Andy Rooney, Joan Didion, and the Aging Cultural Critic

Increasingly, Rooney's ire was directed at a nation of people who looked less and less like him.

Andy Rooney, who for 30 years capped CBS news magazine 60 Minutes with his sweeping commentary on everything from his inability to understand Usher to his perplexing number of shoes, died this weekend at age 92. He never stopped critiquing the world around him. As a new generation of cultural commentators reflects on Rooney's legacy, let's remember to avoid following his example.

"People have often told me I said the things they are thinking themselves. I probably haven't said anything here that you didn't already know, or have already thought," Rooney said in his final 60 Minutes segment on October 2. "That's what a writer does," he continued. "There aren't too many original thoughts in the world. A writer's job is to tell the truth."

But the truth changes based on who's telling it—in this case, a white man born in 1919 who saw the world from his seat in a darkened library of hardcover books. Rooney is often described as a curmudgeon, a commentator skilled at wryly identifying the worst in just about everything. But he was at his crankiest when assessing anything new, rejecting change in everything from the ballooning size of cereal boxes to the rise of e-books. And as he aged, his ire was increasingly directed at a nation of people who looked less and less like him.

"You know the world has passed you by when your newspaper carries a page 1 story about the death of someone you've never heard of," Andy Rooney said in 1994. "It isn't bad enough I never heard of Kurt Cobain. I never heard of grunge rock or Nirvana either. Everything about Kurt Cobain makes me suspicious. This picture shows him in a pair of jeans with a hole in the knee. I doubt that Kurt Cobain ever did enough work to wear a hole in his pants."

Since that cultural commentary 17 years ago, Rooney filed several other statements that placed his wry cultural dissections in a sadder context. In 2002, he said that it was "ridiculous to have these women down on the sidelines doing football reports," saying that pairing attractive women with football was like finding a beautiful strand of hair on his stick of butter. “I know all about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig," he said in 2007, "but today’s baseball stars are all guys named Rodriguez to me."

He continued to occupy a soapbox on a major news network until the day he died. When Rooney taped his final 60 Minutes segment last month, CBS News chairman Jeff Fager said that Rooney would “always have the ability to speak his mind on ‘60 Minutes’ when the urge hits him.” Never mind that the world had passed Rooney by decades before—we were expected to listen simply because he had not stopped talking.

This is not to say that our nation is marching inevitably toward progress, that each new generation is better than the last. Nor is it to say that our cultural commentators should be disposed of at a certain age. Reading Joan Didion's new memoir this week, I was struck by the importance of an American voice with the relevance to carry us with her through the decades.

As a young writer, Didion defined the cultural disorder of the 1960s with journalistic memoir that captured her generation's approach to everything from drug use to organized feminism. Now 76, Didion has turned her critical eye inward, critiquing her own memory, privilege, and mortality while leaving the zeitgeist-defining work to others. Didion's work—like Rooney's—has always been highly personal. But as she's aged, she's smartly edited her perspective into something more human than generational. Rooney never stopped complaining about the existence of Justin Bieber.

Andy Rooney thought he was telling us all what we were already thinking. In fact, he was never able to see outside his specific place in the world, alone in his dark library.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less