Friday, January 30, 2009
sex and tennis shoes
Every now and then it's good to chew on something from the past. While researching an obituary at the library, I found this interesting newspaper archive, a spin on California women (really the writer includes Californians). Keep in mind this is a 'real' article from the late 60s--so no, I didn't make it up. I'm not sure what to make of it, and this could be because I had a 13 year love affair with the Golden State and am somewhat protective of it, its 'contrasting nature.'
California Is a Study In Contrast
by Russell Baker, November 26, 1968. New York Times News Service
SAN FRANCISCO -- California has given American culture two original women. One is the sex goddess. The other is the little old lady in tennis shoes. It is typical of California that the two should be opposing ideas of womanhood and that both should be caricature rather than flesh.
Of all the states, California comes closest to being a state of schizophrenia. It is a mass of opposed ideas which the state has never been able to hold in balance in its mind. Here, opposed ideas tend instead to pull the mind in two and keep California living on the edge of a caricature abounding in Jekylls and Hydes.
For every idea in California, there is an equal and opposed idea. Northern California is one idea, Southern California another. Culturally (as well as geographically) they are as far apart as Massachusetts and Georgia, and just as insistent upon their separate identities.
Politically, California's tendency to yield to the tension of opposed ideas instead of synthesizing them accounts for the unpredictable aberrations which so amuse the rest of the country.
Here the kooks of both right and left are just a little kookier than anywhere else. The John Birch Society flourishes side by side with the anarchists. Max Rafferty springs from the same soil as Earl Warren. The little old lady in the tennis shoes coexists with the Black Panthers.
The split personality is manifest everywhere. What other state would reject a man for its governor, as California rejected Richard Nixon in 1962, then give him its vote for President of the United States, as California did for him in 1968?
Los Angeles has the most affluent Negro community in the United States, yet it was the first to riot. Southern California is basking in wealth produced by federal subsidies for the futuristic-warfare industry, yet it consistently votes for the candidate who scares it most persuasively about the evils of socialism.
At the moment, however, the most violently opposed forces in California are youth and age. In other parts of the country the generation gap may bother the population, but there is little evidence that it enrages and terrifies people as it does here in California.
A week of traveling between Los Angeles and San Francisco leaves the strong impression that out here, in the golden world which has always prided itself upon its youthfulness, zest and appetite for adventure, the young and the middle-aged are glaring at each other across barricades of hostility.
The provocation to the middle-aged, of course, has been the incessant and increasingly violent student demonstrations that have become a commonplace of California life since the 'free speech' movement began at Berkeley several years ago.
Now, in every congregation of the middle-aged, the visitor is almost immediately cross-examined to as certain which side he is on.
One is treated to earnest expositions on the dangers of long hair and advised confidentially that there would be no trouble with the children if it were not for 'outside agitators.'
A lot of the students in California are undoubtedly, as Eric Hoffer argued, just 'having a ball.' Even so, in a community accustomed to synthesizing opposed ideas, it should not be impossible to bring the aging and the young a little closer together.
Why shouldn't the young want to have a ball? It is only natural for the young. Those who are now middle-aged and scared of them had their great adventure with World War II and the survivors built a world where the be all and end all was security and settled into it and became old heroes.
No great wisdom about the young is required to see that to youth an old hero ends by being a bore, or that the security so valued by the tired middle-aged is a poor substitute for youth's need to challenge the world. The old heroes probably made a mistake in believing that their children would be different from them, in expecting them to settle for middle age before they had grown up. They were not and now here, and everywhere else, they are struggling to create artificially some challenges to free them from the boredom of middle-aged security.
It is not likely that this rationalization is going to persuade anyone in California right now. Right now, children and parents in the Golden State are as far apart as the sex goddess and the little old lady in tennis shoes.