Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Again with the "Kids These Days" Things

I've seen this article a couple times in my eff bee feed.  It's "Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy," and basically sets up an argument (that's generous, perhaps) that back in the good old days, young adults worked really hard and were very serious, and then finally they made good, and their grass was green (seriously, it's like a lawn care metaphor).  But kids these days, the "Generation Y Yuppies" the article calls them, are unhappy because they think they're special, and they aren't willing to work hard, and they look around and think everyone else has longer, greener grass with flowers and unicorns and such.

It does this narrative about a character called "Lucy," apparently a middle or upper middle class woman.  (I think the character is female for a reason, which I'll get to.)  Her parents, the narrative says,
were born in the '50s -- they're Baby Boomers. They were raised by Lucy's grandparents, members of the G.I. Generation, or "the Greatest Generation," who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II
And then it goes on to tell us that,
They were taught that there was nothing stopping them from getting to that lush, green lawn of a career, but that they'd need to put in years of hard work to make it happen.
And fortunately, so the narrative says "after graduating from being insufferable hippies, Lucy's parents embarked on their careers."

Even putting aside the "everyone's white and middle or upper middle class" sort of narrative, this bit took me by surprise because I grew up in the 60s and 70s, and by the time I could read, watch the news and TV, and listen to the older generation, I heard a whole lot of complaining about how the boomer generation were lazy no-good, spoiled, unwilling to work, entitled, privileged, and you can add your own adjectives.  I heard it for years.  It wasn't the sort of narrative I heard once and then everyone thought it went away.

If this narrative thinks that generation "graduated from being insufferable hippies," it should also recognize that young folks these days will likely "graduate" from their self-involvement, also known as "being young adults in relatively well-off circumstances," and turn into adults who muddle through being happy and unhappy just like their parents and grandparents.

So let's think back.  And let's start with the idealized WWII generation, post war, raising kids.  You remember them, the generation where white women were lamented for taking tons and tons of tranquilizers and anti-depressants, where books like Valley of the Dolls satirized middle class white women's lives, and The Stepford Wives expressed fears of patriarchal control of women?  Happy times, right?

And remember those same women looking around and holding consciousness raising sessions because they were so damned unhappy with their middle-class white lives?  Of course they were mocked by the patriarchal media, but they were out there.

What this narrative's Lucy needs, I'd say, is some time (which she'll get if she's lucky).  In all likelihood, she and her generation will grow up, be more or less happy, more or less unhappy, and then at some point, write narratives about how their generation went through a short, rocky period, and the current generation of young people are lazy no-good, spoiled, unwilling to work, entitled, privileged, and you can add your own adjectives.

For better or worse, I probably won't be around to be irritated by that particular iteration.

And really, really, I'd like to see someone in the mainstream press think about narratives that aren't about middle and upper middle class white folks.  I bet that narrative about the wonderfulness of the 50s would change a heck of a lot when told by African Americans or Asian Americans. 

For what it's worth, my observations of my students lead me to believe: this generation is tied to their phones in much the same way teens were tied to phones in 50s and 60s TV shows, except they can carry their phones with them.  This generation has people who are hard working and who are lazy, and a lot do both at times.  It has people who are entitled, and people who are humble, people who are self-involved, and people who are actively committed to stuff, people who are apathetic, and people who are on fire to do something important.  Same as the old days.


  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wCXr_6wgns

  2. Also, I just don't recognize this spoiled, entitled generation that this "argument" is talking about. Maybe they exist among the 1%. But the rest of us, we've been working long hours since we can remember, for minimal rewards, usually, and every year our world has gotten worse -- our pay had effectively gotten less, our life is bleaker, and we can see that the future is going to be more of the same.

    So no, it's not rainbows and unicorns. Yeah, we have the internet and (some of us -- not me) iPhones; but what we don't have is decent healthcare, jobs that pay enough to live on, food security, or any chance at educating our children without making them debt slaves for the rest of their lives.

    The grass isn't green: it's dead. And I am a bit sick of being told I'm spoiled and should shut up and work harder, that not *working* hard enough or being *grateful* enough is my problem. Jesus.

  3. That rant was directed at the original article, Bardic -- not you!

  4. Peggy, Good one!

    Delagar, You're absolutely right. I was thinking of people a bit younger than you, mostly my students, but the economic situation people have been coming to adulthood in these past 10 years has been much harder than what I had in the 80s. (And the 80s wasn't all sweetness and light, as I remember it.)

  5. I see your Bye Bye Birdie and raise you a Flower Drum Song.


  6. Yes, the students coming up today, especially, have it brutally hard. My nephews (just finishing their degrees) are already deeply in debt, and only one of them has been able to find a "real" job, one with benefits and prospects. And that job pays $23,000/year.