I just got done with a midterm. I probably didn’t do too well on it. This is a tough class. It’s not just the material, but also a professor that sets high standards, some would say too high, and expects us to meet them. He’s right too. This class is of a certain level and there are things we should just know by now. So, while challenging and occasionally heartbreaking, it’s also a little refreshing. Setting standards and explaining them seems to have become a bit passé lately.
I think of this when I see the ages of the kids involved in the Planet K robbery. A 19 year old, a 17 year old, two 18 year olds and a 14 (fourteen!) year old just decided to wreck their lives because, somehow, a standard was not set somewhere along the way. Important information was not imparted or taken to heart.
And it wasn’t just some stickup either. According to accounts these kids stormed the place with some very large guns and robbed the patrons as well. Can you picture a 14 year old taking your wallet or wedding ring, or a 17 or 18-year-old girl pointing a gun at you and feel good about the world?
Who’s to blame? Where were the parents? Should their age and the possibility of drug intoxication be considered? The questioning and finger pointing has already begun in earnest. However, the deed is done and all of the kids involved will be given ample time to reflect. My question though is what can be done from this point on.
In all our little cultural wars we fight two nearly impossible enemies, irony and cynicism. They are the great opiates of our time, and let’s face it; it’s a pretty depressing time to be alive. The youth know this just as well as us grownups do and belief is hard to come by. What’s the point of getting involved if everything is circling the drain anyway and insincerity is rampant?
I think of something the late David Foster Wallace said in his essay “E Unibus Pluram”:
“And make no mistake: irony tyrannizes us. The reason why our pervasive cultural irony is at once so powerful and so unsatisfying is that an ironist is impossible to pin down. All U.S. irony is based on an implicit “I don’t really mean what I’m saying.” So what does irony as a cultural norm mean to say? That it’s impossible to mean what you say? That maybe it’s too bad it’s impossible, but wake up and smell the coffee already? Most likely, I think, today’s irony ends up saying: “How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean.”
So if, according to Wallace (whom I agree with by the way), we don’t really mean what we say, then how can we expect our standards to be taken seriously by the ones that need to follow them the most? It’s no wonder kids are shooting up schools and knocking over head shops. It’s all part of how hollowed out we have become as a culture.
We need to take a stand against irony and cynicism as adults and tell our kids to really become involved in our community. Despite all best efforts kids are smart enough to be able to tell between marketing and something with real meaning. They can see it in how we act and how we look when we do it. They can tell when something is important and when lip service is being paid.
I know this because last year I was in Washington D.C. for a journalism convention. While there I went to the National Archives to view the document that makes my job possible, The Bill of Rights. I wanted to lean over and really take in the 1st Amendment in it’s handwritten form. The ink was so faded I could barely make out those sacred words.
Then I felt this tapping on my shoulder. A man with his family was right behind me with cameras at the ready. His kids had this thousand-yard stare. It was obvious dad has taken the whole tribe on some kind of cultural death march and this was the next stop. He leaned over and told me in tones usually reserved for less than competent fast food workers that they sold copies I could read in the gift shop. It was obvious he just wanted the picture, to capture the moment without having one to begin with.
How many other national treasures got that kind of treatment that day I wonder, and does seeing those documents really mean anything to those kids now? Instead of getting pictures why not just stand in front of it and explain why it’s so important we have this? Now, sadly, this moment filled with potential is just a picture to be occasionally looked at.
Don’t let these moments pass by. Set standards for youth and explain why we have them. Involve them in our community. Explain why things like community involvement are important. Get them to join the scouts or a sports team. Fight every force in our hollow little culture that asserts it’s impossible to make a difference, or that it’s somehow hip to not care. Be parents. Be teachers. Be citizens.
It might not prevent more robberies by adolescents and young adults, but the resistance has to start somewhere. Why not here in San Marcos? I’m sure there are lots of organizations that could use the help and show that it is possible to not only follow a standard, but set a new and even better one for others to follow.
by Sean Wardwell
(Note: the opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author and are not the position of Newstreamz.com or its staff)Email | Print