May 3, 2023

Young People: Deranged But Cute

I’m not saying that. Nick Cave is.

When asked by fans on his RedHandFiles blog about why the heck the old Nick Cave is attending the upcoming coronation of King Charles III, the implicit idea behind the question was “You”ve changed as you’ve gotten older. You used to be rock and roll!”

The young Nick Cave would have stuck up a middle finger to such monarchical pomposity and he’d have been all punk rock about it, right? After all that’s the more authentic response isn’t it?

Cave gave this withering, but oh so polite response:

And as for what the young Nick Cave would have thought – well, the young Nick Cave was, in all due respect to the young Nick Cave, young, and like many young people, mostly demented, so I’m a little cautious around using him as a benchmark for what I should or should not do. He was cute though, I’ll give him that. Deranged, but cute.

Badda-bing, Badda-boom!

The interlocutors were, of course, expressing their shock that somehow in accepting the invitation Cave was being untrue to the core of Nick Cave, or who they imagine Nick Cave to be. Like so many cultural heroes Cave is some sort of cypher down which people pour their own hopes and dreams. I think like Nick Cave, therefore I am “Nick Cave-esque”, somehow filling up their slightly unsure, meaning-deficit buckets.

In their minds “peak-Cave” is the young punk rock large haired rebel. As if there is something “authentic” and raw about being young in and of itself.

Cave on the other hand? Well as Cave points out, there’s something deranged about that idea. Cute yes, but deranged also. Cave didn’t point out, though he has elsewhere, that he’d been a constant heroin addict in his younger years and was in and out out clinics. Perhaps that’s cute when you’re young. Cute and deranged. What it isn’t, is healthy, life-affirming, or even creative. As Cave says in his series of interviews with journalist Sean O’Hagan, being a heroin addict takes a lot of time, effort and attention.

This idea that somehow the young have a peculiar insight to the authentic life is a vestige and hangover from Romanticism, and it clings to the Humanities departments of our university like a particularly sticky booger clings to the nose of a two year old in the playground.

In the eyes of many of his fans, not this one I might add, Cave would have been better off dying young, addicted to heroin and radicalism; another Percy Bysshe Shelley. Now that Cave is retirement age, he’s let himself go, right? Gone soft in the head!

At least that’s the theory – that somehow the younger you are the more clearly you see things. The more honest you are. The more you make decisions stripped back from the detritus of adult life.

And it’s also cute. Cute but deranged. As long as people leave that idea firmly parked in the arts field, and hermetically sealed, I’m kinda happy with cute and deranged. That’s why I don’t really care that so much social justice art in our modern world could have been produced by a Yr 12 student in preparation for their final exams, or equally by a fifty year old who has been through three divorces, has six children by five women, an ongoing drug addiction yet who has discovered – strangely enough – the answer to world peace and relational harmony.

Deranged and cute is one thing. Deranged and dangerous is another. Yet from where I sit, that’s where the adults – or those who are supposed to be adulting in our culture – are at. So we have the astonishing, and yes – deranged – paradox in the Australian state of Victoria, in which the age of criminal responsibility has been raised to fourteen, at the same time the government and its health agencies is gender-affirming to younger and younger people. It’s deranged and dangerous all the way down. Because at some stage the cute is bound to wear off. And then that’s when the law suits will begin.

I was speaking to some pre-teens on the weekend as they discussed a trans student in class who had been trans since very young – seven or eight. What struck me was not the trans issue itself, but the incredibly sexualised terminologies employed by this child, terminologies, ideas and actions that made their peers feel uncomfortable, and that are normally the remit of adults. These terminologies, ideas and actions that were clearly being presented at home as normal for a seven year old, by adults who would appear to be deranged and dangerous.

This often makes me wonder about the issue of consent. If a seven year old is not too young to tell you which gender they are, and not too young wear clothes that pressure their body parts into looking like different body parts; and if they continually talk about members of the opposite (same?) sex in a sexualised manner to their pre-teen non-sexualised peers, then where does that leave the age of consent? What could possibly be meaningful about it? If all the power is with the most authentic person in the room who knows themselves better than any adult can?

