We were sitting in a dive bar, watching the words on the screen scroll by, when we voiced almost the exact same thought: How was this ever controversial?
Douglas Adams summarized the passage of time thusly:
“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
It’s a thought that can be extended to cultural mores as well, that we’re all affected by the passage of time in different ways. To my parents’ generation, the car was an object of liberation, while to mine it’s a hassle at best, and imminent doom at worst. Likewise, a pop song about the joy of single-partner sex was scandalous and risqué three decades ago, but by today’s standards, it’s downright tame. And yet, as the song continued, I couldn’t help but think how much my mom hated it.
We were texting the other day, discussing our favorite shows from childhood, when I got to thinking about how little awareness I had at that age. Some shows were nothing but surface, but others, going back and rewatching, seem far more daring than they once did, the jokes that hit now something entirely different from the ones that did then. The Adventures of Pete and Pete is as it always was, The Simpsons has a whole additional layer, if not three, and Married… with Children, in hindsight, was so far above my head then that it may as well have been in orbit.
All three were favorites at times, despite the subtext or lack thereof. It’s funny to think how much my mom hated the latter two, as she likely feared they were exposing me to concepts I wouldn’t realize until years later.
A few years ago, at a friend’s daughter’s birthday party, I caught myself swearing, and apologized to my friend. He shrugged, and replied that I didn’t need to watch my mouth in front of his daughter. “She lives in the real world,” he explained, as good an explanation as any I’ve ever heard.
I’ve come to realize that we all wind up in the same places eventually, regardless of where we started, or where our parents tried to guide us. Everyone knows the same foul words, everyone knows the same concepts, it just takes some of us longer than others to get there. But I’ve started to wonder what the benefit is supposed to be.
Sheltering someone from something only works until someone else exposes them instead, and often, in a way that assumes they knew it all along. My middle and high school years were full of these moments of embarrassment, of having to pretend I knew what everyone else clearly did, and if anything, those dreadful moments set me back even further.
But still, I wound up in the same place, in the same bar, as a friend who’d taken a different path, thinking the same thought about the same song. And I wonder, what was the point of protection?