Sunny side up
Cynicism is so 1990. sincerity is back in vogue.
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"We've been waiting to exhale for a long time," says Mr. Thompson. He points to what he calls early examples, such as Oprah Winfrey. "There is a woman without an ironic bone in her body," he says. Behind her came people like Dr. Phil.Skip to next paragraph
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"He's a tell-it-like-it-is guy," he says. "Irony," says Thompson, such as the sardonic '90s sitcom hit, "Seinfeld," "is tell it-like-it-is-not."
Others suggest the shift is even more profound. William Strauss calls this the leading edge of a full-bore generational overhaul, decades in the making. "This is a time when the culture cleanses itself," he says, describing a transition he has written about in "The Fourth Turning," a book he coauthored.
History has moved throughout time in cycles of four overturnings which, Mr. Strauss writes, "have kept the great wheel of time in motion, infusing civilization with periodic new doses of vitality." Strauss dubs the final turning of each cycle a reverse of the film "Pleasantville," in which "we take out the garish colors and put in pleasant ones."
His theory is that cycles of history have repeated themselves for centuries. Today's mood, he says, most resembles that of the Great Depression.
"Up until the fall of 1929, America inhabited a decade of wonderful nonsense," he says, comparing this to the '90s. The popular phrase of that time was, "Oh yeah?" in response to any attempt to be serious. The '90s equivalent was "whatever!" Strauss says with a laugh.
The mood shifted after the stock market crash that brought both eras to an end, he says. "This ushered in a new mood and there was no going back," he says. The terrorist attacks helped this shift move along more quickly.
"The events of 9/11," says Strauss, "pushed people toward the enduring, toward things that are sweeter." Look at classic images of Norman Rockwell and the Depression-era movies, he says, films that focused on noble people in the midst of difficult circumstances.
"Whether it was Frank Capra or Andy Hardy, the image of teens in the '30s was young people with bright shining faces who were honest and sincere."
Today, says Strauss who works with high school theater groups across the country, young people want their stories to have traditional beginnings, middles, and endings.
The next generation also works together well in groups. "This is not a niche culture," he says, "happy is in."
Not everyone is going to like this change, adds Strauss, who, as cofounder of the satirical musical group "The Capitol Steps" certainly understands irony. "To some eyes, this will look bland, even propagandistic," he adds with a laugh.
On the positive side, however, he sees a much more civic culture, with a more politically engaged populace.
Elle Woods would certainly agree. After all, she marches on Washington in order to change what she considers an unjust law. It's just that she does it without losing her style. Says one gushing co-worker, "you've come further than all of us, while maintaining your bounce and sparkle!"
This new generation also is not entirely without the knowing nudge or wink. It just won't have the sharp elbow's edge, say pundits. This is the era of the sophisticated innocent, again well-captured by Elle as she begs lawmakers to heed her call.
"An honest voice is louder than a crowd," she says over and over during her Jimmy Stewart/Gary Cooper moments. Then, in a supremely Elle Woods moment, she adds, "stand up for the land of the free gift with purchase!"