Well, you can fill in the blanks You can bet your bottom dollar that the deranged and dangerous adults pitching the vision of the good life for progressive societies will continue to raise the age of criminal responsibility even while they lower the age of sexual consent. Launder, rinse, repeat.

Such governments and their minion department leaders do deranged but cute really well. What they struggle to do is to adult in the way that Nick Cave suggests. They struggle to have the wisdom of age about them.

So how does the Bible respond to youth and old age? Well, in keeping with Chris Watkin’s diagonalising reframing of dichotomous positions in his excellent book Biblical Critical Theory, is it any surprise that young and old age are not the primary categories by which to judge a person, but rather, wisdom and foolishness? And biblical wisdom and foolishness at that.

The Bible points to many old fools. Eli, the priest and father of Hophni and Phineas, is a fool because he does not hold back the sin of his sons (1Samuel 3). And in the context of that story, the young Samuel is wise in a way that the older Samuel is not necessarily so, in that his own sons do not walk in his ways. The young David is wise in so many ways, but as he gets older the cracks appear and his besetting sins seem to beset more!

Yet at the same time, the folly of youth is pointed out so frequently in the Bible, starting with the Wisdom Literature of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. As someone pointed out, the constant lesson in Proverbs seems to be “don’t join a gang, and don’t be a sex addict.”

Yet Jesus is young! Not yet fifty years old and he’s challenged by the leaders of the day for his insistence that he knew how Abraham felt about him (John 8:56). And the older I get (56 this year), the more I am sobered by the fact that, just as I sometimes dismiss the opinion of a thirty year old on the basis of they being thirty, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so enamoured with Jesus if I had been a religious mover and shaker back in the day.

We all like to think that we would have been loving on Jesus if he’d turned up in our day, which is proof, if ever we needed it, that we are proud, self-righteous and unwilling to see our abject need of him. “Crucify!” we’d harrumph, with the all maturity of those intent on leaving a legacy.

And Timothy? Paul tells Timothy not to let others despise his youth (1Tim4:12), which raises the question of what actions a young man such as Timothy would have had to take to stop such despising occurring.

Yet Timothy is also taught to flee, not youth itself, but “youthful passions” (2 Tim2:22), in other words, “the cute but deranged” stuff that Nick Cave is talking about. The sort of stuff that a young punk rocker would be feted for when young, but which looks sad and depressing and lame when he’s got a beer belly, a balding spot at the back, and the same pair of Dr Marten’s he had when he went to that Echo and the Bunnymen concert back in 1982.

I’ve just finished reading a pre-published copy of an excellent book that deals with time and its implications for God’s people, in fact its implications for all people. And what hits me hard is the speed at which time goes by. Breaking our lives up into four twenty-year blocks is confronting. And to be honest, with four years to go before I reach the final twenty-year block (if God spares me), is super-confronting. Where did it all go? Why did it all go so quickly? More to the point, will I still be running sub 20minutes for five kilometres at sixty years of age?

Here’s what I don’t want. I don’t want the cute to run out long before the derangement does. There’s nothing worse than a deranged and decidedly older man who cannot grow up, and will not grow up, and who wishes to die before he grows up, and probably will.

I also talked over the weekend with two women whose fathers had made deranged and dangerous lifestyle choices when they were younger, and have been unable to pull out of that particular dive. There could be nothing worse that your adult children and your teenage grandchildren feeling, at best, sorry for you, and at worst, despising you, for the deranged decisions you made and continue to make. Yet how commonplace it is!

Cave is right. And Cave’s response was right. And it was right in this way. As you read the whole response, Cave is not nasty or aggressive or all “up yours!”. He’s funny and kind and insightful. He’s aged gracefully. And graciously. And he is no less honest, and no less confronting by it.

So enjoy the King’s coronation Nick Cave. Every medieval ceremony needs at least one ageless vampire.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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