- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Helen Gurley Brown and her “Cosmo Girl.” Paul R. Ehrlich and his “population bomb.” James C. Dobson and his “Focus on the Family.” Ralph Nader and his raiders. Hugh Hefner and his bunnies.

These and seven other Americans strode onto the national stage in the 20th century and affected the culture: Phyllis Schlafly rallied people to “stop ERA,” while Larry Kramer urged people to “act up.” Gloria Steinem, Ben Wattenberg, Norman Lear, Beverly LaHaye and the Rev. Pat Robertson introduced “Ms.,” “birth dearth,” “People for the American Way,” “Concerned Women for America” and “Christian Coalition” into the national lexicon, respectively.

Today, these cultural icons are in their 70s and 80s. None is retired, and retirement experts say 70 is the “new 50,” but a changing of the guard is inevitable.

What will become of their life’s work? How will future generations of Americans handle the issues of environmentalism, population change, traditional values and individual rights?

One surefire prediction is that “their legacies are going to start getting chewed up” by younger generations — “that’s what always happens,” author William Strauss told The Washington Times before he died of cancer on Dec. 18.

Other observations:

• Today’s environmental zeal is youth-driven, genuine and going to grow.

• Population-change issues will be in play for a long time. But U.N. population estimates point in only one direction: After 2015, the number of children born into the world will slowly start shrinking.

• American youth have a wide diversity of friends, so they will not stand for intolerant treatment of others.

• Sex- and violence-saturated media — already viewed as excessive by many Americans — will be especially unattractive to the “wholesome” Millennial generation now coming of age.

• Traditional values, such as wives staying home to raise children, will come into vogue again.

Sexual revolution

Mr. Hefner and Mrs. Brown were catalysts for America’s sexual revolution.

Mr. Hefner started Playboy magazine in December 1953 with a naked photo of up-and-coming starlet Marilyn Monroe. Playboy quickly took pornography mainstream, with record-setting sales of 7 million copies a month in the 1970s. It grew into an empire of men’s clubs, casinos, adult movies and bosomy young women in tuxedoed “bunny” outfits.

Mrs. Brown entered the scene in 1962 with “Sex and the Single Girl,” her best-selling book on how to catch — or at least bed — a man. She was even more influential as editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, turning it into must-reading for liberated single women with its nonstop “hottie” cover girls, beauty tips and articles about good sex (marriage optional).

There is plenty of evidence that modern American youth are just as randy as their parents and grandparents. A University of Minnesota survey in November found that 77 percent of 10,000 college students are sexually active.

But Mr. Strauss and historian Neil Howe, who co-authored several books on U.S. generational differences, think younger Americans will turn away from the hyper-sexualized culture.

Playboy “has always remained a Silent Generation guy’s fantasy,” said Mr. Howe, referring to men born in the same era as Mr. Hefner — between World War I and World War II.

The Millennials, born between 1982 and 2005, are “wholesome,” and the Playboy lifestyle is “literally off their radar screen,” he said.

Already, young Americans — especially young women and minorities — wish there was less sex, violence and vulgarity in the media, Mr. Strauss said. With time, “they’re going to find their own ways” of changing the media, he said.

As for women’s rights and traditional values, young Americans are going to “renorm” the culture, the authors said.

For instance, to today’s younger Americans, “traditional marriage” means both parents work and the children go to day care, Mr. Howe said. So a marriage in which the husband earns the primary income and the wife stays home with the children won’t be seen as “traditional.”

“It will be seen as this incredible idea: Why didn’t anyone think of this before?” he said.

The new quest for women will be “a balanced life,” Mr. Strauss added. Lobbying for more workplace or gender equality won’t be a big issue to young women because they think “that job is done,” he said.

Youthful progressives

The Pew Research Center research supports — but only partially — some of the predictions made by Mr. Strauss and Mr. Howe.

A Pew survey released in July found that fewer working mothers think it’s “ideal” to work full time: In 1997, 32 percent of working moms thought they had the ideal arrangement, but only 21 percent said this in 2007.

Instead, most 2007 working moms — 60 percent — thought working part time was “ideal,” compared with 48 percent in 1997.

However, Pew found no evidence that working mothers want to leave their jobs altogether: In both 1997 and 2007, only one in five working women said staying home full time was “ideal.”

A different Pew survey, released in January , showed that American youth have traditional goals, but are still more likely to identify with the progressive values of the Democratic Party.

For instance, most young people 18 to 25 want to get married, have children and careers, according to the survey done by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in association with MacNeil/Lehrer Productions and the Generation Next Initiative.

