Friday, 11 July 2014
Degrading a Generation
This essay was mentioned in another blog and was easily located. Though it was published nearly a hundred years ago, it seems quite applicable today. It is an interesting departure for the author of the 'Blue Pete' western series, aka Luke Allan.
Degrading a Generation
By W. Lacey Amy
Author of "The Blue Wolf"
From The Canadian Magazine, April 1917. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, July 2014.
IRREVERENCE as an accomplishment is a distinct development of this generation. It has become the standard of modernism, the badge of the automobile age. We call it freedom, rationality, progressiveness, and even genius—anything to blind us to its real essence: repudiation of the tenets of our fathers. New gods interfere with our religion, divorce courts laugh at marriage, festivity disturbs our homes, slit skirts and transparent waists violate the sanctity of the body, the tango shocks Terpsichore, cubism shatters art, sex stories distort literature, problem plays defile the stage. Our music has become mechanical, our charity an advertisement, our worship a form.
Summed up in a paragraph like that it is a disturbing picture—an unpopular one and inviting contradiction. We do not see it because the drug of our dissipations continues to control our senses. The picture is not yet completed; we are still painting it, most of us adding our daub of red and blue, and working up unconsciously a part of the consistent whole.
Perhaps, were the adult in control, common sense would right things before a cataclysm. That superficial intelligence which enables us to see wrong right, to urge a sophism in justification of every step, might strike deeper and become a sense of proportion, saving us, perhaps, from the full penalties of our foolishness.
But the young man and woman are growing up in the new life; and there's the rub.
Contumely has become, in the youth, a fine art. The disrespect of the father for the religion of his ancestors has extended in the son—and quite naturally—to include age, experience and control in his list of sneers. Eighteen years, or thereabouts, is the age of proficiency, of omniscience. An egg is not the only thing spoiled by time.
Religion? A nuisance, an interference with personal rights and reflection, a repudiation of individual acumen, a fossilized, unfounded fable fit only for the mentally unequipped. Age? A misfortune, a condition surrounded by hoary misconceptions that must now give way to more throbbing sapience. Experience? A handicap of the years that blinds the eye of reason, deafens the ear of wisdom, muddles the tongue of talent; a word to which time has attached an erroneous value. Control? If physical, vulgar and contemptible; if moral, a curb on individualism. The learning of years is but a drag on genius; and genius becomes senile after the twenties.
The youth of to-day acknowledges no value in the gift of the ages, denies the disadvantage of juvenility, permits no preference to the teachings of time, yields nothing to years. He sees in himself the embodiment of the progress of the world, the proof of it, the result of it; and he demands that the facts be recognized in the determination of future schemes for advancement or entertainment.
About the only thing reserved to the advantage of age is the vote, and that because any alteration rests in the hands of those who are beginning to realize their responsibility for the ravages of domineering buds. The ballot box is the sole fortification of years; and even it will yield to the licensed demands of youth unless adult responsibility is more than recognized. "You can't hold down a good thing," says the boy; and he's a mighty brave man who points out that a really bad one is quite as difficult to control.
The boy is not to blame. The father has shaped the son; the image is his carving.
Modern entertainment is bent to the whim of the young. The "Not-outs" rage in a whirl of gaiety which would unsettle their seniors. A young girl of seventeen of my acquaintance yawns dolefully on her infrequent evenings at home, and bemoans her inability to accept all three invitations for to-morrow. A girl's health suffers, her intellect is untrained owing to early renunciation of studies, her moral fibre is warped by indulgence and independence, her sense of proportion is left unguided. For she has long since overcome the interference of her parents by a persistent fight, and by holding up her young friends as examples of liberty and license.
She dresses as she pleases, regardless of cost, age, and even decency. The nell-rose hat she induced her mother to purchase for her, demands a nell-rose parasol; a purple hat requires a purple petticoat and veil. When she selects the youth who is to be favoured for a while with her company, he needs must recognize his good fortune by taxis, roses, and a gift for every anniversary. A girl nowadays is apt to size a young man by the quality of his flowers, the name on the chocolate box, the location of the theatre seats. She has made vases a standard decoration, bon-bon dishes a fad, opera cloaks a necessity for every wardrobe.
She rises at nine, after the frivolities of the previous night, and fills her morning with fittings and the shops. Her afternoons are topped off with teas at a down-town hotel. Her evenings are a round of turkey-trots, tangos and theatres. No dance is long taboo, no play too risque, no hour too late, few dissipations too abandoned.
Perhaps the secret of the license accorded to youth—especially to girls—is our frenzy for publicity, our determination to "keep in the swim". In the desire to prevent eclipse of our daughters we consent to conduct we find it difficult to defend. "Dorothy does it" is sufficient reason why our Gladys should go a shade better. It was Mrs. Jones's tea determined our dinner-dance. It is anything rather than be old-fashioned or "behind". We deliberately turn our backs on the evening's entertainment of our children to prevent a tussle with our consciences—or our daughters.
