Curmudgeon’s Corner: Stick-in-the-Mud

written by Sanford Begley

I’m a Stick-in-the-mud. I have to admit it, because it is true. I don’t usually think of myself as one. Not that I think I’m with it or anything, just that none of us like to think we can’t keep up with the times. Some days you get it rubbed in your face. Today was one of those for me. Oddly enough it was other old fogeys that did the rubbing. Not that they called me on it, far from it. It was simply in realizing that I’m not quite as far into prehistory as some.

Things that I’m a throwback about are many. I find that women’s undergarments showing in their chosen street clothes bother me. When I was a lad a girl who’s bra strap showed was censured by society and very embarrassed. Now that girls daughter or granddaughter is likely to wear the bra as an outer garment. Certainly letting a strap or the entire bra show through gaps in her clothing are unimportant. For that matter I’ve seen more than one lass with the seat of her pants out to show off her lacy boyshorts.

Not that I am any less unhappy with the idiot boys who think it is cool to let their butts hang in the breeze while their belts serve as decoration. Thing is, the only people that don’t consider that “fashion statement” idiotic are the boys doing it. No one notices the girls dressing that way.

I’m not real thrilled with foul language coming out of a woman’s mouth either. OK. I was in the army and donning the pickle suit meant donning a foul mouth, they seemed to be issued together. When I got out it took me years to clean my language up. I should mention that I don’t much care for excessive profanity coming from males either. And yes I let loose with some language myself on occasion. There are still limits, especially in mixed company. A little from either sex is one thing, a young lady that can’t open her mouth without a torrent of profanity is another. Yes I am wrong and hold to a double standard. When I was young it was THE standard.

I also believe in manners, something the baby boomers have done their level best to destroy. Succeeding generations have followed their leads. Manners are there for a reason, they are part of the social contract. What social contract you say? You never signed any contract and won’t be held to one? Just by being part of a society you are part of that contract. It is the way people interact in order not to knife each other in their sleep. Our contract is getting tattered these days because idiots who don’t know what they are really doing are constantly violating it to “change society” Then again that is an entire separate post in and of itself. I don’t have room here for that idiocy, even though it drives many of the things I am such a fuddy-duddy about.

One thing I am not a stick-in-the-mud about is realizing that times have changed. Times. Tastes, and expressions of that. I have some beloved stories that I read as a youth. Tales by Heinlein, Asimov, “Doc” Smith, and a host of others thrilled me back in the day. I love all those stories still. So do most of my friends online. What made me so aware of being stuck in the past is that they are so much more so on this particular subject. They all think that their favorite authors were so wonderful that today’s kids will love them too.

What none of these friends can understand is that the use of language has changed, society has changed, and today’s kids will never understand the masters of yesterday without preparation. Even with preparation much of the work of the masters has been superseded by technological change.  The old masters would have understood it though. Asimov once did forewords to a collection of his shorts. OK he did that a lot, I’m referring to one particularly memorable foreword. In the story he had a massive computer taking up the entire hull of a space dreadnaught. In the forward he mentioned that the IBM 286 he was writing it on was more powerful than the computer in the story.

Kids get that. If you have a story in which smartphones and instant planet bound communications don’t exist you have lost them. If the Boy Scouts are a major force in your story it won’t ring true to them, Boy Scouts, as a major force in their world, have almost disappeared. And having a teen that is so backward that he thinks girls are “Gee, Swell” makes them scratch their heads.

Social references have changed as well. The State Department is still doing things they always did. Something that has changed is the media attention paid to diplomacy. In the 70’s the Secretary of State could be a rock star, now he is just another DC Doofus. So a story revolving around the workings of diplomats isn’t truly comprehensible.

Yes, some people will point to their child who was reading Kafka at 4 and say that it can be done. That child is not the average child. At 4 the average child wants to read Peter Rabbit if he wants to read at all. Just because outliers will do anything does not mean that a lot of children will do so. In fact, the presence of outliers illustrates the reality that most people aren’t.

I know my friends love their classic fiction. What they don’t get is that times have changed. We don’t have party lines or dial telephones or 8-track players today. And to the average 10 year old a world without smartphones and computers is incomprehensible. A world where a high school senior is thrilled by hand holding is confusing. And a world where all children are polite and obedient towards all adults is a fantasy of adults.

So if someone asks you to recommend books to introduce children to reading, remember that their world is not the world you grew up in. And if someone reminds you of that, take it as good advice. Today’s boy is no more likely to enjoy 50 year old SF to start with than you were to seek out Horatio Alger.