Something unusual stopped me in these sentences from a Times article about a state-by-state study of flaws in the American electoral system: “A main goal of the exercise, which grew out of Professor Gerken’s 2009 book, ‘The Democracy Index,’ was to shame poor performers into doing better, she said. ‘Peer pressure produces horrible things like Britney Spears and Justin Bieber and tongue rings,’ Professor Gerken said. ‘But it also produces professional peer pressure.'”
It almost took my breath away: Professor Heather Gerken, who is in her early forties, felt free to tell a reporter that Britney Spears and Justin Bieber, not to mention tongue rings, are horrible. Gerken broke one of the unwritten rules of being middle-aged: don’t go after the young and what they love. Not in print, anyway. Don’t open yourself up to the charge of curmudgeonliness, because the inevitable retort–“You just don’t get it, Professor! You sound like your parents!”–is probably accurate, certainly unanswerable, and absolutely devastating. Few things in America are less forgivable than getting older.