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A New Year’s Resolution: No MTV

Way back when the Music Television network first started coming through the cables we watched 24 straight hours of its fare, drinking coffee and keeping notes along the way for a rather snarky feature story in the local newspaper, and since then we’ve rarely tuned in. MTV does occasionally come up in our daily news reading, though, mostly recently when it offered its New Years “resolutions for white guys.”
Being white guys ourselves, we couldn’t help wondering what the network was suggesting. We hoped MTV was urging its youthful white male audience to shave those ugly beards and stop getting tattoos and start taking an occasional glance up from those newfangled telephones they’re always looking at, but of course it was just the usual white guilt-mongering and man-shaming.
The video begins with a head-and-shoulders shot of a clean-cut and pasty young white guy addressing his “fellow white guys,” with the usual quick cut to the same shot of a chubby Latino-looking fellow noting that it’s about to be a new year, with another quick cut to the head and shoulders of a non-threatening young black man who explains that “here’s a few things we think you can do a little better in 2017.”
Another quick cut the to head-and-shoulders of an attractive young woman of fashionably indeterminate ethnicity, who advises that first of we should “try to recognize that America was never ‘great'” — with the disdainful internal quotation marks emphasized by that two-fingered gesture the kids use — “for anyone who wasn’t a white guy.” After another quick cut to a bookish-looking young black woman saying “Can’t we just all agree that Black Lives Matter isn’t the opposite of all lives matter?” That clean-cut and pasty young white is quick cut to again to say that “Blue Lives Matter isn’t a thing,” and there’s an even quicker cut to that non-threatening young black again who laughs at the very idea, noting that “cops aren’t born with blue skin, right?”
With the cuts coming in dizzying quickness, a white guy with one of those ugly beards urges white men to stop bragging about being “Wook,” or at least we think that’s how it’s spelled, and the aforementioned chubby Latino says to stop saying “Wook” altogether. A bookish-looking young white woman says to “learn what ‘mansplaining’ is,” or at least we think that’s how it’s spelled, and to stop doing it. Then there’s that clean-cut and pasty white guy telling us to believe any woman who alleges she has been assaulted by an Ivy League athlete. There’s something about someone named Beyonce and a dig at Fox News, some inside joke about Kanye West that we take to be a dig against his friendship with president-elect Donald Trump, the bearded white guy’s advice to not mention one’s black friends, and the non-threatening young black man’s brief rant that having black friends doesn’t mean you’re not racist.
They throw in a brief admission toward the end that not all white guys are bad, we think it was the bookish looking young white woman who said so, but it’s all in the same cheerfully hectoring tone. Pretty much every word of it is astonishingly stupid, too.
Countless non-white-guys have found America great enough to sacrifice their lives for it, and at the moment it’s probably better for that attractive young woman of fashionably indeterminate ethnicity than it is for those coal-mining white guys who voted for Trump. We agree that Black Lives Matter isn’t the opposite of all lives matter, and don’t know anyone who doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t going to wind up costing a whole lot of young black lives. No, cops aren’t born blue, but that doesn’t mean their lives don’t also matter, even if that isn’t “a thing.”
We’ll go along with the ban on saying “Wook,” whatever that is, but so far as we can tell “mansplaining” is when a man explains something to a woman, and we often find ourselves in dealings with women when we have to explain things to them. Usually we’re explaining our tardiness and temporary penury, but at other times such things as quantitative easing or the infield fly rule, and try as we might we can’t avoid it. That bookish-looking young white woman should also know that we more often find ourselves having women explain things to us, oftentimes with a certain vehemence that we rarely muster, but we suppose she would consider that properly assertive feminine behavior. We’d ask one of our black friends how they deal with the inevitable need for the occasional explanation of something or another to a woman, as “mansplaining” is apparently a behavior unique to white guys, but we’re also told it would be racist of us to acknowledge that we have black friends.
We’re not sure why that clean-cut and pasty white guy singled out Ivy League athletes as sexual predators, rather than the Southeastern Conference or the Big XII or some and blacker and more big-time association, but we suspect it’s because he thought it would sound less racist, which strikes us as a rather racist assumption. There are black athletes in the Ivy League, of course, and even those white guys on the non-Ivy but still pretty highfalutin Duke University lacrosse team turned out to be innocent. We’ll consider these occasional college rape allegations on a case by case basis, thank you, and be glad that it’s ultimately left to the judicial system.
We’ll also happily refrain from any mention of Beyonce or Kanye West, unless it allows us to take a dig at Trump from an old-fashioned Republican perspective, and try to be at least less obnoxious a white guy than the old white guys running MTV and the young white guys they keep sending out through the cables. Although we can’t stop being white guys altogether, not without expensive surgery and a whole lot of explaning to some of the women we know, it’s the best we can do.

