I just wrapped up all 114 episodes of the late-80s ABC hit “The Wonder Years” and it did to me what I suppose it did to my mom when it was first on television. It stirred up the echos of memories of a bygone era that I look upon with great fondness. The story focuses on a young kid from Anywhere, American named Kevin Arnold during the late-60s and early-70s just as Kevin graduates high school and leaves the small suburban town that he grew up in. I loved this show when I was a kid and I have to say that I still find it to be one of the greatest shows in television history. Yes, it had a Leftist tinge to it, as all pop-culture phenoms do, but it also touched on many different traditional themes that I imagine its creator and writers did not quite intend. But nevertheless the complete series is a testimony to the American Dream, to a life that those of us who are over the age of 35 remember with great fondness. It is also a testimony to the fear that our children may never know what it was like to enjoy a day where you could ride your bike in your neighborhood without the aspect of some psycho snatching you up.
One aspect of the modern American life is that the suburbs are no longer the place where affluent, middle class families live to raise their children in a quiet, low crime neighborhood. Last year, the Brookings Institute released a bit of analysis that detailed the rot that has taken hold in the suburbs. “As poverty mounted throughout the nation over the past decade, the number of poor people living in suburbs surged 67% between 2000 and 2011 — a much bigger jump than in cities.” The researchers concluded that some of impetus for this was more affordable homes in the suburbs and being priced out of their urban dwellings by gentrification in the cities. We have seen stories of this in San Fransisco where local renters are having to fend for themselves as tech-geeks with massive six figure salaries move into hip urban areas and offer landlords sums of cash that they cannot possible refuse. Here in the Washington DC area the same occurrence is visible all over the city. And these areas where the low-income folks are being pushed out are also the areas where crime was concentrated. Now it is coming to the suburbs.
Another aspect of the show that is seemingly disappearing from the American scene is depicted toward the end of the series when the father, Jack, decides to quit his low-end executive position at an established company to start his own furniture business. Jack’s only hurdle that he has to get over is securing enough start-up capital form the local bank (another dying institution in America) to purchase the factory where the furniture is to be build. Today, whether you look at the mountains of seemingly insurmountable regulations or the near impossibility to secure a small-business loan from a bank, starting up a business and having it gain success is nearly impossible. In 2012 The Atlantic, no friend to us here at Red State, did a pretty good piece about explaining why entrepreneurship has decreased in the US over the past decade. Anything from heavy government regulations brought about by Obamacare to the type of business that is being created factors into whether it starts or not, how successful it is, and how many people would be needed to grow it. There can be very little doubt that if Jack had wanted to start his furniture business in 2011 as opposed to 1971, then there would not have been a furniture store for very long.
Finally, just he innocence of the age for the main character, Kevin Arnold, seems to be missing or destroyed depending on how you want to look at it. The innocence of growing up but not being reckless, and certainly not being encouraged into recklessness by the surrounding adults. What do I mean by this? Well throughout the series, we are given the privilege of looking into the deep relationship Kevin has with his boyhood crush Winnie Cooper. We get to witness their first kiss just as they enter the seventh grade. We get to see them go on different dates and basically build a teenaged relationship together. But in the entire series, we are never treated to their first “make-out” session which leads to sex. In fact the only character that deals with the issue of sex is Chuck with roughly four episodes left in the whole series. Now this might mostly be due to the era of when the series was on television (1988 – 1994), but there is still a sense that during the time frame in which the show is set, teenagers had not become sexualized like they are today. In New York City there is now a push to ensure that kids in middle school (the same grade level that Kevin starts the series with) understands how to use a condom and when the appropriate age for sex is. And since the late-90s middle school kids have been engaging in oral sex to the point that it is common, and the new phenomena is sexting in high school. There is not a whiff of any of this in Kevin’s world. In middle school, he had a difficult time TALKING to Winnie, let alone having her give him a “Lewinsky.”
The America that was depicted so eloquently in “The Wonder Years” is gone forever. The prospect of a child borne into this new America is going to be bombarded with a culture that celebrates hedonistic paganism and then attacked by the state economically upon reaching adulthood if they venture out into the world of entrepreneurism. I have not yet been blessed with children, and I am ecstatic about being a father. However, I have great fears about the kind of world my children will be inheriting. When I was kid, I used to roam around the neighborhood on my bike at all hours of the day, especially during the summer months. How many kids these days are either kept away from that kind of growing up by their helicopter parents or by themselves through video games? I often thing back to my childhood and say that kids these days will never have as great a childhood as I had. The toys, the cartoons, the society all mark a much more superior time to grow up than anything that I have observed today. The final episode of “The Wonder Years” has the narrator thinking back to those days when neighborhoods were little villages made up of families who looked after each other. He says just before the credits role that he “looks back at that time with wonder.” It is a kind of nostalgia that makes me look forward with fear.