Skip to comments.AIN'T IT COOL? A Tale of Two Cultures
Posted on 04/11/2004 12:36:55 PM PDT by vanderleun
AIN'T IT COOL?: A Tale of Two Cultures
Its Easter Sunday and we are two and a half years into the war. Good Friday evening was one of those nights when, in Southern California, the weather and the combine to create what are rightly called "balmy conditions." Balm, as in a kind of salve to the soul and the skin. The air is warm but not too warm. The skies are clear and the stars seem closer. My wife and I had just seen some current comic book confection at one of the 20 screen multiplexes that are so numerous in this area that you can see the same movies 15 times within a ten mile radius.
We sat by a large sandstone and marble fountain in the stone circle between the vast theater and the vaster parking lot. It was date night and the beginning of Spring Break for the schools of Orange County. All around us kids from 11 to 18 were whooping and laughing and forming clusters of friends. They were dressed according to the upscale Goth-Surfer/Balkan Refugee dress-code common to the kid culture here on the coast. Most were too young to have tattoos or piercing, but you could see some were already planning where those lifestyle statements would go. They were slim, energetic and heedless of the future. In short, they were just reasonably rich kids in America in 2003.
We are two and a half years into the war, but the war is not and will probably never be these kids' concern. It isn't even something they consider outside of, perhaps, a few classroom exercises of dubious intent or merit. There is no reason they should consider war, nor do I wish that upon them. It isn't, in any real sense, their war. War isn't being asked of us or the affluent kids of Orange County, nor does it seem likely to be. Besides, war isn't what they're into.
They're into creating their own layer on top of our culture of cool. Their variation would be, as these things are these days, a kind of slap-dash cultural collage. It would have a bit of the Beatnik, a Hint of the hippy, a shred of the Skateboarder, an ounce of Outlaw, a portion of Punk, a hunk of Hip-Hop, and, because we were on the California coast, more than a soupcon of Surfer. It would be a melange of the old and outdated that would assert it was unique and brand new. When they were done cooking up their "culture of cool" they would all agree among themselves, "Ain't it cool?"
Their parents, as parents now do, would sigh and pour another drink or drop another Ambien, and hope that their children would get through this phase without a drug arrest, a school suspension, a permanent piercing, or a lethal accident on the highways or in the ocean. It was all they asked of them. We were two and a half years into the war and none of the kids of Orange County would fight in it unless they asked for it. All of the parents in Orange County knew their kids were crazy. After all, they were teenagers in high school. Few thought any of their kids were that crazy.
Less than 20 miles south of where we sat last Friday, there was another kind of youth culture. I saw it for a day last January. You don't see it very often around here because it doesn't hang out at the malls. You can't see it from the freeways because its center is far back in the hills. It has its own malls and towns and sporting and educational complexes. It doesn't deal in "the culture of cool." It deals in the culture of carnage. It's the Camp Pendelton Marine Base.
There are many young people here, some the same age as the kids at the malls to the north, but none of these young people are kids. There's something about daily training with tanks, rifles, heavy machine guns and artillery that puts your childhood as far behind you as the kids at the malls have their childhood still in front of them. Instead of worrying if their dad is going to pay for the new mag-chrome rims for their Escalade, this youth culture worries about the state of readiness of their Apache attack helicopters.
The culture of Camp Pendelton isn't cool in the way political fundraisers today feature hip-hop groups and background music from the golden age of Fleetwood Mac. The culture here despises the culture of cool. The culture here is composed of deeper, abiding and more fundamental things: God, Country and The Corps. There are a lot of people in America and elsewhere that would like nothing better than to deconstruct this culture into oblivion, but, as courageous as they might be in proclaiming this elsewhere, they don't seem to be showing up at the gates or on the grounds of Camp Pendleton to press the issue. They wouldn't because, according to their worldview that arises from spending decades as adolescents, the Marines are just so uncool. Aren't they?
The young men and women that come to this culture do not, we are told, come in the main from the affluent suburbs of America. They come from the ghettos and the working class parts of the country. They come to get a leg up and a ticket out of their origins. They come because they see the Marines as either a career or a means to an education that leads to a career. Most have had little given to them because they come from families with little to give. Some come to prove themselves. Some come because members of their family came before. Some come because the only other path open to them led to a cell. Some even come out of a deep faith and a deeper sense of duty. Not all that come will be accepted, but none come because it is cool. Before they came they too were once kids in America. They got the big and repeated message that the military in America these days is uncool. They knew it was uncool and they came anyway. Some because they had no other choice. Many because they didn't care about being cool if being cool meant being a kid forever.
