So I have this hideous boil on my underarm, do any of you know a good ointment?
Ha ha!!! Just kidding!!! We haven't gone that far off the rails. No, today I want to talk about being a decrepit old geezer with eye bags and a hacking cough. Or feeling that way anyhow. This afternoon I stepped out of my office to get some lunch and bumped into a colleague of mine, emerging from his morning class. He advanced upon me looking frazzled and holding a DVD in his hand.
"I can't believe it! They don't like it! They don't like 'Blade Runner'!"
He'd been addressing the topic of narrative by reading stories that had been adapted for film, then watching the films, and seeing how the two compared. His class had loved "Minority Report," with its groovy special effects, fast pacing, and Samantha Morton (foxy even while bald and unconscious in a shallow pool of amniotic fluid), but they reacted with boredom and hostility to Ridley Scott's understated 1982 masterpiece.
We indulged in a ten-minute Old Man Confab on the stairs. By the standards of our profession, we're young fellas ("junior professors" is the term), but our students are literally half our age, and at long last we are witnessing the maturation of the next generation. It was bad enough when they started driving cars; now they're being allowed to form opinions about our movies. Good God!
My colleague pointed out that, when we were growing up, there was no cable, no internet. You didn't choose your entertainment; you accepted what was available. In our case (he's from New York, I'm from New Jersey), this was the evening and weekend movies on WPIX 11-Alive. Now, I am not complaining about the steady advance of technology; I'll take illegal downloads of Lost any day over, say, a sixth viewing of that Munsters episode where Grandpa runs away from home and ends up doing a magic act at a bar. But a childhood devoid of infinite choices did indeed leave us with a fairly broad view of what popular culture had to offer, and perhaps prepared us better for our eventual forays into the underexplored cul-de-sacs of the literary world. There's an argument to be made that it might be harder for young people these days to learn to appreciate things that aren't immediately to their taste--and what with the instant access to any and all desired information, the mystery of how things are created, and who is creating them, has been shattered.
I'm not so worried, though. The kids are, as they have always been, alright. (Though I'd take a red pen to that spelling, The Who be damned.) I tried to convince my colleague that they'll be into "Blade Runner" someday, the same way I eventually got into Moby Dick in spite of my schooling; the way I fell in love with Lolita in defiance of the college professor who wanted everybody to write papers on the "chess imagery." At 18, 19, 20, our students are finding themselves, and I suspected that one or two of my colleague's went home tonight wondering if maybe there was more to that movie than they first thought. I remember not getting R.E.M. until about four listens to Lifes Rich Pageant; Rhian didn't like seventies movies until we discovered John Cassavetes. You can change your taste, once you get a taste for doing so--it's part of being an aesthete. And there aren't many 18-year-old aesthetes, not yet.
Still, I wonder what form of excellence will emerge from the present cultural moment. I cannot guess, not for the life of me, and maybe that means it's time to kick back with my nose hair trimmer and a bottle of Metamucil and just let the youngsters take the wheel.