Mother Simpson: Abe, isn't Homer cute?
Grampa: Probably. I'm trying to watch the Super Bowl. If people don't support this thing, it might not make it.
Howard Cosell: [on TV] Joe Willy Namath, swaggering off the field, his sideburns an apogee of sculpted sartorium. The foppish follicles pioneered by Ambrose Burnside, Appomattox 1865.
Mother Simpson: His wild, untamed facial hair revealed a new world of rebellion of change. A world where doors were open for women like me. But Abe was stuck in his button-down plastic-fantastic Madison Avenue scene.
Grampa: Look at them sideburns! He looks like a girl. Now, Johnny Unitas. There's a haircut you could set your watch to.
-- The Simpsons, 1995
In January 1969, two quarterbacks played against each other in Super Bowl III. Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath were both superstars. They were both from Western Pennsylvania, but they came from different cultural universes. Unitas was reticent, workmanlike and deliberately unglamorous. Namath was flashy and a playboy. He turned himself into a marketing brand and wrote a memoir jokingly called, “I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow ’Cause I Get Better Looking Every Day.”
The contrast between these two men symbolizes a broader shift from a culture of self-effacement, which says, “I’m no better than anybody else and nobody is better than me,” to a culture of self-expression, which says, “Look at what I’ve accomplished. I’m special.”
The conventional story, beloved especially on the right, is that this cultural shift took place in the 1960s. First there was the Greatest Generation, whose members were modest and self-sacrificing, but then along came the baby boomers who were narcissistic and relativistic.
As I found while researching a book, this story line doesn’t really fit the facts. The big shift in American culture did not happen around the time of Woodstock and the Age of Aquarius. It happened in the late 1940s, and it was the members of the Greatest Generation that led the shift...
-- David Brooks, April, 2015
It is* possible that if Mr. Brooks had dispensed with the first four paragraphs of lazy filler which padded out his column today, he might have been able to spare a few words to mention other, modern events which bear directly and overwhelmingly on his subject, "When Cultures Shift".
A few words for Vietnam and civil rights, for instance.
And a few words for Nixon and Reagan.
Maybe a few words about how faith in Mr. Brooks' beloved institutions did not fall in a sudden, inexplicable cloudburst of cynicism and self-help books, but rather cynicism and self-interest grew like an infection from the wounds those institutions inflicted on themselves.
During this period, We The People learned from Vietnam and Watergate how completely and utterly our government had lied to us, and how willing they were to exploit race and fear to stay in power.
During this period, we learned that organized labor had sold out it members. The Church betrayed it congregants. The white power structure betrayed minorities and killed those who spoke out too loudly. The government beat protesters in the streets of Chicago and shot them down like dogs at Kent State.
Perhaps if Mr. Brooks had sacrificed Johnny U he could have squeezed in a little of that American history.
Perhaps he could have spent an hour skimming Adam Curtis' excellent "The Century of the Self" and learned about how the sentiment Mr. Brooks' tsk-tsks in his column --
People need to love themselves more. They need to remove external restraints on their glorious selves.
-- did not lead to Hippie Anarchy but was hand-walked by high-skilled public relations professionals straight into the heart of Madison Avenue (Buy!Buy!Buy! Because you're worth it!) and then into the arms of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (Get rid of that Evil Gummint which stands in the way of your dreams! Because you're worth it!) and thence to the wholesale razing of the very institutions Mr. Brooks holds so dear.
And maybe a few words about Lee Atwater, Fox News and how the Modern Conservative movement -- David Fucking Brooks' Conservative movement -- was deliberately created as a mob of nihilistic, reactionary, fuck-stick-ignorant, often-racist, often-openly-seditious, anti-government vandals so the GOP -- -- David Fucking Brooks' GOP -- could win elections.
Perhaps a few words about the war Mr. Brooks and his President, George W. Bush, lied us into and then botched. And maybe just a hypertext link of two to the full-frontal, hippie punching smear campaign that came along with it? Perhaps a few more words about Jerry Falwell or Phyllis Schlafly or Ralph Reed or Glenn Beck. Maybe Joe McCarthy could have been spared a syllable or two. Or Abu Gharib. Or Terri Schiavo. Or the drowned city of New Orleans? Or the "IBG/YBG" philosophy of Mr. Brooks' bankster friends who blew up the world economy to the shock of Alan Greenspan who had sworn by John Galt and Dagny Taggart and all the saints of laissez-faire capitalism that such a thing was unpossible.
Maybe one word about hysterical anti-gummint hategasm that called itself the "Tea Party" (Spoiler: There. Is. No. Tea. Party.) Maybe another word about Cliven Bundy. About Sean Hannity.
And perhaps a line or two could have been allocated to mention "welfare queens" and "young bucks" and all the "free stuff" that the Kenyan Usurper and his wife, Moochelle are handing out to the coloreds to keep them dependent on the Evil gummint.
But of course as we all know, none of these things that actually happened and people who actually existed will ever find a home in any David Brooks column because that would blow his whole long con: radiczlly revising all of modern American history into a work of Whig Fan Fiction. Or as one bitter, fringe nut put it back in 2013:
So instead we will continue getting these reports from David Brooks' Excellent Whig Adventure, where none of this shit ever happened. Where society has been screwed up by commencement speakers, self-help books an Twitter:...it is now painfully clear that Mr. Brooks is engaged in a long-term project to completely rewrite the history of American Conservatism: to flense it of all of the Conservative social, political economic and foreign policy debacles that make Mr. Brooks wince and repackage the whole era as a fairy tale of noble Whigs being led through treacherous hippie country by the humble David Brooks.And odds are he'll get away with it too.
But I would say that we have overshot the mark. We now live in a world in which commencement speakers tell students to trust themselves, listen to themselves, follow their passions, to glorify the Golden Figure inside. We now live in a culture of the Big Me, a culture of meritocracy where we promote ourselves and a social media culture where we broadcast highlight reels of our lives. What’s lost is the more balanced view, that we are splendidly endowed but also broken. And without that view, the whole logic of character-building falls apart. You build your career by building on your strengths, but you improve your character by trying to address your weaknesses.And where the "Both Siderist" razor which Mr. Brooks now hides in virtually every column -- that no one is really responsible for the mess we are in so please stop pointing fingers at me! -- is to be found in the very last line... (emphasis added):
That great tradition and body of wisdom was accidentally tossed aside in the late 1940s. It’s worth reviving and modernizing it.
*Thanks for the catch!