Whatever its deficiencies, the younger generation has not suffered from a lack of labels. The era has been called shook-up and apathetic; white-collared and black-leather-jacketed; organized and uncommitted. But in all this generation-labeling perhaps the largest and most important segment of youth has gone untagged, almost unnoticed: the segment that might be described as the neat generation.
Miltown, which tranquilizes the neat, outsells mescaline, which sensitizes the beat. Gray flannel and even old-fashioned blue serge are still more in evidence than faded blue jeans. Crew cuts outnumber beards. The pony tail is still an exception; most girls wear their hair decorously bobbed. Yet the hophead, jeanage, hirsute few enjoy the fame, while the more numerous neatniks attract less attention, not only because they are commonplace, but because they are dull.
The neatnik may be of little interest because his own interests are so slight; yet his narrowness is the key to his importance. Neatnik draws his name from his outstanding characteristic—his determination to keep all things tidy. The world about him grows increasingly complex and messy, but neatnik bends his efforts to creating the appearance of a circumspect universe.
Unhappily, he manages to bring order out of chaos chiefly by ignoring the real problems of his age. Though he interests himself superficially in many of the world’s major messes, he withdraws his real concern to the microcosm of home and family. His crisp clothes and trimmed lawns are false but valuable symbols. They tell him that all is well, and from this he draws his consolations.
The women’s magazines have been astute in recognizing his importance. Here the heroine of a recently published short story sums up her life:
“I live, I suppose, in the world of the squares … But where else can one live? Without the standards Greg [the ‘hip cat’ she ‘dug’ but didn’t marry] so blithely ignored there could be no family life, no industry, no community, no nation. Only anarchy.”