Or, more precisely, was taken from us without our consent.
During the hurricane that was the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, it wasn’t just my high school friends and I who were on trial—it was an entire decade. That decade was the 1980s.
To understand the ’80s, and how our generation, Generation X, was formed, it helps to start with the 1970s. Specifically, with the movie “The Bad News Bears.” “The Bad News Bears” is one of the most hilarious and politically incorrect films ever made. It came out in 1976—when America was a more freewheeling place, for better and worse—and was a huge hit. It portrayed kids realistically. The Little League “Bears” cussed, used stereotypes, thought their alcoholic manager Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) was useless, and got into fights. They were real kids. That includes the girl pitcher Amanda Whurlitzer, brilliantly played by Tatum O’Neal. Amanda fired right back when the boys razzed her, and mowed them down with her fastball. She was tough, smart, and independent.
Those real 1970s kids became the teenagers of the 1980s. They—we—often continued to be rowdy, independent, and rambunctious. I was born in 1964, which means I was 12 when “Bears” came out and then a teenager in the early 1980s when I was a student at Georgetown Prep. Things were a lot looser back then. You learned to fend for yourself (not everyone got a trophy), even as you tried to navigate the total wave of drugs and alcohol that were available. The hippie culture ruined a lot of lives.
Before political correctness and the #MeToo movement, before iPhones and the internet and Twitter and outrage culture, there was an understanding that beneath the veneer of civilization was something wild, dangerous, and joyful—a soul electric with sex and slapstick.
Compared to previous generations, kids today are less likely to have sex, drive, work, drink alcohol, date, or go out without their parents. A lot of this has to do with the advent of smartphones and social media. Kids these days are terrified that if they do something bold—or stupid—it will wind up on Facebook, YouTube, or Snapchat. In 2015, pop singer Ariana Grande, then 22, licked a doughnut—and it wound up on “The Today Show.”
In the 1980s, we didn’t live in fear of our every action being caught on a cell phone or security camera and then posted on social media. You could go out on a Saturday night, drink beer, see a band, take a long walk by yourself, hit on a girl, toilet-paper a neighbor’s house, and speed on the way home. You could do all these things while remaining almost completely anonymous. By 2002 that became more difficult, and, by 2012, it was damn near impossible.
Today’s porn- and outrage-saturated media, and our inability as a culture to deal with the ambiguities of male sexuality, lay at the heart of the Kavanaugh imbroglio. My videos and writings were interpreted to indicate hostility toward women when they, in fact, express love, healthy masculine desire, and a deep appreciation for their mystery, power, and beauty. You’re not really allowed to be in awe of women anymore. It’s all interpreted as hate.
But it wasn’t just Brett and me who were on trial. It was the entire era in which we grew up. An era of robust cultural confidence when men and women were equally celebrated, the 1980s have now, in the rearview mirror, become fodder for our modern media scolds.
For instance, several journalists noted during the hearings that I had written in praise of Hugh Hefner, who is now considered a symbol of toxic masculinity. This was taken as evidence of my retrograde sexual attitudes and projected onto Brett as proof of his being unfit for a seat on the nation’s highest court. What a crock of bullshit. The farther away I get from it, the angrier I feel.
As well you should—as well we ALL should, actually. The roots of America’s decline into a sickly, emasculated, terrorized, and psychically-impoverished culture aren’t at all difficult to discern; one doesn’t have to look very hard or very far to find them, they’re all around every one of us, every minute of every day.