Friday Flotsam: Generation Y and Then Some

1. I’ve often longed for a Professor Kingsfield-style class of fiction writing:

2. At work today, someone brought up the African Shoebill:

Add it to the list of things that ought to be too ridiculous to really exist.

3. Reading lately has included Generation Y: The New Lost Generation, a collection of essays and short stories from Brian Niemeier, David Stewart, and JD Cowan (who also edited) on the lost generation born (by their estimation: the dividing line between ‘Y’ and ‘Millennials’ is subject to interpretation) between 1979 and 1989; the last generation to grow up without internet and before 9/11. Me I’m at the tail end of that and fortunately missed out on a number of the trends (e.g. I come from an intact home and have no student debt), but I recognize a lot of what they’re talking about.

The main thesis is that my generation was raised to survive in a world that ceased to exist by the time they came of age, and that we received little of substance, but a lot of good entertainment and good toys, which is why nostalgia for the past, and especially for past properties, is a major theme of our experience.

It is not a happy book, in case you were wondering, though the conclusion ends on an encouraging note (my main criticism is that I probably would have preferred a bit more of that: the encouragement side).

I’m definitely giving it a recommendation. For one thing, it’s available for free. For another the essays give, I think, a crucial insight into the experience of my generation, particularly for anyone younger or older who want to get some perspective on the world we live in.

Frankly, I’d say the long piece on Cultural Ground Zero alone is worth the price of admission…except the price is zero, so that would imply the opposite of my intent. Anyway, you can downloaded it at the link above

4. Personally, I think the best summation of both my generation and the surrounding ones actually comes from a song called All to Blame by the band Sum 41. I don’t know much about the band; I only know the song because it was featured prominently in Godzilla: Final Wars, the 50th anniversary film.

Anyway, the lyrics at one point say this:

We’re hopelessly blissful and blind
When all we need
Is something true to believe.

I think that nails it; we moderns desperately want and need something true to believe in. Not the stupid superficial “Believe in yourself” or “you choose what you believe” crap that our elders tried to foist upon us in school and the media, but something real, objective, bigger than ourselves on which we can safely ground our understanding of the world.

By the Grace of God, I’m more fortunate than most in that regard.

5. Speaking of David Stewart, he made a point in one of his live streams a couple weeks back that I thought was spot on. Speaking about literature classes, he said “they don’t teach the books that were actually important, they teach the books that they wish were important.” As an example, he cited Ulysses, a book ubiquitous in literature courses and literary circles and almost unread outside of them, famously nigh-incomprehensible, and leading to little beyond the study of itself.

Contrast that with A Princess of Mars, which is both widely read and insanely influential, founding entire subgenres of its own and being a key influence in both superhero and space opera stories (John Carter is one of the inspirations for Superman. Superman!).

In terms of actual literary influence and cultural impact, Edgar Rice Burroughs beats James Joyce by a mile. It isn’t even a contest. He is indisputably the more important writer. Oh, sure, Ulysses had imitators and influenced a particular branch of literature, but Burroughs created or heavily influenced entire forms of storytelling with real, identifiable effects are felt across the whole scope of 20th century fiction.

It was one of those moments of realizing that something is blindingly obvious, even though you hadn’t really considered it before.

6. Is it just me, or does the advice in The Gambler amount to “the trick to life is to know what you’re doing”?

Not that it isn’t a good song, of course

One thought on “Friday Flotsam: Generation Y and Then Some

  1. 3: Checked it out. As a Y with a Millennial younger sister, I do think Cowan et al. are on to something here; certainly, the theme of “somebody broke the civilization you were brought up to just as you were getting ready to contribute to it” explains about 90% of my own experiences this millennium, while the attendant theme of “people only a bit younger than you can’t even imagine the stable and fruitful culture on which your own imagination is built” throws my sister’s struggles, as well as the increasing difficulties of communicating with fellow FF-dot-Net writers, into a new and thought-provoking light. (And the passing reference to racial color-blindness can’t help but resonate with someone who still remembers how odd it seemed to him, at age four or so, when a character on TV made an issue of Bill Cosby being black. And then the bit about shopping malls being about the crowds as much or more than the stores, that catches and stabs.)

    I think they missed a couple important elements, though. For one thing, they make it sound as though smothering political correctness was something that just came out of nowhere in the late ’90s, when I distinctly remember it being sardonically taken for granted as the hallmark of the ’90s during the decade itself. Maybe the authors just didn’t grow up poring over the Detroit Free Press‘s Sunday comics supplement (or reading comic strips in general, for that matter; I notice that Bill Watterson, whose retirement dead in the middle of the ’90s is as good an encapsulation of the mid-decade sea-change as anything in the “Ground Zero” chapter, is mentioned nowhere in the book), but, whatever the cause, it does seem a bit of a blind spot on their part. I also miss some acknowledgment of how the culture of our formative years, besides being more artistically sound and better fun, had genuine intellectual heft to it that later works weren’t even attempting; another ’90s omen they overlook, and to my mind one of if not the most telling, was the 1998 appearance of Teletubbies on PBS Kids. Here you had a lineup that had Jack Russell terriers expounding Goethe, animated schoolchildren observing photosynthesis, and cartoon criminals whom one caught by identifying the nations of Africa, and somebody in the boardroom thought that aerialed teddy bears wandering around babbling gibberish would fit right in; if there’s anything that more perfectly summarizes the Clinton years’ intentions for posterity, I don’t want to know about it.

    5: Reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s remark in The Allegory of Love about Prudentius’s Psychomachia. “If there is any safe generalisation in literary history, it is this: that the desire for a certain kind of product does not necessarily beget the power to produce it, while it does tend to beget the illusion that it has been produced.”

    6: Well, that’s better sense than many pop songs can furnish. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

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