Lately, commentators have been referring to my generation as the new Lost Generation (the Atlantic and Bloomberg, for example). This once referred to the generation lost to the Great War, but it’s now being flung, draped over today’s young adults. Including myself.
In the past, I have bemoaned the current child custody arrangements in our society (you can read about it here). After the great cultural revolution of the sixties, the rate of divorce increased and an entire generation of children were told that their families weren’t good enough, that they weren’t normal. But what is normal? For the vast majority of human history, half your siblings died in childhood. Significant portions of mothers died in childbirth. Dads died in war. Families were NOT made up of biological mom and dad. It really was grandma and grandpa, or uncle Henry and auntie Em, or one parent that married the neighbor.
Children today live in a world where there are two of everything: two sets of parents, two houses, two sets of clothes, two sets of rules. Some of us know what this is like because it’s how we grew up too.
And we grew up being told that money was king. We worshipped at the alter of greed, becoming exactly what our religious teaching cautioned against.
We were shown images of the perfect family, framed by a white picket fence.
But instead of being raised by Ozzy and Harriet, we were raised by our OCD mom trying to perfect her impersonation of Superwoman, working 40+ hours a week, taking classes at night, and somehow simultaneously maintaining the perfect face and figure, all the while being the perfect mom and housekeeper--with dear old dad somewhere in the distance, either in a house across town with his new wife and kids, or sitting on the couch watching football and drinking beer after working 40+ hours himself at his job (or two). They called us latchkey kids and made fun of our long hair and strange Madonna-inspired clothes.
And now we are the adults. Our kids are reviving those strange fashion trends, ignoring us while they text their new best friend, that may be the boy down the street, or maybe the pedophile across town. They have more gadgets than we ever dreamed of having, even growing up during the so-called Me Generation. Only theirs are purchased on credit, probably still on our cards when we buy them the next great thing to replace it. We’re passing on our passion for possessions, even though we can neither afford it financially or environmentally, as their production is brought to reality by debt slaves and by pouring massive amounts of pollution into our already damaged ecosystem (from start to finish).
And we can’t seem to see ourselves as anything but losers. We’re divorced (married too early) or perpetually single (can’t afford the time to look, ever find anyone that fits our idealized image, or simply can’t afford the wedding). We have huge student loans to pay off for degrees that we may or may not have gotten, and even if we did they aren’t helping us to find gainful employment. So we’re unemployed or stuck at some low wage, underemployment gig that can’t feed us, let alone pay the mortgage. We lost the American dream, if we ever had it, in that great mortgage bubble burst, even if we didn’t actually own a house. So now we live with our parents, they’re showing early signs of dementia, their pension was lost or stolen by corporate greed, the politicians keep screaming that social security is a bust, and we’re putting thousands on our credit cards just to make ends meet, so forget saving money for our own retirement.
But was it our parents fault? Could our mothers have been anything but that stressed out woman, screaming at our failure to wash the dishes after school one minute and unsuccessfully attempting to help us with math homework the next? Or could our fathers have been anything but ghosts? They were just trying to live up to the ideals that they were allowed. Dad couldn’t have suddenly started washing the dishes and giving his little girl baths (for fear of being seen as either unmanly, or worse, a pedophile), any more than our mother could have let go of her youth worship (and be seen as unfeminine), her full time job (they needed the income), or actually helped with that math homework (she’d always been told that girls couldn’t do math).
Maybe it’s our concept of what is ideal that is amiss. Why don’t we ever wonder who decides such things? Why don’t we question the validity of it all? Maybe that's where the revolution has to really begin.
Could we have done anything differently? We went back to school. We did what we were supposed to do. We studied hard, got into a good school, made the grades, worked long hours, and did what our bosses said. We educated ourselves again. But that didn’t stop our jobs from being shipped to China.
Maybe we really are another lost generation. Only we weren’t lost due a world war and battles to fight the “good” fight, but instead because a few wealthy people decided that they wanted to see just how far they could take it. Maybe it was all the money that they grew up with, or maybe it was having two sets of rules that made them forget both. Or maybe it was just that they did question the ideals, and maybe they just bought into the American dream that they could have it all.
How can we see ourselves as anything but losers, when we’re all set adrift in a sea of nameless discontent that we just don’t have the time to contemplate? We’ve been told our whole lives that we weren’t normal, that our families weren’t normal, and that we are now failing ourselves because we can’t find that job. Forget marriage and kids and houses. We can’t buy food.
I want to end with a glimmer of hope. . .but I just don’t see one. Maybe we will finally pick up the revolution where our parents left off, and their parents before them. But would we ever have enough time for living that American dream we’ve been promised afterwards? Each generation must fight the battles that are in front of them, but maybe we’ve just been too busy playing the WII, working two jobs, reeducating ourselves, taking care of our families, or whatever it really was that we’ve been doing while someone else stole our slice of the pie and our dreams.
what I'm listening to: (yet again) Fortunate Son, CCR