There aren't many rich Orange County mall rats that come to the Marines out of high school. Rich kids no longer have this calling. Instead they wander on in their extended childhood though college. Then they drift into the arena where all they will have will be a six-figure income and a few "great moments at work." They will learn, if they do not already know, how to play golf and how to drive themselves deep into "middle management." In time, they will form one or two or more families in one or two or more cities or suburbs. Their roots will be shallow, but they will take lots of interesting two-week vacations to comfortable enclaves in Europe or pacified third-world countries. Towards the end, they'll spend a lot on cruise ships where they will be treated 'like royalty.' They'll acquire real estate and hope for "a nice appreciation ride." They will have little to show that they existed but that will be all right. They will use the word 'cool' in conversation and evaluation well into their seventh decade. One of the central social anxieties of their lives will be being discovered being or doing something that their peers will say is "uncool."
In short, they will be such cool Americans that, two and a half years into a war, nothing will be asked of them. That would be, you see, very uncool.
Twenty miles south at Camp Pendelton, everything is being asked of the Americans there. It is asked for in Iraq daily and paid there daily. Our very cool media's job is clear. It is to tell us in hundreds of big and little ways daily of how uncool it is to ask everything of someone. Our media is very cool indeed.
Our media is by default not a "liberal media," but a melange of many businesses and institutions that are staffed by generations of the coolest of the cool in our aging culture of cool. Our media, as every MTV-addled mall rat learns by age 5, is where the really cool jobs are. Rock star or record producer, movie star or director, reporter, anchorman, editor, publisher, video-game designer, web-monkey, DJ, photographer, pundit, columnist -- the positions go on and on and everybody knows, EVERYBODY knows, that the media's where the cool people are.
If you have a job in the media you go to the cool parties. You live in the cool towns driving the cool cars. You eat the cool foods in the cool restaurants where everybody knows your name and you get the cool table next to what passes for this week's cool celebrity du jour. You subscribe to the cool magazines and if you haven't had your picture in one yet, your turn is on the way. You have the cool summer place. Your haircut is cool. Your computer is cool. Your friends are cool. Even your dog is cool. You wear the cool clothes, and you are absolutely up-to-the-nanosecond on what is cool now and what will be cooler tomorrow. And you also know that that which is not of the culture of cool is uncool.
What is uncool today, two and a half years into the war, is, of course, the war. War's been uncool to these eternal cool kids and their kids since about 1962 and, except for a brief six month period after September 11, 2001, war is uncool now. War's uncool because, well, it is "unhealthy for children and other living things" goes the party line in the culture of cool. This war is especially uncool because it is being run by uncool people and the uncoolest President ever. But really, war is uncool because it is one of the big things that threatens to undo all the great parties and smooth lifestyles promised and delivered by the media-made culture of cool. And how does war threaten this? War, real war, actually asks something of the people of a nation as a whole people. It asks them to sacrifice their blood and their treasure and their cool attitudes and their endless summers. It asks, in the parlance of the Marine Corps, that "all give some and that some give all."
The American culture of cool has become a nation apart, an alternate-America that looks to the real America as merely some mechanism set up to deliver the many features and benefits of America to the culture of cool without question, by divine right of media. This culture is not into giving back anything they have taken from the culture at large. The culture of cool is not a giving culture, it is an taking culture. Anything is chooses to have is taken in and used to improve the lot of those within the culture of cool. That which is not cool it seeks to either use or destroy depending on whether or not it advances the culture of cool and the lifestyles of those that exist within it. It sees itself as the real soul and real intelligence of America, even as it actually rides on the broad shoulders of America like some strangling old man of the sea that, once taken up, refuses to get down. It sees itself as the engine responsible for making the culture of America continually new, even as it only recycles one empty cultural container after another through the battered green bins of its rigid internal codes and fashions to pop them out as 'new, improved and even more impossibly hip.'
Regardless of the shiny gift wrap of the cool advertising and marketing agencies that have taken to spotwelding vintage rock and roll and the latest pop or sports sensation's face onto their shabby garage sale goods, we seldom see, hear, or read anything today that is not either a remake, a sequel, or an allusion to the cool things of yesteryear. The same holds true for the politics of cool. This is confirmed in a brief review of the lamentable Democratic primaries of this year. During the months of this excruciating ritual, what was once a proud and progressive party offered up nearly a dozen cardboard candidates. When it was all over, the party chose the one candidate that sounded the most like, looked the most like, and sported the haircut and even the initials of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Camelot Redux because JFK was, as the culture of cool constantly reminds us, the coolest President ever.
