In case youve forgotten, this thinking thing is a good time.
  • Pufacz / Wikimedia Commons
  • In case you’ve forgotten, this thinking thing is a good time.

Clarence Page raised an alarm this week in the Tribune. It’s an alarm that’s been raised so often it’s fair to say America by now is in a permanent state of alert. Roughly Defcon 2. The enemy galloping toward us from all directions is collective idiocy.

But the enemy isn’t turning back, so Page’s voice is welcome. We’re becoming “different Americas,” he warns—each and every one of us a member of some tribe of the utterly like-minded, each tribe united by “unblinking devotion” to its shared values.

Like everyone else, Page doesn’t like what’s happened to media. It’s fragmented into narrow little niches—a different niche for everybody. “Endangered,” says Page, “is the refreshing and often-enlightening serendipity of running into unexpected ideas, people or experiences that one might encounter while browsing through a newspaper or bookstore. (Remember those?)”

The key word is refreshing. What alarms Page—if I may be allowed to project my concern onto him and praise him for it—is not so much that we’re forgetting how to think as that we’re forgetting thinking’s fun. It’s become just another craft that once provided hours of pleasure but now we outsource.

Mulling this over, my thoughts naturally turned to All American, the 1962 attempt by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams to repeat the success of their Bye Bye Birdie by writing a vehicle for Ray Bolger. Despite the Mel Brooks book, All American flopped.

It’s remembered—if it’s remembered at all—for a superior overture and for the ballad “Once Upon a Time,” which came out of Strouse and Adams’s trunk and frankly doesn’t belong in the show.

But in these troubled times All American needs to be rushed back to the stage, for it carries an urgent message that must be heeded.

Yes, it is fun to think. It’s fun to start off thinking of one thing and then, letting your powers of free association run wild, scoot down a rabbit hole to another thing entirely. If I weren’t running out of space I’d try to come up with an example of what I’m driving at.