Peggy Noonan’s new book, The Time of Our Lives: Collected Writings, is a volume bound to draw readers who are interested American politics and media. She is one of the most devotedly-followed columnists in the country, and this collection contains 83 of her commentaries going back to 1981. The introduction runs through the Reagan White House, the New York news room, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, Robert Bartley and Eric Sevareid and William Safire. (By the way, “op-ed” stands for “opposite the editorial page,” not “opinion-editorial.”)
But at the end, the introduction takes a surprising turn to Noonan’s childhood on Long Island, far from the centers of media and politics. Then comes a summary paragraph that is worth quoting in full:
Here is my concern. There are not fewer children living stressed, chaotic lives in America now, there are more. There will be more still, because among the things American no longer manufactures is stability. And the culture around them will not protect them, as the culture protected me. The culture around them will make their lives harder, more frightening, more dangerous. They are going to come up with nothing to believe in, their nerves are essentially shot. And they’re going to be—they are already—very angry.
This is a very human way to put the problem. There is so little in the popular culture of teens and tweens that is gentle and slow, gracious and warm. To compare an episode of The Andy Griffith Show with Annoying Orange (which has 4 million Youtube subscribers, according to the Wikipedia page) is to compare two different societies.
How long, Noonan asks, before this inundation of sarcasm, fast and nasty talk, lurid images, confusing sexual mores, and irrational violence produces a generation composed of a majority of young adults who lack the intellectual and moral equipment to handle their own lives?
Mark Bauerlein is Senior Editor at First Things.