John F. Kerry is, in many ways, the perfect candidate for today's graying culture of cool. He snowboards at sixty. How cool is that? He goes to great parties with hip-hop stars. Too cool. He's got lots of money that he didn't earn. So cool. He can hold opposite positions on difficult issues and lie about it with a straight face. Very cool way of getting out of middle management into upper management. He can fight in a war and throw another man's medals away. Cool career move. He can promise 10 million jobs to the 8 million unemployed. Super cool to make more jobs than workers. If he can tax those jobs that have no workers, he can probably cool out the deficit. He can talk to and cajole the alienated country of France into amour encore. This is extremely cool since it makes renting summer villas in France and trips to Paris acceptable again. Besides France is the coolest country in Europe as every member of the culture of cool will attest. His Africa-born white wife is so cool she calls herself an "African-American." Most of all, Kerry is cool because he thinks the war is uncool and is saying so in a cool kind of way. Even more than that, the members of the culture of cool know that Kerry will never ask anything of them. And the culture of cool is not a giving culture, but a taking one. If Kerry would only learn to play the saxophone he would be cooler than JFK.
Yesterday I saw a photograph fresh from the war in Iraq. There are many photographs from Iraq these days. It's an uncool country in an uncool part of the world where American soldiers are fighting and dying to cool it out. It's uncool to be a soldier there, but it is very cool to be a photographer, so we have a lot of photographers and a lot of photographs. Some taken by being on call to and hanging out with the people who are killing Americans. How cool is that?
The photograph was taken in a hanger at a military base. It shows a group of young, uncool American Marines kneeling in a tight circle on the ground in prayer. Prayer. How totally uncool.
When you look closer at the photograph you notice that extending out from within the circle of kneeling and praying Marines are the legs of a dying or dead comrade in arms. Probably a very young comrade, not too distant in age from the kids laughing and playing in front of the multiplex on a balmy night in Orange County a world away.
How uncool this man was to die for his country and his comrades. How uncool is the effort to liberate a country mired in the morass of the middle ages, when you could just stay home and play video games. How uncool to take the war to an enemy that has sworn to kill Americans wholesale and has done so. How very, very uncool.
Now this Marine will never have a shot at working in the mail room of a movie studio, a record company, or a publishing house. All this Marine has now as he recedes into death are the prayers of those Marines who trained and fought beside him. That and a military funeral and a folded flag given to his family. Prayers. Funerals. Folded flags. These things are very uncool as the media-made captions on these photographs will seek to remind you. Very uncool.
At the same time that this Marine lay dying in Iraq, the current senior spokesman for the Democratic Party, Senator Ted Kennedy (a man whose cool, credibility and courage are equal in measure) was busy condemning the effort that cost this uncool Marine his life by waving the bloody shirt of Vietnam under the nose of the nation. His words and image were duly broadcast across America by all his life-long compatriots in the culture of cool. It's a shirt faded and frayed by many decades of constant handling, wringing and waving, but the bloody shirt of Vietnam has a lot of buttons, patches, fringe, and embroidered flowers on it. It's vintage clothing. Ain't it cool?
Posted by Vanderleun at April 11, 2004 11:11 AM | TrackBack
Gerard Van der Leun
Read Starship Troopers by Heinlein.
Military service OR a somewhat longer term in social/community service or no franchise.
Interesting read even with out the bugs.
FYI, see the discussion at the thread here, in particular post #102
I've e-mailed it around my lists.
Some of those surfer doods were hard-core, indeed. Ever heard the absolutely blistering The Universal Coward that Jan Berry of Jan and Dean released as a solo project, a parody of *Universal Soldier?*
He's the universal coward and he runs from everything,
from a giant, from a human, from an ant.
He runs from Uncle Sam, he runs from Vietnam,
but mostly he's just running from himself".
As for the kids now, I'm largely spoiled, since I get to see some of the cream of the crop. But there are most definately some good ones out there, and they do not at all come out of the same cookie-cutter mold.
Children from wealthy families frequently grow up to be feckless bums. I know people like that. I believe it was Andrew Carnegie who said "From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations" -- the first generation would make the money, the second would blow it, and the third would have to go back to work.
Extremely bad idea, for four reasons. 1) It puts those who resent being there into the military. There's a reason pretty much every military professional in the US prefers an all-volunteer force.
A voluntary boot camp for the privilege of voting is not a proposed general military draft.
2) It will get those currently apathetic kids interested in politics in a very non-constructive manner.
Why should that be so? The idea is to get them interested in constructive citizenship.
3) It allows politicians to skimp on military pay, military equipment, and military preparedness in order to pay for welfare or pork barrel projects.
That's quite an assumption.. One made on nothing I proposed..
4) It allows politicians to fight half-ast wars of attrition using an endless supply of cannon fodder rather than fighting wars to their conclusion as quickly as possible.
More hyped up assumptions, based on your fancies, not mine.
If you want to play social engineer, don't mess with the military. It's too important.
I didn't propose "messing" with the military. Get a grip.
E rocc Makes some good points in his reply, and let me add another thought.
If some choose to serve America by their contribution to the economy (our wealth is just as influential as our bullets, if handled properly), or by strengthening our moral characteristics by going into the ministry, or by staying home with the kids instead of sending them off to day care, or basically doing what is right, however that happens to play out, then that individual has a say in society.
