January 28, 2009


YOUNG AT HEART (Mark Steyn, 28 January 2009, National Review)

I write a lot about population issues – specifically, the demographic decline of the western world – and readers often respond, “Well, so what? Tokyo’s pretty crowded. It’d be kinda nice to have 20 per cent fewer people.” Maybe. But the 20 per cent who aren’t around won’t be the coots and codgers (there’ll be plenty of those); the missing folks will be the children who were never born, and the few who were but decided they didn’t want to spend their lives in a joint so tilted toward the geriatric. The eternal adolescence of contemporary pop culture is merely the most obvious example of how society’s self-image is invested in its youth. In star movie roles, everybody’s young. Not necessarily ridiculously young, like Dr Christmas Jones, the nuclear physicist played by Denise Richards a couple of Bond films back. But young. Because young people go to the movies and they don’t want to look at old people. But in Japan and Europe a generation or two down the road, everyone will be old. Will they still want to look at young people? And, if they do, will they even be able to muster enough young people to star, write, direct, compose the theme music? Or will there no longer be enough youthful energy in society to maintain a youth culture and its endless parade of novelties?

Think of a gated community in Florida: To be sure, once every so often they get up a party to go see Tony Danza in dinner theatre. Or, if that’s too dystopian a vision, picture the world as post-Habsburg Vienna: I used to love wandering through the record stores there – row upon row of Strauss and Mahler, and all the rock’n’rap confined to a couple of bins in the basement.

Two years ago, Alfonso Cuarón made a comically inept film of The Children Of Men, P D James’ novel about a world turned barren, a world in which people are not merely disinclined to breed (as in latter-day Europe) but unable to. The movie looked like a movie – which is to say that everyone in it was young: young transgressive leaders of young gangs pursued by young cops and young soldiers. Thus, did Mr Cuarón miss the point of Lady James’ novel. In the book, youth is in short supply: Roads crumble to tracks because the government workers are too middle-aged to maintain the rural districts. Youth is at a premium – as it will be in Japan the day after tomorrow, and Germany the day after that. The boringly conventional casting of the movie unintentionally confirms P D James’ thesis: a society without the young is so alien to all our assumptions even her adaptor couldn’t imagine it.

Which was deeply disappointing, because Alfonso Cuaron is a talented filmmaker and it's a great book.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 28, 2009 8:43 PM
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