3 snotty, pampered--and not particularly sympathetic--rich kids skipping school on a lark. I would suggest that someone taking this view needs to lighten-up a bit. The film is a guilty pleasure of mine, and I still find it a helluva lot of fun--with any number of classic lines. Young people could do far worse than take the last, or near last line of the movie as a charge for life. When I first started teaching, I could affect a monotone and ask "anyone, anyone" and usually get a glimmer of recognition from a few students. No longer. They would be equally oblivious were I to toss out a line from Animal House or Blazing Saddles--not to mention more serious fare, such as the The Graduate.
Granted, none of these films speak well for the health of our American nation, other than perhaps an ability to laugh at ourselves. But that does not mean they are without importance. I once had a friend who refused to read fiction, it being a a position of pride with him. I used to argue with him about this. How could one possibly know anything about the Victorian era, for example, without at least some exposure to Dickens? Our son grew up reading everything--and watching these classic movies with us, as well. A conversation between the 3 of us could contain a line from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, or All About Eve, or Young Frankenstein, and we all get it. For better or for worse, these films were touchstones of particular eras of our history, and help provide context for a confusing present. My students have no such moorings, and are seemingly adrift--historically, culturally, and in far more serious aspects of life.