halcyon salad days


My friend and yours The Woods Warrior had an interesting entry about the generation gap between Generation X and Y, namely, how there isn’t one. I have to confess that I, too, feel as though I my own proclivities don’t stray far from your basic teen.

Yes, I’m married and have a kid, which now labels me as Unthinkably Old, but let’s look at some similarities:

1) crave distraction

2) obsess over new technology

3) completely addicted to email and the Web

4) quickly bored by art that doesn’t go anywhere

5) vestigal acne

6) crave gossip

7) emotionally affected by network television dramas

8) wear pants that hang very loose in the drawers

9) skate shoes

10) stupid hair

11) rampant masturbation (just kiddin’, ma!)

The only thing that really sets me and the Woods Warrior apart from your eclectic 18-year-old is that we can spell, and we actually bothered to vote in the last election. And I’ll tell you something else that will marry these two generations: no decent art is going to come out of either one.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this – “reactive” generations, like the “Lost” generation of the 1920s, typically give us our best art. It was why the poetry from WWI was awesome, and the “poetry” from WWII was dreck (Civic-minded generations are typically sentimental and ham-handed). Whether you believe in cyclical generational theory or not, our cadre of kids born 1961-1981 were in a unique position to churn out the next Hemingways, Pollocks, Brubecks and Langes.

So far, we have failed utterly. There are notable standouts in literature (Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon), music (Nirvana, Beck) and other fields, but there is certainly no Algonquin Round Table, no Mimi and Richard Farina and Dylan in the West Village, no Beats, no Haight. There won’t be a single person 25 years from now saying, “gosh, I wish I’d been living in Chicago in 2005.”

Tessa mentioned that the indie film scene of the early 90s in Austin (Rodriguez, Linklater and occasionally Tarantino) might have been fun, but those guys are all making blockbusters now, and independent film is two steps from dead in this country, digital media be damned. Shit, Gen X can’t even take credit for hip-hop or techno, both forged by late-era Boomers.

What the hell happened to us? We all had crappy childhoods, came of age in a recession, found a technology boom that evaporated as quickly as it began, suffered the worst terrorist attack in history as we got into our 30s – you’d think some of us would have something to say.

Perhaps we forget how close most artists are to infinite stagnation. Give any person on the verge of a great novel the keys to the liquor cabinet, and nothing ever gets written. Put a Playstation in front of Eliot, and “The Waste Land” never materializes, wire Sylvia Plath’s apartment with broadband and although she doesn’t kill herself, she doesn’t write “The Bell Jar” either.

Anyone looking to the next generation to fix the problem is going to be shit out of luck; they’re just as infested with irony, post-mod and “rediscovering old bullshit and selling it as new” as we are. Perhaps the Blog, as imprecise, fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying an art form as there ever was, will be the one thing that we added to the discussion.

Which would be a real pity. My blog’s pretty fucking good and all, but all three years cannot hold a candle to Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda.

15 thoughts on “halcyon salad days

  1. stephanie

    A great post, Ian, and Andrew, that link is wonderful. Clayton Merrell’s work is fantastic in many ways. What a discovery to make at 6:30 in the morning while drinking coffee and looking for the inspiration to begin another day of solitary writing. Thanks.

  2. oliver

    Heavy: The hosts of that Neruda poem are the people who used to accept my glossy paper recycling.
    Now, no more ‘Net for you ’til you write that sequel to the Bell Jar.

  3. Kevin

    Well, I am apparently (as pointed out by Warrior last week anyway) on the cusp of Gens X and Y, as I am a 1980 baby. Maybe it isn’t all bad. If many more people stop caring about world events, art, literature, film, politics, honor, etc., it will give those remaining few a chance to the world into a more human and caring place. And yes, I do realize that most ideas that start out like this only end up being very very bad for humanity, but it was the first thing that I thought of after reading. Who knows, in 60 years this blog comment could find itself in the Kevin R. McNamee Presidential Library . . . . .McNamee in ’28

  4. CL

    Maybe there’s something being produced right at this moment that will be revered in 100 years. I agree with the Warrior – it’s only the dawn.
    I wonder if there would have been an Algonquin Round Table in the computer age. Prob’ly not. Instead, Dorothy Parker would unleash her one-liners in forums like these.

  5. Deb

    As a denizen of Chicago in aught five, I sadly must concur. Unless you’re big into improv or want to beef up your resume before heading to NY, there’s no artistic reason to be in Chicago. There’s tons of art, but not much in the way of innovation. Other than Steppenwolf, we get mainly Broadway Blockbuster leftovers. Even reheated, they’re still a bit gamey. The Art Institute is lovely, but its shows can be seen at most major museums in the country at some point during the year. And it’s no Met. I live in a Mies VanderRohe building, constructed during Chicago’s architectural renaissance. It’s 50 years old. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Civic Opera get stellar reviews, but it seems like every year I’ve been here there’s been classic Puccini, Mozart and some incarnation of The Ring Cycle. Heck, we can barely bribe film companies to shoot here anymore. The movie “Chicago” was filmed almost entirely in Canada. Don’t get me wrong, much of Chicago’s art is tremendous in quality, but I don’t think in 20 years I’ll be telling my kids, “I was there when…” So if Chicago, 2005 is truly indicative of what’s going on everywhere, then yes, we’re in trouble.

  6. Piglet

    Seems to me, the main difference between the generations is the Millenials’ utter, utter disregard for the importance of civil liberties. Most people 10 to 15 years younger than me think there’s nothing wrong with the “Patriot Act” and intrusive airport security and the like, it being “for our protection” and all. They also get vaguely offended when someone points out social injustices that target people who don’t fit the dominant culture. Calling attention to starving homeless folks or environmental degredation is akin to taking out a photo of a mutilated corpse and passing it around at the dinner table. Compare that to Doug Lathrop’s longing for a bumper sticker reading “Card Carrying Member of the Trenchcoat Mafia”.
    If Generation X may someday aspire to producing a new Dylan or Welles, the Millenials’ biggest potential role model is Norman Rockwell or Walt Disney.
    Perhaps it has something to do with the way they grew up with dozens of “cute baby” movies while we got movies in which babies were Satan.

