Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Decades, Part II; Or The Early 1988 Advent of Neo-Moralism, Whassat?!

Wherein I dilate on this point in the preceding post:
The most peculiar hiccup I noticed in the 80s was the sudden advent, in first few months of 1988, of a neo-moralism which in one guise or another is with us yet. Am I the only person who remembers this? In early January 1988 it was not yet on the horizon. By March or April some commentators were remarking on the sudden shift.
The neo-moralism I'm referring to is something that, in my memory, surfaced in a span of just a few months in early 1988.

Again, proceeding purely on the basis of my own memories, it seems that in January of 1988, Nancy Reagan was promoting her "Just Say No" slogan. My own offhand impression at the time (as a conservative who generally supported what the Reagan administration was up to) was that the administration was running out of steam, and this was an attempt to pump the steam pressure back up.

Anyhow, over the next few months, it seems that somehow something about "No" just caught fire in the culture— even among people who detested the Reagans. All of a sudden, even among "sophisticated" people, there was an attitude that it was thinkable to say "No" to excessive drinking, to smoking, to drug use, to randomly sleeping around, to whatever.

I remember reading columns by the likes of George Will and Meg Greenfield, remarking on this sudden sea change in the culture. Really, prior to early 1988, ever since the 60s hit, "sophistos" would have laughed you out of the room for speaking a discouraging word against the wretched excesses of Sex & Drugs & Rock 'n Roll.

And without that shift toward neo-moralism, the later anti-smoking zealotry— to say nothing of today's anti-fast-food thunderhead-on-the-horizon— would have been inconceivable.

Am I making this sudden cultural shift up out of my own mind? I remember browsing in a bookstore in '88 or '89, flipping through some humorous books about the new neo-moralism. I remember how, when John Tower was rejected in '89, people observed that not too long before, it would have been unthinkable to criticize someone seriously for his drinking and partying. My own take at the time was that the generation of the 60s had now aged enough that they could take the attitude of, "Okay, we've had our fun, now don't you dare have yours."

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Blogger Caltechgirl said...

Cliche' riddled, but you'll get the point..

It was, I think, more of a coincidence than anything. It was a happy chance to jump on someone else's band wagon and get off the merry-go-round of sex, drugs, and rock n roll.

People were getting tired of that lifestyle. Nancy Reagan made it easy to say no without looking like a prude or an idiot...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 1:31:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Yeah, it sure was peculiar. My memory is that this cultural shift materialized and solidified, clear across the cultural and political spectrum, within a space of only two or three months; and that (sort of like the Soviet Union suddenly going out of business a few years later) it caught everyone by surprise. And said neo-moralism is, with a few midcourse corrections, still with us today, almost twenty years later.

I've always thought that there's a lot about these cultural shifts -- the how, what, when, and why of them -- of which we really understand very little...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 7:27:00 PM  

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