The ones who live off the labor of others, complain and subvert the destiny of this nation are the enemy within. They unfortunately have more of a say than they ever should. But nobody can justly project the calling of a soldier onto every individual. I'm much more valuable as a businessman than a soldier.
But don't get me wrong, I'll carry a rifle to defend my country, if it comes to that.
I think you've got me wrong. See above.
The arguing would start however,when you attempt to say why it is like this.At that point,many who consider themselves conservatives would be as far apart from each other as cool is from uncool.
(Only make it salt water, and have the shower on a gimble that rotates it through 45* on all axes every few seconds.)
It probably had to do with its close proximity to Camp Pendleton. And the stark contrasts that arise therefrom. As to the inherent conservatism of Orange County, I don't believe it's as conservative as you think. It was OC that sent Loretta Sanchez to Washington, after all.
The author directs you to contemplate the difference between the phrase "not many" -- which was what he wrote -- and "not any" which he assumes you read in a dyslexic fugue state.
Yeah right. Are these just California kids you are referring to? Do you think what you observed is somehow just isolated to California?
One other thing, when I was in the military, some of the wildest, some of the biggest drug users, and little criminals in training were kids of those in the military, "military brats" if you will. No, I didn't spend a day on a base like you, I spent years on bases, on and off posts around military bases, and I saw it close up and personal.
This author seems to assumes a whole lot of things.
I can tell you that from first hand experience. I joined the Army right out of high school, and I've been here ever since. Care to guess how many people from Orange County I've bumped into over the last decade, to say nothing of other people from Newport Beach? I've met three times more people from South Dakota.
Care to guess how 'cool' the people from my peer group thought joining the Army was at the time? Their reaction was substantially different than a round of high fives. There was widespread speculation that I was pulling their legs.
So, if the author wants to contrast two cultures, he'd have a hard time finding more divere ones than the Marines and Orange County. People from OC aren't bad, but, as a rule, they have different values, priorities, and world views than your average Leatherneck.
There's no bling bling to be had by being down with Allah, and who wants to join the list of premature funerals? Right now I'm looking at footage on CNN of dirt-poor fanatics who are desperate for whatever lies their mullah is selling. Since there are about 6 million of these people over here now I encourage the "homies" to keep their guns handy and clean for when those nuts get out of line. Because they're being encouraged to.They're rebuffing them too. Probably 99% of the Muslims over here are here to get away from the fanatics in their home nations. They certainly don't want to bring that clinton over here, any more than most Mexicans want to bring the padrone system or ultra-corrupt government here, or the Vietnamese wish to import communism.
We need to keep a close eye on the other 1%, but not at the expense of making the 99% into our enemies when they are inclined to be our friends.
I'm not advocating general conscription for military training.What you're saying then is you want to build a second military. That wouldn't mess with the current volunteer force, but it would certainly take away resources. The result would be the equivalent of a conscript army....like Iraq's. We've seen twice in the last fifteen years what happens to a conscript army faced by a modern volunteer force, properly equipped and trained.
I'm saying we should have a voluntary 'basic training' in full citizenship for every person who wants to vote.
We would still have completely independant fully volunteer combat forces structured as they are at present.
So this new force would be of marginal military utility. As for the "full citizenship training" part of it, no thanks. Never put something into place that you don't want your adversaries to be able to use. The Democratic crypto-socialists would love a shot at subjecting all American kids that will be able to vote to some of their own "training". It's too dangerous.
Finally, you said earlier that you came from a "culture of cool" that had one difference, a draft. I came from the cusp between the baby boom and "Generation X". We also had a "culture of cool". We had no draft. The difference was we still learned personal responsibility in school. Even in the public schools. Between that and the failures of liberalism and pacifism in the 1970s, my contemporaries supported Reagan 2-1 in 1984 and manned the all volunteer force that liberated Kuwait.
A draft isn't the key. Fixing the schools is.
That thing is definitely NOT cool! It looks to have come straight of one of Kennedy's DT nightmares; no doubt the creatures that once scared him off a bridge.
I think, he deserves a box of these as pets.
Great article! Once again the Men of action define a culture while the children of consensus denegrate. Thank you Mr. Van Der Leun.
His article is skewed. Like I stated earlier, some of the biggest drug users, wildest kids, and little criminals in traing were kids from those in the military. Military brats, are some of the worst of the worst.
Care to guess how many people from Orange County I've bumped into over the last decade, to say nothing of other people from Newport Beach? I've met three times more people from South Dakota.
That's funny, I'd almost bet the rent there are more people from South Dakota in So Cal than there are in South Dakota.
Most in Orange County are from places like Colorada, Michigan, NY, Utah, Indiana, Ohio, very few in Orange County are actually from there.