Y.M.C.A.

Rebecca invited me to a Father/Daughter Valentines Dance last weekend, put on by her Girl Scout group. It was nice to get out with her, even if she wasn’t feeling very well, but I have to say that I found the event disturbing in some ways. Like a lot of recent experiences, I found in it more signs that our civilization’s erosion. Not a news flash, I suppose, and open to accusations of overzealous alarmism, but I just can’t shake the sense that things are unraveling quickly. Part of it is the economic meltdown, but the pieces have been in place for quite some time, and have even contributed to the ridiculous credit situation that has the world of money staggering. If American culture can be seen as a living plant, I’m not at all convinced it has the roots to survive a significant storm.

This particular Girl Scout group is a Brownies troop consisting of girls from St Paul School, so all the people there had at least the school in common, although I’m sure there were any number of non-Catholics, as the school is hardly religiously homogeneous. A couple families, perhaps, were immigrants, but most everyone there were well-settled Americans, with what one could expect to be a common cultural bond. And there certainly was present, ultimately, that unifying glue we call culture, but it was epitomized in the insipid disco party anthem, YMCA. That song is what brought fathers and daughters together out onto the dance floor, and created a unified gathering out of the disjointed pockets of interest that had defined the event to that point. There they were, grown men waving their arms around in the air in conformance with the prescribed movements of this ironic gay anthem become staple of social gatherings of all sorts.

What really troubled me about this was the realization that there really weren’t any alternatives available. It’s one thing to despise the ubiquity of such moronic kitsch, but it’s something else altogether to realize that there really isn’t any other common cultural currency to call upon. We have no folk music. We have no shared dance. Once we get past nursery rhymes, we imprison our aesthetic sensibilities in the generationally isolating fashions of pop music and the rest of pop culture, where most of what passes for art is targeted by profit motive at specific “markets” of audiences, being often incomprehensible to those outside the “in-crowd,” and leaving the kind of shared experience crucial to community either out of reach, or attainable only through a lowest common denominator of aesthetic infantilism.

And so what cultural treasure is it we possess that transcends the segregationism of pop culture chronology? A sly, winking invitation from a gang of gay cartoon characters to the pleasures of pederasty?

It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.

It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.

They have everything for you men to enjoy,

You can hang out with all the boys …

God help us.