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It's Morning After in America: Here's why social indicators, dismaying for decades, have turned positive

Kay S. Hymowitz

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SEX DOESN'T SELL: MISS PRIM IS IN. No, editors at the New York Times "Sunday Styles" section were not off their meds when they came up with that headline recently. Just think about some of the Oscar nominees this year: there was Seabiscuit, a classic inspirational story of steadfast outsiders beating huge odds to win the race; Return of the King: Lord of the Rings, a mythic battle of good defeating evil, featuring female characters as pure as driven snow; Master and Commander, a nineteenth-century naval epic celebrating courage, discipline, and patriarchal authority. And then there was Lost in Translation, in which a man in the throes of a midlife crisis spends hours in a hotel room with a luscious young woman, and . . . they talk a lot.

Wave away the colored smoke of the Jackson family circus, Paris Hilton, and the antics of San Francisco, and you can see how Americans have been self-correcting from a decades-long experiment with "alternative values." Slowly, almost imperceptibly during the 1990s, the culture began a lumbering, Titanic turn away from the iceberg, a movement reinforced by the 1990s economic boom and the shock of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. During the last ten years, most of the miserable trends in crime, divorce, illegitimacy, drug use, and the like that we saw in the decades after 1965 either turned around or stalled. Today Americans are consciously, deliberately embracing ideas about sex, marriage, children, and the American dream that are coalescing into a viable--though admittedly much altered--sort of bourgeois normality. What is emerging is a vital, optimistic, family-centered, entrepreneurial, and yes, morally thoughtful, citizenry.

To check a culture's pulse, first look at the kids, as good a crystal ball as we have. Yes, there's reason to worry: guns in the schools, drugs, binge drinking, cheating, Ritalin, gangs, bullies, depression, oral sex, Internet porn, you name it...

Yet marketers who plumb people's attitudes to predict trends are noticing something interesting about "Millennials," the term that generation researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss invented for the cohort of kids born between 1981 and 1999: they're looking more like Jimmy Stewart than James Dean. They adore their parents, they want to succeed, they're optimistic, trusting, cooperative, dutiful, and civic-minded. "They're going to 'rebel' by being, not worse, but better," write Howe and Strauss.

However counterintuitive, there's plenty of hard evidence to support this view...

Read the entire article on the City Journal website.

Posted: 6/20/04



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