Generational DysphoriaJim Goad
Although few readers of this site would disagree that believing you were born in the wrong body is a sign of mental illness, what does it say about those of us who feel we were born in the wrong era?
As I embark on the seventh decade of my life, it occurs to me that only during the first decade — the 1960s — did my identity feel congruent with the times around me. I was born into an America that was 88.6% white during a time when there was little reason to even be aware of being white, since we were simply considered the norm and anyone who was nonwhite was considered “ethnic” — a deviation from the norm. It was also a time when Americans, at least the overwhelming majority of us regardless of creed or political affiliation, seemed convinced that America was the greatest country the world had ever seen and that this was a fact that would only be questioned by mental deviants and grubby subversives.
The 1960s, especially the latter half, would prove to be the fork in the road. With few exceptions, that’s when modern Americans feel the country either started falling apart or began a righteous process of cleansing itself from its unforgivably hateful past.
This isn’t meant to imply that I was normal in the 1960s, because I’d be a social outlier no matter which century I’d been born and what country the stork decided to drop me. But being encased in a little Irish-Catholic suburban-Philly cocoon during my early years, I was likely sheltered from much of the division that began gnawing at the country in earnest during the 1960s.
It’s been my observation that people who are socially and psychologically abnormal only begin to really feel it when they hit adolescence, and it was around age 12 that I began living in the past.
During much of the 1970s, my acutely obsessive self was living in the 30s — first the 1930s, and then the years 30-33 AD.
I tend to go through phases of either arrogant extroversion or deep introversion, and right around age 12, the social world around me lost focus and I lost myself in the Marx Brothers, who made eight of their 13 films in the 1930s. My monomaniacal fixation on Groucho, Harpo, and Chico (everyone agrees that Zeppo was dispensable) served to blur out the world around me to a degree that made me prefer the world of the 1930s to the world of my youth.
Without blinking or missing a beat, as I neared age 15, I swapped out the Marx Brothers for Jesus Christ. While all the guys around me were discovering girls, muscle cars, drugs, and Aerosmith, I was alone in my room desperately trying to reconcile the Old Testament with the New Testament. I was so freakishly immersed in Christianity, even the nuns at my high school told me I was overdoing it.
My faith eventually fell by the wayside as I concluded that I couldn’t even reconcile the New Testament with itself, but within a few years the 1980s rolled around and my newest mode of escaping the times around me was to become the only male in Delaware County, Pennsylvania with a greased pompadour, leather jacket, 1959 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88, and a musical playlist consisting almost exclusively of Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly. Just as I’d escaped into the 30s during the 70s, in the 1980s I found refuge in the 1950s.
As the 1990s dawned — or darkened, depending on your perspective — I came to realize that the social gospel that had been drilled into my skull since the 1960s was a lie and that there was no such thing as innate human equality. I began to accept, gradually and then all of a sudden, that evolutionarily acquired differences among groups of divergent continental ancestry explained the world around me far better than the infantile bugaboo of “racism” could ever hope to explain it, and I’ve never looked back—or maybe it’s more accurate to say I’ve never looked forward — since.
Earlier this week, my wife and I left our ranch house southeast of Atlanta for a one-day vacation in the mountain village of Helen, Georgia — a two-hour drive and a world apart. A few centuries ago, the area in and around Helen was occupied by the Cherokee. European settlers began pouring in during the early 1800s. A century ago, it was a logging town, but by the late 1960s, Helen was in decline until developers decided to retrofit the entire place so that it resembled a Bavarian village. The remodeling was so successful that Helen — which occupies only two square miles and has a permanent population that barely squeaks past 500 — is now the third most-visited city in Georgia behind only Atlanta and Savannah.
As you might have guessed, I felt more “at home” in Helen during our one-day vacation than I’ve felt in the squalid outskirts of Atlanta for the past fourteen years.
We rented a room with a hot tub and sat with the bubbling jets drowning out the sounds of the motel TV as we watched the silent versions of a string of offerings from the 1960s. I clicked the remote straight toward Turner Classic Movies because I can’t stand to watch any modern films.
First up was 1966’s The Silencers, starring Dean Martin as Matt Helm in a comedic ripoff of the James Bond films. Dino was his typically suave and carefree alpha male self as he shot and banged his way through a bevy of voluptuous, gorgeous, and unapologetically feminine women such as Stella Stevens, Daliah Lavi, Nancy Kovack, and Beverly Adams. Victor Buono, despite his shockingly blue eyes, hammed it up as the evil Tung-Tze, an Asian malefactor seeking to launch a nuclear war by bombing an underground test facility in New Mexico.
Then we watched the same year’s The Undertaker and His Pals, a gruesomely bloody slasher film in the vein of Herschell Gordon Lewis. But just as with The Silencers, I realized that despite the fact that this film was made in the full throes of the Civil Rights era, back then most men still looked like macho greasers from the 1950s and women still looked so rampagingly hormonal and fertile, I wouldn’t be surprised if one were able to see their eggs with the naked eye.
When I got back home I learned that back in 1966, police in Kentucky had confiscated a print of The Undertaker and His Pals because it ran afoul of laws banning “the publication of materials dealing with bloodshed, lust or crime.”
Modern films are packed to overflowing with bloodshed, lust, and crime. You simply aren’t allowed to say “nigger” or suggest that there’s anything good about being white.
Unlike the 1960s of my youth, the last couple decades have marked an era when the Überkultur has been openly hostile to my very existence as a white male and has tagged me and people like me as the villains in all of their modern mythmaking.
So whereas my escapist forays into the past during my younger years were likely more a factor of my innate status as a misfit, these days it’s a sign of mental health for me to wish I was living in the past.
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Dino was without question the most talented of the rat pack. A native of Steubenville Ohio and- allegedly- a neighbor and childhood friend of Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. He was a quadruple threat. He could sing, dance, act , and do comedy. He died broken hearted as his son preceded him in death and it’s rumored Dean never recovered. I really enjoy playing his music even my culturally vapid wife is starting to like it. Doesn’t hurt that my very first car was a beat up old Volare.
Great read Jim
Nick Tosches’ book Dino does a good job establishing DM’s credentials as a serious musical artist. The drunken bum act was an act.
Exactly right. The glass he was always shown with was filled with grapefruit juice.
The ladies man persona was also just part of the scenery. The coolness just came naturally.
Martin was also a big lover and champion of country music when it was scorned and reviled by the cognoscenti and swinging show biz types.
I loved Dean Martin in Rio Bravo. And Robert Mitchum in El Dorado.
Ok, I am digressing…
This happens a lot to Europeans who live near ruins. An old Abbey or Roman Villa…spooky when you realize your ancestors were there too.
My father was a troubled World War II vet, front-lines Infantry who had little use for the forced cheery entertainment in the decades following the war BUT for Dean Martin.
That’s a feather in Dean’s cap.
We human beings are very much creatures of our time. But I think modern materialism-hyper-commercialism etc has speeded up things so much. I believe this to be part of the modern attack on the soul. The soul takes time– it is time which makes culture. And what we have done and are doing to our landscape makes the loss of soul all the more bitter and poignant. Not only do many of us not feel “at home” in our time. We–or perhaps I should speak of myself–just hate this time.
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