"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 20 September 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Kid Schlock

[another grumble, grumble day]

With the combination of acuity,

brevity, and towering

unfunniness native to editorial

cartoonists, award-winning

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette doodler

Rob Rogers last week summed up

the epochal merger of Viacom and

CBS: An unsavory-looking punk

with a pierced nose and an

anachronistically spiked 'do

settles in to watch MTV's

Lauderdale Spring Break, only to

be confronted by the gray visage

of MTV correspondent Dan Rather

using terms like "jiggy." It was

a fitting comic for a news cycle

that had as a central theme the

culture contrast between

Viacom's youth-oriented

entertainment and CBS'

colostomy-bagging brand of


entertainment. If there were

hints of barbarians-at-the-gates

paranoia in the sight of young

hoodlums looting the Tiffany

Network's family jewels, it was

more than made up for by the

spectacle of 76-year-old Sumner

Redstone, Viacom's Muppet-like

chairman, irrevocably replacing

Dick Clark in the role of

America's Oldest Teenager.


Redstone showed

characteristically shrewd timing

by leveraging his teeny-boppers

at a moment when their stock is

both hotly traded and

artificially depressed. At this

point, he is the only American

over 22 who isn't giving himself

a hernia trying to keep up with

the supposedly seismic shift in

our nation's age demographic. In

a characteristically understated

turn, the New York Times

Magazine, a few weeks ago,

announced the plight of

thespians facing the "biggest

teen boom in entertainment

history" — a phrase with

proximity to, say, "deadliest

pandemic in world history,"

reflecting the odd combination

of fascination and mortal terror

with which we tend to view our

under-20s. Clearly, the time to

buy had arrived when jittery

Miramax executives felt

compelled to make a

post-Columbine title change to

their "Killing Mrs. Tingle"

brand of box-office poison,

redubbing the film with the more

benign title Teaching Mrs.

Tingle (an empty gesture, it

turned out, as the Kevin


megabomb proved lethal only to

theater owners).


Of course, any good scare needs a

proximate cause, and the current

one has as its source the

mid-summer pall cast by

Woodstock '99's firestorm of

fear, an event whose ongoing

fallout merits a brief look

back, if only for the way it

perfectly captures the

ambivalence with which the older

generation inevitably embraces

the younger. In addition to

prompting junkie-cum-Sonny Bono

manqué Anthony Kiedis to

exclaim, "It's Apocalypse Now

out there," and launching

carpet-bomb attacks of

instantaneously clichéd

rock journalism ("As the flames

climbed high into the night / to

moonlight the sacrificial rite /

I saw Kid Rock laughing with

delight," wrote Rolling Stone's

Rob Sheffield), W99 set off the

latest round of youth-bashing by

folks decrepit enough to have taken

Wild in the Streets as a serious

generational cri de guerre

during its original theatrical

release in 1968.



"Don't trust anyone under 30" ran

the sub-headline of a column on

the matter in The Cincinnati

Enquirer. "The word 'Woodstock'

is out; you can't use that

word," a disgusted baby boomer

"wearing a psychedelic shirt"

told the Houston Chronicle.

"It's been blasphemed.... It

wasn't Woodstock," sniffed

Richie Havens, who performed at

the original Three Days of

Peace, Music, & Brown Acid gig

for the then-hefty sum of

US$6,000 (a payday the

self-styled "song singer" and

hitless wonder no doubt misses

at least as much as Wavy

Gravy's irrepressible

anti-Establishment antics).


"[The original] Woodstock ...

marked childhood's end for a

tumultuous generation of

Americans and can be remembered

but not relived," smugged a

columnist for the St. Louis

Post-Dispatch, who cited no less

an authority than the Lizard

King himself in implicitly

stumping for the extermination

of today's younger generation:

"As Jim Morrison said, 'When the

music's over, turn off the

lights.' Somebody flip the

switch." Never mind the

self-evident dubiousness of

taking advice from Mr. Mojo

Risin' — a man so selfish he

choked to death on his own

vomit. Just keep your eyes on

the road while you grab yourself

a beer, buddy.


