The death of my childhood

Via Pajamas Media, ShrinkWrapped has a great review of a great movie (3:10 to Yuma --which is compared and contrasted to High Noon). I saw the 3:10 film and loved it.

In the post -- a focus on the rites of passage from boys to men -- ShrinkWrapped contrasts the growing up/American Western theme with an exhibit of psychedelic kitsch art. The latter is embarrassing by contrast:

Mild embarrassment was my initial reaction. The exhibit documented a time and place that was ultimately unserious to the extreme. By that I mean that the counterculture was all about prolonging childhood rather than finding new and improved ways to be come adults. For a brief moment, it seemed that growing up had become optional, that the longstanding connection between cause and effect in human affairs had been severed. The free expression of our impulses without consequences was the hallmark of the times.
Well, based on what I've seen of life, there are some people who never grow up, because they never want to grow up. Whether this is called the "Peter Pan" personality or the "artistic temperament," it's just the way it is. There have always been artistic type misfits. They are in every generation, and they sometimes produce great and lasting works of art. A good example, I think, is my favorite artist Salvador Dali, who was born in 1904. While too old to be a true 1960s hippie, he was nonetheless narcissistically delighted with the phenomenon, and believed he had anticipated it.

Actually, I think that much of what occurred in the 1960s was a media conflation event. You had these artists and wild bohemian types living in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury. In earlier times, they would have been a localized phenomenon, and perhaps tourists would have bought things from them and taken them home, and a word-of-mouth buzz might have occurred. Doubtless some of the artists and musicians would have made it as some of them did. But there's a big difference between a local scene (even a famous local scene like the Harlem Renaissance), and that same local scene becoming an overnight national sensation and a "movement" simply because the participants were placed in the living rooms of virtually every middle class household in America. While television was not entirely new, by the mid-1960s it had become a giant roving lens. By focusing in on things and projecting them into millions of homes, brand new contexts could be created. Literally, it became possible to effect cultural change (or at least the appearance of it) overnight.

Thus, people who had no interest in being "leaders" (in fact often quite the opposite) suddenly were "role models" to millions of lost kids in need of followers. Few were aware of what was going on at the time.

In a fairly long post, I explored this issue, and I offered the following YouTube video as a fairly good example of how the phenomenon works:

I won't quote from my post, but I think the same thoughts apply. However, the idea of "growing up" intrigues me, because there is a problem with people who will not -- and in some cases cannot -- grow up. (At least, not as society envisions it.)

In the context of boys into men, an especially stubborn category consists of something that's risky to write about, but what I'll call the "Born That Way High IQ Gay Men" for lack of a better term. Whether anyone likes it or not, society (and I include gay culture, which is very bigoted towards this type of person) really has no comfortable niche for young men who share the following two characteristics:

  • obviously gay (and thus incapable of the "closet" option)
  • extremely high IQ
  • I think it's a tragedy, and that's because I hate waste. And I hate seeing potential Einsteins frittering away their lives because of early emotional reactions to stuff that really ought not matter. There's an old Japanese saying that the crooked nail gets hammered down. With these people, all attempts at hammering them down are doomed to fail, because there simply is no place for them. So they exact cultural revenge, Brokeback Mountain style. Classic tragedy. It's all very predictable. (But not very avoidable; hence the tragedy.)

    This is not to say that the 1960s generation consisted of people like that. But they were among the core group of highly creative, no-niche types. Social misfits, who were transformed by an irrational process into "leaders."

    Thinking back to my personal experience, I wasn't into being a follower, and I was in my mid teens, so during the period in which "the rites of passage" was all up for grabs, I didn't really look up to anyone. All people (especially the 1960s follower types who were a few years older -- especially pacifists) struck me as screwed up, and the only people I liked were those I found personally entertaining. In retrospect, this was probably a childish way to regard the world, but it was entertaining, and they hadn't started dying yet. (I even went to law school imagining that it would help enable a anarchic community of interconnected households.)

    In many ways, it was death which grew me. Whether this was from boyhood to manhood, I can't say. I never considered that sort of thing anyone's business but their own.

    (Theirs not mine, and mine not theirs.)

    UPDATE (09/21/07): It galls me to see that the above YouTube video has been taken down:

    This video has been removed due to terms of use violation.
    It was an excerpt from a 1967 CBS documentary called "The Hippie Temptation" narrated by the late Harry Reasoner.

    And why would it have been taken down? Because old news documentaries are copyrighted? No fair comment is allowed?

    All I can say is that the copyright people suck. Seeing a classic like that pulled makes me want to commit deliberate, premeditated terms-of-use violations as a matter of principle!

    Oh well. I guess you can buy it on ebay (along with a 1966 Mike Wallace documentary called "THE HOMOSEXUALS.")

    I guess I'm still allowed to quote from a film review:

    It was forty years ago that young people from around the United States flocked to the Haight Ashbury district in San Francisco for the Summer of Love. Media coverage took what had been brewing in Haight-Ashbury for a couple of years and exposed Hippies to the national audience. The Summer of Love lasted only that one summer, but flower children returning to their homes spread the hippie counterculture across the nation. Two years later Woodstock helped define the generation and Altamont helped end it.

    Friday - Sunday August 3, 4 and 5 at 7:00 THE HIPPIE TEMPTATION A CBS Special Report with Harry Reasoner. This report took the avuncular Mr. Reasoner to Haight-Ashbury to report to the nation just what was going on and he wasn't happy with what he saw. The report is filled with wonderful footage of the psychedelic scene with the high point being Mr. Reasoner's visit to the Grateful Dead house. There he asks the members of the band if they use drugs. They happily admit they do.

    UPDATE: My mistake in referring to ShrinkWrapped as "Dr. Sanity" above. The errors have been corrected.

    posted by Eric on 09.19.07 at 10:28 AM


    "And I hate seeing potential Einsteins frittering away their lives because of early emotional reactions to stuff that really ought not matter."

    I don't know about potential Einsteins, but when I was in college, I knew plenty of high-IQ queens at Penn, Princeton, and Columbia who were putting their intelligence to work just fine. (I think that for some people that's an emotional reaction in the opposite direction from what you're talking about, Eric--overcompensating for being an outcast by being an over-achiever.) There are always going to be people who feel rejected by society and respond by stubbornly refusing to make successes of themselves in social terms (such as by developing their intelligence). Are the gay ones really any different from the shrimpy ones, the ugly and awkward ones, or those who have other eccentricities?

    Sean Kinsell   ·  September 19, 2007 11:41 PM

    Glad to hear that, Sean. I wish more would go the education/overachiever route rather than get caught up in themselves and get lost before they start.

    Are the gay ones really any different from the shrimpy ones, the ugly and awkward ones, or those who have other eccentricities?

    High IQ effeminate queens, yes. They are more likely to succumb to egotistical histrionics. Hysterical solipsistic distractions. (But my experience tends to be limited to people I've known.)

    Eric Scheie   ·  September 20, 2007 12:03 AM


    We are designed not to grow up until way late in the game compared to most animals (bacteria too!). For some the "grow up" switch never gets turned on.

    Hard to say if it is a bug or a feature.

    My mate tells me that when I'm working at my electronics bench I look 10 years old. So in a way I've managed to be a child my whole life. Other people should be so lucky.

    M. Simon   ·  September 20, 2007 8:45 PM

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