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Die Zeit: "The Great Head-wagging about Young People" (1956)

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This “responsibility of the times” also becomes visible in the two other examples of what is, relatively speaking, still a harmless “youth fanaticism.” The emphasis here is on fanaticism and on the danger inherent in it. We have already experienced a wanton misalignment between parents and children as the side effect of a fanatical political conviction: during the Hitler period, when “loyalty to the state” could demand a deadly betrayal of one’s own flesh and blood – and did produce such betrayal. Who knows to what confusion and recklessness such mass intoxication – like the orgies of the jazz fans – might lead to if only the relevant motives are inserted at the critical moment? (However, I certainly do not wish to deny the values of vitality and the aesthetic values inherent in real jazz). For even the enthusiasm of the movie fans that is so easy to smile at is by no means harmless. For here, too, is manifest the old phenomenon of what is essentially “mass” enthusiasm, whose intensity and fanatical “readiness for action” (yes, this all too well-known Nazi phrase is once again appropriate here!) seem grotesque, measured against the occasions.

Both the jazz mania and the movie mania of our youth have their preconditions in corresponding attitudes of the adults. After all, many parents participate internally in the cults that come out of jazz and movies. Here, too, the “responsibility of the times” is evident. And its essential core lies without a doubt in the dismantling of the religious.

The religious is an elemental force that human beings can never cast off, whether they wish to or not. It asserts itself, even if all its accustomed signs wither, all its original objects are covered up. It then diverts into unsuspected directions – but secretly it remains alive, even if in a completely perverted form.

Our time, broadly speaking, is on the road to transforming itself from an a-religious into an anti-religious one. One should therefore expect that the suppressed religious impulses will make themselves felt in other ways. If we look at the contemporary phenomena I have been talking about here under this aspect, we come up with surprising insights.

Psychoanalysis Replaces Confession

It has long been known that the loss of real faith produces superstition to the same degree; and today this is once again confirmed everywhere. The mania of jazz fans (cases like the one reported have occurred more frequently, after all) is clearly reminiscent of the medieval religious flagellants and the gyrations of the St. Vitus dancers; the symptoms are nearly identical. And the mentality of the movie fans with their star worship must certainly be described as a perversion of saint worship. The manifestations of religious self-exaggeration have thus persisted. But their content has declined to the level of utter primitiveness. One is inclined to say: the manifestations have become nearly stripped of preconditions – and that is all the more menacing, since they can easily become ignited again by far more dangerous occasions.

I shall mention only as an aside the more obvious correspondence of a fashionable mindset with an originally religious exercise, which is flourishing especially in the US and in Switzerland. The faith in the blessings of confession, in the sacrament of penance, has turned into the mass superstitious belief in the panacea of psychoanalysis (this statement is by no means intended to deny the limited therapeutic value of this method). This superstition is taking on increasingly delusional forms also among us; more and more, the rush to psychoanalysts and psychotherapists is growing into a true sport for the excessively carefree . . .

If we add the fact that not only the religious instincts have been today largely perverted, but that the other, former element of stability – general humanistic education – has dissolved into an entirely unserious class word, as evidenced by the ‘higher’ star cults of the modern worship of musicians, the obligatory social game of festivaltravelsport, and the indiscriminate hunt for autographs, it must be abundantly clear what sort of world the elders are preparing for our youths, and whose impulses the latter are absorbing with the redoubled energy of their growing years – and reducing ad absurdum.

It is as pointless as it is unfair to want to find the explanation for all possible, seemingly incomprehensible excesses of youth in young people themselves. Looked at in the light of day, there is nothing incomprehensible or difficult to explain about it. One only has to look for the causes in the right place!

Source: Walter Abendroth, “The Great Head-wagging about Young People. The Modern Superstition of the Movie and Jazz Fans” [“Das große Kopfschütteln über die Jugend Der moderne Aberglaube der Film- und Jazzfans”], Die Zeit, no. 39, September 27, 1956, p. 15.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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