Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Generation Wars: What’s the Matter with Kids Today?

Stop it. Right now. I’m not sure we can put an end to the political vitriol that is paralyzing our country and our collective well-being, but we can stop this silly business of pitting generation against generation.

Not a day goes by that the media, political gurus, and psycho-professionals don’t trumpet the laziness of Millennials or the greediness of the Baby Boomers. I cannot fathom what possible good this does - all the finger-pointing, all the division, all the us-against-them.

The truth is that every generation is 90% exactly alike. It’s not a generational thing, it’s an age thing.  From the perspective of older generations, little kids have forever been pampered, snot-nosed little smart asses, too energetic/too lazy, and/or whiny. Teenagers have forever been pampered, snot-nosed pimple-faced smart asses, too energetic/too lazy, and/or whiny. College kids have forever been pampered, know-it-all smart asses, too lazy, and/or whiny. Young adults in their 20’s have forever been pampered, know-it-all smart asses, too lazy/no work ethic, and/or hating the generation that immediately came before them.

Don’t believe me? Pick up a book. For young folks in the 1920s, try Frederick Lewis Allen’s Only Yesterday, D.J. Taylor’s Bright Young Things, or anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald or Evelyn Waugh. For 1950’s and 1960s, try Kerouac’s On The Road, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Goldman’s Boys And Girls Together, Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, or any late 60’s-70s S.E. Hinton novel.

Or watch an old movie (it may be in black-and-white, horrors!): Reefer Madness (1936), Andy Hardy movies from the 1940s, Rebel Without A Cause or Blackboard Jungle (1955), Peyton Place (1957), Bye Bye Birdie (1961), any Bikini Beach/Annette movie from the 1960s, Logan’s Run (1976), and all those 1980s Molly Ringwald movies. Same old story across the years.

As college-age Baby Boomers, we railed against Social Security (“we pay into it, but we’ll never get anything out of it”), money-hungry corporations, lack of meaningful employment right after college (inflation, hiring freezes, gas wars), and politicians who imposed heavy, deferred debts on our generation. So see? Yes, same stuff 40 years later.

That said, there are differences that each generation faces or benefits from. The “Greatest Generation” and “Silent Generation” faced Depression and WW2, but they benefited from the GI Bill and post-war economic boom; the Baby Boomers faced the constant threat of nuclear annihilation (talk about messing with your young psyche!) and the Vietnam War/military draft, but got low-cost college educations and a lot of attention from marketers; Generation X had to suffer through weird new-agey education stuff and really awful 1980s fashions (oh, the hair!), but could fly under the radar and do their own thing since we Boomers and the Silents were making so much noise with the much ballyhooed “greed is good” kick. And the Millennials? Well, they have the double-edged sword of Boomer or Gen X parents and the completely outrageous, sinful cost of higher education and subsequent college debt, but are well-traveled, well-computered, and well-(but expensively)educated.

Of course there’s more to it than that; I’m coming at it from an old middle class white lady’s point of view. Race and socio-economic class skew a lot of this stuff. But elders of all races and classes always have, always will, shake a fist at the youngsters’ music, work habits, and morals. Youngsters of all races and classes always have, always will, raise a fist against the power, foibles, and mistakes of their elders.

My point is that there is no “greatest” or “greediest” or “laziest” generation. You’re born into the time you’re born into. You live with what ya’ got. A lot of things are out of your control. But every generation produces geniuses that change the world for good and evil bastards that make the world unsafe.

Please, please stop the generation wars. We’re all in this together. Try your best to make the world a better place. Now, go hug someone from another generation.