Cities on a Hill

Fox, Richard Wightman

BOOKS Perils oi the haven hunters Frances FitzGerald has an uncanny eye for the revealing social fact. In this study of four contemporary white Americarf "cultures" the gay males of San...

...Cities on a Hill is virtuoso cultural commentary...
...The therapeutic message of pop psychology was their ideological glue...
...Short hair was now the style very short hair cut far above the ears...
...Anyone visiting a retirement community for the first time would expect to be impressed by a uniformity of age...
...Her text has the concrete immediacy of documentary film...
...She observes that each group is concerned with "identity," with getting a fresh start, with being pragmatic...
...We are all products of the inherited American myth of "starting over," a myth that gives our life its distinctive frenzy, its unique hopefulness, and its special poignancy...
...But she transcends the usual cosmopolitan condescension by attending to the genuine strength of fundamentalist culture: its determination to hold families together...
...Sun City, Rajneeshpuram, and the Castro are the vanguard of what may be a much larger middle-class movement away from traditional family ideals, according to which the goal of the older generation was not just to seek its own future but to cultivate the younger generation and pass on a cultural heritage...
...The Rajneeshees, like the other groups, may have been starting over but they were taking their Jacuzzis and other middleclass emblems with them...
...It is no accident that each of these three cultures exhibits a detectable antiSemitic strain...
...They had too many inherited scruples about being moral and law-abiding...
...They came not to retire but to enjoy the good life of golf, parties, drawing classes, and gardening a separate life that would permit their grown children to have their own full adulthood, free of crusty, set-in-theirways-in-laws...
...Energetic, sociable, gusty of temperament, he had a great capacity for symCITIES ON A HILL A JOURNEY THROUGH CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN CULTURE Frances FitzGerald Simon and Schuster, $19.95, 414 pp...
...Only Falwell's group preserves the inherited appeal to the family and to the young, though in his voice the appeal becomes formulaic, like the Bible verses which Lynchburg children are invited to memorize, not apply...
...All share the distinctively American conceit that there's no need to be tied down by the past...
...The men "wear double-knit suits and sport gold wedding bands or heavy brass rings stamped with mottoes...
...In the text she permits herself to tease a gay friend over his preference for moustache-less men a familiar and familial gesture of a sort that she never risks in the other, far more alien cultures...
...She scrutinizes and dissects her subjects, but does not dismiss them...
...Like the men of Castro, the Sun Citizens, and Falwell's legions, they sought the freedom to pursue a private life-style of their choice...
...Somehow she manges to be sympathetic even when she is most critical...
...In the Castro, by contrast, FitzGerald is at home...
...the "active" retirees of Sun City, Florida...
...To put it another way, they were attempting to despecialize old age...
...Richard Wightman Fox pathy and an even greater one for outrage...
...Yet even the Rajneeshees, whose withdrawal from American society might seem to be complete, were paradoxically wrapped up in the most stereotypically consumerist dreams...
...So there were therapy groups and meditations," FitzGerald writes in the most biting passage in the book,' 'though the distinctions between them were not always clear . . . People were experimenting a lot with Tantric sex in and out of the therapy groups, either on general principles or in the hope of having some experience of the divine...
...His own life-style enclave more and more resembles the others, despite its greater age spread...
...Only Falwell, moreover, maintains the classic bourgeois missionary gesture: convert the other enclaves to the one true faith...
...It's another place to learn how to maximize one's potential, both in workaday, practical affairs and in the leisurely realm of spirit...
...At Sun City outside Tampa, where all 8,500 residents must be over fifty and 27 February 1987: 117 without children, the desire for identity in the literal sense of sameness is equally intense...
...If FitzGerald is right, and I think she is, a new fragmentation is taking place in the white American middle-class...
...The regional, folk, and ethnic sub-cultures of the past are being replaced, but not by the homogenized mass society much predicted and much feared in mid-twentieth century American social analysis...
...But the conclusion does not do enough to place the four cultures in relation to one another...
...They are being replaced, at least in liberal America and perhaps increasingly in conservative America, by a motley assortment of cultural refuges that share a common desire to grow and let grow...
...But she could have gone further in generalizing about what her four groups do and do not have in common...
...FitzGerald's essay on the Rajneeshees, by far the longest in the book and by far the best analysis to date of the rise and recent demise of the Bhagwan and his followers, continues the thread of the other chapters...
...People wear golf clothes whether they are golfing or not...
...the fundamentalist Christians of Jerry Falwell's Lynchburg, Virginia, church and college...
...The Rajneeshees worked twelve hours a day and made the dry central Oregon ranchland bloom...
...But she is captivated by the power of belief...
...When her subjects are on the verge of appearing laughable or pathetic, she implicitly reminds us, and herself, of their humanity and of their likeness to us...
...As for the women involved why, they might have invented this church, so heavily do the prohibitions fall on traditional male vices such as drinking, smoking, running around, and paying no heed to the children...
...The muscles seemed to belong to the uniform as did the attitude...
