Toward the end of 1990, you couldn’t get away from Simpsons merchandise- from posters, to pajama sets, to pencil toppers- mostly featuring Generation-X’s very first mainstream media icon, Bart Simpson. You see, before “The Simpsons” became obsessed with Homer’s gradual decline into retardation, the show’s initial protagonist was skateboarding prankster Bart- the country’s first take on their next generation.
And those savvy Simpsons writers seemed to have nailed it. While Bart’s driving characteristic was apathy, it was a kind of self-aware apathy. Bart wasn’t stupid, he was an “underachiever”- he was capable of more but consciously chose less. This hyper-aware apathy would become the generation’s defining trait.
Taking Wally World hostage after an mangled cross-country road trip in “Vacation” (1983) was emblematic of the dawning Reagan 80s. Clark wasn’t going to be denied, and if life didn’t deal him the hand he wanted, he’d take what he felt entitled to- this was his moment.
Reagan’s landslide victory in 1980 coincided with the Boomer’s coming of age and taking over the cultural reigns of the West, and Reagan played to their newfound feeling of social control. Like a college freshman overwhelmed with the trivialities of burgeoning freedom, Boomers were getting high on their own supply and quickly gaining weight. They were mad with control and looking to carve-out a society in their own image- and Ronald Reagan was the man to get them there.
Oh, poor Tim the ostler! The humble stable buck hopelessly in love with his boss’s gorgeous, red lipped daughter. Like that was ever gonna happen, and she’s in love with the bad boy Highwayman anyway, a dapper thief with a taste for the high-life; the ostler never had a chance. So, what does our scorned, low-born, beta-male do? The only thing he can- Tim calls the police, another group of men more masculine than he, to properly dispose of the Highwayman.
Thus is the premise of Alfred Noyes’s narrative poem “The Highwayman” (1906). You may have guessed that our poor, law-abiding ostler isn’t quite the hero of the story- that role is more closely filled by the titular scoundrel, with the lesson being that we don’t judge the morality of actions as much as we judge the value of those committing them.
And Tim, as a poor stable-hand, doesn’t have much in the way of value- he’s disposable and invisible. In modern terminology, which is ironically also Old English terminology, Tim is a cuck– and if you want any chance at sexual success, you can’t be a cuck.
“When all of your wishes are granted, many of your dreams will be destroyed”- The Man That You Fear
Marilyn Manson cucked after Columbine, although I can hardly blame him. If a kid went out and shot-up a Chuck-E-Cheese after reading “From the Arcade to the Girlfriend Experience,” I’d probably end up cucking too. It’s a heavy toll to pay for a guy who was just having a good bit of fun trolling.
Yes, that’s right- if you weren’t in on the joke, or actually took the old bastard seriously- Marilyn Manson started his career as a pre-internet, proto-troll. A tremendous practical joke, a long-con, being played on the very people paying to see him. And, yeah, two kids took it too seriously, played some Doom, and fucked the whole thing up.