Monday, August 08, 2005

"The Look"

I got the look the other night from my son. This is all very new to me. I may have gotten the look over an infraction a few weeks earlier but I wasn’t paying attention. I was completely unprepared for this. My son is 13, at which age the glands begin to produce the hormones that produce the look in a spontaneous and natural way, like facial hair. What I am trying to say is that the look is nothing personal and nothing new and is no reflection on me personally, other than a reflection on my questionable judgment 13-plus years ago.

My son loves me and respects me every other half-hour, it’s only when I open my mouth in public that he experiences the momentary panic of all teenagers, which produces the hormone, which produces the look. The sequence occurs with breathtaking speed. It is a latent reflex. Doctors have a device for measuring it now, sort of like the rubber hammer they use on your knee, only much more expensive, so it is usually only used in the cases of very rich teenagers and latent adolescents like our president, who gave the look to his father in 2003 after family friend Brent Scowcroft criticized his (Bush Jr.s) judgment in taking the nation to war. Impulsiveness is part of being an adolescent and if you are man enough to question that impulsiveness you should be prepared to get the look big time. The former president (Bush Sr.) has gone back to piloting large fun-boats off the Maine coast and keeping his and his friends’ mouths shut. Nobody cares what Brent Scowcroft thinks anyway. I am learning to be more self-aware too.

What we all need to realize, as adults, is that this new horrified reaction to our old familiar parental selves isn’t about us, it is about them; it is about the anxiety of youth. Our offspring are growing up, and growing up means finding a sudden increase in powers beyond their comprehension. It’s a frightening thing to wake up one morning and find that you can suddenly affect the world around you in profound ways. To find that your senses are inexplicably tuned to a much higher level, and all for the purposes of perceiving how stupid your parents are, and how your parents’ behavior, especially the tiniest criticism, might reflect on you. I remember when I was a teenager and realized that my parents were stupider than I had thought previously.

And it wasn’t only them, it was their whole generation, the entire power structure. A power structure devoted full-time to suppressing my newly discovered requirements to drive expertly at high speeds with as many friends in the car as possible. Today’s youth must also add the necessity of staying in touch via cell-phone with the friends that couldn’t fit into the car. Our president is keenly aware of enormous new responsibilities undreamed of as recently as a few years ago when he was still driving into neighbors’ garbage cans. Does he need everybody else telling him how to do his important job? No. He has it all under control. Did you think he didn’t have 9/11 totally covered before it happened? As if. So if he gives you that look, Mr. Reporter, it is because he’s trying really hard to do his very best and he doesn’t need the rest of us bugging him. I understand from a quick read through the medical literature that the hormones that produce the look never really turn off in some people. They remain, for all practical purposes, teenagers all their lives. Have you ever noticed how youthful the president appears?

When I was a teenager some of my peers were less focused on the important job of resenting our parents’ warnings to drive carefully and screw around responsibly, and way too focused on other things that were none of their business, like a war that was going on in Vietnam, and whether negroes ought to be allowed to vote, or women to hold jobs instead of bearing children one after another. There were lots of arguments over these things during the 1960s, which produced anxiety in young people, which produced even more hormones. Our president was right there, branding fraternity emblems into the backsides of freshmen. He was giving the look to protesters and other killjoys big time then.

What we were too callow and self-centered to realize was that wars like Vietnam and Iraq are a perfectly natural outlet for young people whose bodies are producing the hormones that produce the extreme self-consciousness that produces the look. When the look leads to confrontation and to acts of violent impulsiveness it’s good to have somewhere for that impulsiveness to go. Our men and women in uniform are giving people the look 24/7 in Baghdad today, and the young people of Baghdad are giving it right back again. Self-doubt is natural among adolescents. Self-doubt–anxiety–perceived threat–anger–the look–impulsive violence. This is a natural cycle, which is exactly why there are wars. Luckily our president has surrounded himself with grown-ups (most of them hand-picked by his dad) who are not latent adolescents, who understand that foreign countries are a better place for that impulsive violence to take place, and if, in the process, we can get more gas to drive efficiently at high speeds in our cars with all our friends while talking on our cell-phones, all the better. National policy isn’t that complicated when you begin to understand adolescent hormones.

So when you get the look from your teen, just smile the same smile you got from your parents in the late 1960s. Smile in the secure knowledge that our president has found the perfect outlet for their adolescent rage. (And his own.) Hopefully our kids will be able to prove how much smarter they are by taking the mess we’ve stuck them with and making something out of it. Something that looks less like a colossal failure. The best of them will probably die trying to fix that failure, leaving the ones who opted out, the obedient cowardly ones, the ones who waved flags and cheered, young people like our president, to pick up the process and repeat it in another thirty years.

There is a cruel beauty to all of this, isn’t there?

2 Comments:

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