Tuesday, April 11, 2006

You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet: I'd always figured the baby boomers were the hands-down winners of the shallow self-absorbtion derby, but it looks like my own generation is poised to give them a run for it. Meet the "Yupsters."
This is an obituary for the generation gap. It is a story about 40-year-old men and women who look, talk, act, and dress like people who are 22 years old. It’s not about a fad but about a phenomenon that looks to be permanent. It’s about the hedge-fund guy in Park Slope with the chunky square glasses, brown rock T-shirt, slight paunch, expensive jeans, Puma sneakers, and shoulder-slung messenger bag, with two kids squirming over his lap like itchy chimps at the Tea Lounge on Sunday morning. It’s about the mom in the low-slung Sevens and ankle boots and vaguely Berlin-art-scene blouse with the $800 stroller and the TV-screen-size Olsen-twins sunglasses perched on her head walking through Bryant Park listening to Death Cab for Cutie on her Nano.

And because this phenomenon wears itself so clearly as the convergence of downtown cool and easy, abundant money, it is also, of course, about stuff—though that’s not all it’s about. It’s more interesting as evidence of the slow erosion of the long-held idea that in some fundamental way, you cross through a portal when you become an adult, a portal inscribed with the biblical imperative “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: But when I became a man, I put away childish things.” This cohort is not interested in putting away childish things. They are a generation or two of affluent, urban adults who are now happily sailing through their thirties and forties, and even fifties, clad in beat-up sneakers and cashmere hoodies, content that they can enjoy all the good parts of being a grown-up (a real paycheck, a family, the warm touch of cashmere) with none of the bad parts (Dockers, management seminars, indentured servitude at the local Gymboree). It’s about a brave new world whose citizens are radically rethinking what it means to be a grown-up and whether being a grown-up still requires, you know, actually growing up.

Let's see: Glorification of Youth and Hipness? Check. The tacky mini-materialism that has become the conspicuous consumption for the liberal upper middle class? Check. A self-fascination tendency so strong it can warp space-time? Check. (Note, too, the many asides in which the writer of the piece tries soft-pedal his me-tooism by fashioning a false reluctance to admit that he's a Yupster, too.) We're looking at the baby boomers squared, here. I mean, sure, the boomers tried to extend their youth through nostalgia, and they looked silly for clinging too hard to their cultural experiences. But at least they aren't cutting loose their honest (if narcissistic) nostalgia to be cultural parasites.

Luckily, most of these knuckleheads are confined to ghettoes of the self-consciously authentic like Williamsburg or Weehawken, or Northampton, Massachusetts, where I see them daily -- the white, dreadlocked 37 year old who went to Brown only to end up with a useless degree in Social Justice Studies or something.

Speaking of authenticity, here's a quote from one of these dopes: "I spoke to an undergrad class at NYU recently. And it was terrifying how much we had in common. I’m looking at these kids who look about 12, and we’re all going to the same movies and watching the same TV shows and listening to the same music. I don’t know if it’s scarier for them or scarier for me." (My italics.)

I'm sure it scared them, but Mr. Hip here is no doubt secretly pleased that he is cultivating the proper tastes. I'm sure he thinks he impressed the hell out of his NYU audience by seeming so with it -- but friends, you just know he came across like Pat Boone singing "Tutti Frutti."

For Gen-X, just fifteen years ago, the big complaint was that boomers, with their lingering sixties-era musical attachments and smug sense of cultural centrality, refused to pass the torch and get the hell out of the way. In a 1997 sociology essay titled "Generation X: Who Are They? What Do They Want?," one twentysomething student lamented, "We still are bombarded with 'Classic Rock' and moldy oldies. Bands like the Eagles, Rolling Stones, and Aerosmith need to back off so we can define our own music, lifestyle." It’s ironic, then, that those selfsame slackers — the twentysomethings of the early nineties (and, hey, I was right there, too: Rock on, Screaming Trees)— aren’t standing in the way of the next generation. Rather, they’re joining right in at the front of the crowd at the sold-out Decemberists show. Hey, kids, you can define your own music, lifestyle—that’s our music and lifestyle, too!
(Emphasis in original.) Given the choice, would you rather suffer through a bunch of loudmouthed boomers telling you how awesome Dylan was, or suffer through a bunch of toadying Gen Xers latching onto your own tastes like cultural leeches? I think the answer's obvious. I mean, nostalgia can be sad, but at least it's not entirely undignified.

Via A&LD.

More: "I think the young people enjoy it when I "get down" verbally, don't you?"


Flyer said...

I'm torn in how to respond to this. First, I don't even know who Death Kitty From Mars or whatever is and I readily admit I haven't stayed hip to modern music in ten years. And my wardrobe, while casual and appropriate to a "start-up" work environment, doesn't show a lick of trendiness. What can I say. I'm a traditional kind of guy.

Second, I agree that these hipster-doofuses (doofii?) are hilarious in their refusal to grow up. I can see the nose-ringed teenagers at concerts, chuckling "check out at Mr. & Mrs. Brady" (or whatever the modern equivalent of adult dorkdom is). There's a saying that every group of people includes a sucker, and if you don't know who it is, you're it. Well, every group also includes the most pathetic, least hip, the one that gets mocked when they leave the room. Well, if you're the thirty-five year old, slightly balding, paunch expanding, t-shirt wearing, flip-flop shuffling (before Razor gets it in), i-pod listening dud trying to show the kiddies how cool you are, well you're the equivalent of the 1980's 50 year old that buys the Corvette and toupee an starts cruising the mall. In other words, you're more likely these days to be perceived as a potential child molester than a hep-cat.

Except, apparently, in New York.

However, I gotta say this just makes me feel all warm and cuddly about the American economy and capitalism in general. As the French riot over the slightest threat to their state-regulated job security and the right to work 45 30-hour weeks a year, mostof which is spent smoking Gaulloises and eyeballing the waitress, Americans are still saying, screw the man, I'm gonna do it my way, and reap the rewards, whether that means lots of money or just the right to act like a teenager on Wednesday night and not have to be in the office Thursday morning.

Razor said...

Great post Eno, and reply Flyer. I am fortunate that I am not exposed to many of these morons in my daily life. I live safely in the burbs now, where the Mrs. and I tend to be among the youngest couples there, yet we all seem to have kids the same age (bizarre that me having my first child at age 27 seems so young to many). Anyway, my neighbors fall squarely into the mid 30s to early 40s, aging somewhat gracefully, but not looking to avoid it grouping. It's more about soccer games, dance class, and cocktails then trying to stay abreast of the latest indie releases. My kind of life really. If I need to get "hip" I can stay after work and get drinks with some of the younger lawyers or my few remaining single friends. Funny, I'm always eager to get back on the train after a few hours.

There's this show on Bravo (or maybe A&E) called "The Real Wives of Orange County" -- a more desperate and fake group of women you will not find (which is why it's so amusing to watch). Rich, aimless and pumped up with silicone and rearranged body fat, these women actually compete with their teenaged children for the most irresponsible behavior. This reinforces my distaste for all things SoCal -- may I never set foot there again.

I used to care if those younger than I thought I wasn't hip. Now I could care less. I dress fashionably but with restraint, I work out, I listen to my iPod (which ranges from The Boss to Icelandic electronic rock), I try to watch good movies, and most importantly, eat and drink well with my family and close friends (some of whom I do not get to see nearly often enough). This is quality of life to me.

Imagine the dread of having to keep one's piercings au courant every month as one's skin gets less and less taut. That is a nightmare to me.