She bought a $400 dress, or more accurately, her mom and I bought her a $400 dress, and before she even had a date. But there was never really any doubt she’d get a date. In her clique of friends, everyone always gets a date, whether it’s to the prom or to the homecoming dance or to the Sadie Hawkins dance or to any other big and official event comprising their social calendar. The identity of the date means little. They are arranged through friends and are between casual friends or acquaintances. Romance hardly matters. It is the rarest of things when a couple attends an event on the social calendar because they actually feel some romantic attraction for each other. So not only was there little danger she wouldn’t get a date, there was practically no chance the $400 dress would end up washed away in a tidal wave of teenage hormones. So at least she might be able to wear it again, even if I know that’s not likely to ever happen. What else are social calendar events for except buying new dresses?
The dress was poppy-colored, like her Mom’s. She’d seen the old pictures. Maybe she was trying to emulate, and one-up, her Mom. But she doesn’t know anything of her Mom’s experiences at the prom except what the official prom photos tell, and they tell nothing. I know something of her experiences (I was her date), but I’m not telling. But I don’t know my daughter’s motivations. I don’t, or didn’t, even know that “poppy” is another way to say bright pink. Or, why my daughter knows the color of a poppy bloom. Isn’t that the bloom that provides the world with heroin? The drug Keith Richards called the most aptly named in the world, because she is a real bitch? Does my daughter have a fucking poppy garden tucked away somewhere?
The kids at my daughter’s high school generally pair off in their prom dates with people who are their opposite-sex friends, people for whom they think they feel some emotional, rather than sexual attraction, a category of friendship which, as Tom Hank’s character explained in Sleepless in Seattle, does not actually exist. The kids’ confusion is a function of them not knowing their own minds, which is understandable, after all they are just baby adults, the enfants terribles of the reproducing caste. It’s not that two people can’t be emotionally attracted to each other, but that they can’t be of the opposite sex and be solely attracted emotionally as friends—opposite sex relationships of any significance always have a sexual component. Or, perhaps I should say, opposite gender relationships with two heterosexual people, one of whom identifies as a male and the other as a female, cannot be purely platonic. The attraction always resolves to something sexual. From where would the emotional attraction otherwise arise? Out of the platonic blue? When it comes to (heterosexual) men and women, there is no such place. Most (heterosexual) men think (heterosexual) women are batshit crazy and only begrudgingly ever engage them in conversation. Most women think men are assholes, perhaps because of what they correctly believe about what men think of them. Being from what almost seems two different species, neither trusts the other. All that can ever be hoped when the two nonetheless come together because of the desire for sex–the most powerful of attractants for H. sapiens because it must be else the species would surely and quickly die out–is that some sort of uneasy truce arises, with skirmishes relegated to only the periphery—the periphery of the sex, not the friendship. The friendship really doesn’t matter, and never did. It was always about the sex.
The kids my daughter hangs with save their rendezvous with those they find sexually attractive for casual hookups, not events on the official social calendar. These casual affairs usually involve alcohol, or some other drug (perhaps a poppy derivative?) because shortly after kids become self-conscious about their bodies with arrival of puberty and the development of mature sexual organs (after the fall, if you will, when they begin wearing fig leaves to cover their nakedness), they figure out that drugs like booze, weed, coke, meth, dope, etc., have the marvelous capacity to impair their inhibitions. Tequila, as the song goes, makes her clothes fall off. Events on the official social calendar are all about inhibitions remaining firmly stuck in place (or so it goes for these children of affluence who are ever mindful of status—the official social calendar wasn’t so stuffy for me back in the day). So the only way they can scratch the itch is in clandestine meetings in illicit places while under the influence. One of the favorite hangouts of my daughter’s group is an old landfill where they build a bonfire and pass the bottle around like a bunch of hobos to screw up their courage, and then wander off to the cars two-by-two.
I know all this because my daughter isn’t afraid of telling me most anything. I won’t say she tells me everything, but she tells me a lot—more than I really want to know. I think she feels safe doing so because I’ve never tried to pretend I was an angel at her age. I’ve told her that I drank, smoked weed occasionally, and got as much sex as a seventeen/eighteen year old boy could rustle up. I had as good a time as I could get away with. And isn’t that the whole point of life, after all?