— Bud Norman

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The Hipsters are a Riot

The civil disturbance that occurred in Seattle over the past weekend has been described as a “hipster riot,” and the term seems delightfully apt. We’re kicking ourselves for not having secured the domain rights to hipsterriot.com, because it might just be the next big trend.
What happened in Seattle didn’t get nearly the attention paid to the riots in Baltimore, and some will suggest this is because the racist media prefer to publicize the violent rampages of oppressed black youths rather than admit that relatively pampered white youths are capable of the same sort of misbehavior, but our long experience of white guilt-ridden reporters suggests otherwise. Baltimore was more likely a bigger deal because the destruction was greater, with the Seattle rioters barely managing 16 arrests and three wounded police officers and a few burned-out automobiles and smashed storefronts before a rather robust show of law enforcement put an end to it, and such low-level rioting has been such a routine occurrence in Seattle since the big riot outside the World Trade Organization meeting back in ’99 that the city might as well mention it in the Chamber of Commerce brochures as proof of it’s cutting-edge hipster appeal. Still, we suspect it’s mainly because the white guilt-ridden reporters would rather make excuses for oppressed black youths with some plausible complaints about their police department run by their notoriously corrupt city than try to explain a relatively pampered bunch of white boys acting up on behalf of more government and calling themselves “anarchists.” This probably also explains the disproportionate attention paid to the two the riots by the president and other politicians, all of whom seem to have lost their knack for spotting the next big trend.
While a whopping 96 percent of Americans are bracing themselves for yet another long, hot summer of race rioting, we’re also anticipating an accompanying trend of hipster rioting. There’s a seemingly endless supply of hipsters these days, after all, even here in Wichita. We can remember a time in the late ’70s when the entire local hipster community could easily fit into The Cedar Lounge for an Embarrassment-Inevitable double-bill and barely violate the fire code, but these days there’s enough of them to sustain a dozen coffee shops spread clear from the far-east side to the far-west side as well as another dozen or so bars where there are more “alternative” bands playing than there the sorts of bands that they’re an alternative to, and judging by all the similarly unpressed and hirsute actors in the television commercials they’re apparently a major market across the country. Persuading them to riot shouldn’t be any harder than persuading them to get tattooed or grow lumberjack beards or buy all those electronic gizmos that so engross them in the local hipster establishments.
Rioting is the latest black youth craze, for one thing, and the hipsters have been following the lead of the ghettos at least since Norman Mailer was writing “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster” way back in the ’50s. The hipster rioters in Seattle added the black rioters’ complaints about the police to their own catalogue of complaints, and they have plenty more of their own. The young hipsters bear a large share of the nation’s one trillion dollar student loan debt, and will eventually be asked to chip on the federal government’s $17 trillion of debt, and it’s not as if the robust 0.2 percent growth rate in the Gross Domestic Product is going to provide the kinds of lucrative jobs that will help pay for it all, and the inevitable defense cuts will only encourage the Islamic radicals who don’t seem to cotton to even the hipsters with beards, and sooner or later even the most up-to-date hipsters will find themselves offending somebody with an organized grievance group, but of course none of that will be the reasons for the rioting. Instead they’ll find some corporation doing something they don’t like, or some church holding to it’s long-held notions about sexual morality, or some job-creating free trade agreement that’s still in effect, or they’ll notice that some highly productive square is getting paid more than they are, or some other last vestige of the old capitalist economic system, and they’ll riot for some big-government solution in the name of “anarchy.” It makes no more sense than their young black counterparts burning down their own neighborhoods demanding more of the same old big government solutions that made those areas so flammable, but riots needn’t make sense.
Perhaps some sense will eventually be imposed on the hipsters, as it has been on the owner of San Francisco comic book store who proudly supported the city’s generous increase in the minimum wage until it had passed and he realized that he would need to come up with an additional $80,000 in revenue keep his business afloat. The picture of his staff that appeared in The National Review’s rather hilarious account of his travails shows a stereotypically hip group of soon-to-be-unemployed youngsters standing around their obligatorily bearded boss, and although they look to be nice enough people we can’t help but think they’ve got it coming. Their city prides itself on its progressive and tolerant and hipper-than-thou attitudes, and is one of the most racially segregated and economically exclusive and intellectually rigid and easily ridiculed places in the country as a result, and we can’t help think it has a few riots coming as well.
If the hipsters were the ruggedly individualistic non-conformists they claim to be they’d be demanding less government, a less rigid enforcement of the latest social strictures, and they’d probably stop to wonder why they’re all getting tattooed and growing lumberjack beards buying the latest electronic gizmos. They probably wouldn’t be rioting, either, and if they were they’d be able to provide some more cogent explanation for it. We recall Marlon Brando’s leather-jacketed biker thug in “The Wild Ones” being asked what he was rebelling against, and mumbling “Whattaya got?” in response, and that made more sense and strikes us as far hipper than the big-government anarchy that those Seattle hipsters are going on about.

