Suzanne Fields

Every generation chooses the fight it wants to win against the generation preceding, even when it's not sure what that fight ought to be about. This was the idea captured in the 1953 movie classic, "The Wild One," before the boomers put their stamp on the pop culture. When a pretty girl asks Johnny, the hipster on a motorcycle, played by Marlon Brando, "What'cha rebelling against?" Brando replies, "What'cha got?"

As we move into the new year, it may help those over 30 to recognize they've still got the ability to scorn bad ideas. The new social media is neither as revolutionary nor as earthshaking as the pop pontificators may think. The focus for criticism shouldn't be on the technology, but how technology is used, and for what.

The Economist magazine finds parallels in today's social media with the way people pushed the ideas in the 16th century that ushered in the Reformation. The printing press helped to put ideas quickly into pamphlets easy to circulate, but it took a network of willing traveling merchants, traders, preachers and sympathetic citizenry to carry the pamphlets from one town to another. Like tweets, ideas spread spontaneously. Instead of downloading music, poets composed impious lyrics and parodies to familiar folksongs and hymns, easily sung in communal choruses as "newsy" ballads for the reformers.

Debates found a forum even for the illiterate, who heard arguments repeated by their friends and families in inns, taverns, markets, guilds and homes. The academic allies of the pope, who wrote in Latin, fought a fierce rearguard battle against the popularizers. Still, the reformers wouldn't have succeeded if those who got the message hadn't agreed with Martin Luther about corruption in the Roman church.

The medium isn't the message, it's merely a tool. No matter what age, what'cha rebelling against depends on what'cha got. We should keep that in mind when we decide what we keep for 2012, and what we toss out.

Happy New Year.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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