The prom festivities began on a Saturday afternoon at 4:30 pm, when the daughter’s prom group was to meet at the idyllic campus (ivy covered walls and all) of a local university where they would present themselves to their parents for pictures, because what’s the point of having kids if you can’t photograph their every breath? (The prom goers had split themselves into groups of ten or fifteen couples whose membership was usually established along female clique lines, and not male pack lines, presumably because females are more catty and bigoted towards non-clique members, particularly if the woman not belonging to the clique is a stranger and is pretty. Males are more readily accepting of other males, at least when they aren’t seen as rivals for females, and since the males would only belong to the group if they were going with a female of the clique, there would be less tension among them. Besides, if there were ever a day when male packs got to overtly decide much of anything in H. sapiens society, that day is long past.) It turns out that all the prom groups in the high school were doing the same thing. So by the time they all arrived by around 5:00 pm, there were about 250 kids dressed to the nines in formal evening wear, milling around the campus of a local university (which had not given permission for being invaded in such a manner, but apparently had no objections, probably considering it good public relations with potential future customers), with their parents following them around with cell phone cameras, and even a few camera-only devices (the mono-function things that are just called cameras, if I correctly recall), having them pose so they could take pictures. Thus was the whole reason for the prom fulfilled.
Or, at least that’s what the mother of one of the girls in my daughter’s clique said. While her husband followed (or stalked, your preference) the kids around, clicking photos with his real camera that had a big, zoomy lens and a strap from where it might occasionally just dangle from his neck instead of being grasped and at the ready as it was the whole time I was there, she confided in me that she hated all these picture-taking ceremonies—that she thought it ridiculous that nothing ever happens and someone doesn’t take a picture of it and post it to the internet. She said that the picture taking had become the event; that no one actually ever did anything. Nobody had the time to actually live life; they were too busy photographing it. All people did anymore was pose at doing things so they could record it on digital film, the ultimate end of which is as yet to be ascertained. Basically she said the world was full of phonies and posers. Holden Caulfield couldn’t have said it better.
And I agreed. From the fake motorcycle gangsters hilariously parodied in the movie Wild Hogs starring Tim Allen, et al; to the guys riding bicycles in a contrived peloton on a busy thoroughfare through my neighborhood, each pretending to be Lance Armstrong, who was himself a fraud; to the very existence of a thing called a selfie stick; to the whole life and times of the Kardashians, and especially the Bruce Jenner subplot of the pointless tale; to every other faux reality show out there, each proving in its own way, like an unhappy family, that people are like electrons— the act of observing them changes their behavior; to the faux outrage generated by racialist hustlers over black men being gunned down in the streets when cops are doing the killing while ignoring the multitudes more who are killed by their own; to the petite bourgeoisie bureaucrat and technocrat parents of these prom children who thought that a picture imbues an event with meaning, getting things exactly bass ackward for the umpteenth time in their lives, and etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam: She was right. It is a nation of posers and phonies. There aren’t any real events or real people anymore; there are only events contrived to make good pictures, “good” meaning anything that casts the subject in a favorable light. Authenticity died with Facebook and iPhones and Instagram. Lives are contrived to fit this or that perceptual slot in the public psyche, meaning reality distorting media like Facebook and iPhones and Instagram deform lives to the shapes that will fit them. Social media taught people to lie, and continuously, and hammered home its necessity. So yes, I agreed, the whole thing was a vapid, vacuous fraud. But while doing so, I sort of wondered how well she got along with her husband, as he strode around the premises, clicking that camera’s shutter at everything he could coax to stillness for a moment or two. He was all in. But neither she nor me were in at all. We were revolutionaries, kindred spirits. I maybe woulda found a friend, had she not been of the opposite sex. And married. Even if her reproductive years were well behind her. That’s the irony of the Sleepless in Seattle rule. It has everything to do with sex but almost nothing to do with reproduction, so it doesn’t matter whether a couple would be reproductively viable. They’re still can’t be any deep emotional attachment between heterosexual men and women that doesn’t turn sexual, at least in the imaginations of one of them.
Actually, the festivities didn’t really start with the picture taking. They were officially kicked off the prior Friday afternoon, when all the girls in my daughter’s clique checked out of school early to get their nails done. Yes, you read that right. They checked out of school to get their nails done. There is a place in my brain that makes it somehow hard for me to imagine, even though I know it happened and have now written about it, that I let my daughter check out of school so she could get her nails done for a prom that wasn’t even until the next evening of a day in which she had nothing better to do than her nails. What will be left for her to look forward to if she ever gets married? How much more pampered could an entitled American daughter possibly be? Extravagances like these make me long for hard times, for something more severe even than the Great Depression. I want these pampered little princesses my daughter runs with, and her included, to experience times so hard that maybe they have to one day choose, like women in Greece during the Nazi occupation did, which child to feed and which to let die. When I see the contented confidence with which these American brats regard the future, I want times so bad that anarchy reigns, that there is rape, pillage and plunder on a scale to exceed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire fifteen hundred years ago, when Roman women didn’t contemplate whether their being drunk prevented their ability to consent to sex, but instead contemplated whether having been gang-raped while they were stone-cold sober by bands of roving barbarians meant they should commit suicide. In short, I want these narcissistic, selfish, entitled little bitches to learn that though theirs might be a rarified and exalted existence today, everything can change on a dime, so they ought appreciate it.
