Friday, January 30, 2009

on the State of My Generation

I worry about my generation. I worry about other things too, of course. There are plenty of things to worry about.

I've a few reasons for worrying about where my generation is going. All the generations before us fucked things up pretty magnificently. I'm also worried because we haven't done anything to inspire confidence. There are small inklings of interest, involvement, artistic movements, but no where is a revolutionary spark. There is no Students for a Democratic Society.

we are the new moderates.

We are the children of an academic nihilism, of post-modern ideals in a world which is decidedly at odds with itself. We are still dealing with the modern with tools given us by the past. The modes of interaction we have are the same, the way we act is the same, but the technologies that mediate all this are far different. We are dealing with a modern world in the only way we are able, as humans. We are the same as most of our ancestors, and most of our ancestors wouldn't recognise cars, much less computers.

I don't know what to make of that.

We are blamed of narcissism. That is part function of our raising, with "helicopter moms" suburban wealth, and advertising that while making us feel inadequate, makes us feel special. The cultural touchstones are television shows, and video games. What we remember are media constructions, not defining events.

9/11 is supposed to be the event that defines us, but ultimately it does nothing to create a movement, or a unity, it is an event that fits for all generations, and is really an event of our parents. Like so much of what happens now, it is the result of our parents', and grandparents' stupidity, or lack of foresight, or obstinacy.

Where are we to draw collectivity from?

Where independent movements flourished in earlier generations we have movements co-opted by advertising from the beginning (or near enough). I don't see art from people my age. There aren't galleries with our work, and the walls that before might have been covered in beautiful Graffiti on are for the most part left clean.

The short film on youtube is comedic. Some of it is brilliant, but very little (if any) of it profound. The blogs we write are about us, and not about the larger world around us. The myspace profiles we keep up painstakingly are filled with ephemera, changing from week to week, from fad to fad.

It is all in flux. A musical style is born and dies with one band. An art style lives for a week, and then fades away. Who writes the books, I don't think my generation does.

Where we have so much ability to produce, we have so little production. The fact that we are always talking gets in the way of the fact that we never have anything to say.

I don't think I can asses our place as a generation. We are a generation of mundane creation. Where before the aura of art was created by some establishment, we now are held back by commercialisation.

We don't paint a moustache on the Mona Lisa because she is everywhere, and everywhere the same.
There aren't any remixes of Starry Starry Night, because it is sacred through reproduction. A poster of that painting hangs in nearly every college dorm room in the United States. That painting is ubiquitous, and as such is unchangeable. Because one form of it is everywhere, it cannot be messed with. cannot be remixed. In an era of mass production the establishment is they who decide what is printed.
The smart young artists decide to become designers, making ad campaigns for the powerful, instead of making art which subverts the status quo. There is no refuge from advertising. There is no refuge from mass production, and there is no refuge from technology.

We know that ads effect buying behaviour. It's not something that can be avoided. If people are exposed to ads, a predictable percentage of them will go out and buy product. This is a dynamic that has a lot of influence on my generation's actions. We are defined by comodifiable trends. While the Hippies had some time before their style and attitudes were adopted by capitalism, (or rather were sold back to them) our modern Hipsters are a product of the sold to begin with.

The roots of rolled up pant legs, thrift store clothing, and fixed gear bicycles were all from communities separate from the subculture of hipsters. It was only once these things were sold with such fervency that they became hipster staples.

Fashion is largely the co-opting of practical modifications for aesthetic reasons. I roll up my pant legs so they don't get caught in the sprocket when I ride my bike, but eventually if what I do becomes some sort of ideal, people will roll their pant legs up without having biked anywhere.

If I look like I shopped in a thrift store, it is because I did, and I did so because i don't have the money to buy new clothes. If a hipster does, it's because the styles that are sold to them in department stores, or in urban outfitters, or wherever they shop, are intentionally reminiscent of the clothes I pick out at the thrift store.

If a band sounds lo-fi, and rough, it is likely because they cannot afford the sort of equipment that makes them sound clean, and even. Sure there's a stylistic component, but what hipsters don't realise is that there is a very clear monetary component.

The people who make the trends are not the people who have money to follow fashion. People who spend money to look like b-boys are not b-boys. That is an essential problem in our era. The things that mark some community are co-opted. People who look like me may not be like me.

If I look like a hipster because of lack of money, that does not make me a hipster. When I was a punk, seeing someone with a Mohawk meant I had found kin. It now doesn't mean anything of the sort. Someone riding a certain type of bicycle, or any seemingly self made bicycle used to mean I had found people also interested in bicycles, no longer is that true.

We are not what we appear to be. Appearances no longer count for much. I can't help but wish they did.

You can't have a revolution without a community. the counter culture communities are all appropriated by ads, and by commercialisation. The primary organisations are determined by our elders, or at least by their politics. We are the new moderates. Perhaps a little more progressive than the age before us, but we are prematurely old. The attitudes (and excesses) of adulthood are now ours.
I don't think we'll be the generation to have revolutionary ideals and then sell out for a house in the suburbs and a lease on stability, because we've already been sold.

We don't own ourselves anymore. Credit card companies, and Loan companies, and our parents, and our jobs, and our schools, and our stores; they are our owners. How can we sell out when we don't have possession of even ourselves.

So how are we going to break free of the bond of our forbearer's mistakes, and the bond of advertisers?
How do we keep the meaningful from being transformed into the superficial?

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