...FitzGerald brings the new Castro of the late 1970s sharply to life: the serious, dapper, "Edwardian" Castro that raised its nose at the messy counter-cultural gay style of the early 1970s...
...only the Castro of the liberal Jew, Harvey Milk, preserves the cosmopolitan bourgeois ideals of the Enlightenment...
...Abstractions didn't interest him," she writes, in a sentence she might as well apply to herself...
...Another group of white middle-class searchers devises a new social form in an effort to be reborn and carefully demarcates its rituals from those of the surrounding, sometimes hostile, society...
...But in their vision, all work was defined as play, and all thoughts were public...
...If the look of the Castro in 1979 was wellscrubbed "cowboy or bush pilot," the look of the 18,000 members of Falwell's Thomas Road Church was also "freshfaced and extraordinarily clean...
...But Sun Citizens have so much else in common in the realm of appearance that age seems the least of it...
...The Rajneeshees mounted by far the most drastic challenge to bourgeois middle-class ideals: they abandoned the division between work and leisure, and between public and private behavior, the bedrock disjunctions of modern American life...
...he is the single hero of FitzGerald's book, which ordinarily keeps its cool anthropological distance from individuals...
...Authority is personal and even despotic at Lynchburg and Rajneeshpuram, impersonal and corporate, but equally unanswerable at Sun City...
...their designer jogging suits were their everyday garb...
...In the Castro a major new "public" has emerged: gay males may not be more numerous today than a generation ago, but they are self-conscious, publicly demonstrative in parades and other rituals, politically organized and confident...
...Just whom anyone was sleeping with seemed to have less importance than normally, for there were all kinds of love and energy going around . . . The problem was to lose your mind and be completely spontaneous to live in the present, not the past or future...
...118: Commonweal...
...FitzGerald relentlessly exposes the pinched parochialism of this provincial bourgeoisie...
...Bhagwan thought chaos helped.'' But FitzGerald refuses to dismiss even the Rajneeshees, who were good, traditional bourgeois modernizers despite their rejection of the bourgeois family and their naive surrender of democratic responsibility to the dictatorial Bhagwan and his ultimately homicidal aides...
...He did not trust them in positions of authority...
...FitzGerald is brilliantly sensitive to uniforms, to the uniformity that social groups impose on themselves to fix their identity, mark their boundaries...
...The embourgeoisement of Lynchburg, Rajneeshpuram, and Sun City is always anti-intellectual, sometimes paranoid, implicitly fascisant...
...mustaches were clipped, and there wasn't a beard or a ponytail to be seen anywhere...
...Yet FitzGerald has an evident liking for the persistent democratic communalism of the Castro, which contrasts starkly with the patriarchal authority structure of the other three cultures she studies...
...And by its very real personal and social fruits...
...But that rhetoric is increasingly vacuous...
...On one level the women are reduced to a life of subordination through service...
...And the new gear was cut to show off bulging deltoids, slim hips, and rippling stomachs...
...His own immediate experience did...
...To each his or her own (adults-only) haven in a heartless world...
...On another level, being forced to cede at least the appearance of decision-making to one's husband "might be a small price to pay to get the father of your children to become a respectable middle-class citizen...
...Like the others they were building what Robert Bellah has called a "life-style enclave...
...In this study of four contemporary white Americarf "cultures" the gay males of San Francisco's Castro neighborhood...
...The young women "wear their hair long, loose, and almost uniformly flipped and curled in Charlie's Angels style...
...The Bhagwan, for his part, scoffed privately at the naivete'of his American disciples...
...At church on Sunday it's difficult to recognize a female acquaintance from the back, since all the women have the same neat permanent wave...
...Falwell no longer judges the world, he gives it a beaming smile and a hefty handshake...
...Like Falwell's fundamentalists and the Rajneeshees, the "Castroids, as they sometimes called themselves," underwent a decided embourgeoisement in the course of the seventies...
...The Bhagwan went far beyond Falwell in demanding that his followers surrender their personal identity to that of the community...
...and in the winter about half of them will have on identical blond fur coats...
...FitzGerald rightly sees totalitarian consequences in this flight from individual responsibility...
...FitzGerald is rightly awed by the creation, for the first time in human history, of planned communities restricted to older people, and rightly appalled by the concept of a communal life designed for the "growth" of adults but not the growth of children a commitment Sun City shares with both the Castro and Rajneeshpuram...
...FitzGerald gives us so much insight into contemporary American culture in her four essays that it is almost beside the point to complain about her final synthetic summation...
...They had come to Sun City not to be old but to be young...
...FitzGerald is on her guard here, alienated from the discourse of mission, conversion, and salvation...
...Their flaw was their innocence, their smiling American embrace of a lofty communal future...
...The late Harvey Milk represented that new assurance and rootedness...
...And she is very perceptive about the fundamental paradox of Sun City...
...and the Oregon disciples of the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh she does not simply tell us about new forms of middle-class life in America, she evokes them, conjures them up...

Vol. 114 • February 1987 • No. 4


 
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