"Score one for the Baby Boomers,"

editorialized Newsday. "Their

Woodstock may have had mud and

stuff, but nobody charged $4 for

a bottle of water." (That price

tag, incidentally, may be less

damning than it sounds:

Noninflation-adjusted prices at

the original Yasgur's farm

festival ranged from about two

bits for a glass of water, to a

buck for a slice of bread, to a

whopping $2.50 for a hot dog.

Adjusted for inflation — and

for having to sit through

performances by acts like '50s

apologists Sha Na Na and

Confederacy buffs The Band

that comes to roughly $4,500 per




Indeed, the mayhem at Woodstock

'99, including numerous sexual

assaults, was disturbing enough

that even a number of those

still on the inside of the

Logan's Run bubble city have

turned into generational

quislings. To wit, a piece in

the San Francisco Chronicle

written by 20-year-old Nathan

Kensinger, who, according to his

bio-line, "is honing his writing

skills at Hampshire College"

— and honing his skills at

heaping scorn upon his own age

group (a talent that can only

become more valuable in an

economy that will increasingly

bow and scrape before the

increasingly cranky and

nostalgic dictates of the

increasingly well-heeled baby

boomers). "These rapes were part

of a larger whole [of] the wild

weekend that Generation X

created," wrote Kensinger,

issuing one of the broadest

cultural indictments since Mick

Jagger musically blamed you, me,

and everybody except Lee Harvey

Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan for the

Kennedy assasinations in

"Sympathy for the Devil."

"Instead of laying blame on a

'small group of thugs' or the

'egotistical bands' for the

riots, assaults, and other

savagery that characterized this

festival, we should accept that

what transpired was the product

of Gen X's lack of moral



However fun such proclamations

are to make, they are doubly

mistaken. For starters, there's

the problem that youth —

vaguely defined as those under

30 — are, alas, a decent

bunch by most indicators

routinely trotted out to

document moral depravity.

Indeed, the same universal lack

of moral standards that gave

rise to the vandalism,

hooliganism, and felonious

assaults at Woodstock '99 may

have also somehow contributed to

the other ominous youth trends

that have been widely reported

on for a number of years now:

Kids these days volunteer more,

drink less, do fewer drugs, go

to school longer, and do better

on measures such as the National

Assessment of Educational

Progress than their counterparts

did during the Carter

administration. More troubling

still, youth violence is down,

just like all other forms of

violence (with the notable

exception of the US-sanctioned

bombing of foreign populations).

As the co-author of a biennial

survey of 16,000 high school

students conducted by the

Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention recently told The

Washington Post, "None of the

behaviors we studied showed any

sign of going up." Indeed, most

of the categories, including

carrying weapons and fighting,

showed significant declines.

Youth still has more to fear

from Age than vice versa, as the

baby boomers — most or all

of whom lack the long-term vigor

of a Sumner Redstone — head

into their benefits-grubbing,


retirements, defining the human

lifespan up even as they define

youthful deviancy (and for that

matter their own) down.



Then there is the more obvious

and important sticking point

when it comes to broad-brush

generalizations: However

stunning and momentarily

pleasing they may be, they are

by definition overblown and

unnuanced, the sociological

equivalent of a Christo

installation (in fact, both

share the potential to kill). As

the literary critic Marcus Klein

generously acknowledged in his

introduction to American

Novelists Since World War II,

"Everything depends, of course,

on the kind of one's sample, and

any general characterization

might be sustained."


Such brutal honesty tends to take

the winds out of one's sails, or

in the case of Christo's 1991

installation of umbrellas in

California, it fills them with

gusts of air, causing them to

impale passersby. Either way,

it leaves us with less to say

about the kids today. Except for

the ironclad prediction that as

bad as they are today, the next

bunch will be that much worse.

courtesy of Mr. Mxyzptlk

[Purchase the Suck Book here]