22.4.13

JUDGED BY THE MONUMENTS WE'VE DESTROYED.

I've long claimed that the New York Times editorial lamenting the destruction of Pennsylvania Station is more noteworthy for anticipating the greater sins of our even at that time increasingly tacky common culture.  Commentators from a variety of perspectives have looked to the television series Mad Men as a look backward at what else has been shamefully vandalized.

A recent Ed Driscoll column spells out the ways in which The America That Worked(TM) came apart in 1968.
[W]e now know that we’re witnessing Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce versus 1968.

Or perhaps it’s the other way around, given how the year of 1968 came close to tearing the country apart. In many ways, the events of that year shaped our current world in ways that are still playing themselves out, so it’s worth exploring just how badly the nation imploded. Apologies for the length of this post, but it’s merely a partial list of 1968′s horror stories.
The title of the post is "Off the Rails," and Mr Driscoll weaves the Penn Central debacle into his chronology.  Apparently the destruction of Pennsylvania Station contributed a plot complication to an earlier Mad Men episode.  Corporations attempting to pass off a crap sandwich as a service improvement, and hiring Morale Conditioners to do so are nothing new.  In those days, the railroads increasingly saw their passenger service function as providing subsidized commuter trains who could dash to or from their trains, without much requirement of great public spaces or spacious corridors.  Apparently the prospects for business development weren't as good in Baltimore or Philadelphia as in Boston, Chicago, and New York, which is why the former two cities have proper big-city stations to this day.

But it's not necessarily the destruction of a few classic railroad stations that matters.  More salient may be the loss of guardrails for troubled people.
“Life is difficult,” wrote psychiatrist M. Scott Peck at the outset of his international best-seller, “The Road Less Traveled.” Stress, difficulties, disappointments, accidents, disease, misfortune, cruelty, betrayal – they’re unavoidable in this life.

Yet, during eras when society and families are stable, unified and fundamentally decent and moral – as, say, America during the 1950s – the stress level for each person is minimized, or at least not compounded by a perverse society. Conversely, when – as is the case today – we have widespread family breakdown, a depraved culture that mocks traditional moral values, a chaotic economy and disintegrating monetary system and a power-mad government dominated by demagogues and sociopaths, the normal stresses of life are greatly multiplied.

Thus it has come to pass that America, long the hope of the world, has grown increasingly dispirited and angry, which in turn breeds anxiety, fear, confusion, hopelessness and depression.
I wonder, though, whether it will be harder to rebuild a common culture, or to get rid of Madison Square Garden in order that New York may have a proper intercity passenger terminal. In the modern world of professional sports, an arena more than 20 years old is often an embarrassment, with one exception.
The fourth incarnation (and hopefully there's never a fifth) of Madison Square Garden has been through enough history that it's surprising there's never been a battle fought inside its walls.

While battles raged between Reggie Miller and Spike Lee, the clinching title game in 1970, the first Ali-Frazier fight and countless pop culture figures rolling through, the Knicks endured all.

They remain there to this day, and whether or not their blunders are too much for fans to endure these days, it remains one of the most awe-inspiring arenas in all of sports—not just basketball.
The battle was fought outside, over whether it was proper to demolish Pennsylvania Station. At the time, one of the advocates for building the Garden anticipated that when the time came to remove it, in another fifty years, there would be protests seeking to preserve it. Those protests are likely to come from pro basketball junkies. We have much to look forward to.

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