Someone lied to us. I can’t remember who it was, but it was a long time ago, and the lie has been reinforced countless times over the course of the six-odd – and I do mean odd – decades I’ve prowled the planet. And that lie is, “The older you become, the more things make sense.”
Here’s an example. Some 20 years ago, a colleague and I were on a business trip to Chicago. We were venturing through a subway station when we heard the plaintive strains of an acoustic guitar accompanying a sweet tenor voice singing the Bread hit “Make It with You.” The music grew louder as we neared the platform. Rounding a corner, we saw the singer/guitarist, and he was … a black man.
Talk about irony! Here we were in Chicago, home of some of the nastiest blues ever written by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon – all of them black – and we encountered a black man singing a song by what may be arguably the whitest white group ever assembled. Mel Brooks couldn’t have scripted a better scene. Go figure.
I was similarly puzzled last week during a brief, four-block stroll through downtown Mt. Lebanon. There I encountered not one but three cars filled with white men and women who appeared to be in their late teens or early 20s, cruising down Washington Road while rap music blared from their cars’ stereo systems.
Lest anyone brand me racist, let me say that I know there are both black and white rappers. But I think I’m safe in saying that rap music is nearly always identified with black artists. I also understand that music, being “the universal language,” transcends racial and cultural stereotypes. However, I have never – never – seen a carful of black men or women cruising through town with a tune by the Beach Boys blasting from the car radio.
Likewise, I have seen plenty of young white men wearing baggy jeans pulled down below their buttocks, exposing their underpants, and completing this fashion statement with an overlarge hoodie and a baseball cap turned sideways. Yet I have never – never – seen a young black man wearing skinny jeans, high-top Converse All-Star tennis shoes and a long-sleeved flannel shirt. Maybe I just don’t hang in the right neighborhoods. Or maybe, over the course of the last 50 years, young black men and women have seen the folly of trying to be accepted by attempting to be something they aren’t.
If this be the case, I can only hope that young, white Miley Cyrus will acquire such wisdom.
Oh, I understand perfectly what the former squeaky-clean Hannah Montana thought she was saying on MTV’s Video Music Awards Sunday night. “I’m cool! I’m sexy! I’m iconoclastic! I’m your parents’ worst nightmare!” I get that. It’s called being young. It’s also called marketing.
But in the age of free Internet porn, a 20-year-old woman gyrating in a flesh-colored bikini and simulating sex while giant stuffed animals parade nearby isn’t shocking, much less provocative. In fact, to anyone older than 11, it should be just plain ridiculous.
Maybe that view will make sense to her generation when they’re 60. But probably not.