Saturday, October 6, 2007

Within the Context of No Context, George W.S. Trow

The Decline of Adulthood
During the 1960s, there was conflict between the generation born during (and soon after) the First World War. There was also a debate. Although the debate was supposed to be candid, some truths were avoided—almost shyly. Much of the debate had to do with power and the abuse of power, but no one ever asked if the men in positions of control who were being confronted with evidence of their abuse of power had any right to be considered powerful in the first place. No one inquired into the nature of the connection between the men who had fashioned conventional white society and the men of forty or fifty or sixty who were its contemporary stewards. No one asked if in fact any connection existed at all. A continuum of power was assumed (perhaps out of instinctive politenes or instinctive fear), and what was debated was the question of its abuse. In some instances, the assumed continuum was stretched to include members of the younger generation, with remarkable results.

The Decline of Adulthood
During the 1960s, a young black man in a university class described the Dutch painters of the seventeenth century as "belonging" to the white students in the room, and not to him. This idea was seized on by white members of the class. They acknowledged that they were at one with Rembrandt. They acknowledged their dominance. They offered to discuss, at any length, their inherited power to oppress. It was thought at the time that reactions of this type had to do with "white guilt" or "white masochism." No. No. It was white
euphoria. Many, many white children of that day felt the power of their inheritance for the first time in the act of rejecting it, so that they might continue to feel the power of the connection. Had the young black man asked, "Who is this man to you?" the pleasure they felt would have vanished in embarrassment and resentment.

The Decline of Adulthood
"Adulthood" in the last generations has had very little to do with "adulthood" as that word would have been understood by adults in any previous generation. Rather, "adulthood" has been defined as a "position of control in the world of childhood."

The Adolescent Orthodoxy
Ambitious Americans, sensing this, have preferred to remain adolescents, year after year.

Magazines in the Age of Television
[...] It is recognized that the magazine People is an important contemporary magazine. It is sometimes criticized as purveying gossip. It does not purvey gossip. Nor do most "gossip columns" purvey gossip (with its attendant sense of violation)... Instead, People, like most of the efforts in print that reflect its concern with celebrities, provides an ad hoc context within which may be placed, each week, certain scraps of synthetic talk which have been judged to have the power to reinforce the ad hoc context so that the ad hoc context may, for a moment, seem to exist. What is the function of synthetic talk enclosed within the ad hoc context of People? It is to unite, for a moment, the two remaining grids in American life—the intimate grid and the grid of two hundred million. This is achieved by discussing the intimate life of celebrities who have their home in the grid of two hundred million and by raising up to national attention certain experiences of Americans as they live, lonely, in the grid of intimacy.

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