Burt Prelutsky

When I was very young, I felt that anyone who wasn’t a cynic was a naïve bumpkin. The young, after all, tend to be impatient with their elders, and I was certainly no exception. To the young, it’s a terrible failing to be gullible, and what they inevitably strive to be, or at least appear to be, is sophisticated.

Perhaps because I lived in L.A. and became involved in journalism and show business at an early age, a couple of things I seemed to be aware of long before millions of my fellow countrymen caught on was that America’s number one leading man, Rock Hudson, was homosexual, and that Jack Kennedy, Camelot’s shining knight, was cheating on his Guinevere with just about every female in Hollywood.

Being of an age to be drafted, I was also aware that the basis of much of the anti-war sentiment on college campuses had less to do with pacifism or a moral code than with a reasonable fear of being killed or maimed in Vietnam.

Even the mere threat of being bossed around by top sergeants who hailed from Texas and Georgia, of having to pull K.P. duty and make their own beds, was enough to give most of the guys I knew at UCLA a case of the vapors. Heck, just the idea that one could never light up a joint whenever you felt like it was reason enough to make any number of them take to the streets or take off for Toronto.

The biggest drawback to cynicism is that once it gets a toehold it’s as tough to shake off as a pit bull with a grudge. As a result, we have millions of Americans who are convinced that whenever anything bad takes place, be it a hurricane or 9/11, it’s George Bush’s fault. And haven’t we all been told time and again that everything from the invasion of Iraq to the assassination of Mrs. Bhutto occurred because the CIA, at the behest of one multinational company or another, brought it about? If, by some miracle, you missed the bulletin, just wait a month or two and you’ll see it confirmed in a movie.

Oddly enough, a side effect of this condition is that those suffering from an overdose of cynicism are only willing to assume the worst of their fellow countrymen. They are quick to label suicide-bombing Islamists as freedom fighters. They take offense at those who argue for national sovereignty and secure borders while anointing the scofflaws who swarm in as “decent, hard-working people.” They see nothing wrong with tax dollars going to provide foot baths for Muslim taxi drivers, but start chanting “separation of church and state” at the first sighting of a Christmas tree in a town square.