— Bud Norman

On the Importance of Making Welfare More Fun

On those frequent occasions when the elite eastern press wants to explain the benighted nature of those unwashed rubes in that vast electoral red splotch in the middle of the country, they usually come here to Kansas. The state almost always has a Republican legislature, and these days it even has a governor who obligingly conforms to all the nastiest stereotypes of middle American Republicanism, which allows the likes of The Washington Post to frighten its more sophisticated readership with such headlines as “Kansas wants to ban welfare recipients from seeing movies, going swimming on government’s dime.
Underneath a file photo of some presumably welfare-dependent people happily plunging into an enticingly blue swimming pool on a presumably  hot Kansas summer day, the ensuing article leads with unmistakeable outrage that “There’s nothing fun about being on welfare, and a new Kansas bill aims to keep it that way. If House Bill 2258 is signed into law by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) this week, Kansas families receiving government assistance will no longer be able to use those funds to visit swimming pools, see movies, go gambling or get tattoos on the state’s dime.” To add the horrors that are being visited upon the Kansas poor, the article further notes that the bill “means limiting spending on body piercings, massages, spas, tobacco, nail salons, lingerie, arcades, cruise ships or visits to psychics.” Worse yet, according to the increasingly outraged article, the bill also “forbids recipients from from spending money at a theme park, dog or horse racing facility, parimutuel facility, or sexually oriented establishment which provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state for entertainment, or in any business or retail establishment where minors under age 18 are not permitted.”
Lest you think that The Washington Post and its sophisticated readership regard swimming in the rare Kansas swimming pool that charges an entrance fee, watching the latest Hollywood offerings upon their immediate release, gambling, tattoos, body piercings, massages, spas, tobacco, nail salons, lingerie, arcades, cruise ships, psychics, theme parks, gambling on horses and dogs, and adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe are all fundamental human rights a respectable state is obligated to subsidize, and that being on welfare should be fun, be assured that they offer a more nuanced argument against the bill. Even in Kansas they were able to find a Democrat in the legislature who groused that “I just think that we are simply to saying to people, ‘If you are asking for assistance in this state, you’re sort of less than other people and we’re going to tell you how and where to spend your money.'”
Maybe we’ve been living in Kansas too long, but it seems to us that the bill merely restricts how welfare recipients can spend the taxpayer’s money. Should any welfare recipient choose to take a job or swing a lucrative meth deal he would still be able to swim, watch movies, get pierced or tattooed, enjoy a spa or smoke, get his nails done, dress up in lingerie, listen to the dubious predictions of psychics, visit an arcade, gamble on the dogs or ponies, swill cocktails on a cruise ship, ride roller coasters, gamble on the dogs and ponies, or ogle naked entertainers to his or her heart’s content. The article also scoffs at the idea that Kansas’ poor are spending their meager alms on cruise ships and such luxuries, in which case the bill will not affect them at all, and it links to yet another  article arguing that it’s blatant hypocrisy to limit what welfare recipients might spend the taxpayer’s money on when property tax-paying home owners aren’t obliged to prove that they’re not running brothels out of their homes in order to qualify for federal tax exemptions, which is a bit too nuanced for us to wrap our Kansas minds around, but we’ll add our own link and let the reader make up his own mind.
Being on welfare in Kansas might not be as much fun as The Washington Post and its sophisticated readership think it should be, but with the price of wheat being what is and the aircraft industry still struggling under the current administration’s opprobrium the Kansas taxpayer who is expected to pay the tab surely deserves some consideration.

