S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 18 May 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
It Takes a Village of the Damned

 

[]

It was an announcement so

grim that the president needed to

bite his lower lip before speaking.

We have "a changing culture that

desensitizes our children to

violence." Most teenagers, he

continued, "have seen hundreds

or even thousands of murders on

television in movies and in

videogames before they graduate

from high school." Not

surprisingly, then, "too many

young people seem unable or

unwilling to take responsibility

for their actions, and "all

too often, everyday conflicts

are resolved not with words

but with weapons."

 

Oops, that was 1998, during the

White House Conference on Youth

Violence, which convened after

the Springfield, Oregon, school

shootings. This year, the White

House Conference on Youth

Violence convened after the

Littleton, Colorado, school

shootings, and there was an

awkward prelude to the

teen-baiting. In the

increasingly familiar cadences

of the presidential

apology-that-isn't-quite,

Clinton took up the bombing of

the Chinese embassy in Belgrade:

This was a "tragic, isolated

incident," whereas "the ethnic

cleansing of Kosovo ... is a

deliberate and systematic

crime," which of course can only

be resolved with weapons, not

words. Now, on to the horrors of

teen violence....

 

This ham-handed moral

channel-surfing is typical of

the great kids scare of the

1990s. According to social

scientist Mike Males, author of

Framing Youth: Ten Myths About

the Next Generation, in every

behavioral realm in which kids

are imagined to be loutish,

lawless, and lethal (and the

more so the darker their

pigmentation), the real high

achievers are white, middle-aged

adults. The numbers on teen

crime, teen drug use, teen

pregnancy, teen suicide, and

even teen smoking have all been

on the decline (with a few

intermediate bumps) since they

peaked in the early 1980s. It

would seem, in fact, that the

only ironclad, youth-culture

predictor of violent and

criminal behavior is landing

child-acting gigs in very

special sitcoms.

 

[]

Meanwhile, as Males

demonstrates, an unprecedented

crime wave and moral meltdown

have overtaken the 30-to-49 set.

FBI figures show that boomers

were involved in three-quarters

of the nation's violent crimes

in 1996, and the number of 30-

to 49-year-olds cuffed for

serious crimes of all kinds has

more than tripled since 1980 -

from 450,000 to 1.5 million in

1996. At the height of school

shoot-'em-up melees last year,

on-campus fatalities worked out

to four deaths a month; adults

were offing kids, meanwhile, at

the rate of six a day. And if

the grown-ups seem to be

particularly jumpy, violent, and

glassy-eyed, it's probably

because they're so very fucked

up so much of the time.

Emergency room visits involving

thirty-somethings' drug overdoses

rose from 60,000 in 1980 to

200,000 in 1995; heroin and

cocaine emergency cases, uh,

shot up from 10,000 to 100,000.

(All these increases far

outstrip even the boomers'

fabled overrepresentation in the

population at large.)

 

Even the all-important grieving

process became another platform

for boomer self-involvement.

After expressing some pro forma

devastation over the Littleton

victims and their families,

Generation Me returned to what

it knew best: "How does this

make me feel ... about me?" In a

cross-branding triumph as

ghastly as anything a child

would encounter in the upper

levels of Doom, Salon rallied to

comfort grieving Littleton

voyeurs with an excerpt from its

newly published Mothers Who

Think anthology - an off-topic

but wrenchingly emotivist essay

about coping with a child's

death. The subtext was just

slightly subtler than the

marketing/editorial/infanticidal

strategy: "If one of those

monsters opened fire on your

helpless child just think how

you'd feel." Is there any way we

could get Janet Reno and the FCC

to crack down on mawkish

mournography once they get

through banishing Marilyn Manson

(and finding a suitable

replacement)?