But I know it’s terribly gauche to think such thoughts. And probably pointless, too. It’s highly doubtful they’ll get their comeuppance in my lifetime. As outrageously easy as they have things now, I doubt they have quite reached the pinnacle of pamperedness. But their rarified status is not a birthright except in the imagination of the majority culture in which they were born. Other cultures beg to differ, sometimes violently. And the universe doesn’t care.
Yet, hope is the antidote for my despair. I hope for my daughter and her friends that one day American women won’t be so unfortunate to as live such banal and purposeless existences as to think that checking out of school to get someone else to paint their fingernails is something that is their birthright and obligation.
I must admit, my apocalyptic vision of what would benefit these women didn’t arise fully-formed on the day I let my daughter check out of school to get her nails done. It has been simmering in the kettle of my subconscious for some time. Nor for the first time did it gurgle into consciousness a couple of weeks before the prom, when my daughter came home with the news that we owed her a new car and a dog to compensate her for us having so audaciously sold the house where she grew up. Really, who does she think she is? That’s silly. She knows who she is. She’s an American Woman. I never had any doubt that the song of the same name by the Guess Who, a band from Canada who presumably could see things a bit more objectively than others from the States, had things about right. “American Woman…stay away from me”. Indeed. Thankfully, the daughter’s going off to college later this year. Now I know why college is so expensive. The college administrators have come to the realization that people will pay almost anything for someone to take their teenaged kids, especially their teenaged daughters, off their hands.
And no, I don’t feel even a twinge of guilt for feeling this way. For one, it’s perfectly natural to develop a healthy loathing for kids as they approach some semblance of adulthood. Parental/offspring violence at the time when the offspring are ready for independence is one of the most common sorts of violence among mammals (if generally not the most deadly). Besides, I learned a long time ago what neuroscientists and philosophers and theologians are only coming around to now—the mind can’t control what the heart feels. It can only, at best, explain why the heart is feeling as it is. The mind need not be controlled by the feelings—the ability to have an impulse and not act upon it is a uniquely human attribute. I figure pretty much everyone feels this way to some extent or another, but that only the rare few are brave enough to admit or act upon it. Perhaps some don’t mention them because they want to make them go away by ignoring them. It never works. The way to make a feeling go away is to accept it into the heart and mind and experience it. The requisite understanding when doing so is that it is perfectly natural for parents to feel this way about their young adult children when it’s time for them to leave. There’s a reason God makes teenagers generally so unlovable to parents. And for me personally, at the conflux of where my feelings lie for my daughter about now is how utterly loathsome I find the American culture she is somewhat being forced to embrace as she prepares to leave.
My new kindred spirit and me (the woman who can’t be a friend because of the Sleepless in Seattle rule) also discussed how the logic of every event on a child’s social calendar must now be followed to its illogical, extravagant end. If a night at a sit-down restaurant would be something nice for kids to have done at prom fifty years ago, why not a night at a dining club sitting atop the highest building in town at well over $200 a head for dinner? If a limo to drive the kids to the prom and afterwards was nice twenty-five years ago, why not a bus to ferry whole groups of them so that the journey becomes a part of the party? And if we get them a bus, then why not rent them a lake house where they can continue with an all-night after party that lasts well into the next day (duly chaperoned, of course)? The prom is no longer just a night on the official social calendar. It is a weekend gala celebration.
The absurdity of showering all these resources upon a bunch of dumbass teenage girls would not have been complete without some drama, which was supplied by the refusal of the boy’s parents’ who paid for the bus and the lake house to allow any of the parents of the females to come along as chaperones to the after-party. A tizzy developed, oddly enough led by one the parents of the boys, the one who happened to be my daughter’s date (probably some sort of behind the scenes power struggle to which I was not privy), over whether thirteen virginal (maybe) young women should be sent to a party solely hosted by a group of young men and their dads (the moms were to be at a separate lake house). It did seem kind of creepy. And I did experience pangs of what it meant to have the responsibility, as dad’s once did, of controlling sexual access to their daughters.
It is said that with great power comes great responsibility. I say that the cliché has causation backward—great responsibility requires great power. If I had lived in a time when I was responsible for delimiting sexual access to my daughter (which was more or less the case in most cultures until the modern era), it would have been necessary for me to have had great power of control over her because without it, I could not have met my responsibilities as a dad. No dad so burdened would have allowed their daughter to go to spend the night at a lake house with a bunch of boys and their dads, not even if their daughter was in the company of twelve other girls. I saw in the brief kerfuffle why in cultures where dads still suffer the burden of controlling access to their daughter’s sexuality, the daughters are kept covered up and away from boys and men as much as possible. It’s just easier to control things that way. The penalty for a dad failing in his responsibilities is family shame and the likely obligation of having another mouth to permanently feed because the daughter can’t be married off. I can also see where dads would want to blame it on the daughter if she has illicit sex, whether forcibly or not (yielding the honor killings that Western sensibilities so abhor). The daughter’s sexuality is not nearly as valuable as a marriage commodity when it is known she has had sex, and the dad is the one who has to deal with the consequences of her besmirched reputation, whatever its source.