— Bud Norman

Searing and Wearing Words

One of the many peculiar features of our modern age is the t-shirt controversy. Obsessive news-readers will encounter several of them almost every month, usually involving a student who has run afoul of his school’s dress code, sometimes a disgruntled shopper complaining that some censorious rent-a-cop denied him entry to the local mall, and always a result of our popular culture’s strange insistence on expressing itself on its chest. These days the offending opinions are likely to be religious, patriotic, or otherwise offensive to prevailing polite opinion, which is yet another peculiar feature of our modern age.
The latest spate of t-shirt controversies include a young girl who was forbidden to wear a t=shirt declaring that “Virginity Rocks” and a prominent quarterback for a professional football team wasn’t allowed to appear before the press in a t-shirt with the words “Know Jesus, Know Peace.” There’s another story about an Army officer who wasn’t allowed in his daughter’s school because of his uniform, and of course the recent federal court decision upholding a school’s right to ban any wearing of the American flag for fear of offending the foreign students. The Arkansas middle school that objected to the pro-virginity slogan said it was simply trying to avoid any uncomfortable discussions about sexuality, the professional football league invoked a higher power by saying that the pro-Jesus t-shirt wasn’t an officially licensed Nike product, the Detroit school that stopped the Army officer at its door hilariously explained that it was because he wasn’t wearing a tie, as if anyone in Detroit wears a tie and an Army uniform isn’t sufficiently businesslike by the standards of the Detroit public schools, but even if one buys in to any of this a trend is apparent. Another controversy occurred when some college students wore t-shirts with an obscene suggestion for “Safe Zones,” but that was because of its offense to the school’s up-to-date speech codes rather than any concern for old-fashioned notions of propriety.
Although we stand foursquare for middle school virginity, Jesus, the United States Army, and the American flag, and certainly find them less offensive than the obscenities and insults and likenesses of Che Guevara that shout at us from t-shirts all over the public square, we find it hard to work up much indignation over a t-shirt. Here’s hoping the unwelcome Army officer gets even more groveling apologies from that school for its absurd insult to his service, but the people who could have shown up in primary colored t-shirt free of unasked opinions, or even a nice button-down, must fight their battles without us. Libertarian principle forbids us from any governmental attempt to squelch even the most frivolous forms of free speech, but a traditionalist streak in us can’t help yearning for a bygone era when people voluntarily didn’t wear their opinions on their chest.
In most cases the t-shirts proclaim the wearer’s allegiance to some sports team or rock ‘n’ roll band or clothing manufacturer, which is probably a starter to the most interesting conversation you can have with him, but otherwise it is always something calculated to give offense to somebody. Even when the words are agreeable to us we can’t help wondering if any idea that can be expressed on a t-shirt is worth expressing, and whether those ideas wouldn’t be more persuasively expressed by someone dressed in an adult and serious fashion. The notion that individuality is best expressed by t-shirts and tattoos and vaguely Afro-French-sounding names is of recent and uncertain vintage, and cannot explain why the most daringly transgressive and individualistic figures of the pre-modern era all looked pretty much like else. There were always the extravagant sorts, from Oscar Wilde to Gen. George Custer to Isadora Duncan and her fatally-long scarves, but even these showboats would never have thought of donating their chests to free advertising for some sports team or political cause or foul-mouthed joke. According to the old black-and-white movies even the gangsters aspired to look like respectable Republican businessmen, and and embarrassingly betrayed themselves with a street-level garishness.
So far as we can tell the clothing controversies started when switchblade-wielding kids started showing up at mostly-white high schools with black leather jackets and white t-shirts and rolled-up jeans and basketball shoes a look now regarded as classic continually evoked by subsequent counter-cultures, and intensified when all those long-haired and tie-dyed hippie freaks started filling the local parks with that odd sweet smell. Anyone old enough to recall that era is probably discombobulated by a time when virginity and Jesus and the American flag are the controversial attire, but we mostly lament that people no longer feel free to be themselves without imposing themselves on the fellow just ahead in the grocery store check-out line.

