The New Lone Rangers - 7/10/ 07
smartmarriages at lists101.his.com
Wed Jul 11 13:19:08 EDT 2007
The New Lone Rangers
By DAVID BROOKS
The New York Times
July 10, 2007
> Now young people face a social frontier of their own. They hit puberty around
> 13 and many don¹t get married until they¹re past 30. That¹s two decades of
> coupling, uncoupling, hooking up, relationships and shopping around. This
> period isn¹t a transition anymore. It¹s a sprawling life stage, and nobody
> knows the rules.
If you¹ve been driving around listening to pop radio stations this spring
and summer, you¹ll have noticed three songs that are pretty much
unavoidable, and each of them is a long way from puppy love.
First, there¹s ³Before He Cheats,² by Carrie Underwood. This is a song about
a woman who catches her boyfriend in a bar fooling around with someone else.
But she¹s not wounded or insecure. She¹s got nothing but contempt for the
slobbering, cologne-wearing jerk. She¹s disgusted by the bleached blond
girly-girl who¹s leading him on and who doesn¹t even know how to drink
As she rages, she¹s out there in the parking lot rendering a little frontier
justice slashing his tires, taking a baseball bat to his headlights,
carving her name into his leather seats.
The second song is ³U + Ur Hand,² by Pink. This is about a woman out for a
night on the town, very decidedly without men. She¹s at the bar doing shots
with her girlfriends and she¹s not in a Cole Porter frame of mind. She
snarls at the pathetic guys who come up offering to buy her a drink, telling
them: ³Keep your drink, just give me the money. It¹s just you and your hand
The third song is ³Girlfriend² by Avril Lavigne, which is done in the manner
of an angry cheerleader chant, a sort of drill sergeant version of the ¹80s
Toni Basil hit, ³Mickey.² It¹s about a woman who tells a guy to make his
loser girlfriend disappear so she can show him what good sex is really like.
Or as she sneers: ³In a second, you¹ll be wrapped around my finger, cause I
can ... do it better! She so stupid! What the hell were you thinking?²
If you put the songs together, you see they¹re about the same sort of
character: a character who would have been socially unacceptable in a
megahit pop song 10, let alone 30 years ago.
This character is hard-boiled, foul-mouthed, fedup, emotionally
self-sufficient and unforgiving. She¹s like one of those battle-hardened
combat vets, who¹s had the sentimentality beaten out of her and who no
longer has time for romance or etiquette. She¹s disgusted by male idiots and
contemptuous of the feminine flirts who cater to them. She¹s also, at least
in some of the songs, about 16.
This character is obviously a product of the cold-eyed age of divorce and
hookups. It¹s also a product of the free-floating anger that¹s part of the
climate this decade. But as a fantasy ideal, it¹s also descended from the
hard-boiled Clint Eastwood characters who tamed the Wild West and the
hard-boiled Humphrey Bogart and Charles Bronson characters who tamed the
When Americans face something that¹s psychologically traumatic, they invent
an autonomous Lone Ranger fantasy hero who can deal with it. The closing of
the frontier brought us the hard-drinking cowboy loner. Urbanization brought
us the hard-drinking detective loner.
Now young people face a social frontier of their own. They hit puberty
around 13 and many don¹t get married until they¹re past 30. That¹s two
decades of coupling, uncoupling, hooking up, relationships and shopping
around. This period isn¹t a transition anymore. It¹s a sprawling life stage,
and nobody knows the rules.
Once, young people came a-calling as part of courtship. Then they had dating
and going steady. But the rules of courtship have dissolved. They¹ve been
replaced by ambiguity and uncertainty. Cellphones, Facebook and text
messages give people access to hundreds of ³friends.² That only increases
the fluidity, drama and anxiety.
The heroines of these songs handle this wide-open social frontier just as
confidently and cynically as Bogart handled the urban frontier. These iPhone
Lone Rangers are completely inner-directed; they don¹t care what you think.
They know exactly what they want; they don¹t need anybody else.
Of course it¹s all a fantasy, as much as ³The Big Sleep² or ³High Plains
Drifter.² Young people still need intimacy and belonging more than anything
else. But the pose is the product of something real a response to this new
stage of formless premarital life, and the anxieties it produces.
In America we have a little problem with self and society. We imagine we can
overcome the anxieties of society by posing romantic lone wolves. The angry
young women on the radio these days are not the first pop stars to
romanticize independence for audiences desperate for companionship.
2007® Copyright New York Times
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