Sunday, October 30, 2011

Build a rocket

Where did you grow up?
When did you grow up?
Will you ever grow up?
The 80s. ’69 was my birth year so the 80s is the decade of the presumably emancipatory adolescence of my now 40 plus years of existence. Ah the 80s. Not close to as bad ass as the 60s. Or as high! Not nearly as funky as the 70s. Nor as disco-ball cool. Not as grunge as the 90s. Whatever the #$%^& ‘grunge’ is/was?
The 80s. Fabulous fashion. Rugby pants, legwarmers, primary color knit sweaters tied around your neck. ¾ length white sleeved black shirts with Black Sabbath emblazoned on the chest. Perms for men (I confess), Big glasses.
The 80s. Great music. Boy George, Corey Hart, George Michael, the theme to TV’s FAME, Gloria Estefan, the Bangles, David Lee Roth (post Van Halen), Men Without Hats and Men at Work…Mmmmmmm!
The 80s. Some blip on the radar of good taste and better judgment or the best decade since the Renaissance; I’ll let you decide. There is no halcyonic nostalgia about those days in my mind at least. Riding my bike to the corner store in a town of barely 100 residents should not be considered evidence of some idyllic teenage coming of age. (Some readers will be quick to point out that I also rode my Dad’s Nissan INTO the corner store – causing a minor re-shelving problem for the owner and much larger problem for between me and my father.) To be sure there are many things about those formative years of my life that could only be described as pristine conditions within which a boy may become a man. I married the girl next door and began my life long infatuation with her in the one acre corn field between our houses. I drove my first vehicle (my buddy’s) on the gravel roads that snaked through the hippie soaked Pembina Hills. But not before I mapped every nook and cranny of that place on snowmobile. I emulated Jim Craig to my very best ability on giant rubber snow boots on the freshly flooded ‘rink’ next to the school. I was good. Those days were golden.
“You can be anything you want to be” – they told us at my graduation. Liars.
I can’t. I still want to be a Grey Cup winning quarterback – but I won’t. I never built a rocket – and I won’t. Being anything I want to be is a myth and a peculiarly harmful one at that. Perhaps that sort of rhetoric emerged from the desperation of the time. Because as Commodore 64 and the internet were mere glints in the eyes of their conceivers; we were still fighting a Cold War that promised to bring us to an end. We were just starting to battle our brains out over abortion, and immigration, and French language. We could see our Canadian distinctives sliding away from us perhaps with more urgency than they ever had. We got excited about all the same silly stuff that the US did – who can forget the enormous cola war of the 80s. We decided that free trade with the US was going to be a good thing. So what if it meant foreign ownership of many of our national institutions. We unashamedly gobbled up the latest greatest media offering being pushed out of the burgeoning colonialist Hollywood machine. (Shoot, how else was it that Daisy Duke became the model for one of the ‘best’ fashion trends in the 80s J)
Behind the neurotic push toward the future in almost every aspect of life, those of us ‘growing up’ then might have known something untoward was lurking in the reeds of our surface optimism. But we paid little heed to that lie about our potential when we saw the Berlin wall come down. We forgot our background dread when we saw hostages rescued from Iran. And we began to believe that our ability to forge a brave new world could itself be the savior of our once dysfunctional world. I suspect that belief has an almost religious hold upon us.
In my classroom – we talk about current event and we try to engage with the big themes of our world as events unfold. If there is one reaction that surprises me most in my students it has to be the relative indifference that most pay to the way our world works. Occupy this or that, kill off a dictator once in a while, start a revolution on facebook if you want to, or bailout the country where democracy was born. Meh – whatevs… On one level it irks me – this passive nonchalance toward our life and times. On another level it saddens me to see a generation face down in their phones – enslaved to the immediacy of their ever-shrinking world (where life and love begin and end at the end of text).
Sometimes exposing lies leads to life change. At other times exposing lies leads to a retrenchment of the lie itself – perhaps because the truth is just too uncomfortable to face. You can frame your life as targeting potential. Aspire to this or that. Achieve this or that. Or you can frame your life as targeting significance. Accept the ugliness of the world and do your part. Acknowledge your own culpability in the problems to begin with.
You can be anything you want to be seems out of place in the latter mindset but conveniently distracting in the former.
There are some of us who still remember that in the 80s a young man decided to do his part, accept his own ugliness, and died fighting off the monster that eventually took his life. Terry Fox lived and died in the 80s and school children to this day honor his memory.
Long live the 80s…