241 CHRONICLESnof ritual and lore to their community’s younger members.nNow television imparts general values and—through itsncomedies, dramas, and advertisements—reveals which patternsnof behavior are socially acceptable, and which willnlead to failure or success. In the television age, the oldnfunction as just one more demographic block to be luredninto collecting an endless stream of “new” products thatnpromise slimness, energy, regularity—in a word, youth.nThere is, in fact, a tendency in recent American moviesnto depict most favorably those grown-up characters whoneither act like youths or who aggressively seek rejuvenation.nConsider Cocoon. Don Ameche and the other retirees whonare at the center of this film’s action are in relatively goodnmental and physical health, but they are shown to be quitenuseless until they begin taking laps in a swimming pool thatncontains water that has been rendered powerfully rejuvenescentnby a secretive but cordial group of spacemen. (Plausibilitynis now even less in fashion than old age.) Newlynfrisky, Ameche & Co. are shown at the end of the filmnabandoning earth—and with it their children andngrandchildren—in order to fly with the friendly aliens tonAntares, a planet where youthful vitality supposedly lasts fornhundreds of years.nConsider, too. Blame It on Rio, the slick Stanley Donennproduction that remains popular with renters and purchasersnof video cassettes. Here Michael Caine appears as an43-year-old businessman who—while on vacation in Rionde Janeiro—enters into a partly romantic, largely sexualnrelationship with his best friend’s 15-year-old daughternJennifer. Initially Caine is reluctant to begin the affair, fornJennifer still calls him “Uncle Matthew”; she wears annorthodontic retainer and sleeps with a teddy bear. And likenmost 15-year-olds, she’s as hollow as a jug. But she is alsoncurvy and pretty and persistent in her belief that a mannheading for 50 is not too old to “get crazy” with a girl toonyoung to drive. Indeed, Uncle Matthew—after goingncrazy—concedes to Jennifer: “I hope I’m as smart as younwhen I get to be your age.”nAs Neil Postman points out in The Disappearance ofnChildhood (1982), commercial television has been no betternat featuring adults who are both mature and comfortablenwith their maturity. Most game shows, for example, includencontestants who “are selected with great care tonensure that their tolerance for humiliation (by a simulatednadult, the ’emcee’) is inexhaustible, their emotions instantiynarousable, their interest in things a consuming passion.nIndeed, a game show is a parody of sorts of a classroom innwhich childlike contestants are duly rewarded for obediencenand precociousness but are otherwise subjected to all thenindignities that are traditionally the sehoolchild’s burden.”nNetwork TV’s comedies and melodramas, notes Postman,nare also full of characters like Archie Bunker, Lavernenand Shirley, the gang from The Love Boat, and then30-year-old “Fonz”: characters who, as Postman puts it,n”can hardly be said to be adult characters, even after onenhas made allowances for the traditions of the formats innwhich they appear.” “With few exceptions,” observes Postman,nadults in television “have no politics, practice nonreligion, represent no tradition, have no foresight in seriousnplans, have no extended conversations, and in no circumstancesnallude to anything that is not familiar to annnneight-year-old person.” In the early 80’s, Postman couldnpoint only to the prissy Felix Unger in reruns of The OddnCouple as a TV character “who is depicted as having annadult’s appetite for serious music and whose languagensuggests that he has, at one time in his life, actually read anbook.” As Postman accurately puts it, “the majority ofnadults on TV shows are depicted as functionally illiterate,nnot only in the sense that the content of book learning isnabsent from what they appear to know but also because ofnthe absence of even the faintest signs of contemplative habitnof mind.”nThis widespread extolment of juvenility and juveneseencenhas surely contributed to all sorts of anxieties andnneuroses. After all, in its crudest form, “youth-propaganda”nsays to the old: you are superfluous—dross. And it confusesnand deludes the young by telling them: you are for but anbrief time blessed. Pimply and clumsy adolescence is—nbelieve it or not—the high point of human existence.nIndulge, therefore: “party.” You will never know suchnpleasure; you will never be as wise. Or as John CougarnMellencamp succinctly put it in his hit single “Jack andnDiane”: “Hold on to 16 for as long as you can.” (An oldernand wiser Mellencamp now apologizes for the implications.)nIt would seem safe to contend that this continuingnpreoccupation with what Lewis called “Peter Panism” hasncontributed much to the further vulgarization of Americannculture. For culture—at least as Matthew Arnold understoodnit—requires a knowledge of the past and a respect forntradition. To thrive, it needs large numbers of citizens whonare not only literate, but also passionate about preserving—nand making widely available—the best that has beennthought and known in the world. In contrast, the Americannyouth cult generally celebrates schmaltz and schlock.nLargely because of it we have become what the biographernand music critic Albert Goldman has not inaccuratelyndescribed as a “civilization that survives through the incessantnrecycling of cultural waste products: cast-ofl^ clothes,nold comic strips, rerun (or remade) movies.”nUntil his death in 1957, Wyndham Lewis worried aboutnthe disastrous political consequences of rampant “youngergenerationism”nin the political democracies of the Westernnworld. In the 30’s—as order in Europe graduallyndisintegrated—Lewis observed that what demogogues andnwould-be tyrants most craved in a population was preciselynwhat “youth-propaganda” in the long run promotes.nDemogogues and autocrats, observed Lewis, craved then”mechanical Infant-Robot,” the “standardized Peter Pan”nwho “learns nothing and forgets everything.” Autocrats canndo much with “a mind without backgrounds, without anynspiritual depth, a flat mirror for propaganda, a parrot-soul tongive back the catchwords, an ego without reflection.”nOf course, Lewis was phlegmatic by nature; in his ownnyoung adulthood he spent a lot of time—perhaps too muchntime—brooding over Friedrich Nietzsche. Against him wencan place Professor Reich, who argued in The Greening ofnAmerica that a nation preoccupied with youth was a nationnthat was destined to remain vigorous, colorful, and constructivelyninnovative. Let’s hope old Charlie was right, ccn