— Bud Norman

An Inconvenient Invasion

Lately the Russian army has invaded Ukraine, an Islamist terrorist group has invaded Iraq, and there’s been an invasion of unaccompanied minors into the United States. The first of these has largely been forgotten by America media too busy downplaying all the domestic scandals they’re hoping you’ll forget, the second is a popular topic in the press becomes it allows them recall the good old days of Bush-bashing, and the third is being treated with a suspicious restraint.
Perhaps it’s because an invasion of unaccompanied minors sounds relatively harmless, as if they’re unlikely to do any more than the rest of the unsupervised kiddos running around everywhere, but it has already proved a noteworthy problem. The self-proclaimed Most Transparent Administration in History has been characteristically opaque about the number of youthful invaders and what exactly has become of them, but by all accounts there are already tens of thousands of them with more on the way and they’ve either been released into the country or housed in makeshift detention camps at military bases or state facilities where diseases are flourishing and such basic necessities as underwear are lacking. Such dire circumstances for so many unaccompanied minors would ordinarily warrant hours of outraged air time and pages full of sob stories, with plenty of heartbreaking pictures of sad-eyed waifs huddled in the corner of an Army gymnasium, so the relatively restrained nature of the coverage is striking.
Too many years of toiling in the newspaper business lead us to several cynical theories.
One is that the pictures aren’t quite right. Most of the sad-eyed waifs being stuffed into those Army gymnasiums are 16 or older, which is a rather ripe old age when you’re coming out of the crime-ravaged slums of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador by way of hopped freight trains through Mexico, and thus far the most memorable photographs show some very fearsome young men decorated with gang tattoos brandishing obscene hand gestures and striking crotch-crabbing poses. Most people confronted with such a picture would be more inclined to send the young hoodlums back home rather than write a check to ensure their care, which is not at all what the press would prefer.
Much of the press has long been devoted to the cause of unrestricted immigration to the United States, and the recent invasion of unaccompanied minors is not proving helpful. A more manageable and photogenic number might have appealed to America’s generous nature, but the current invasion is so large that even The New York Times has been forced to report that the social service agencies are being overwhelmed in such a far-flung location as The Big Apple, and a nation already overwhelmed by $17 trillion of debt and a government that cannot provide promised medical care for its veterans might well decide it can only be so generous. All those gang-sign flashing minors in the current invasion were lured here by rampant rumors throughout Central America that any minors who could somehow get into the United States would not only be welcomed but treated to government largesse, and if that were to become an actual policy as so many wish it could entice the entire Third World.
The story is also unhelpful to the Obama administration, which is another cause to which the much of the press is devoted. Those rampant rumors about kids getting in free began when the president signed one of his frequent executive orders to defer deportation of minor illegal immigrants for two years, were likely further fueled by the president’s promise to deliver even more concessions, and somehow went unnoticed by the administration-appointed ambassadors of those Central American countries as well as the intelligence agencies that were apparently too busy keeping track of your internet browsing. After another executive order adding another two years of deferred deportation, as well as a promise to provide all the invaders with legal representation, the administration is now advertising a get-tough policy in Central America and threatening to eventually send the invaders home, but it remains to be seen if this is another of the administration’s meaningless “red line” threats. The president will have a hard enough time selling his “comprehensive immigration reform” bill with the more rock-ribbed Republicans that are coming out of the primaries, and making his tear-jerking speeches about those noble folks who only want to come here to make a living for their sad-eyed waifs will be especially difficult while shipping off planeloads of young Central Americans.
The story will continue to be reported, and in most cases accurately and with less than the usual amount of spin, but don’t expect it for the generate the same sort of breathless excitement that the press once had for George W. Bush’s decades-old Air National Guard records or what’s in Sarah Palin’s garbage cans. Some stories just aren’t as much fun, and sometimes the pictures just don’t work.