I am a laisse faire, and fairly lazy, sort of guy, so I’m glad that I don’t suffer the responsibility of controlling access to my daughter’s vagina. Besides in the American culture, it would be a responsibility impossible to fulfill. It would just make me a blame sink more than I already am. The same cultural forces in the West that effectively relegated the family to irrelevancy over the last hundred years would make controlling sexual access to a daughter nigh well impossible for a dad. Even as the imagery of a father with a shotgun sitting on a porch waiting on his daughter’s suitor still resonates, especially among country music fans (if the lyrics of the songs are any indication), that world, like most of the world that country music sings about, is long past. Now the responsibility for a young woman’s sexuality is delegated to the young woman herself. With the responsibility comes the power. And there is no power and responsibility greater than that of the womb. So the world is basically now the charge of teenaged women, which probably goes a long way to explaining why young American women are so contumaciously impossible to live with. It’s not clear that any of these developments should be construed as progress, except perhaps in a selfish way, for me. Since my daughter has initial and final say on her sexual life, I don’t have the burden of culling suitors for suitability, or really even offering an opinion on the matter. Society goes to hell, but I get off scot free.
I observed to my platonic new kindred spirit (though I must admit that she started looking prettier and prettier somehow while we talked—unintentional proof that the Sleepless in Seattle rule is robust) that the utter banality of American society, along with the emasculation of its men, particularly in their roles as husband and father, might explain why young men and women in this country and other similarly benighted countries are romanticizing and even volunteering for ISIS and other fundamentalist sects that are fighting against what they see as a morally bankrupt West. She disagreed. Or, perhaps, she had never considered it. It is perhaps something of a radical thought to imagine that a bit of moral bankruptcy in mainstream society might yield a romantic fervor in youth to fight to against it, the costs be damned.
But I think it perfectly plausible. From where might a life of meaning be derived when the sum total of social developments over the last ten years can be summarized in three proper names: Apple, Facebook and Google? Especially since all that the three (and, of course, there are others) have done is make the culture phonier and more banal, magnifying the very existential angst they are in some measure in the market to relieve?
Hell, if I weren’t fifty-two years old, I might volunteer to fight myself (in fact, maybe because I’m fifty-two I ought to volunteer to fight for one side or the other—I’ve never understood why we waste our youth on the battlefields while old men sit idly by, directing the effort and waving the flag. Ants are smarter. The oldest members of the ant colony end their days defending it). Even if I wouldn’t go so far as to enlist in ISIS, I certainly would never have agreed in the Cold War era to serve in the US Army protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States had I known that the next thing we’d do after we ripped down the Iron Curtain and supposedly made the world safe for democracy would be to fight a tin-pan-alley dictator for his oil, in the process getting us embroiled in a never-ending war in a place we’ve got no business to be.
I can understand, even if I can’t condone, Westerners who volunteer to fight for ISIS, or for that matter, against it. There really is no better way to banish existential angst than the prospect of death. And the spirit of H. sapiens, particularly the male portion of it, needs a good fight because it is built for a good fight. And I can see where women follow along because they have always been romantically inclined to favor fighting men. They don’t want emasculated men any more than the men want to be emasculated.
Alas, none of those kids going promming last weekend are likely to ever fight for anything. They’re so immersed in American culture they don’t even know it’s a toilet bowl full of shit in which they’re swimming. They don’t need to keep repeating to themselves “This is water” like Dory in Finding Nemo; instead it should be, “This is sewage…this is sewage.” They’ve grown up as heirs to the great American Imperial Fortune, in a worse way even than the Baby Boomers, and believe it their birthright to leave school to get their nails done, just because. They sneer at the Vietnamese women who primp and pamper them in the nail salon, thinking themselves superior to lowly immigrants who can’t even speak English. They just don’t get (or simply refuse to consider) that only a blink of the historical eye has passed since their ancestors were also lowly migrants, scraping to eke out an existence in this sometimes harsh but always potentially bountiful land. (Neither do they get that the manicurists can speak the language well enough to understand their disparaging comments and attitudes—it is because the customers don’t understand Vietnamese that the manicurists speak it among themselves). It’s doubtful any of these American brats will realize and appreciate their good fortune without which it is taken from them. I’d say it couldn’t come too soon.