But these young people are also the “most tolerant of any generation” on issues such as immigration, globalization and interracial dating, said Kim Parker, a senior researcher at the Pew center. They also support homosexual rights in the workplace and same-sex adoption, she said.

As a result, almost half of youth identify with the Democratic Party, while just 35 percent affiliate with the Republican Party, making them the “least Republican generation,” the survey stated.

Going green

Pew’s Generation Next report also found strong support for environmentalism in youth — an enthusiasm that some people tied to Mr. Nader, a two-time Green Party presidential candidate.

“You have a whole generation of people who at one time in their career, usually at a very early and impressionable moment, were really inspired by Ralph and his model,” said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

Today, the global-warming movement is lighting up, thanks to youth, Mr. Passacantando said.

These young activists are also refreshingly team-oriented and results-oriented, he said.

“I see a remarkable absence of ego, combined with some really impressive intellectual horsepower and activist zeal. It’s a beautiful combination,” Mr. Passacantando said.

Gordon K. Durnil, author of “The Making of a Conservative Environmentalist,” concurs about the power of youth to take on environmental challenges.

“In my personal experience with college students, that’s where I would find the greatest hope,” he said.

However, Christian youth are drawing their environmental fervor from evangelical leaders such as the Rev. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois and the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California, not Mr. Nader, said Jim Jewell, campaign director for the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a project of the Evangelical Environmental Network

“They don’t even know who Ralph Nader is,” Mr. Jewell said.

Christian youth, he added, are eager to have a “broader engagement in the culture,” but they are not interested in engaging through politics.

“When you go to some Christian gatherings” with people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, “so many of them aren’t looking to the Dobson, Robertson crowd at all. They’re not into political things, certainly not partisan things,” Mr. Jewell said.

Instead, they are “more inwardly focused” — thinking about personal change and the “moral influence of the church on the culture, versus ‘Who am I going to vote for, the Republican or the Democrat?’

“That’s an interesting shift,” he said.

Population change

One of the most bombastic issues of the 20th century was whether mankind was about to eat itself out of house and home.

Mr. Ehrlich set the tone with his 1968 book “The Population Bomb,” which predicted that an exploding human population would surpass its ability to feed itself and degenerate with global famines and other calamities by the 1970s.

Mr. Wattenberg answered this argument in 1987 with “The Birth Dearth,” which outlined future economic and social disruptions because of declining birthrates.

The group Mr. Ehrlich inspired — Zero Population Growth, today known as Population Connection — continues to seek a stabilization of the world’s population.

“I think that certainly the Ehrlich legacy is strong and will be for a while,” said Brian Dixon, director of government relations for Population Connection. “I think he’ll get a lot of deserved credit for calling attention — really, the world’s attention — to the issue” of overpopulation.

American youth will easily connect environmental woes to overpopulation, Mr. Dixon added.

“Unless we deal with this issue of global population growth, it’s going to be much more difficult to deal with the other environmental problems we face,” he said.

But Steven W. Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, said Mr. Ehrlich’s ideas “aren’t going to go anywhere” with youth.

“The world’s population will never double again,” said Mr. Mosher, who is famous for opposing China’s one-child policy. “Ehrlich got it precisely wrong. Our long-term problem is going to be not too many people, but too few people.”

The answer to the population question may finally be coming into view.

Revised population estimates from the United Nations say that the number of children in the world younger than 4 will peak at 653 million in 2015. After that, these numbers will steadily decline. Its current projections end with 603 million in 2050. The decline will have unknown implications for world economies, trade and cultures.

Meanwhile, Tim Mack, president of the World Future Society, says cultural icons will continue to appear, but none will be like Mr. Kramer, who “outed” AIDS with his AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in 1987, or Mr. Nader, whose consumer-protection activism has inspired countless government and private agencies dedicated to product safety, workplace safety and environmental protection.

In their heydays, such iconic figures “had a voice and a vision that wasn’t heard elsewhere,” Mr. Mack said. But now “the milieu has changed.”

As for the future of the culture wars?

Some, such as Mr. Howe, are sanguine: Aging baby boomers are going to revive traditional values and reconstruct American society with the help of pragmatic Generation Xers and moral Millennials.

Others, such as Ms. Parker at the Pew Research Center, don’t see dramatic social change coming anytime soon.

“There does seem to be something different about [Generation Next], but I wouldn’t want to go out on a limb and say they are going to bring about a revolution or something,” she said. “When we ask them for the top goals of their generation, their overwhelming response was to ‘be rich and famous.’ And that kind of puts it in perspective.”

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