Cultural Revolutions

Election 2008 Guide

As I was downloading oldies onto my computer the other day, I found a classic hit from the 1950’s: “Yakety-Yak” by the Coasters.  Back in the 50’s, every kid in America—white, black, Hispanic, or Asian; native or naturalized—identified with that song.

Several assumptions undergirded the lyrics: Mothers and fathers rear children together; they are on the same page.  (“Your father’s hip,” Mother says, “he knows what cooks!”)  Father has the last word; he does not suffer noncompliance lightly.  (“Don’t talk back.”)  Children properly have chores.  (“If you don’t scrub that kitchen floor / you ain’t gonna rock and roll no more.”)  And disrespect—even under the cover of a “dirty look”—is intolerable.  Behavior has consequences.  Finally, the peer group is not the boss; adults rule.

In the 1950’s, these principles were at the core of what we understood as “the backbone of society.”  Not anymore.

Listening to today’s campaign rhetoric, I am reminded of that ritual of Baby Boomer pseudo-adulthood: student government.  My mother, now 84, tells me that student government was not so prevalent in public schools of the pre-war era.  Pupils ran for “Most Likely to Succeed” and “Homecoming Queen”—all...

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