  7. Ian

    cm: touché!
    deb: “a bit gamey” – brilliant
    Piglet: dead-on. Gen Y’s desire to be censored is a HUGE difference. We would have told our elders to fuck off long before that was an option.

  8. Simeon Flick

    You need to read a book called ‘The Fourth Turning’ by William Strauss and Neil Howe–it wraps your theory of cyclical generations up in a nice little bow. You’ll trip, TRUST me (from one Gen X “nomad” to another). Althouigh it seems as though you’ve already read the book, judging from some of the things you wrote in your blog.
    There’s plenty of Gen Xers making visceral art out there–you’re just too distracted by your Playstation (and your kid) to notice! We’re still doing it…maybe we haven’t produced any masterpieces YET (Nine Inch Nails-Downward Spiral–heard it?!?! Gish or Siamese Dream–Smashing Pumkins, Weezer’s Blue album, FUGAZI’s first three records…what about them?), but the overcorporatization of art has just driven it where it belongs–underground. You need to look a little harder for the good stuff these days, an energy expenditure for which you don’t seem to have the patience or attention(!).
    There’s a lot of good music…not to say that my music is anything special, but since you guys are tooting your own horns (and rightfully so–you’re a good writer!)…(I’m a writer and extensive blogger myself)…also check out Noe Venable (www.noevenable.com), Laura Veirs (www.lauraveirs.com), and Lee Tyler Post (www.leetylerpost.com).
    Read ‘The Fourth Turning’ and you’ll see there’s a big difference between us and Generation ‘Why?’, the main one being that they were overprotected and overvalued, and thusly given a sense of civic-oriented, participation-mandated, conformist self-confidence. They’re the cannon fodder of a crisis era like this one, raised to follow orders and achieve great things under our leadership.
    Gen X was underprotected and undervalued growing up in an “awakening” era wherein the prophet “Baby Boomers” were more focused on their own struggle for individuality than they were on raising their mostly “accidental” children. Their hippy ideals convinced them to give us the freedom of a long tether, thereby subjecting us to the gauntlet of a decaying society with nothing at home for support but a broken family. We’re the cast-offs, the peons of the generational cycle. Ain’t it GREAT?!?!
    Anyway, keep up the blogging man, you need to be heard by more people. I’m glad I stumbled onto your blog.
    Kind and dysfunctional generational regards,
    Simeon Flick, b. 1970

  9. Emily

    I’m a 1984 baby (almost ’85) and I don’t think that we allow ourselves to be censored. When I came to college I was hoping for BIG RALLIES, IMPORTANT SPEAKERS, etc. so that I could tell my family “I was there when…” At least at Maryland, I think the changes are more internal. My roommate from freshman year held a rally last week to get a Latino Advocate on campus and was successful in having the University’s administration appoint someone to the position full-time. (And getting anyone at Maryland to spend more money is not an easy task.)
    The most intelligent and creative people I know disagree with censorship in almost every way, but voting and making our voices heard is about all we have time for right now. Just yesterday, there was a panel discussion and showing of “Deep Throat” at the campus movie theatre; if that doesn’t show a disregard for censorship and authority, I don’t know what does.
    I think my generation needs a few more years to get their feet wet and develop before we start churning out these groundbreaking works.

  10. ken

    Maybe it’s my inherent Chicago-defending nature, but I think 2005 is just as good of a time to live here, if not better, than say 1993, when Billboard declared Chicago, the nation’s ‘Music Capital’. I can’t really speak about art or literature, but musically Chicago’s just as sound as ever. Wilco continues to make great albums, labels like Thrill Jockey, Touch & Go, Bloodshot continue to release the albums that end up on everybody’s year-end lists. Bands like the Redwalls, Fallout Boy and Scotland Yard Gospel Choir will make splashes this year. I lived in Wicker Park in the early 90’s and frankly it was annoying, too many A&R reps talking on their cells in the back of Double Door while they were supposed listening to a band and signing everybody living in the 60622 Zip Code.
    As for television, Improv Olympic and Second City continue to produce a large percentage of the comedic actors working in NYC and Hollywood.
    And yes, fewer movies are shot here these days, but not because of anything Chicago lacks except the lower taxes and labor costs Canada offer.
    While Chicago isn’t in the middle of any sort of artistic renaissance–it’s not New York or Los Angeles either–it’s also about half or a third the size, so per capita, things ain’t so bad here.

  11. dan

    I’m coming in a bit late to this discussion unfortunately, but being an excessively defensive member of Generation Y, I agree with Emily that we could use a little more time before we are sentenced to lameness. Besides that, I wanted to point out that you misspelled “vestigial” (not that I would even notice normally) and that not only did we vote in the last election, we voted for the right guy, unlike every other generation.
    From the Boston Globe via Michael Moore’s website (http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/message/index.php?messageDate=2004-11-07):
    “Young people were the ONLY age group that voted for Kerry. In every other age group (30-39, 40-49, 50-59, etc.), the majority voted for Bush.”
    “Contrary to all predictions and to tradition, MORE young adults (18-29) voted in last week’s election than in any other since 18-year-olds were given the right to vote in 1972.”
    This means that Generation Y is already voting more than Generation X did back when X was our age. As far as I can tell, my generation is at worst only equally as inconsequential as Generation X, and the future outlook might even be a little bit brighter.


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