It may shock us to hear of an evening spent by our young girls wholly in turkey-trots and bunny-hugs, interspersed with cooling-off joy-rides; but that is not unusual even in Toronto, the Good.
The father in a prominent house sought to protect the entertainment given by his "not-out" children, by locking his stock of cigars in his billiard-room. The youths present—sons of social leaders—promptly broke through the locked door, forced open the cabinet, and calmly helped themselves, while below stairs the girls waited in vain for partners for the censored dance list. It mattered not that these young men came from families accustomed to guard their reputations as their most valuable asset. It was not that they condoned house-breaking and theft, but that their resentment at restraint was keener than their appreciation of the crime they had committed. It was merely the result of the license to which they were accustomed.
Our thirst for the evidences of wealth is turning the world upside down. Self-amusement blinds us to results; the fever of the excitement beclouds our common sense; the spectacle of our neighbours urges only to emulation. And into the vortex we have drawn our children whose ballast is not yet adjusted, whose balance does not keep their heads above the whirl. It may be hard to believe that the adult of to-day, deliberately selecting the life he lives, is able to withstand the stronger currents of that whirlpool; but it is certain as the sun that adolesence cannot hold its own. We exchange our cars every year, join golf clubs too numerous to be patronized, travel to surfeit—thereby living up to and beyond our incomes. And we saturate our children with the virus of extravagance.
A mother with some foreboding still, urged on her daughter more carefully considered expenditure. "You can't expect that any young man you marry will be able to keep you as you are living now."
The girl laughed carelessly. "I won't marry him if he can't," she replied. "Or else father'll make me an allowance."
And all the time the young man contemplating marriage shudders at the troubles that face him—even while he maintains the standard of extravagance of his set. He balks at the cost of marriage; she balks at everything else.
A foolish—I should say, criminal—mother brushed aside the warnings of friends concerning her daughter's conduct by openly accusing them of jealousy. In the meantime the uncontrolled girl was rapidly passing through the stage of popularity that greets a vivacious, pretty youngster, and had already closed against herself the respectable homes of her set. Finally the mother awoke to a secret marriage with a young scapegrace—and then looked to the courts to undo what her criminal foolishness had done.
Engagement has become to the debutante merely a proof of popularity. The eagerness with which she looks forward to that condition is seldom realized by her parents. With her young friends she discusses it and the man as one might the new maid. In cold blood they compare chances, delve into "thrills" and psychology, and arrive at conclusions which would stagger their parents. At twenty the unengaged girl frets circles around her eyes. At twenty-one a joke about her condition rends her. And at twenty-three she begins to retire in abashment.
"Musn't it be awful," said a debutante, apropos of an elderly spinster, "to have to go through life without a chance to marry." She could not imagine spinsterhood with any opportunity of altering it. It is the result of the attitude of the mother who longs for nothing but the "success" of her daughter; for that "success" is measured by the train of pseudo-lovesick youths in her wake. Girls are thrown into society with a reckless disregard of health, innocence, mental equipment and real happiness—in order that Mrs. Jones 's daughter may not be the "belle".
Take a census of the homes any night between September and May, and the few girls there will be yawning their heads off. And there lies the cause of blase maidens in their twenties, of cigarette-loving boys who prefer loafing and untimely gossip and pleasures to anything else on earth. Reading is confined to the "popular" book—whose popularity depends upon its trifling with the sentiments of this new life of ours. Sewing is left to the bazaars—an accepted revelry of to-day. Music is a charm cultivated for further conquest. And with it all, life is a continuous Coney Island, a parent is but a bank, home a sleeping-place.
Some of us look on and manage to feel it at times to the wringing of hands—and the next minute work the hypodermic. We have spasms of conscience. the inconsistency of which is justly ridiculed by our children. We exercise a momentary control—and to-morrow exceed even our former license. We stand aghast at the month's bills—and go shopping the same morning with our insatiable daughters.
But within our grasp is the remedy. The restraint of the parent can revive in a decade the simplicity of youth, the glow of innocence, the respect owing age and experience, the unadulterated merriment that goes only with purity. To-day a mother may lay her hand on the throbbing head of her daughter and impel that peace which alone makes for real happiness and virtue. The father holds the rein that can keep his son from destruction.
If mother and father withhold the hand of peace what shoals will threaten ten years ahead?
If at that time our children retain a conscience, a sense of right and wrong, a tinge of reverence, there will be marked up to the discredit of weak, foolish parents the lassitude and weariness and worse that follow hard on the heels of a life of revelry. Our license will not be remembered as love, as desire to gratify a son's wish, a daughter's whim. For always, while the world lasts, there will remain the conviction that the parent is responsible for the child.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.