As much as I want to push back on generational theory, I’m still fascinated at watching the future unfold and trying to grasp the changes I’ve seen. Usually these are the smaller things, the things I don’t normally stop and think about much, but they entertain me when I do.
I started circling one particular idea the other day, when my wife and I were once again discussing the foolishness our friends and family fall for online. I was trying to construct a joke around the idea that ours was the first generation that found ourselves saying, “Mom, you just retweeted a Nazi!”
For the record, my mom doesn’t tweet anything. She’s on Facebook and occasionally shares something that I roll my eyes at a little, but she’s no different than anyone else.
But I’m 60 and my mom is 82, meaning she left the workforce after computing had become ubiquitous, but before the internet really got rolling. I can’t find an easy analogy, but she would have been around my age when this stuff started, and in her 70s before social media came along. In the continual battle between learning something new and unlearning something old, I don’t know where this falls. I do know that people in their 70s whom I interact with online fall into two camps, ordinary and competent users and confused and naïve clickers. I assume this has a lot to do with their occupations and interests, what they were introduced to and exposed to, and when.
I, on the other hand, have been working with computers since the late 1970s, when I was still a teenager. As each tech iteration has appeared, I’ve investigated and actually been at an ideal spot on the timeline to easily adapt and adopt. I joined Facebook when I was still in my 40s, not quite understanding its function (or its predecessor, MySpace, which I avoided as spammy and clunky), but the idea wasn’t particularly new. The first couple of years, the whole thing seemed a little boring.
So I’m tempted to project a little, just for one. And suggest that mine is the first generation to get old in the era of social media. Discuss.
I have this fantasy that I can travel in time, and I return to 1976. That’s the year I graduated from high school, so I’ll appear at the prom or maybe graduation ceremony, somewhere everyone is gathered, and I will explain the future.
“The first thing I want to tell you about 2019,” I begin, “is that Bill Cosby is in prison.”
“That’s not important, really. I just like saying it.”
So there’s that. Then.
“The second thing is that you’ll be amazed at the stuff that runs on electricity we’re allowed to take into the shower with us.”
I mean, I have an electric razor that I can rinse under the faucet. That’s crazy.
I don’t know why I focus so much bitterness on Cosby. I guess it’s because we elevated him into near-Mr. Rogers territory for a while, and the hypocrisy and betrayal feels worse, somehow.
And it’s tempting to see him as Individual-1 in all of this, the beginning of the #MeToo backlash, although I’m not gonna be tempted here, because I think it was OJ.
Obviously, O.J. Simpson didn’t sexually harass his ex-wife; he stabbed her, many times. Just as obviously, he was a serial abuser. That’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about The Bubble, the idea that fame and wealth will protect against all, even justice. Even murder.
And it sorta did, let’s be honest. O.J. skated. He should be on death row now, and he’s not.
But he’s not doing NFL game analysis, or movie roles, or a TV series. His career ended with a slow car chase in a white Bronco. Maybe he understood that, maybe not. But it was a shock, seeing a long career end in real time. O.J. was my first sports hero, when he was a junior tailback for the USC Trojans. I was aware, and watching.
Cosby? Same. More. He didn’t kill anyone in a fit of rage, but his crimes were multiple and not spontaneous at all, and that feels somehow worse. He was a bigger star, with more power and more money, and it was slower but just as stunning to see his legacy crumble, forever. Money couldn’t buy off justice, and honestly this may be one of the few times it couldn’t.
Power is at the heart of #MeToo, of course, which brings us back to The Bubble. How else to explain the bizarre behavior of these men, accused of serious misconduct and crimes? How do we explain Louis CK, a brilliant comedian with an impressive talent for filmmaking and a level of cultural awareness that seemed to drive the discussions we were having? A year after he got caught with his pants down, immediately fessed up, promised to think hard and disappear, he’s now back on stages, surreptitiously recorded apparently auditioning to be the new Dennis Miller, nativist, generational, racist outrage at the world.
Or Kevin Spacey’s video? Or the stories we hear of Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, planning their comebacks?
NO ONE IS COMING BACK.
I loved Louis CK. I’ll never watch him again, chances are, unless curiosity gets the better of me and I want to see a train wreck. Obviously I’m not going to get nostalgic for some Cosby monologues. I might rewatch something that Spacey was in, just because I’m not necessarily going to dump The Usual Suspects from the pantheon. Why should I miss Chazz Palminteri because his costar is a jerk and a criminal?
But we are, most of us, quite willing to dump these famous people, and we’ll do it immediately. Neil deGrasse Tyson? Um, I don’t think this is going to end well. And with all the fretting about injustice and false accusations, most of these are pretty clear and not hard to follow. A couple seem bogus, but these aren’t the serious ones anyway. Careers aren’t being ended by nothingburgers. They’re being ended by The Bubble.
That’s my theory, anyway. It fits easily into the economic inequality narrative, the true divide in this country. We’re used to the 1% being clueless about how the rest of us live; we’re now getting a peek at the celebrity disconnect, that’s all. Aziz Ansari’s situation felt to me, as it did to a lot of people, like a bad date, miscommunication and misunderstanding, along what seems like bad behavior but what do I know? I haven’t dated in almost 40 years.
But I think his career is kaput, and he kaputed it. I thought he was funny and clever, and this felt like something that would blow over. If only Ansari hadn’t been famous, and apparently thought that was enough. Apparently he thought his fan base would cover his tracks, and he could play the victim of a culture war and come out on top. I don’t think so, and I think he could have fixed this pretty easily. I expected him to. How come Al Franken is the only one who gets it? He was probably the biggest victim, and he quietly resigned from the Senate and has kept his mouth shut.
Now we have Ellen Degeneres, who yesterday aired an hour-long interview with Kevin Hart, who got into hot water when he was selected to host The Academy Awards and then backed out after old homophobic tweets and standup material were pointed out.
Enough has been written about this; you can find it. Hart has never apologized; he got angry, then he quit.
I don’t care who hosts the Oscars. I don’t really pay attention to Kevin Hart, or to Ellen for that matter. It’s just weird that America’s Favorite Gay Person (Neil Patrick Harris in the mix) exposed her allegiances, and they’re not the ones we thought. Hart’s concession only seems to be that he understands he shouldn’t use “fag” in his comedy bits anymore because people get upset. Ellen seems to think this is a teachable moment. Doesn’t really sound like it. Sounds like a couple of multimillionaires talking about the mean people on the Homeowners Association board who won’t let them build more than one pool. What, they took away your hosting gig? Right that wrong, Ellen. It’s just about a few haters, that’s it.
People. Famous people. Boy, I dunno.