"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A boomer's memory includes a dark side

I remember when a former Minnesota Daily cartoonist came to UMM to give a presentation. It wasn't Steve Sack or that Ohman fellow. This was very early in my print media career, so a good guess as to the year would be 1979.
Those were much more relaxed times. We wouldn't think of getting pulled over and given a seat belt ticket.
The artist's presentation was at Edson Auditorium, then part of a building that was bare bones compared to today. No Oyate Hall. No computer-study lounge, because there were no personal computers.
This visiting artist, last name of Wagner, came to the downtown newspaper office during the day to suggest some coverage would be nice. That wouldn't happen today because the UMM website would accommodate everything. How could UMM function without a website? Well it did, and it did so quite nicely.
I remember when someone in the P.E. department told me Brian Curtis was getting "burned out" doing the SID work. I had to shake my head because just a few years earlier, UMM didn't have an SID. So now, it was necessary for someone to get "burned out" doing it?
I remember when working for the Morris newspaper was a pretty relaxed proposition. Somehow everything in our society had to shift into a hyper mode where it certainly is now. 
I covered the cartoonist's presentation at Edson. He came up to me afterward and said he barely knew I was there, because I "fit right in." I could still look and act the part of a college student.
There was no PowerPoint then. So, what Mr. Wagner showed us on a screen was "slides." One was of a cartoon from National Review. National Review was a pioneering conservative publication that had a reputation for high-mindedness. William F. Buckley in fact gained high stature partly because of pushing aside a lot of the backwater and ignorant conservative thought (e.g. the Birchers).
National Review wasn't high-minded enough for college students in the year 1979. At that time, I assure you, conservatives and Republicans were highly marginalized on college campuses. I say this not as a conservative who is resentful. I am in fact a Democrat. But I am a social observer by my innate nature.
The visiting cartoonist spoke in a mocking way - young people at that time could really mock - about a National Review cartoon. It showed someone smoking a marijuana cigarette. Mr. Wagner was proud to note in a dismissive way that the guy in the cartoon wasn't holding the "joint" right. There were strict norms that young people of that time adhered to.
You had to try to be "cool." There was a certain way to hold a "joint." And of course the National Review cartoonist, a very un-hip sort because of his affiliation, wouldn't understand this. Sigh.
I personally and privately rejected a lot of the norms my generation subscribed to in the '70s and slightly beyond. It was tough to not go along with any of it. I suspect a lot of kids did quietly go their own way. They found a way to just keep to themselves. In fact, the majority of any young generation is probably like this. It's the minority that defines a certain generation with symbols and excesses of various kinds. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
I was forced in at least one environment to hang around peers who had the questionable habits such as smoking weed. Another bad habit was to play rock music on the stereo so loud, that today most of them probably require hearing aids.
It's possible the marijuana smoking had long-term effects too, along with alcohol which became legal for 18-year-olds in Minnesota for a time. I seem to recall the shift in drinking age happening as I graduated from high school in 1973. We were excited about being able to go into bars. I did this in Detroit Lakes. The first drink I ordered was a Tom Collins.
I wish I hadn't bothered with any of this foolishness. Marijuana was a curiosity that had no benefits for anyone. Somehow my generation just had to do things to differentiate us from our parents. Today's kids would be disbelieving about this.
I recently attended a New Wine presentation at First Lutheran Church and was amazed at how clean, positive and respectful all these kids were. If only my generation had been guided in such a way. Part of the problem is we had just been through the Viet Nam War. Our parents fought "the good war" of World War II but we got stuck with the Viet Nam war. No volunteer military. We were fighting according to the World War II model in a place where we didn't belong.
The Cold War seemed to make us all miserable. The school seemed to give us too much homework. We got our faces pushed into algebra, probably because of this national agenda of "competing with the Russians."
Well, if the U.S. was depending on me to do this by learning algebra, we were going to be in trouble. I never had any problem learning basic arithmetic or multiplication tables. But I hit a wall after that and it permanently affected my self-esteem.
Drugs and rock music might have been escapist for us. My generation didn't buy the need for such conflict in the world. The Cold War seemed much ado about not a whole lot. In protest we leaned leftward politically, arguing the North Vietnamese didn't need to be demonized (because of being "Communist"), nor the Russians really.
We felt we could all just get along. As it turned out, pure Communism, whatever that was, faded because the people rose up. It wasn't because of U.S. military intervention anywhere or our bravado posturing.
We almost couldn't believe it when the Cold War ended. For that matter, we couldn't believe it when inflation in the economy ended. I could have sworn inflation was going to be with us forever. It made me resigned about even trying to do a menial or low-level job, because could our wages even keep up? A restaurant owner seemingly had to print a new menu every few months.
Cynical movies like "Smokey and the Bandit" came at us, in which authority figures could be portrayed as boobs (such as by Jackie Gleason). Us young and hip people were nothing like them, naturally.
We played our stereos until the walls shook. We drank alcohol. Boys learned to walk with a slouched posture. The most fashionable attire could be described as "poverty stricken." Young people became so alienated from the mainstream Christian religious denominations, we had an organization in Morris called Young Life, the expressed purpose of which was to try to get kids interested again.
Young Life was billed as separate from the established "fuddy duddy" churches. A young person reading this (like a "New Winer") might say "you've got to be kidding me." No, I'm not.
I remember one of the Young Life volunteers being Cindy Perkins who then had her maiden name. I was enlisted to cover this group (i.e. to promote it) through the print media. The parents of that time (like Dale Stoebe and Ed LaFave Jr.) were trying to get kids to be idealistic again. Hats off to them.
Our culture steadily improved through the 1980s. Ronald Reagan, assailed by the smartass element of my generation at first, led a pretty impressive recovery in our values.
We can never predict the future. But we can certainly forget the "correct" way to hold a marijuana cigarette.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

No comments:

Post a Comment