Generation gaps become generation ditches -- with glitches.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has transitioned through headlines and photographs from affectionate Uncle Joe to Creepy Joe, shorn of sympathy and solicitude. The cuddly, warm guy who came of age in the '60s, when touchy-feely expressions of warmth were the stuff of polymorphous pleasing, has been caught in the revival of a puritanical code of conduct associated with our pre-suffragette heritage. Time warps pinch.
He's fair game in the media jungle, stalked by accusers eager to tape his mouth, insert a new personality tape in his brain and bring down the senator of 36 years, vice president of eight and leader of the pack of nondescript Democrats with a respectable chance to bring down the man they hate.
Sexual revolutions start slowly, but they accelerate with the speed of light, illuminating flaws and setting off the ever-popular media game of "gotcha."
Long fingernails and sharp knives out to cut, scratch and maim are activated by the media mob that caught Uncle Joe in a cultural moment when the white man is awakened, woke and whacked. Ladies of delicate outrage, whose great-grandmothers put pantaloons on piano legs, are out to stick the old guy with pricks of cold, self-righteous puritanism, eager to punish him for clumsily showing spontaneous affection to women and children just like their grandfathers did.
Uncle Joe was asking for it. He's old, white and male, as The Wall Street Journal observes, "a heterosexual with no apparent gender ambiguity, and he's also not a socialist." Indeed, he ticks none of the boxes of identity politics that are the infallible doctrine of the modern Democratic Party, where winning an election is not nearly so important as maintaining doctrinal purity.
Thinking women should object, whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, no matter what their politics. Men should, too, but since so many of them are white, they're quickly judged as natural enemies of women by virtue of birth, so why listen to them?
Good ol' Joe didn't help himself. He apologized for the leadership he displayed presiding over Supreme Court nominations 28 years ago as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, when Anita Hill, without presenting evidence or corroboration, accused Clarence Thomas of harassment. Harassing himself, Biden now says his problem with the hearings is that the committee was made up of "a bunch of white guys," all suspects for having doubts about Hill's incendiary accusations.
This revisionist interpretation of history is dangerous, demeaning and Orwellian. It's particularly sad that it's all been set in motion by a woman who's embarrassed that she hadn't washed her hair the day he sniffed it, a bad hair day writ large. Uncle Joe is stuck with what one late-night comic calls a reputation for "the audacity of grope." This caricature will stick.
Joe Biden's moment for running for president is a matter of bad timing for relating to younger generations. Time accelerates attitudes in a high-tech world, and sexual mores move forward and backward with the speed of the internet. Even the #MeToo movement becomes less urgent as a guide for younger generations.
If the former vice president suffers from rejection of the "Mad Men" sensibility so easy to despise a half-century later, the young entering adulthood today may look back at the #MeToo mentality and wonder how it came about in the first place. They may wonder, too, about how swiftly actual abuse -- think Harvey Weinstein -- descended into the frivolous by comparison, like the humiliation of a man sniffing a woman's dirty hair.
Kate Julian tells in the Atlantic magazine how the young are turning away from touching one another at all. Whether this new Puritanism is the result of the hostility they've witnessed between the sexes in the public arena or the addiction to computers, texting and digital conversations replacing intimacy as we know it, is not yet clear. But it's here.
Not only does actual dating among teens show deep declines in favor of smartphone communication; among many college students, the very idea of love and expressions of love are secondary to the concerns about academic and professional success. They're becoming a generation of prudes marooned in a sea of sexual excess.
The #MeTooers have turned on Joe Biden, but it's these new Puritans who will continue to make his life miserable. They're energized and educated as they transition from snowflake to prig. If older voters are tittering over Joe Biden's nude swims, the younger generation is horrified. Gym owners say they must build more dressing rooms because their customers want more privacy changing clothes.
Sensitivities and sensibilities have changed. Joe Biden is hardly alone in his bewilderment.
Write to Suzanne Fields at firstname.lastname@example.org. Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's "Paradise Lost."