— Bud Norman

Tattoos and the Right

No one is more eager than we are to see the tattoo craze fade away, even if the tattoos will long last outlast the fashion, but we are not the bossy sorts who would tell you that you can’t have one. You can go out and mar yourself with one right now if you’re of a mind to, as far as we’re concerned, and except for the friendly advice that having the name of your favorite heavy metal band or some other vulgarity permanently inked on your neck will not enhance your chances of snagging that executive position you’ve applied for we would impose no impediments to your “body art.”
The busybody bureaucrats of in the nation’s capitol have a more authoritarian attitude, however, and have proposed 66 pages of tattoo regulations that includes a 24-hour waiting period. One might not expect this to have much an effect in Washington, D.C., where the bureaucrats are mostly bossing around other bureaucrats who would seem unlikely to be yearning for a “Bureau of Weights and Standards” or “Environmental Protection Agency” tattoo to adorn their pencil-pushing arms, but apparently there are 40 tattoo parlors in the District and all are strenuously objecting to the new rules. Customers are presumably annoyed as well, especially the ones who have had just enough to drink to be seized by the inspiration to have the evening’s companion’s name inked onto to their body, for even in Washington people chafe at such meddlesome rules.
Which is a tendency that conservatives, even the tattoo-hating traditionalists such as ourselves, should be eager to exploit. Our experience of the municipal government of the District assures us that the scolds who concocted these regulations are not Republicans, and it’s hard to imagine their proposed rules being seriously considered in any of the flyover country jurisdictions still governed by the GOP. Despite the party’s widely publicized aversion to abortion and marriage licenses for same-sex couples, and its general reputation for geriatric cantankerousness, Republicans are temperamentally disinclined to interfere in any personal matter that does not involve a fetus or alter millennia-old customs, and they are downright loathe to impose regulations on any business even if its customers are faddish hipsters in search of decorated buttocks. While the Republicans cannot hope to out-bid the Democrats with free goodies, they can make a compelling case that at least the public’s goodies will remain free.
Tattoos should be an especially argument to the younger set, which has lately voted in overwhelming numbers for the party that is now attempting to regulate the “Hope and Change” logos on their limbs. The tattoo fashion has now permeated even older folks, and we know of one of our contemporaries who got an armful of the things after the one-year waiting period imposed by his disapproving wife, but among the young people of our acquaintance the ink is almost ubiquitous. In another tattoo-related story we learned that even the newly-crowned Miss Kansas is sporting a garish green script of the “Serenity Prayer” on her otherwise enticing frame, and despite a bit of perfunctory grumbling from a few of the aged pageant-watchers it goes to show how very mundane tattoos have become. One almost feels sorry for the bikers, convicts, sailors, and other social outcasts who long ago got inked-up to proclaim their rebelliousness.
An economic policy that has led to the highest youth unemployment rates in several generations and relegated countless hipsters to their parents’ basements won’t dislodge the young folks from the Democratic party, nor will the diplomatic ineptitude that has made such a mess of the entire world, but an assault on the sacred right to a soon-to-be-sagging tattoo might provide the Republicans with a promising opening.

