Open Letter to Gen-X: #3

Gen-X: Who won: Alex P. Keaton or Michael Knight? Third in a series of essays exploring my generational history. III. Question All Authority

It appears that I have a monthly itch that can only be scratched by hurling my narrative onto the court of public consumption. Much like that bamboo back-claw with the pokey-wheels that always gets lost at the exact moment that a screeching irritation between the shoulder blades drops me to my knees, this series scratches the annoyance that exists in-between my ears. I hope it scratches something of yours too!

As a close follower of mine, you know well that complete rejection of authority is a badge of honor richly deserved and proudly worn by Gen X, and I am certainly a badge-carrying member of that posse. Even if we don’t need no stinkin’ badges. To clarify, I distrust the power, not necessarily the cogs, that control the machines of the wheels authority has commandeered that are now grinding us into political grist.

In response to a subscribers comment, I came across the meat of this missive doing some research to reply intelligently to his thoughtful inquiry. The meat was this photo:

This photo literally stopped me in my tracks. That picture was in 1987, around the time Joe dropped out of the race for president for the first time. This was from an article in 2019, at the link above the photo. The image struck me as so indicative of what in the hell is wrong with America today because I remembered feeling the exact same way back then.

Now lest some of you are starting to shake your head or waggle your finger, thinking “hmmm, no politics was the promise from the start.” You are correct. NO politics here. Just a photo that got me thinking about the issue of authority in America. And why me and so many of Gen X just have a deep-rooted aversion to this kind of absolute authority exhibited in plainly deceptive imaginings.

Strom Thurmond represented South Carolina in the United States Senate from 1954 to 2003. Joe Biden served in the US Senate from 1972 until 2009. Ted Kennedy served as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts for almost 47 years, from 1962 until his death in 2009. One hundred and thirty-two years of Senate wisdom and experience. Or grift and graft. What you stand for depends on where you sit, right?

Ole Strom was quite a character. Certainly a racist from birth and heritage, nevertheless at 22 he impregnated the 16-year-old black maid, and then denied his parentage for years while secretly making child-support payments. His supporters denied it was rape, but that is suspect given the social positions held by the participants.

Ted Kennedy was well, Ted Kennedy. Imagining, with my history, the absolute ludicrous ability to get away with murdering a person while drunk-driving blows me away.

 It was nine hours before he reported the accident. In the meantime, he walked back to his motel, complained to the manager about a noisy party, took a shower, went to sleep, ordered newspapers when he woke up and spoke to a friend and two lawyers before finally calling the police.

And he ran for president too, just like Strom. And now Joe. No big scandals like the other two. Just a bunch of little ones. Not too disqualifying, given the last occupant of the White House. But just another in the long line of worn-out politicians, who are no longer leaders, in BOTH parties.

What caused Joe to drop out was his lying. Not just the normal lies we all tell, “of course those jeans don’t make you look fat!” or Of course I did honey, fast is good for me too.” But the troublesome and pernicious kind. He “borrowed” another politician’s backstory. AS his own life. That’s weird to me. As a writer that writes about himself a lot.

Joe said something about how his family were working-class folks forever. After toiling in the coal-mines for hours, they would then surface and play football for a few hours. Trouble was, he had already told that story before, while crediting the British politician who authored it. Seems like he told it in Iowa at a debate as his own with no credit to the actual guy who lived that life. One of his rivals later pointed it out. Bye-bye Felicia.

Putrid patronizing platitudes of “speaking” to “working-class folks” as a sitting US Senator for over a dozen years at that time strike me as pure bullshit. That those platitudes would be proven to be pure bullshit and didn’t even put a dent in his career adds another layer of contempt. Unlike most “working folks” who would have been fired if they lied at work. Glad you are one of us, Joe.

Even more revealing was the story in the Senate when good ole’ Joe, with tail between his legs, apologized to his esteemed Judicial Committee colleagues. Joe is reported to have been “embarrassed” and that the “buck” stops with him. He offered to resign his chairmanship. Interesting how his “buck” is to his colleagues, not his constituents, and his true regret was not for lying to voters, but for “embarrassing” his cronies.

Leave it to Ole Strom to cheer up the mood, popping the tension balloon with this comforting word salve

"And then old Strom Thurmond, who was ranking member, leaned over and slapped his knee and said, 'Oh, Joe, now let me tell you, just forget that stuff,' "

The floodgates of mirth opened, and a cathartic CBT session broke out amongst the stoic Senators. According to an attendant at the meeting, the senators went around the room talking about all the mistakes they had made over the years and had a good laugh.

What a look behind the curtain, right? Hey, as a guy who has made his share of mistakes, we all need to laugh about them. I get that. I envision a herd of hybrid-crossed Mr. Burns and Dr. Evil senators, sitting around finger-thrumming and guffaw-chuckling as they recount their mistakes that caused others to suffer while bringing no negative consequences for the misdeed-doers. And in fact, most likely enriched them even more. (See current President).

