David Brooks Doesn’t Get It

David Brooks the is resident conservative columnist for The New York Times‘ Op-Ed section. His shrill, lonely cry is the only thing to combat the liberal hoards of Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedmann and whoever else is over there. We don’t really read the Times’ op-ed section much, as most of their writers seem to be really repetitive (we mean, if we can write between 2,000 and 3,000 words a week (on our good weeks) and at least keep things varied, can’t people who get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce 1600 words every seven days no write the same things over and over again?

Anyway, David Brooks is generally a fairly interesting read, if for no other reasons than that he’s a terrible know-it-all and he thinks differently than we do. We disagree with his perspective often enough (especially his praise for “bobo-ism”, and its “paradise”–the Philadelphia Main Line, where we grew up), but nonetheless we read him on occasion with tempered interest. On February 25 of this year he wrote an article titled, “Mosh Pit Meets Sandbox,” in which Brooks’ bashes the “hipster parenting” trend. This is not a problem to us, in and of itself, but the argument is so superficial, we’ve decided to respond, albeit two weeks after the fact.

After the break, we provide some quotations from the article, with our responses.

Can we please get over the hipster parent moment? […]

Can we finally stop reading about the musical Antoinettes who would get the vapors if their tykes were caught listening to Disney tunes, and who instead force-feed Brian Eno, Radiohead and Sufjan Stevens into their little babies’ iPods?

I mean, don’t today’s much-discussed hipster parents notice that their claims to rebellious individuality are undercut by the fact that they are fascistically turning their children into miniature reproductions of their hipper-than-thou selves? Don’t they observe that with their inevitable hummus snacks, their pastel-free wardrobes, their unearned sense of superiority and their abusively pretentious children’s names like Anouschka and Elijah, they are displaying a degree of conformity that makes your average suburban cul-de-sac look like Renaissance Florence?

And then:

Finally, in a sign that the hip parenting thing has jumped the shark, the movement got its own book, the indescribably dull “Alternadad,” about a self-described whiny narcissist who tries not to let his son’s birth get in the way of his rock festival lifestyle. Surely a trend has hit absurdity when you have a book in which the most memorable moment comes when the writer succumbs to the corporate temptations of Toys “R” Us.

Let me be clear: I’m not against the indie/alternative lifestyle. There is nothing more reassuringly traditionalist than the counterculture. For 30 years, the music, the fashions, the poses and the urban weeklies have all been the same. Everything in this society changes except nonconformity.

And the big conclusion:

For God’s sake, let’s respect the dignity of youth.

First, the Curious Mechanism is wondering when, exactly, “youth” was given dignity. In fact, isn’t the usual–and probably accurate–assessment that youth is a time without dignity? That the young, by and large, do not receive respect, unless earned, and even then, the youth is short lived? That’s not a recent trend, either. Youth has been disparaged for the better part of written history. To reveal part of our Christian upbringing (full disclosure, the two writers of this little blog were both raised Christian: one Catholic and one “Catholic-lite”–Episcopalian) we point you toward the first book of Timothy in the New Testament. Paul wrote Timothy two letters, giving him advice. Timothy was a young man trying to spread the gospel, and some of his advice has to do with Timothy’s youth. Most notably, 1 Timothy 4:12: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”

Youth is hardly something for which dignity is given, let alone respected.

Jumping back to the top of the quotations, we see Brooks complaining about parents who have their children listening to “Brian Eno, Radiohead and Sufjan Stevens” instead of Disney tunes. He complains that parents are dressing their children as they dress. We wonder, isn’t this more in-line with the conservative upbringings of the 1940 through 1960s? Instead of Radiohead and Sufjan Stevens, it’s Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. Instead of t-shirts with ironic humor, it’s miniature suits with bow-ties. Sure, the parts of have changed, but isn’t the formula the same?

As for the “unearned superiority”, we wonder what that means, for starters, and how exactly a parent “earns” superiority in the first place. Does it mean getting to use one of those bumper stickers that say, “MY CHILD IS AN HONOR STUDENT AT [THIS PRIVATE SCHOOL]”? Those stickers drive us crazy-pants, incidentally. We have told Mrs. Thursday that if our non-existent children excel in school, and she buys one of those stickers and places it on the bumper of our similarly non-existent car, we will find a bazooka, and express in irrevocable terms how we feel.

As for the last boxquote, if the fact that an “indescribably dull” book has been written on a subject means that said trend has “jumped the shark”, does that mean you believe that the moment your book was published (Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There) that, likewise, having a lot of money, a 1960s’ liberalism and an ’80s consumerism streak has “jumped the shark”? Did you just announce yourself irrelevant?

Brooks assertion that he’s not against the “indie/alternative lifestyle” as he mocks it would be insulting, we think, if only Brooks didn’t so clearly show his total lack of understanding for the counterculture. He points out the clothes and the music, and says all the hipsters are all the same as each other! He says they preach individualism, but they lack individuality. We say, that on a superficial level, the hipsters are just like you, Mr. Brooks. But the superficial level isn’t what’s most important.

The most significant development for these hipster parents isn’t the fashion trends and the music that you don’t like. It’s the revival of the inner city. Look to young people, and where are they headed? Downtown. Brooklyn has become an extraordinarily expensive place to live because young couples and families (and yes, artists and musicians) are all trying to move in. The reason for this isn’t some obsession with tall building or loud noises. It’s because the most practical way to give communityto a child is to put the kid in close proximity to a lot of other people and children. Your beloved wealthy suburbs cannot provide that. Most of the people in Wayne, PA, your hometown, cannot name their neighbors. That’s a problem. It’s also the meat of this hipster parent movement. A large community in an urban environment is volatile, but it teaches important lessons that the suburbs do not. It teaches an understanding of poverty, of (believe it or not) environmentalism, of the great liberal “aesthetic”: the DIY. DIY, of course, Mr. Brooks, is “do it yourself”, and it’s very difficult to do anything for yourself when you live in the suburbs, and everything is done for you.

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1 Comment

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One response to “David Brooks Doesn’t Get It

  1. Amen, brother. I lived in one of those cul-de-saccy gated communities for three years before moving out into the countryside, and I can tell you the whole place discouraged community (perhaps unintentionally) in every way possible. No sidewalks, no town center, even a fabricated one, and no community activities to speak of.

    I’m not exactly dying to live in a city again, but I must admit I interacted more with others when I did. At least I know my neighbors out here on the edge of town. The only problem is that they are all 20 years older than I am.

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