Can we be square again? We were last square half a century ago. Then we were, more or less successively, hep, hip, cool, wild, beat, alienated, mod, groovy, radical, turned on, dropped out, camp, self-actualizing, meaningful, punk, greedy, ironic, Clintonian, and, finally, postmodern, which is to say exhausted—and who can blame us? In all these states we were, first and above all, not-square. Everything was a variation on that; to be seen as clever and even profound you had to be not much more than not square.
"The Last Roundup" (August 1996)
Merle Haggard's sandblasted truth has been eclipsed by the twinkly perfection of today's country music. By Tony Scherman
Now we are supposed to be square again. No one puts it that bluntly, because square remains the condition that dare not speak its name. Even country music gave up on square, Merle Haggard's 1969 great anthem of square, "Okie From Muskogee," being more on the order of a last defiant gasp than a call to arms. Nevertheless, post-September 11 we are, the surveys say, patriotic, prayerful, serious, and determined. We love our country. We support our President and our armed forces. Our heroes are police officers and firefighters. Our first official war hero was a CIA agent. Well, beat me, Daddy, eight to the bar, as Mamie Eisenhower used to say, this is squaresville.
"On the Playing Fields of Suburbia" (January 2002)
"We seem too affluent and comfortable to be tough-minded, too cosseted by our own peace and prosperity to endure conflict." By David Brooks
From Atlantic Unbound:
American Graffiti: "Suburbia" (April 2, 1997)
"Is it so bad to be banal?" By James Surowiecki
But is it sustainable? Returning to square seems like re-virginizing. The problem is knowingness. All anti-square postures stand on a base of superior knowingness: Suburban life may look wholesome and sweet, but it is really one vast snake pit tarted up as a gunite swimming pool. George Washington may look like the star of Founding Father Knows Best, but really he was a false-toothed real-estate speculator. Woody Guthrie carries a nice tune, but this land is not your land, unless you are a Trump or a Tisch.
Knowingness, of course, is not knowledge—indeed, is the rebuttal of knowledge. Knowledge was what squares had, or thought they had, and they thought that it was the secret of life. Knowingness is a celebration of the conceit that what the squares knew, or thought they knew, was worthless. In The Graduate the career advice ("Plastics") of a family friend, Mr. McGuire, to Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, is classic square knowledge. Benjamin's mute disdain toward that advice—and his elaborately played out disdain for all that McGuire and the Robinsons represent—is classic anti-square knowingness.