Shifts in the Cultural Sea: "Shackin’ up" and "Hookin’ up"

Here’s something I’ve noticed lately. Occasionally I’ll hear a person from the Boomer generation speak of a young cohabitating couple with the description “shackin’ up.” You’ve probably heard this expression, particularly if you’re a Boomer. A generation ago, it was the most common description of a couple enjoying the pleasures of sex outside of its proper context, being marriage. It was likely that the couple had not simply enjoyed sex once but had in fact moved in together. Years ago, this was quite scandalous. Nowadays, it’s called a healthy relationship.

Now we all know things have changed. The cultural scene is sexually super-charged these days. The same narcissistic morality that toppled truth in the academy has removed it from the bedroom. We know this, if we have a cultural pulse. But it’s interesting–fascinating, even–to see the shift in sexual behavior as expressed in colloquial speech. It’s always fun to study cultural changes through language, and this matter proves no exception. Noone made a top-down decision that “Shackin’ up” was outmoded. My generation simply adopted this language and discarded the old phrase, with good reason. Fewer people of college age or post-college age move in together than in years past. Extra-marital sex is not limited to just one person for many of my peers. Those who so limit themselves are in many cases the exception. They have “settled down,” a term that used to describe marriage.

The youth culture of today knows little desire for “shacks” or shared quarters. They momentarily come together, joining their bodies for little less time than it takes to dance a waltz, and then they are off again. They hooked up–briefly joined together–and then they breeze away, having enjoyed bodies without entangling concerns such as the other’s welfare, spiritual state, or responsibility to God. The language is appropriate. One hooks one’s coat for a little while, and one hooks a sexual partner for a little while. Easy come, easy go. With the change in behavior comes a change in language. Less people “play house” these days. One wonders what the next change in behavior, and language, will mean for society.

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One response to “Shifts in the Cultural Sea: "Shackin’ up" and "Hookin’ up"

  1. Jed

    The question that I have is why has this shift taken place in POPULAR culture at THIS moment. The West has always had Cynics, the Diogenes’ who would masturbate in public and flaunt cultural norms. But, of course, these were mere aberations; there were, indeed, public norms that the minority could flaunt. What you seem to be arguing is that there are now no norms at all now. Why now: well, Rouseau argued that the natural link that kept men and women together was the production of children. Men have a natural drive to wander but women do all they can to prohibit this because they know that they will be vulnerable if a man drops by for a one night stand and leaves them with a child. Today the acceptibility of abortion and advances in contraceptives such a the Pill remove much of the risk of pregnancy (at least in the minds of sexual partners), leaving women free to be as promiscuous as any man could ever imagine. In this view, one could say that a great inequality has been set right. Women have become just like men, and the worst side of men, at that.

    Second, I would point to a difference between today’s sexual mores and that of the 60′s, between the Gen X and Y’s and the Boomers. Francis Schaeffer’s commentary on the 60′s is quite insightful: sexual freedom in the 60′s was a movement, an ideology. In some ways, they were like the Greek Cynics: they were following nature, not custom; what is real, not artificial. It was part of a movement towards self-authentication, an attempt to arrive at truth (however futile it was). For our peers today, there is no sexual revolution; there is just sex. One takes one’s pleasure when one can and then goes about one’s life, for which the bottom line is one’s bank account. Have we not become more pimped out versions of Nietzsche’s last man? Or, in the words of C.S. Lewis, Men without Chests?

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