— Bud Norman

Ceding the Public Square

All hell seems to be breaking out around the wider word, what with the various scandals swirling about the White House and the Islamist uprisings in middle eastern capitals and European side streets and the sinking feeling one gets from a 200 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Averages, but here in Wichita the more immediate problem is the darned River Festival.
For those unfortunate souls who reside outside our usually pleasant little prairie city, the River Festival is an annual nine-day-long series of concerts, athletic competitions, parades, parties, fairs, food courts, fireworks displays, and family-oriented frolics that has become an insufferable civic annoyance. Every city of any size has some similar event, we assume, but for pure congestion, inconvenience, and frustration to the average resident none can possibly match Wichita’s traditional get-together.
The festival began on Friday afternoon, and the normal rhythms of everyday were live were immediately disrupted. A trip to the bank to deposit some checks became nearly impossible due to the street closings in anticipation of the opening parade, and only an intimate knowledge of the back alleys, parking lots, and side streets of downtown Wichita allowed us find a circuitous route to the drive-thru window, and how the office workers ever made it home at rush hour remains a mystery that we are glad we were not on hand to witness. Later we drove to mail off the payments for our end-of-the-month bills, but a new series of street closings forced us on a long walk to the post office at the edge of downtown. Being afoot and free of further responsibilities we decided to take in a bit of the parade, which ran the gamut from a local Naval reserves unit in their crisp white uniforms to the city’s tiny band of disheveled Occupy Wall Street nuts protesting the Monsanto Company over some corporate outrage or another, but we soon found ourselves pushing through unaccustomed crowds on the way back to the car. In the evening we attempted to share a beer with a friend who habituates a friendly little hipster coffee shop in the Delano district, a typically placid and sparsely populated neighborhood just across the Arkansas River from downtown, and found ourselves stuck in a crawling traffic jam reminiscent of midtown Manhattan during a transit strike.
The people-watching proved interesting, but depressing. It wasn’t so much the high proportion of morbidly obese passersby, a sight so common that it now goes almost unnoticed, but rather the abundance of profane tattoos, vulgar t-shirts, menacing glowers, and obnoxious behavior. An intimidating deployment of police officers kept the crowd mostly within the bounds of the law, but the muscle-bound boys in the heavy metal tank tops were woofing and the girls with the beefy thighs protruding from obscenely short shorts were shouting “whoo” with all the intimidatingly youthful vigor that the First Amendment allows, and it all somehow evoked the atmosphere of a low-down honky-tonk on the verge of barroom brawl. Wichita is a very middle-class, middle-American city chock full of well-dressed, well-behaved people with well-kept lawns and recently washed family sedans, but one couldn’t help noticing how few of them were strolling through downtown and Delano as the River Festival stretched into the night life.
Old-timers such as ourselves can recall those long ago days when the River Festival wasn’t like this. The festival started out in 1972 as the Wichitennial, an obligatory celebration of the city’s first 100 years of incorporated existence, and the modest offering of events proved such a good time that a few civic-minded organizers decided to do it every year. In its earliest incarnations the festival included an art and book fair where our father would load up on Readers’ Digest condensed novels at a nickel a piece, a Frank Capra-esque parade that once featured our unicycling talents, a few concerts in the Riverside parks featuring local talents such as the Midian Shrine Hillbilly Dixieland Jazz Band or some of the livelier gospel quartets, and quaint competitions such as the bed races down Main Street, bathtub races on the Arkansas River, and a tug-of-war on the sand bar in a river bend near downtown that the closest thing to beach one can find in Wichita. There was a delightfully cornball quality to the whole affair, a small town festival done in relatively big city style, and it attracted an unabashedly old-fashioned crowd of moms, pops, and their well-mannered children which intimidated even the rough and rowdy elements into their best behavior.
So appealing was the River Festival that it began to draw bigger crowds, which in turn led to more careful planning, corporate sponsorships, focus-grouped and market-reached events, slick advertising by the more avant-garde agencies in the city, big name acts of 20 years booked into the bigger stages, and the gradual fading away of the bed races and bath tub races and the spontaneity and small town goofiness that had made it all worthwhile in the first place. The moms and pops and their well-mannered children seemed to fade away from the festival, too, leaving the streets of downtown and Delano to the packs of feral youths in the tank tops and too-short shorts with the woofing and whooing and fighting words tattooed to their necks. Our more respectable friends tell us that they now spend the River Festival safely tucked away in their east-side or west-side homes, bringing to mind the old Yogi Berra line about a restaurant that no one goes to anymore because it’s too crowded, and those of us who live in Riverside and the rest of city’s aging center all seem to just grouse about it.
Judging by the stories of violence, drunkenness, and boorishness that show up on the Drudge Report and other news summaries after big city festivals around the country, the River Festival is not a uniquely annoying event. Everywhere the middle class and its orderly ways seem to be abandoning the public square for its own gated sub-culture, where the children are privately educated and carefully segregated within their socio-economic group, thus ceding the streets and sidewalks and public schools to the rougher and rowdier elements of society. The same lowering effect can be seen across the popular culture, and in the social standards that prevail throughout the year at funerals, weddings, political meetings, and other events were a certain propriety sense of decorum was once observed, it all drives the last vestiges of old-fashioned sensibilities further into seclusion.
In another week or so the River Festival will be over, but the slow decline into a ruder society will likely continue. Reversing the trend will require the silent majority of the middle class to reassert their traditional cultural domination, and at this point they seem too quiet and well-mannered for that. Maybe this has something to do with all hell breaking loose around the rest of the world, too, and in any case it does not bode well.

— Bud Norman