Friday, December 29, 2006

Are the Kids Alright?

When I was younger I was aware of the "generation gap"concept- that people of prior generations often had a difficult time relating to or understanding the cultural phenomena that we enjoyed. I was born smack dab into the center of the X-generation, and so I made a strong identification with my cohort. I felt fortunate that I didn't have to put a lot of effort into "looking cool". In fact, any efforts to appear put together were considered superficial. The grunge, or post-punk aesthetic ruled the day. That meaned I didn't have to shower or wash my clothes to get laid. The less I paid attention to my appearance, the easier it was to cultivate an aura of disaffected detachment.

As much as I feel that it's all a bit of nonsense to feel pride in having participated in society-wide mass movements, I do get all warm inside when I think of the contributions my generation made while we were young adults. In music we seemed to flourish. Sure the baby boomers had rock-and-roll, but X-gen'rs refined the concept. Rap, Techno, Industrial, House, Grunge, Punk, Post-Punk, Indie Rock, Goth and (Thank God!) Alt-Country all sprung from our musicians. In music, film and literature we benefitted from a D.I.Y.(Do It Yourself) approach, and truly felt emboldened to try anything...even if we had very little talent in our chosen direction. Everywhere advancements in technology meant that we could expose the masses to our projects. Affordable copy machines led to underground zines... video allowed anyone to participate in making moving images... and computers allowed us to create far-flung communities.

Of course there were the downsides. Drug use spiralled out of control everywhere. We invested large amounts of time playing mind-numbing videogames. Free Love turned into AIDS and other nasty venereal diseases. Mind-expansion morphed into widespread crack and heroin use. Growing up during the seventies and eighties left us very jaded. We had no faith in organized religion, traditional family values, or meaningful employment. There were no limits in the forms of crackpot conspiracy theories or creative doom that we could devise. We affected a total disengagement from politics, and thus empowered the extreme hubris of the baby boomers. It's been way too easy to lie to a generation that hasn't been paying attention.

Now the times, they are a'changin'. The majority of us are now over the age of 30, and we must cede our pop culture hegemony to the young' uns. We're accepting the remnants of a declining American prosperity and trying to make due. Meanwhile another crop of youths are replacing us. We are only now seeing the cusp of a new generation. I expect to see the sort of syncretist tweeners heralding the changing of the guard that we saw in the 70's- between the Boomers and the X-Gen.

It's too early to attribute many characteristics of group identity to the next generation. I've heard talk of a "Y- generation", but who wants to get stuck with an entirely derivative label? They haven't had much of a chance to assert themselves yet. So far we've seen "Emo" music and style. What exactly is it? Not entirely sure. But it seems like an extension of post-punk with whiny, emotional basket cases working hard to get their listeners to cut themselves. Yes... obviously derivative. There are also some developing trends in electronica that merge pop music with dance rhythms. As far as fashion is concerned, it seems like the kids are rejecting the slacker look of the X'ers. Their hair is kinked and teased meticulously. They wear white leather belts and polo shirts with the collars extended. Something called "metrosexual" is de rigueur. Evidently that entails boys wearing eye makeup and 80's-style girls' fashion jeans.

Particularly unsettling is a sense that, for this generation, irony has come full circle. With an extended holiday break, I've had the chance to closely observe the budding hipsters at play. They seem to be schizophrenic in their tastes. On the dance floor you might hear contemporary electronica or rap, only to be further distracted by subsequent airings of Brittany Spears or "classic" Billy Joel. It's quite disconcerting. It appears that they are making no qualitative distinctions at all. But at the same time they seem to display a complete lack of self-consciousness about this fact. While they put significant time into their appearances, they seem to completely eschew self-analysis. This choice allows them to have some pure, unmitigated fun. That's something my generation could probably benefit from.

Indeed there is some reason to believe that this emerging generation will have a lot to offer society. They are indisputably the most tech-savvy group ever born into the country. They will have never known a time without the Internet... or personal computers. They seem a particularly communicative bunch, what with their incessant text messaging and IM'ing. And they demonstrate a remakable embrace of our modern life and its influences that is wholly without irony. Is this post-post modernism?

4 Comments:

Blogger Lee said...

Harumph! I'm sticking with my motto:

You can only be young once.
But you can always be immature.

Dave Barry

:)

11:00 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Well... it's not like I never hear the second half or that motto.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Susan Constanse said...

It's just entertainment. And entertainment never changed the world.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Sus,

I can't agree with you there. It's inextricably linked with everything else in our existence.

7:31 PM  

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