And so it comes around again, another person labeled “The Spokesman of His Generation” and a chorus of people lining up to pee on his coronation robes. The current smackdown occurred courtesy of Josh Levin in Slate who asks, “If Zach Braff is the voice of my generation, can’t someone please crush his larynx?” Zach’s offense? A hit TV show, one good movie, one so-so movie, and then Entertainment Weekly anointing him as Generational Spokesperson.
I speak from some experience, as I spent about three months in 1993 or so being Spokesperson For My Generation. Being poor, I did not dissuade anyone of this idea, and turned it into a couple of non-fiction books, some fun articles for big magazines, an afternoon on Oprah, a bizarre side career in P.R. and advertising, and the occasional satisfaction of my low-level sexual addiction. I thought I was a pretty damned good writer, but I also knew how lucky I was, thanks to Kyle York Spencer’s New York Times article and impeccable timing. The door opened for me, and I bloody well stepped inside.
However, one characteristic of both my generation and this current generation – whatever you want to call Zach Braff’s demographic – is the preponderance of people of your age group who want you not only to fail, but flame out in a blaze of embarrassing glory. People hate being spoken for, even if you’re doing it well. And thus I spent a lot of the mid-90s getting actual letters (and later, email) telling me that I was making a career out of crass generalizations, and I was a big fucking whiner to boot.
I never disagreed with those assessments, but if there’s one thing your peers hate more than your early success, it’s you admitting that they’re probably right.
A lot of us kids today – and I’m including everyone born from 1961 to 2000 – have an instinctual “he’s getting too big for his britches” button that is unfathomably sensitive. The second anyone our own age appears to be garnering too much kudos, the backlash will begin, and it will begin FAST and HARSH.
Hell, small examples abound on this blog. Back in 2004, I wrote about seeing a play with Marisa Tomei, and apparently I was talking too much about myself, and the comments were too positive, which led some guy to write “This guy is a giant, quivering, pink, pearly pussy. Sure, I don’t HAVE to come here, but there’s so much unwarranted ass kissing in these comments I thought a little voice from the non-dipshit world might be refreshing.” Which remains, of course, one of my favorite comments ever.
Just a few days ago, when the comments section was filled with wonderful exhortations, it got too much for “Hans,” who wrote (dripping with disdainful sarcasm): “You are wonderful. You are attractive. You are incredible. You are popular. Please, please don’t stop the blog.” I mention these not because they bum me out (they don’t), but because they are a fascinating study on our peculiar psychology. Even though we come from an era that lauds the easy dollar and finding shortcuts to success, we absolutely loathe people who seem to be “getting away with it.”
And so the article on Zach Braff. Josh Levin is filled with disgust at someone who wrote and directed a movie that made sure Natalie Portman fell in love with him. Also, he punched up the dialogue in his next movie and got to bed Rachel Bilson. And he doesn’t think Braff has anything interesting to say. I mean, I get it.
But what is lost here, and why I think OUR GENERATION (if I may be so bold) has come up woefully short in the Great Artists department, is because there is such a tightrope of acceptance any of us are allowed to walk. Aim too low, and we’re hacks. Aim too high, and we’re pretentious. Make no money, and we’re losers. Make too much, and we “don’t get it anymore.” Try to simplify, and we’re boring. Try for something courageous, and, as Morrissey said, there’s always someone, somewhere, with a big nose who knows, who trips you up and laughs when you fall.
Let me tell you something about writing and directing your own movie: it’s really, really hard. It is much harder, say, than writing a 2,000-word article about how it doesn’t speak for you. Anyone who dares, in this day and age, to do something artistic AT ALL not only deserves your respect, but your support.
I have never done two things in my life (well, three if you count heroin): I have never called anyone ugly, and I have never trashed a piece of art that was made with good intentions just because it didn’t speak to me personally. I have sat through the most boring, soporific, navel-gazing theater in Manhattan, and while I have been frustrated, I have never said it was bad.
On behalf of my dad the symphony conductor, my mom the composer, my brother and Jordana and their plays, for the commenters like Annie and Block and CL and Oliver who dare to string notes and words together for a living, I would like to extend a middle finger to those people who exist to tear us down if we start doing too well. There is no parade too small for you to rain on, and I hope you drown in it.