We have very serious problems in the world. When I turn on the news (especially the goddamn local news) or log onto the world wide web, I tend to be greeted with messages like the one above. Everything is awful. Everything will continue to be awful. Stay tuned for Jeopardy, up next.
You know what, guys, we’ve always had very serious problems in the world. We’ve solved some of them, we’ve created some new one’s, but by and large the problems we’re dealing with are a variation of the same problems we’ve faced before. Politics. War. Disease. Sports. Young people. As David Byrne said, it’s the same as it ever was.
Or, as I’ve written before, everything is a remix.
Now, I don’t mean to delegitimize the world’s problems. They certainly exist, big and small, and complaining can be fun. In a weird way it brings people together. Humans like to complain, and we’ve always liked to complain. But most of the inane crap we’re complaining about is not unique to our time.
Let’s take a look at some examples of stuff people have been saying for the last 100+ years:
On the American dream…
U.S. consumers seem suddenly disillusioned with the American dream of rising propserity. “I’m worried if my kids can earn a decent living and buy a house,” says Tony Lentini, vice president of Mitchell Energy in Houston. “I wonder if this will be the first generation that didn’t do better than their parents. There’s a genuine feeling that the country has gotten way off track, and neither political party has any answers. Americans don’t see any solutions.” — Time Magazine, 1992
The percentage of Americans living in poverty is lower, crime rates have halved, and GDP has doubled since 1992.
As baseball is no longer a sport, but a business, and a rather low business at that, it must he treated like the stove business and the express business whenever it obstructs the sidewalks or interferes with the clear right of way of pedestrians. — New York Times, 1891
Baseball revenues have compounded at annual rate of (approximtaely) eight shmagillion percent since 1891.
On stock buybacks…
Fortunately, when investors start getting antsy — as many have in the wake of the Dow’s latest, weeklong skid — Corporate America has a potent tranquilizer in its remedial arsenal: the stock buyback. The traditional stock buyback — under which a company repurchases its own shares from investors — is so commonplace in the age of the steady-as-she-goes bull market as to be a cliche. — CNN, 1998
The stock market has doubled since 1998.
On the general pace of life…
It is, unfortunately, one of the chief characteristics of modern business to be always in a hurry. In olden times it was different. — The Medical Record, 1884
I long for the pace of life before indoor plumbing and antibiotics.
Conversation is said to be a lost art. Good talk presupposes leisure, both for preparation and enjoyment. The age of leisure is dead, and the art of conversation is dying. — Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, Volume 29, 1890
We talk a lot about about millenials of the 21st century, but rarely do we talk about those scallywag 20th century millenials.
On American companies manufacturing abroad…
Goods will be so much cheaper, but what will become of all the American Industries? — Judge Magazine, 1888
American industries did just fine after 1888.
Take a look at this 1964 political ad put out by Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats. It looks like it could have been made in 2016.* The part from 3:07 on is especially prescient…
*except for the smoking part.
By the way, the dude from this ad is still alive and spoke with CNN last week.
Here is some other stuff people have said forever:
The rock upon which most of the flower-bedecked marriage barges go to pieces is the latter-day cult of individualism; the worship of the brazen calf of the Self. — The Atlantic, 1907
This was the cover of New York Magazine in August 1976:
They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial. They postpone marriage because they dread divorce. — Time, 1990
Year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.