Future Shock

Media Coverage of High School Shootings Reawakens the Angry Young Man Snoozing Peacefully In a Mellow Old Guy’s Forgotten Fears

by Lee Abraham

Turned 40 last summer. Wasn’t any big deal. Just sorta happened. Completely different story ten long summers ago when I turned 30. -That- sucked. Face it: every wild eyed kid who came of age in the ‘70s with sex, drugs and rock & roll as the soundtrack of their life, figured turning 30 was the beginning of the end, if not the end itself.

Even the most hard headed and self absorbed young rebel sees reaching the big 3-0 as irrefutable proof positive of failure to be the James Dean, ‘die young and leave a good looking corpse’ counterculture anti hero, they romantically fancy themselves to be. I know I did. Maybe you too.

But there’s more to it. As the inevitability drew near of leaving my 20’s, or more precisely, my perception of youth, forever behind, long forgotten fears and anxieties from childhood were triggered. Stuff like being scared shitless about nuclear war and the destruction of the world. I can remember being in elementary school, somewhere around 3rd or 4th grade, and realizing that the earth could blow up at the push of a button. It was -not- a happy revelation. And it didn’t help that the TV news at the time was reporting daily body counts from the war in Viet Nam, along with ghastly combat footage including piles of dead soldiers and horribly disfigured napalm victims.

Anyway, flashing back to all that depressing hooweenuwee, along with the plain and simple ‘getting old’ thing, pissed me off royally for a few weeks both before and after that 30th birthday. Like everything though, the darkness clouding my mood gradually moderated into shades of gray, and in time, the prospect of aging with grace shined its light. By the time I hit 40, I can honestly say that my vibe had turned 180 degrees. I won’t bore you with the ‘time is the ultimate healer,’ ‘aging like a fine wine,’ or ‘glass half full,’ resets. Bottom line - perception is reality.

Trust me, I hadn’t thought about this stuff for quite awhile. Too busy living in the present. And then a couple of months ago, there was a shooting at a nearby high school here in San Diego. A couple of kids died in the gunfire and several others were hurt. A few weeks later there was another shooting incident at a different local high school. Thankfully, nobody died in that one. Not surprisingly, the local media was all over the story.

But regardless of which direction the coverage took, the conclusion was always the same: growing up these days is much more difficult than it used to be. No shit! The media usually rates drugs as the first and most menacing hazard facing today’s youth (and our society itself for that matter), quickly followed by violence on TV and in the movies, the disintegration of the traditional family structure, and peer group pressure.

OK fine, all of the above make the new millennium a tough place for the carefree leisure of youth to enjoy the extended innocence of year’s past, but the core of the problem never gets mentioned: the fact that the future of the planet is -not guaranteed- profoundly changes a kid’s understanding of the ‘now,’ not to mention life itself. No other generation in history had to deal with that particular mind bender.

Listen: Right around the same time the nuclear threat cast its chilling haze of doubt over the warm and fuzzy prospect of tomorrow’s new sunrise, the advent of TV supercharged the ‘reality as projected through the media’ phenomenon started by movies years before. Think about it, up to less than 100 years ago, the written word, and before that, oral story telling, were the popular ‘alternate realities’ for past generations to use as a psychological springboard for fantasies and dreams of what their lives might hold in store.

And although music has always played a role in the friction between generations at any given time in history, TV, movies, and finally FM radio, brought young peoples’ music into society’s day to day reality like never before. Anybody who says music meant as much to kids growing up in the first several thousand years of human history as it does to today’s youngsters doesn’t have a clue.

It’s no secret that throughout history, younger generations have rebelled against their elders and fought among themselves. As people age, they mellow, and somehow, if they live long enough, the youth morph into parenthood and the cycle repeats. It’s been that way since the beginning of time. But it’s only the past several decades that the potential for nuclear war, and in a more protracted threat against the future, ruining the environment, have robbed kids of the subconscious security the promise of a future gave past generations. Mix in society’s media created desensitization to violence and you’ve got quite a volatile ‘coming of age’ cocktail being served up these days.

Is that a reason to start shooting people? Of course not. I’m just saying that the variables making it tougher to grow up today than in the past go deeper than what’s being reported in the news. But hey, you knew that already. Now somebody needs to explain it to the media.