Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Sins Of The Father

SITE OWNER'S NOTE: This post was originally conceived as a peg to hang images of the 1970s comic book edition of Cross And The Switchblade and scans of pulp fiction covers for Nifty Knick Knacks. However the events of this week turned what was supposed to be a light piece into this piece on youth behaviour and crime.

News of teenage violence today is as shocking as it is common.

There is almost daily news of young gangs holding entire neighbourhoods to ransom, violently drunk party-goers bashing someone whose equally drunken remark offended them, psychopathicly murderous females or simply opportunistic criminal activity.

At the same time, the media shakes itself out of its summer silly season news torpor to create a celebrity out of a smart-arsed teenager whose drunken, orgiastic riot masquerading as a party.

As many commentators begin to question 'what the hell has gone wrong with our teenagers?', Nick and Nora invite you to step into their way-back machine to give you a little insight into what's wrong with today's youth.

We'll rapidly rewind the 'Trust No 1' of the 1990s, the post apocalyptic 1980s, the seriously bummed out 1970s, the anarchic 1960s to take a pause in the 1950s.

Not the nostalgic-soaked Happy Days but an era when the headlines screamed 'Seven Teen Agers Murder Polio Victim'.

The crime was a brutal one, members of a gang called the Egyptian Kings, having lost a pay-per-player stick ball game with rival gang Jesters, decided to compound their welshing with vengeance.

One night they lay in wait for their foes to appear, two teenage boys wandered through the park.

They were beaten and stabbed. One of the boys, a 15 year old who suffered a limp as a result of polio was killed.

So sensational did that crime and associated trial become, it finally awakened people to the reality of street violence. It also happened 50 years ago.

The crime and trial did two things. It resonated with Broadway audiences:

Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke,
You gotta understand,
It's just our bringin' up-ke
That gets us out of hand.
Our mothers all are junkies,
Our fathers all are drunks.
Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks!

Gee, Officer Krupke, we're very upset;
We never had the love that ev'ry child oughta get.
We ain't no delinquents,
We're misunderstood.
Deep down inside us there is good!
A powerful radio show about the Michael Farmer murder 50 years on is here. One of the commentators in the radio program is Nicky Cruz.

His story of transformation from criminal gang member to gospel preacher is told in part in The Cross And The Switchblade which became a best-selling book, a not-so-good movie and serialised here in comic book form.

The Cross And The Switchblade tells the story of a small town pastor, so shocked by the violence went to New York to share the gospel.

Admittedly naive, David Wilkinson's honest interest in the physical and spiritual welfare of gang members over five years of welfare and ministry won many of them over.

So was there anything particular about the 1950s that would cause a generation to run amok?

With the benefit of hindsight we can see some similarities - lack of spiritual direction, parents who are themselves dysfunctional to the point where the only familial connection their kids experience is in gangs.

But not all children involved in criminal activity or who find themselves victims of crime and violence are poor or ill-educated, indeed the Corey Worthingtons or the Matthew Stanleys of the world come from decidedly middle-class, relatively well off families.

So what went wrong?

For further insight, step back into the way-back machine for a trip past the 1940s when war ruled the world, the 1930s when the effects of the Great Depression bit hard to the Roaring 1920s, home to flappers, gangsters, wild parties and hedonistic wealth.

There is a scene the 1936 film My Man Godfrey in which the title character has it out with the brattish twentysomething daughter of his employer:

Cornelia Bullock: You can't go on like this forever. You really like me and you're afraid to admit it, aren't you?
Godfrey: You want me to tell you what I REALLY think of you?
Cornelia Bullock: Please do.
Godfrey: As Smith or as a butler?
Cornelia Bullock: Choose your own weapon.
Godfrey: You won't hold it against me?
Cornelia Bullock: It's your day off.
Godfrey: Very well. You belong to that unfortunate category that I would call the "Park Avenue brat". A spoiled child who's grown up in ease and luxury... who's always had her own way... and who's misdirected energies are so childish that they hardly deserve the comment, even of a butler on his off Thursday.
Cornelia Bullock: [hurt and angry] Thank you for a very lovely portrait.
Today there are a great deal of 'Park Avenue brats' who have grown up indulged with distractions and material possessions, wanting for nothing but consistent, effective discipline, the setting of boundaries and a realisation that the world doesn't revolve around them.

Gold Coast Bulletin columnist Robyn Wuth is on the right path when she wrote this week:

There you are, Australia. That's the youth of today -- aren't you proud?

Take a good look at the iGeneration and bear this frightening thought in mind -- this idiot and his stupid mates could be running the country in the next generation.

God help us all.

This is what the world is churning out these days and we have no one but ourselves to blame, us and the education system for turning out these ignorant little twits who are yet to have a thought, for teaching them more about their legal rights as horrid little brats instead of the three Rs.

Us, and the Government, and the legal system for making it harder and harder to discipline our children.

Us, and computer games, iPods and the internet for helping to turn out a generation of selfish little show-offs, publicity whores who want their 15 minutes of fame and then some.

Also, blame the parents of the 500 other kids who turned up and went wild. Where the hell were you? Did any one of them know where their kids were and what they were up to? I doubt it.

We can all feast on a sizeable portion of finger-pointing pie...
Long story, short: what's wrong with the kids of today? It's not just their parents, but also their grandparents, great grandparents and great, great grandparents.

The solution doesn't begin with government programs, police intervention or social workers. It begins with us.

What example do we set in our own behaviour and the standards we want to see in ourselves and others?

-- Nora

No comments: