le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

now you've made me angry

Waiting in line at the grocery store, I saw this issue of Newsweek on the stand. I was trying to figure out who the woman playing soccer was, and then I noticed the smaller headline above her.
And I got angry. Really, really angry.


My very first coherent thought, once the bubbles of red rage subsided, was "What an awful thing to say!"

I keep coming back to this as I try to sort out just why I'm so angry and what to do about it - how to translate my anger into something like policy or philosophy or even just a personal opinion. And ultimately, it's that this is an awful thing to say.

How would you like to be told you were "Generation Screwed"? How would you like to be told that when you're 22, just finished college, struggling to find a job? Or when you're 26 and you've been out of school for several years and are working a menial job that barely pays the bills, because there's nothing else? How would you like to be told that your 18-year-old child, who you're about to pack off to school, is screwed?

The meanness of this is breathtaking. It's the exclamation point at the end that really does it, I think - there's something kind of gleeful about the declaration - you're screwed! ha!
Actually, what that assertion should mean is, if you're over 35, you need to take a good long look at what you've done to contribute to the screwing-over of the people coming up behind you. If you've done the kind of damage that leaves over 22% of the population "screwed," then you ought to be Generation Ashamed.

I won't bother finding examples of Bright Young People Making A Difference. Those stories are boring, and they distract us from real problems. You can always find instances of people succeeding when others are struggling, and usually the main keys to their success are luck, luck, luck, and privilege. Nor do I need to point out all the things working against this cohort - those statistics are easy enough to find (un/underemployment, etc etc etc).

What I will say is: telling 22%+ of the population that they're screwed is appallingly mean-spirited and irresponsible. It works to cast that cohort in a position either of despair or fault, neither of which is helpful to anyone. What kind of future can you imagine when you're told your entire generation is screwed? Especially when you've been raised, and lived your whole life, being told that You Can Achieve Anything, if you Just Work Hard Enough. Or if you've been told that Education Is The Key, so you take on student loans, only to be told after graduation that - you're screwed! (oh, that exclamation point is making my blood boil).

That headline ought to say: How we've screwed the 18-35 generation.
Or, even more productively, How to help 18-35 year olds

Mean-spiritedness aside, the you're screwed headline absolves anyone of responsibility - it isn't passive voice but it might as well be. It's wildly unproductive, too - when faced with a problem, pointing out the problem isn't helpful. It's like an onlooker standing on the sidewalk and saying: You're trapped in a burning building! when what he should be doing is calling 911, and looking for other ways to help.

The media's habit of crapping on teenagers has, I've noticed, been creeping upward in age. It's not just teenagers, it's early twentysomethings, it's "millennials," it's ages 18-35.  The rhetoric of reproach and scolding tone hasn't changed, though the fear is less prominent in the talk about post-teenaged young people. Now, the discourse is no longer about how dangerous and irresponsible the young people are, it's about how they're just hopeless and screwed and, maybe, just maybe, deserve it. Borrowing all that student loan money? Irresponsible! Not able to pay your bills? Well, why do you think you should live well? There's a misplaced recrimination here for a perceived sense of entitlement, I think - as if millions of un and underemployed young people are really just whining about not being able to borrow the car on Friday night.

The hell of this all is that the younger end of the 18-35 range don't know they're screwed, and won't believe it when they're told. I saw this with my (fairly privileged) freshmen last fall; they all dismissed the Occupy Wall Street concerns dealing with young people's issues (underemployment, low pay, crushing student debt), and confidently told me that all you had to do was work hard and want a job badly enough, and you'd get it.
They have no idea what's coming.

The real problems to be solved are large and bulky and systemic, just the kind that no one ever wants to deal with. These problems are also ones brought about by the policies and practices of our beloved blessed baby boomers, who appear to be a group of people unable to either accept blame or let someone else sit at the table to work things out.

In a way, though, 18-35 year-olds have always been generation screwed, because - as I have said before, and will continue to say - there is just about no one advocating for them. Once children stop being little, the children's advocacy groups lose interest in them, and then no one cares for a couple of decades, until you become a soccer mom or member of the AARP.
And in the meanwhile, you're screwed, while the very people who screwed you point fingers gleefully.

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