 

[]

Not to be outdone, the right

flank in the Kulturkampf adopted

as its very own saint Cassie

Bernall, the born-again teen who

answered "Yes" when her

Littleton assailant asked her if

she believed in God. Weekly

Standard reporter Matt Labash

produced a lavishly detailed,

six-page cover profile of

Bernall, culminating in the

question of whether a

17-year-old sporting a "What

Would Jesus Do?" pin on her

backpack would "enter the

pantheon of the faith's great

martyrs." Just in case

this made things a tad too

ambiguous, a separate editorial

pronounced Americans "full of

astonishment at the birth of

an American martyr."

 

If Bernall's story seemed fresh,

it was because we'd heard it so

many times before. Americans

relish the child as an

all-purpose symbolic scrim,

contorted in the reflection of

all sorts of adult anxieties. As

the iron grip of Calvinism

gradually loosened in the

mid-19th century, children were

no longer presumed to be

automatically damned. Instead,

they became creepy repositories

of undifferentiated,

quasi-religious sentiment. Dead

children were especially

venerated as symbols of purity

and innocence. Portraits of

newly departed babes claimed

pride of place in middle-class

salons, and their gooey, imputed

virtues furnished inexhaustible

material for Victorian poets

and songsmiths.

 

In recent memory, kids were

conscripted, initially, into

similar innocent-victim duty -

in the successive

missing-children and

satanic-ritual-abuse hysterias

of the 1980s; that is, until the

scares were found to be

family-instigated and

fraudulent, respectively. And as

more feckless boomers -

relentlessly tutored in the

canons of self-love - stepped

forward to do their bit for the

propagation of the species, they

began to chafe at the

impertinence of these kids who

had dared to take their place at

history's center stage. Thus the

image of the child became a much

more unrelieved (though no less

surreal) study in curdled moral

development and outright

sociopathy. Every time you

turned around, the perverse imps

were impregnating one another,

carjacking, gang-banging,

"wilding," smoking, and

prolonging Harmony Korine's

inexplicable career. Not long

before all the recent playground

gunplay, criminologist John

DiIulio was forecasting the

arrival of a new breed of

"superpredator" teens who would

rack up unprecedented body

counts on the nation's streets.

Why? Because there were going to

be so many more kids! And

they'd do still more drugs and

create an even more amoral

culture! Do the math!

 

[]

This pathology infects the good

as well as the evil. Even the

Standard's coverage of American

Martyr Cassie Bernall contains

more Stuart Smalley than Little

Nell, dwelling at length on her

recovery from a troubled early

adolescence, which features all

the requisite flirtations with

Satanism, drugs, alcohol, and

suicide (miraculously, a church

camp pulled her back from the brink,

just in time for her to die in

the act of professing her faith).

 

Bernall's 12-step canonization

is just the flip side of Klebold

and Harris' consignment to

monstroid video-Goth hell. All

three are serving only as

projection fields for adult

culture warriors and are granted

adolescence or maturity mainly

according to adult whim. Thus,

while the 18-year-old Harris was

seized upon as a poster child

for the plight of kids, the

American justice system is

striving to outfit younger and

younger offenders for adult

punishment. Which sets up a

Solomonic riddle: If a

14-year-old is sodomized in a

maximum-security prison, does

his rapist get charged as a

child molester?

Teen-violence hysteria has

produced, in cultural debate, a

genuine missing-children crisis:

Kids are deemed incubators of

lethal social pathology (and

occasionally, redemptive virtue),

yet it's clear they have no

discernible subjectivity of

their own. The Clintonoid

guns-and-media theory of youth

violence - whereby entertainment

and firearms executives have

cunningly crossed the wires of a

psychological time bomb in the

echoing cranium of the average

American teenage boy - is

indistinguishable from its

alleged moral antidote, wherein

teenage girls achieve the utmost

piety as victims. The leering

unreality of all this is

discomfitingly close to

Americans' morbid fascination

with JonBenet Ramsey's own

Colorado demise, which now

threatens to outrun her

actual lifespan. For all

their rank sentimentality,

at least the Victorians

let their dead children have

lives of their own.

 
courtesy of Holly Martins
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 





[Purchase the Suck Book here]