News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner---

anything but an Anthony.

The most disturbing but significant aspect of the Weiner twittering is the obsessive fixation of the news media.  American journalism has gone tabloid, apparently under the assumption that a fixation on the seamy and lurid is what America wants above all else.  The incident needs examination and coverage in the form of periodic updates, but to fill the 24-hour news cycles for four or five days makes the problems that gave Weiner the urge to photograph and transmit erectile imagery seem insignificant and trivial.  That the news media would put so much effort and emphasis on an online, clothed whinky-doodle episode should be of much more concern of those who examine the state of the nation.  The nation's preoccupations with the Weiner episode is much more serious and alarming than the incident itself.

What Weiner did has become commonplace among a large constituency of society.  The social media and the technology which enables it is the special province of juveniles and adults who choose to act as juveniles.  The new media has changed the way people establish relationships with each other. As a Washington Post article points out, people are finding that virtual relationships result in some dire realities.   Thought and reasoning have been displaced by impulse.  We live in an uncerebral society.  A highly successful and  respected high school counselor I knew often pointed out to adults that the thing one had to remember about kids is that they can't think beyond lunch.  The new media has made many adults as impulsive and short-sighted as children.

Do not, however, blame the technology.  It only facilitates a human impulse that many so-called adults harbor.   The real problem with contemporary society is that rather than mature, experienced, and thoughtful adults setting the social parameters for children, kids have set the patterns of behavior and social interaction among for the adults.  We are hung up on high school, and the social and sexual furor that runs through adolescence.  

A number of commentators have suggested that Anthony Weiner fell victim to a deep mental issue that needs psychiatric examination.  The fact is that Weiner engaged the social media in a manner that is commonplace among high school kids.  Like many adults, he relived adolescence in his virtual life.  

After World War II, our culture moved into its obsession with youth.  Youth became a market that drives our entertainment, our popular culture, and our technology.  The quest for young bodies and unfettered, impulsive minds is a market that comprises a huge part of our economy.  Anthony Weiner is merely a very visible emanation of the youth cult, which might well define our culture at this point.  The quest for youth ends up with idiocy. 

The American high school is the great transformative engine in our culture.  It gives children the educational and social basis for becoming productive and fulfilled adults.  But education takes an increasingly diminished role in the high school experience for many.  Parents relive their adolescence through their kids, rather than prepare their kids to become adults who can function effectively and responsibly.  Parents and teachers emulate the society of the kids, rather than kids striving to become adults.  Alexandra Robbins, author of the book The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth visited seven high schools to analyze what life was really like for adolescent students.  She found that even teachers were emulating juvenile society:

...the adults who are supposed to be modeling social behavior for students are in some cases openly forming their own cliques, with names. That blew my mind. Even schools where they're paying thousands of dollars to sponsor anti-bullying programs and trying to ease social tension among the student body -- these same schools have teacher clique issues that they're not addressing. There was one teacher clique called Teachers Against Dumbasses.

I first became aware of the hold that adolescence has on adults through two women I knew quite well.  They were both mothers of big families, and talked often of their daughters.  One woman was pursuing advanced degrees in adult education and the other was in a Ph.D. program in American studies.  One taught in an adult education program for which I was a consulted, and the other taught courses in the college department where I worked.  And both were in clear competition with their own daughters.  When their daughters excelled in some academic enterprise, the women tried to outdo them.  

They were greatly talented women, but seemed trapped by trying to relive adolescence to find some satisfactions that they seem to have missed the first time around.  But in both cases, as they approached full middle age, their talents were compromised by personality issues that affected their relationships with other adults and their daughters.  Their attempts to regress into youth ended in broken maturity.  
Anthony Weiner with his wife Huma Adebin.

Anthony Weiner seems to have been caught up in a kind of adolescent social-sexual frenzy.  But in the fixation on Weiner and his twitters and his desperate lying, the nation's media and its audience seems to be caught in that frenzy even more. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States