As someone has noted, we are now in the No generation.
We have just emerged from the Me generation, when self-indulgence was the national ethic, and suddenly our options are curtailed by AIDS and other negative phenomena.
As Bob Sipchen pointed out in The Times the other day, AIDS has put an end to runaway sexual promiscuity, the antipathy of non-smokers has virtually made pariahs of smokers, and drunk drivers are no longer thought amusing, thanks in large part to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who are really MADD.
What an era we have been through since the Pill liberated women from the natural consequences of sex. Emboldened by dependable contraception, women have entered what used to be the man's world, and insisted on the sexual freedom he had always enjoyed, illicit as it may have been.
Only someone who is old enough to remember the movies of the '30s and '40s can grasp the revolution in morals that we have achieved since then. Even husbands and wives could not be shown in bed together, unless fully clothed. One kissed with one's mouth shut. Sexual intercourse could be suggested only by the closing of a bedroom door.
Now we have tongue-swapping kisses on prime time, as well as nudity and simulated intercourse. A whole genre of teen-age movies has been derived from the theme of "making it."
That thousands of teen-age girls who have no access to the Pill are paying the price for making it seems of no consequence to the movie producers. Perhaps it doesn't make any difference. Teen-age girls got pregnant in the 1950s, too.
Movie makers have recently expressed some concern, however, about sexually explicit movies in a time when casual sex is being renounced. The nude scene, the sex scene, has been almost obligatory in any movie not made for small children, if any are.
Considering that I grew up on Our Gang comedies and the sexlessness of Hays Office drama (one had to assume that Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart did anything more intimate than kissing) I have found the frankness of contemporary films liberating, except when sex has been exploited shamelessly beyond the requirements of story.
Now that AIDS has made casual sex suspect, if not taboo, will movie makers return to the innocence of the 1950s? If they do, it won't be out of a sense of responsibility, but only because the younger generation, who buy most of the tickets, have rejected illicit sex, and I doubt that that's going to happen, despite AIDS. Sex remains the most popular of pastimes.
What most interests me in Sipchen's review of the new negativism is his suggestion that we haven't seen the end of it yet. Other kinds of behavior, besides casual sex, public smoking and drunk driving, may be proscribed as society takes a prohibitive turn.
He predicts that excessive loudness (as in rock music), excessive exercising (as in jogging and aerobics), and excessive sunshine (as in deep tanning) will soon become targets of the naysayers.
If we are truly to be the No generation we may have to disapprove of other occupations that engaged us in the Me years when everyone wanted to acquire a million bucks, a BMW, and a beautiful body--not only one's own, but several others.
Wouldn't the quality of life improve if it suddenly became chic not to own a car? Our current freeway madness would die down, traffic would become sane again, and the skies would clear.
I am quite sure, however, that no such reform will ever take place. Angelenos regard themselves as disadvantaged if they don't own a car.
Wouldn't the quality of life improve if we disdained all who dump their old sofas on the freeway, toss fast-food wrappers on the sidewalk and otherwise litter the landscape?
When will we rise up against those who eat and talk noisily in theaters? This evidently is a practice that has come from watching television in the home, where we are free to exchange comments and get up periodically for refreshments from the refrigerator. Most theatergoers today have never lived in a home that was not dominated by the tube.
Why don't we ostracize gardeners who use mechanical blowers? They have destroyed the tranquillity of our afternoons.
Now that we have turned our wrath against pit-bull owners, why don't we demand that every dog owner, whatever the breed, keep his dog at home, instead of allowing him to prowl the neighborhood engaging in a variety of depredations, including knocking over trash barrels and despoiling loose females?
Why don't we insist that magazines quit filling their pages with those little cards that fall out on the floor as soon as you open the magazine or have to be torn out so you can read the pages?
Why don't we make it uncouth, if not illegal, to own a handgun. A shotgun would be just as effective in discouraging burglars, if one insists on being armed, and could not be so easily carried abroad for shooting at one's fellow citizens.
Getting down to very minor sinners, why don't we project our scorn on those petty chiselers who get into the 10-item express line at the supermarket with 12 items in their baskets?
Why don't we make it a social sin to enter an intersection against the red light?
Maybe Nancy Reagan has given us a slogan for the No generation.
Life could be improved in a great many ways if we'd just say no.
Maybe I'll give up exercise.