Ann Althouse has a fascinating look into the “New Victorians” in New York City — young people who are rejecting the permissive ways of the counterculture and embracing Victorian values.
The original article in The New York Observer notes:
While their forbears flitted away their 20’s in a haze of booze, Bolivian marching powder, and bed-hopping, New Vics throw dinner parties, tend to pedigreed pets, practice earnest monogamy, and affect an air of complacent careerism. Indeed, at the tender age of 28, 26, even 24, the New Vics have developed such fierce commitments, be they romantic or professional, that angst-ridden cultural productions like the 1994 movie Reality Bites, or Benjamin Kunkel’s 2005 novel Indecision, simply wouldn’t make sense to them….
“Maybe this is also fallout from the sort of these boomer ideas about what sexual freedom is,” [says a 26-year-old New Vic in Brooklyn]. This theory is a popular one among New Vic observers, just as it was popular to blame the priggishness and probity of the Old Victorians on the ill example of their Georgian predecessors. In this case, the reaction isn’t against specific syphilitic laxity and moral decay, but is rather a vague fear of too much sex (hello, STDs!) as well as the pressure for procreative sex (even men have biological clocks these days!) and the attendant nightmare of becoming—pardon the phrase—an aging spinster, lurching around New York sloshing cosmos and wearing age-inappropriate Capri pants, as in the TV version of Sex and the City and its many spinoffs….
This really doesn’t surprise me all that much. For people of my generation, the Boomer’s cultural legacy has been disastrous. The “Sexual Revolution” is much less fun in an era of AIDS, dissolving marriages, and a cheapening of relationships. A 20 something may be part of the “hook up” culture in college, but even among my social set I’m noticing that behavior is not looked kindly upon after graduation. Quite frankly, this New Victorian outlook seems to be less about some emerging trend and more about people growing up — it’s less about returning to the days of the late 19th Century and more about people realizing that there’s a greater meaning to life than the self.
We’re the generation who by and large suffered from the emotional upheavals of Boomer divorces. We’re the generation who grew up in the shadow of AIDS. The touchstone of our adulthood was the fall of the Twin Towers, and it’s our generation that’s fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. For many of us, the world is too big and too dangerous to be self-obsorbed. Issues like climate change and Darfur resonate because there’s a sense that the world has become incredibly dysfunctional at every level, and something has to be done.
The New Victorianism isn’t really a return to some antique way of life — it’s returning to values that make society civilized — treating women with respect rather than as “hos” — disposable sex objects.
In fact, that’s the biggest difference between the New Victorianism and the Old. The Old Victorians were largely a patriarchal society, although less so than some would think. Men were far more domesticated than they were now, but they were domesticated because male society demanded it. Today, it’s female society that demands that cheating cads be treated like cheating cads, that men concentrate on their careers, and that families stay together. In the Observer article it seems to be the fairer sex that’s driving this phenomenon. Again, that’s hardly surprising. The dissolution of the traditional marriage has left many women feeling adrift in a culture in which women enjoyed the fruits of the feminist revolution, but had no one to share them with. The culture of meaningless throw-away relationships just wasn’t fulfilling.
I don’t know if this cultural phenomenon will be the dominant trend in the future or not. In my social set it certainly is. However, it is an interesting societal trend to follow, especially given that it’s being driven predominantly by young women. And if there’s one thing in society that’s as close to law as anything, it’s that when young women start doing something, young men invariably follow.
(And, I’d be remiss in failing to mention that Neal Stephenson predicted all of this in his book The Diamond Age, which prominently featured a group of Neo-Victorians who sound quite similar to these “New Vicks.”)