Friday, February 13, 2009

Noonan's avatar of national anomie

There is no columnist alive more full of impressionistic bullshit than Peggy Noonan.

A nice round 30 years after Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism exacerbated a culture of generalizing about generational morals, Peggy's decided that that an uber-egoist is emblematic of America Today:

And there's something else, not only in Manhattan but throughout the country. A major reason people are blue about the future is not the stores, not the Treasury secretary, not everyone digging in. It is those things, but it's more than that, and deeper.

It's Sully and Suleman, the pilot and "Octomom," the two great stories that are twinned with the era. Sully, the airline captain who saved 155 lives by landing that plane just right—level wings, nose up, tail down, plant that baby, get everyone out, get them counted, and then, at night, wonder what you could have done better. You know the reaction of the people of our country to Chesley B. Sullenberger III: They shake their heads, and tears come to their eyes. He is cool, modest, competent, tough in the good way. He's the only one who doesn't applaud Sully. He was just doing his job.

This is why people are so moved: We're still making Sullys. We're still making those mythic Americans, those steely-eyed rocket men. Like Alan Shepard in the Mercury rocket: "Come on and light this candle."

But Sully, 58, Air Force Academy '73, was shaped and formed by the old America, and educated in an ethos in which a certain style of manhood—of personhood—was held high.

What we fear we're making more of these days is Nadya Suleman. The dizzy, selfish, self-dramatizing 33-year-old mother who had six small children and then a week ago eight more because, well, she always wanted a big family. "Suley" doubletalks with the best of them, she doubletalks with profound ease. She is like Blago without the charm. She had needs and took proactive steps to meet them, and those who don't approve are limited, which must be sad for them. She leaves anchorwomen slack-jawed: How do you rough up a woman who's still lactating? She seems aware of their predicament.

Any great nation would worry at closed-up shops and a professional governing class that doesn't have a clue what to do. But a great nation that fears, deep down, that it may be becoming more Suley than Sully—that nation will enter a true depression.

That's Ms. Noonan, forever weak-kneed over imagined John Waynes, forever on the lookout for new avatars of national anomie. It's all pure fantasy, of course. Generations don't have characters -- and if they did, how did Peggy slip off-message enough to praise a 58-year old boomer? Will the original alleged narcissists age into a Greatest Generation? Boomers now trump Xers?

For aging eulogists of mythical golden ages, those inheriting the earth are always "D-Generation."

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