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A Conversation With Generation Text

"You don’t understand. My generation is fucked up, and not just a little bit!”

“The same has been said about every generation,” I replied, smiling. “Quit cursing.”

“Really, so in your generation were fourteen year old girls stealing their mother’s cars and driving around like idiots? Were fifteen year olds dropping acid or getting high in the back of the classroom? Were twelve year olds having sex and getting STDs?” she asked, indignant, with a frown on her face. She was looking around the food court at the local mall, shaking her head at the horrors she saw, there and in her memories.

"And they didn’t have texting back then, or Facebook,” she said. “You know kids my age, friends, will stand right next to you for thirty minutes and not say two words but they will sit there and text away like mad about stupid stuff like the world depended on it.”

“Look at that,” she said, “those girls can’t be nine or ten years old. They’ve got tons of make-up on and they dress like little whores. Every generation has been like that?”

I smiled, watching the girls walk past.

“Perhaps not just like that. But those short-shorts you like to wear in summer? We invented them. Those girls walking by, in my day they were Madonna wannabes. But to answer your point, every generation has been doomed, ruined, and a disgrace to humanity,” I answered. “I’ve told you before, nothing is new. The details change, sure. But the patterns repeat. Ask any Old person. The younger generation sucks and won’t amount to anything. It’s an immutable law of the universe.”

She looked skeptical. She is a teenager. It is in her nature to be skeptical of anything one of the Old say.

“You know,” I said, “in the 1950s and early 60s this thing called rock-n-roll was invented. Christian fundamentalists called it the Devil’s music. They said it would ruin our youth. In some places they tried to ban it. They even burned records en masse. But it was even worse than that. Rock-n-roll was really a mixture of upbeat country music and blues music. Blues was the music of blacks, and in the 50s and 60s blacks and whites didn’t mix. Racism wasn’t a problem back then. It was an inescapable fact of american life.”

“Humph.”

“White kids, teenagers, rebelling against their conservative parents, turned to rock-n-roll and started listening to songs like ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’ and ‘Rollover Beethoven.’ Worse than that, this guy named Elvis Presley came along and changed everything. He was a southern white guy who sang like a black man and moved like one too.”

“Rock-n-roll ruined that generation. But that generation also landed a man on the moon. They ended segregation. And every teenager’s favorite anti-hero was born then, too. You remember Holden Caulfield, I’m sure.”

“Catcher In The Rye,” she said. I nodded.

She sat in silence for a few minutes, thinking. Then I said, “Of course, it got even worse with the next generation. You know, those damned hippies and their pot and LSD.”

“I bet they weren’t very popular.”

“You think? A bunch of ne’er-do-wells getting high all of the time and talking about dropping out. How could the establishment object to that?”

“Right,” she said. “I think they’re still objecting to them.”

“No, they’ve become the establishment. They also became the people who gave you the personal computer, the iPod and iTunes. (Steve Jobs was a big hippie.) And they wrote things like ‘All the Lonely People’, ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’, and ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.’ Your personal hero, Mr. Robert Marley, Jr., gave the world some rather enduring art, too. Not a bad resume for a bunch of druggies, eh? Or a generation that was never going to amount to anything.”

She frowned. “I don’t know ...”

Oh,” I said, “but then there was the slacker generation, GenX. They got it right. How could a bunch of video game playing skateboarders ever go wrong. They were embraced and loved by everyone.”

“Funny,” she laughed.

“Not funny, not messed up or irrevocably lost, either. Just defining the world in their own way and on their terms. It’s awkward at first because there aren’t any rules or paths to follow. And it’s awkward because it’s change and change is difficult. But it isn’t really different. Every generation has to discover itself and redefine the world to some degree.”

“There aren’t any lost generations, really. Some just effect more change than others, especially when they are precipitated by, and combined with, needed social change. Your generation is at its nascent level, still incubating. It’s impossible to determine the long-term direction or contributions it will make to our culture. And it’s definitely too early to draw any conclusions.”

“But they are such idiots! You should hear the conversations kids my age have,” she said, clearly wondering how I could defend her peers.

“Uh huh. All generations have their free-loaders, the ones who just get along. Remember that Buffett song you like:

Some people love to lead, some refuse to dance.
Some play it safely, others take a chance.*

Maybe they aren’t different. Maybe you are. Maybe you are the pearl and not just an oyster, to get back to the Buffett song.”

“I don’t know.”

“Of course you don’t. No one does. That’s the beauty of it. The real question is will you be one of those who shapes the future or just enjoys the ride. And by the way, there isn’t a good or bad answer there.”

We were silent for a few moments, both eating our dinners and thinking. Then I said, “Each generation decides what is specifically sacred to it. There is no guarantee that the next one will care.”

“Well mine sure doesn’t! About anything.”

“You know you’re just railing against cultural norms. It sounds horrible to you, kids having sex and drinking at twelve and thirteen years old. (And I’m glad for that!) We don’t consider them to be old enough or mature enough, and maybe we’re right. But in other cultures they are considered adults and girls marry as young as twelve. Some kids may value their phones more than the friends they are with but that doesn’t mean all do. It’s all relative. You shouldn’t be so harsh. More importantly, their choices aren’t yours.”

I was puzzled. Something seemed amiss. Then I realized what that something was.

“This is not how this conversation should be going,” I said. “I should be the one complaining about you lousy, good-for-nothing teenagers, not you. I should see doom and gloom in everything you do. I’m the cranky old guy who should be set in his ways. You’re fifteen. You’re supposed to be the rebel without a cause!”

“Well, in case you haven’t noticed I have my own issues. And you aren’t set in your ways. I think I see what you’re saying,” she said, finishing her chocolate chip cookie.

“But,” she said, grinning, “you are a cranky old guy.”

“What!”

“Hey, I’m just saying.”

* Jimmy Buffett's "Oyster's and Pearls", from the album "Beach House On The Moon"

in category Life

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