The gratingest generation

Published 4:24 pm Monday, August 11, 2008

If our era could have its own coat of arms, it would be a yak against a background of mush. This must be the golden age of endless and pointless talk.

Every sports events seems to be preceded by all kinds of talk — whether by athletes repeating cliches that we have heard a thousand times, announcers making pseudo-profound sociological observations, or fans rambling on incoherently.

Then after the contest come the childish celebrations, the second-guessing and still more cliches.

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Even when the action is going on at grand slam tennis matches, there are interviews with celebrities who happen to be in the stands, while the play on the court is ignored by both, even though it is shown on the screen.

Theatrical hype on the part of both the interviewer and the celebrity are common.

Does it ever occur to media chatterboxes that people watch tennis because they want to see tennis, not hear about some celebrity’s latest movie or TV series?

If those who lived during World War II were “the greatest generation,” this must be the gratingest generation.

It’s not just the constant meaningless chatter that grates. There is the incessant self-dramatization.

Everybody knows about Manny Ramirez’s hair styling. But there have been many other sluggers over the years, whose haircuts were never noticed. Does anyone remember Ted Williams’ haircut or the haircuts of Mickey Mantle or Hank Aaron?

All those people are remembered for what they did, not how they looked.

Boxers and wrestlers must be the worst. Outlandish get-ups and behaving like badly raised brats have become the norm.

When you see old films of Joe Louis or Rocky Marciano, you see adults acting like adults— indeed, like gentlemen.

There was none of this making faces at an opponent before the fight or loudly boasting afterwards, much less taunting during the contest. In other words, you didn’t have to act like a lout in order to be a boxer.

When Joe DiMaggio hit a ball that was caught up against the 415-foot sign in Yankee Stadium by a Dodger outfielder, at a crucial point during the 1947 World Series, DiMaggio briefly kicked the dirt in frustration while running the bases.

That was as close to an emotional outburst that DiMaggio ever came. That picture has been shown innumerable times, precisely because it was so exceptional for DiMaggio to go even that far.

Like so much that went wrong in American society, the new style of loutish self-dramatization began in the 1960s. When Muhammad Ali became heavyweight champion in 1964, it marked the end of the era when boxers simply did their job, collected their money and went home, usually after a few brief words.

Over the years, football players began carrying on with elaborate celebrations after every touchdown. Baseball teams developed pre-game rituals and post-game celebrations.

While this trend of self-dramatization is most visible in sports, it extends well beyond athletes.

Parents give their children off-the-wall names. “Mary” has long since lost its place as the perennially most popular name for girls.

There is a high turnover in what names are hot and which ones are not. Apparently everybody has to try to outdo everybody else, even when it comes to naming children.

Here, as in sports, superficial attention-getters have replaced achievements that speak for themselves. Indeed, the whole notion of achievement is downplayed, if not swept under the rug.

People who have achieved success are often referred to as “privileged,” especially by the intelligentsia. Achievements used to be a source of inspiration for others but have been turned into a source of grievance for those without comparable achievements.

There have always been superficial dandies but they have not always been admired or regarded as models. Our society is worse off because they are.

To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His Web site is