Blog Post

"Things were never as simple as you thought they were so they are not as complicated now."

At our recent seminar on Anne Allison's brilliant book Millenial Monsters, an ethnography of the global interest in Japanese toys (and much much more), one of the panelists, Larry Grossberg, one of the founders of Cultural Studies, was reflecting on the rapidity with which people are willing to pronounce on "the new" and "the old." He was referring to "new media" and the many comments one reads about the catastrophic social effects wrought by new technologies, the disruptions in social life as we know it, and so forth. He was especially focusing on youth and youth culture and also noted that, statistically, despite all the dire warnings, this generation of youth has fewer "risk factors" (for violence, behavioral excess, self-destruction, etc) than any previous since World War II. Yet, from all the legislation directed at controlling youth behavior, one would think that they were totally out of control and New Media was the demon invading their individual psyches and the social life of the entire generation. ((See Grossberg's Kids Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics and America's Future for a detailed analysis of this phenomenon.) In reflecting on the way one generation reflects on another, Grossberg made me recall Raymond Williams classic "elevator" through history, where he gives a summary of each generation's dystopic analysis of the fate and shortcomings of the current generation. The elevator descends through history, at least to ancient Rome, and the historians lamenting there about the younger generation going to the dogs. Larry made a succinct remark that, in its eloquence, made me think of Williams (one of my intellectual heroes). Larry said, "Things were never as simple as you thought they were so they are not as complicated now."

Exactly!

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