Daily Archives: August 7, 2005

Tommy, I Can’t Hear You.

*(I should say this first: the Genesius Theatre cast, crew, and production team responsible for mounting The Who’s Tommy are to be commended for the near-flawless multimedia presentation I attended Saturday evening. They did a terrific job with an essentially meaningless, hopeless script.)*I recall the 1969 release of the actual “text” of Tommy. It consisted of a vinyl double album that had been over hyped as an achievement of culturally historic importance by critics everywhere from Rolling Stone to The New York Times. I recall my friends waiting for the album to be released as if waiting for the arrival of the Holy Grail. When I heard it all the way through for the first time, I found it flabby, inconsistent, and boring. The narrative was less complex than that of a comic book – as it was nothing more than a collection of loosely related songs. I was studying the literature of the world as a college junior and I saw this piece of work as simply embarrassing.Why embarrassing? Well, it was a time when youth culture had convinced a significant part of the media that it was “coming of age” and capable of producing serious artistic masterworks. It was obvious to me that Tommy was in no way an artistic masterpiece – not even close.I was embarrassed because I had come to believe in the hyped significance of my role as a cultural arbiter helping to change the world for the better by simply being young, having the right (left) views, buying the right products, and identifying with the “correct” role models – celebrities who were pushing their views on young people through the big media conglomerates that were promoting “the counterculture.” One didn’t really question the new creations of the pantheon of rock and rollers who had earned their stripes by achieving iconic status during the second half of the 1960s. And The Who was one of those icons whose work was simply universally appreciated by those who had a vested interest in being considered “hip.”It’s not so different today but I’m amazed at how the shibboleths of 40 years ago are still standing and being hailed by new generations of young people who have no memory of the actual events of the time.They’re getting schooled in this stuff by listening to old records, of course. But more to the point, their elders are also filling their minds with the significance of the time periods during which they were young themselves. The marketing of what is considered “cool” has continued apace as has the youth culture, left-wing politics, drug-taking, and déclassé appreciation of the lower echelons of society as representative of the sort of “noble savages” that aristocratic classes have adopted as their poster children since the 17th century.I’d suggest to young people that they’d do better paying less attention to their elders when it comes to locating their own generation’s place in human history. There is, at present, a media- and elitist-induced canonical double-speak that creates coercive cognitive dissonance in the impressionable minds of young people. It is simply this: to hear members of the current professional classes of Americans speak of the cultural and political influence their generations had on human progress is to be presented with a hypocrisy of massive proportions. I happen to be a member of the Vietnam-war generation and a veteran of its “revolutionary youth culture” and I must say it had a lot more to do with making my friends and me feel good about ourselves – and it still does – than about making the world a better place. We were and remain the most selfish, hypocritical, and self-centered generation the world has ever produced and it would be best if our outmoded ideas of what is true, just, cool, and correct in the world were flat-out rejected by young people. The moment that is most difficult to take in the new and updated version of The Who’s Tommy, is when the self-indulgent protest marchers cry out “We won!” while announcements of the 1973 final US troop withdrawal from Vietnam are splayed egregiously across the multimedia mise en scene. This self-congratulatory nonsense is the kind of thing that should make any serious student of US history wince. It’s the type of revisionism that my generation has done consistently regarding inflating the events of our youth to mythic, even heroic, proportions. It was during this shallow moment of the performance that I decided to type out the current entry. I haven’t said all I would like to say about this, but by now you know where I’m coming from. If you are a young person and you’ve read this far, I’d ask you why on earth you would be paying any attention at all to someone who is my age. In general, you’d do far better, given the way things have turned out here in the USA, to question the things you’ve learned about the past 40 years or so. If you do that, you might end up wanting to invent a very different kind of culture from the one that has been handed us by the popular media and the intellectual classes whose worldviews were spawned during the Vietnam era and its aftermath. That would be a very good thing for a new generation of Americans to do.

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