Friday, September 1, 2017

Anti (Generalization, Part Two)

          It ain’t no use a-talking to me
          It’s just the same as talking to you
          Bob Dylan

At some time between two and three decades ago I read an op-ed article in the New York Times that caused me to gape in wonder.* The author, who was said to be in his twenties, was critical of a recent report about the attitude toward advertising of people in their twenties or so. The specific conclusions of the report and the objections of the op-ed writer are irrelevant here, none of the former or the latter being what I was taken up short by. What got me talking to myself were the terms used by the writer in his protest:
[Paraphrasing here] 
My generation feels that . . .
We believe that .  .  .
(and so forth).

I could not comprehend this—for I flashed back across the decades to when I was in my twenties, and practically screamed out loud that not only would I have not attempted to speak as a representative of “my generation,” I most assuredly would not have wanted to. 

I hate all of this generation nonsense (Gen-X, Gen-Y, and now the Millennials). As if the waters of time flow straight down a chute instead of heaving like the ocean’s waters, breaking one way, falling back with an undertow, spinning in eddies, and splashing and separating against the rocks. 

OK, I will admit that people of my age were given a name: “The Silent Generation.” My high school and college years were clouded by the maleficent specters of Senator Joseph McCarthy, HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee), and their outriders. Most undergraduates, even members of the most historically political of student bodies, kept their heads low and eyes peeled to the ground. It was also a world, culturally, of “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Leave it to Beaver”—antiseptic wholesomeness.

I could not—and did not--accept this culture. Politically, on campus I worked for academic freedom and civil liberties (when I ran—in a losing cause--for vice-president of Student Government, one of the campus papers called me “a hyper-militant civil libertarian,” a title I accepted as a badge of honor). When the odious Roy Cohn** (henchman of McCarthy and, years later, tutor of Trump) gave a speech on campus in April, 1955, I put it to him during the question period that like Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, New York Senator Herbert Lehman, and one other person I name-checked but can’t remember, one could be a loyal American but opposed to McCarthy and his tactics, I was told off by the odious RC that that was “an anti-anti-communist” statement. I accepted that too as a badge of honor.

That was political. Culturally I also swam against the tide. Nothing could be more outside the mainstream than modern jazz (as Hamlet said, it was “caviare to the general”). I was a member of the Modern Jazz Society (what did we have, a dozen members?), and spent weekend nights at Birdland or Basin Street. 

If ever I had been asked for how many of my contemporaries I could claim to speak, I would probably have stopped at two.

Ah, but today a tidal wave of generational generalization is engulfing us. Here are just the first few hits on one magazine’s (The Atlantic) “millennials” search page:

The Unluckiest Generation: What Will Become of Millennials? - The ...
Apr 26, 2013 ... Coming of age in a recession has set back Millennials for decades. The good news? In the age of abundance, they could turn out to be pretty ...
Millennials' Political Views Don't Make Any Sense - The Atlantic
Jul 15, 2014 ... Millennial politics is simple, really. Young people support big government, unless it costs any more money. They're for smaller government, ...
Millennials' Influence Is Growing—Can They Save the Democratic ...
Mar 4, 2017 ... The stakes in the parties' struggle for Millennials' allegiance are steadily rising as their numbers in the electorate increase. In 2000, the first ...
Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? - The Atlantic
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they're on the brink of a mental-health ...
The Cheapest Generation - The Atlantic
Why Millennials aren't buying cars or houses, and what that means for the economy.
Millennials: The Greatest Generation or the Most Narcissistic? - The ...
May 2, 2012 ... Many books and articles celebrate Millennials (born, roughly, 1982 to 1999) as helpful, civically oriented young people who want to save the ...
Gifts, Debts, and Inheritances: Why So Many Minority Millennials ...
Nov 29, 2015 ... For many Millennials of color, these sorts of trade-offs aren't an anomaly. During key times in their lives when they should be building assets, ...
Why Millennials Aren't Buying Houses - The Atlantic
Aug 24, 2016 ... In the aftermath of the recession and weak recovery, the share of 18- to- 34 year olds—a.k.a.: Millennials—who own a home has fallen to a ...
Why Do Millennials Hate Groceries? - The Atlantic
Nov 2, 2016 ... First, many cultural changes for which Millennials are initially blamed really reflect broader trends affecting even the oldest consumers. Second ...

Enough already!

And apparently everything is done en masse. Crowds line up for a crack at the latest street fashion (assuming they’re not dancing around with bottles held aloft in beer or rum commercials). They scheme to get into sold-out concerts, and watch the same blockbuster streams online. They fall for the same food-craze-of-the-month and pack (or wait on line to pack) the restaurant du jour

If I were in my twenties now, what I would say is this: When arenas and stadiums and restaurants are full, and queueing up for hours is necessary, then it’s all covered; I don’t have to go—there’s no need for one more person. 

And I would look to ancient sages for enlightenment:

Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

Samuel Goldwyn: “Include me out.” 


*I have tried most diligently in the intervening years to hunt down the piece but have had no luck. Therefore, since I can’t quote directly, I am resorting to paraphrase. 

**Many years later, when my daughter, during her high school summer break, was a volunteer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, she overheard that a certain patient was suffering from AIDS. “Who is Roy Cohn? she asked me.
Heavens preserve all fathers from having to answer that question!