Don't get me wrong, not every member of generation Y sucks, take me for example, but on the whole we are the sorriest bunch of losers you would ever want to meet. As a follow up to generation X we are a colossus of a dud, astride the world in mediocrity. And it's not like generation X was any great shakes either. They didn't exactly sail on over to France and liberate Europe from the Nazis. Generation X is really known for two main products, the yuppie and the slacker. The yuppie isn't really worth discussing, just another iteration of the bullshit American success story, only focused on stocks and commodities rather than manufacturing or salesmanship. The slacker on the other hand, well he had something going. The Gen X slacker wasn't just slacking for slacking sake. He was making a statement. A statement about society and his place in it. The slacker rejected the trappings of Calvinist success that we're supposed to go gaga over in the United States and chose instead to view success in terms of the number of bowls smoked and incidents of fellatio received, rather than stacks of green paper in a bank vault. In many ways he was the descendant of the hippie, but the slacker saw that most hippies ended up having to conform to society in the end to get things like health care and a home not made by Volkswagon, so he decided why bother doing all the work of setting up communes and coming up with traumatizing names for my children when I can sit here, smoke this bowl, and hope some chick comes by desperate enough for pot to blow me.
Was the slacker admirable? Perhaps not. He could have engaged with society more constructively, and his loathing for the yuppie should have been tempered by the knowledge that he'd eventually have to become one when working at a convenience store got old and the desirable women of his generation reached the age where they wanted to start fucking men of means. The slacker was, however, at least aware of his surroundings, and there is a substantial bequest of slacker art out there to prove this point. The slacker ended up creating things like the new Indie film scene, grunge music, and the comedy of Michael Ian Black. If any slackers out there want to take that last one back, by the way, the world would not object.
My generation doesn't have slackers. At least not in the sense that gen X did. Oh we have our share of youth infected with ennui, but it is not ennui born of frustration with the unsatisfactory state of the world, it is ennui born of...boredom. When people of my generation claim to be bored it is, they think, because they lack sufficient toys and diversions to entertain them. That's not it, of course; with the proper world view you could spend twenty years alone in a cave and suffer boredom only on rare occasions. But they think that's it. The rebels of my generation seem to either follow the paths laid out by generations before us or just abandon hope and sink into hedonistic burnout.
That's those who don't start out at hedonism and descend from there. My generation is well-stocked with yuppies and conservatives. These are not people who want success in the world so they can change it, they want success so they can have the things advertised on TV and screw around with attractive celebrities. Their value system starts at power and ends at influence. Anything else just gets in the way. A product of cable television and the hip advertisements of the Gen X yuppies they are an abomination and they scare me. I've met people who frankly and flatly told me that they don't care about pollution because they think they'll be rich enough to buy air filtration systems. Or that starving children deserve to starve because their parents didn't make enough money. I don't want to go all Chicken Little and claim that there's a widespread epidemic of sociopathology, but only because most aren't as dedicated as the deeply converted. We live in an age of absolute spin and Hollywood excess, and many choose not to look any deeper than that for meaning in their lives.
The art of my generation has been a failure as well. When I was growing up and Gen-Xers would play their anthems too loud on car or other stereos I honestly believed they were just shallow imitations of the Beatles and folk music my parents claimed constituted "Good pop." Now that I'm as old as the Xers were I see that there was a conflict going on between the impulses of submission to authority and war against it. In the crowd I encountered the mainstays were the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, two creative boundary pushing groups with political impulses and rebellious attitudes. The Midwest had Tiffany and a bunch of other incredibly crappy pop bands who have now been reduced to hilarious novelties. The West Coast had the genesis of gangster rap, and then the popularization of the metal movement that lead to a recreation of rock. Later grunge and alternative.
What do we have? American Idol, Britney Spears, and corporate gangster rap. Are there creative artists out there around my age? Sure. Are they taking the world by storm? Not really. Norah Jones may sell a lot of albums but nobody seems to care. Rap has been eaten alive by the record labels and what's left is not urban angst that captivates suburban white boys but rather suburban white boy music cast as urban angst.
Where are the actors? Where's our Sean Penn, our Viggo Mortensen, our Phoenix brothers? Let's not even talk about directors. True some may still be waiting in the wings to emerge. I hope to be one of those people, but what has emerged so far is simply frightening. Paris Hilton, a woman so devoid of talent that everyone knows to attend to her is to root in a trough of refuse and garbage like the greediest of pigs, and to emerge with a literal shit-eating grin on your face. Lindsay Lohan, well on the way to being destroyed by the frenzy surrounding her. Ashton Kutcher, as an actor he makes a pretty good underwear model.
It's a sad state of affairs when these are the best the youth have to offer.
I don't want to be ludicrously overblown or needlessly nostalgic. I both acknowledge that there's always been shitty pop culture and that Generation Y has millions of conscientious intelligent young people who want to do good in the world. On the other hand when successive generations are lazier, less educated, shallower, and more materialistic than one another the country and the world face a significant problem. Most people from generation Y believe that they will eventually be in the top 10% of earners. Bruce Bartlett calls that progress. I call that dangerous delusion. Sex drugs and rock and roll are not just part of being young they're what life is about. Shallowness is celebrated and depth is seen as an illusion. Conservatism, that bastion of anti-intellectual reactionary garbage, draws more converts every day, a religion offering false hope to those who no longer trust progress.
Generation why has been raised without boundaries, nurtured to the point of spoiling, and is now loosed upon the world starting to climb the rungs of the various employment ladders set forth before it. Will it learn to straighten up and fly right as it ages and gains perspective? Will enough original intelligent voices emerge to jar it from its shallow simplicity? Will it be the one that gets to see the collapse of the American empire and try to pick up the pieces?
I don't know. I don't know, but right now, this morning, I am not optimistic.
*there is no card.