That is what that picture made me think of. How so many of those in power, across all fields and industries, of all colors and genders and beliefs, are capable of this kind of moral superiority. Because that is what it is. A false sense of moral superiority. Based on whatever motivation a human emotion can conjure up. That is tribal nature. Humans are tribal. Today it is classism disguised as racism.

But the real crime comes when you mask that moral superiority in something false. Sycophants in the orbits of people like that are complicit in the crime, as are others who cover it up to the public, i.e. media. Two of three of these men had obvious moral failings, if not outright criminal behavior, that they and others denied in public for many decades. They continued to be held up as leaders worthy of respect.

I want to make clear by repeating here:

This is not a political screed. I have made a ton of mistakes and will make a ton more before I am through. The difference is I am not holding myself up as a moral leader for others to follow. My errors have been exposed, usually by my own admission and apology. My mistakes have not involved lying to or intentionally hurting others. Solution of problems and restitution of damages has been my standard operating procedure. I do not place  myself in a position that commands you to respect me. My hope is to earn your respect.

So I got to thinking about that time in our history and what tv pop culture I was into. Two of my greatest tv heroes of all-time (besides the entire A-Team) were Alex P. Keaton and Michael Knight. Family Ties and  Knight Rider premiered in 1982, the best year ever to graduate high school. One of my favorite info sources on all things film and tv is the IMDb website, and near the end one of the plot descriptors for Family Ties, I found this

While there was time for fun and laughs, many episodes explored serious topics, such as teen pregnancy, censorship, addiction to pills, the effects racial minority homeowners have on property values, and grieving the loss of a close friend. Other episodes dealt with Steven's distant relationships with his own family, particularly his brother, Robert…

Wow! No Fonzie or Beaver fake-family TV here in the 80s (I will write about Dynasty in another tv review!). The difference in society was due to us, the latch-key kids. We could smell BS a mile away. We were living all of those “serious topics” in our daily lives. Often, our own parents were completely clueless when it came to our lives. I knew a girl whose mom would assist in getting a pregnant teen a safe abortion without parental consent.

If our parents were not in touch with their kids’ lives, just imagine how out of touch the political and institutional leaders of the day were. I firmly believed then, as I do now, that if a man does not pump his own gas, cook his own food, and do his own laundry, he has no concept of what it means to be a normal person. They spoke words that were completely disjointed from their actions. And their actions favored the favored few, neglected the masses and demonized the outcasts.

Watching these tv shows deal with these issues somehow helped at least me get through it. The contrast between my diametrically opposite heroes symbolized the inner turmoil I, and so many like me, were living through. Alex, the Young Republican, was fighting the man from inside the system. Michael Knight was the system, and it almost got him killed. Knight Rider finally made the evil-doers pay. The former felt like reality, and the latter was pure fantasy.

The themes of the music we listened to as a cohort across genres started to reflect the feelings of isolation and rejection as well. From rock to outlaw country to punk to new wave to metal, which then melded into grunge and thrash and others, our music spoke to our pain. The “authorities” tried to censor and rate our music. Larry Flint was fighting for porn. US Festival was our Woodstock. We loved Reagan and “Just Said No” while passing a joint and cracking a beer.

We hated teachers and cops and wore a new style of rebellion. We had big hair and big mouths. We carried our music with us at full blast, via the boom-box. We loved our muscle-cars: we lived to cruise. We stopped giving a crap what others thought of us. We ran out of fucks at an early age.

I started this post a few days ago now, and it has sat here ripening and mellowing. I am not sure why, but I think it has to do with the politics of it. I keep reading it to see if I am violating my oath. I have stepped away from the news the past couple of weeks, as it has become unbearable. I have decided it does not breech the pledge. That feeling is that this bullshit never stops. A guy who lied to us 34 years ago trying to become president has now become president.

I know half of you will say what about… Yeah. You are right. I have not scratched that itch yet. Stay tuned. That post will be a barn-burner!

The complete disregard for reality has become so apparent and so arrogantly flagrant it almost defies reality. On life’s dartboard of end-of-the-world news takes, the literal visual disconnect between raw video of an incident and the “official speak” to describe what we have just seen with our own eyes seems to be the new bullseye.

A participant in an action actually describes their motive and intent for engaging in said action. Having dispensed with the necessity of reporting the news (i.e. what was actually said by said participants), the translation and interpretation of the participant’s explanation is recast into a psycho-drama fitting it into the pre-established box it needs to belong in.

It is hard to conjure up Orwellian metaphors without sounding cliché and alarmist, so I will just say that this current environment is more like Duck Soup.

Writers like Taibbi, Tracey and Greenwald keep exposing lie after lie, and are dismissed as trans-phoebes or racists in feeble attempts to discredit them, and force Substack to engage in censorship. For now, to it credit, Substack has resisted this cancel-push and has increased out-reach to “controversial” writers. By “controversial” I mean reality-based writing. Which seems to bother an awful lot of people these days.

I’ll end this one with a couple of songs that came on as I was searching for a conclusion. Take a few moments this weekend to pause and listen to your thoughts and memories.

I am beginning to understand that the angst from my past is the same angst of my current. The difference is the cause .

Old Violin and When I was Young