Hello Ms. Regarding,
Lately I find myself feeling really negative about a certain thing that I cannot quite name. It is not quite “novelty,” and only kinda sorta “frivolity.”
Basically it is this: I will receive an email or a message on an online network about something I consider to be quite stupid, like moshing for no reason, celebrating hedgehog solidarity, or something equally “internet stupid/insensitive/privileged/portlandia.”
When I come across these things, I feel an aversion come over me, I start to hate my friends for being into such things, and therefore hate myself for being friends with such people.
How can I learn to accept the stupid nonsense that some people celebrate? Should I learn to accept it or should I “break up” with these morons.
Am I just being a jerk? Should I embrace the “everyone gets an award” culture of the facebook generation?
Pissed in Portland
(Edit: The “advice” I wrote to this person is super long and pretty unhelpful, because to me this issue seems sort of unresolvable and is really more about, like, “how come the world is so disappointing.” So I wrote this huge thing about narcisissm and Baby Boomers and Facebook and genocide and baby diapers and capitalism that was not necessarily the best advice and should perhaps have been confined to more of a personal blog or perhaps even the privacy of my own thoughts. However, having read it, Pissed in Portland emailed and said they think the advice I gave, distilled, might be something like “Have some compassion, or don’t, and vote with your time and attention,” which means basically “don’t hang out with people who bum you out, because we’re all gonna die really soon and so what’s the point.” I totally stand by this, so lets just say that is my advice. But here’s the rant anyway, if you care to read
Lets talk about culture. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about generational differences in culture. I think it’s pretty fascinating. Everyone heaps scorn on the Baby Boomers, for example. Lets examine the Boomers. They ended a war, just by bitching about it! That is pretty tough stuff. But then it seems like that one pivotal generational experience has served as an excuse for four decades of smuggery and self-satisfaction that lots of people find insufferable, like, PLEASE, not another documentary about Woodstock, I can’t fucking take it. Also, due solely to the fact that they lived at a different time, everything was easy for them, relatively speaking. You just got married and bought a house, which cost no more than one year of your salary, and then you had babies, which you didn’t really have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to do, and you sent them to state university for like 20 bucks, it’s so easy, why doesn’t everyone just do that, just follow that great life plan? You know how your parents are always telling you about “networking,” or like sending you some weird clipping about some old man who went to your college and owns a successful business and you should go meet him for coffee, and you’re like, what? Why would I do that? And you think it’s because your parents are crazy, but actually I’m realizing it’s because when they were your age, that is actually how you made shit happen in your life, which is bizarre to think about. You just met some old man for coffee and he was like “kid, you’ve got the goods” and he gave you a job and the next thing you knew you were a millionaire. I don’t know if it’s about more people being in the world or about the constellation of possible careers shrinking due to computers or what, but we just don’t live in that time period anymore, and thus when Boomers talk about how people should be living their lives, it’s infuriating. Yeah, I make $12,000 a year and I don’t have health insurance, hmmmm, I wonder why I haven’t “started a family” yet. Yeah that’s a tough one. IF YOU ARE AN IDIOT.
So, that’s the Boomers. People roughly our age (I don’t know how old you are but I assume you are aged 25-40 because you are aware of this blog) were thus raised by self-satisfied people who believed it was very very easy for “one man to change the world.” They ascribed to parenting techniques that involved praise and freedom rather than harsh discipline. They’d been raised by our mean scary Depression-era grandparents, so these new looser ideals of child-rearing perhaps make sense, but they led us, their children, into a deep, black well of narcissism from whose bourne no traveler returns. We believe we are the center of the world. We believe everything we do is amazing. We have no discipline. We complain if we have to do the tiniest fucking amount of work. We sincerely believe we are owed money and success, just by existing. I’m generalizing, here, of course–lots of Boomers were shitty and abusive or stern and disciplined, obviously, and lots of people our age are not narcissistic at all, etc. etc., talking about culture always involves crazy generalization–and also even seemingly minor age differences seem to make a huge difference in this realm: for example, if you were born before 1980 you probably still got spankings and didn’t wear bike helmets, whereas starting at birth-year 1980 all of a sudden everybody’s decked out in kneepads and helmets and there are no more spankings and your dad no longer drives around with you sitting on the roof of the car yelling while he drinks beers and throws the cans out the window. That last bit may be fairly unique to my own childhood but I am led to believe it is not.
Anyway, regardless of the level of bike helmetry going on, very generally I think the demographic currently in question–youngish privileged people on Facebook–people raised by more-or-less functional, non-abusive Baby Boomers–tend to be sort of narcissistic, and like we don’t want to do any work but we also want to be really successful. And this plus some issues I’ll get to in a second have created a lack of the sense of civic responsibility that really defined a lot of the preceding generations of Americans, i.e. in World War II or whatever. Everyone pulling together. This is the kind of sense the “We are the 99%” rhetoric is trying to re-activate. Togetherness, not narcissistic solitude. In recognizing how many of us there are, vs. “Them,” we could actually become a powerful force. But two things kind of contribute to us having a hard time realizing this.
1. The shitty new world: As previously discussed, the Boomers did not live in a shitty world, regardless of what they tell you. They lived in a world of possibilities and hope; a world of endless jobs and a seemingly limitless possibility for ascension and money-making. I’m talking about white people, here, and mostly just men, but even within the realm of racial and gender issues, these people lived during the fucking Civil Rights movement, they lived during the real rip-roaring bra-burning Supreme-Court-porn-trials era of second-wave feminism. Can you imagine how powerful, how stirring, how filling-you-with-hopefullness-for-humanity that shit must have been? The March on Washington? the I Have a Dream speech? People of all genders and colors were rising up, together, singing with one voice, demanding social change, and largely getting it, or anyway that’s what the history books tell us. Powerful stuff. Or at least this is probably how you felt, if you were there amongst it all.
And then the Boomers went on to use that cultural moment as a marketing tool, basically. Corporations started advertising to our demographic using the rhetoric of the sixties. Freedom. Individuality. Self-expression. Be a rebel. We’ve grown up expressing our uniqueness by purchasing the appropriate products from various mega-corporations that tell us which kind of uniqueness their products telegraph. And then we got the cynical re-appropriation even of the backlash against that cynical marketing, like now it’s okay to hyper-sexualize women in clothing ads because the copy writing on the ad is about “choice.” Or like all these jackass millionaires congratulating each other on their “Rosa Parks moments,” which are, like, somebody advocating for rich people starting their own charter schools. Rosa Parks would indeed be proud! That lady fucking HATED the free public school system America was once famed for far and wide! (JOKE)
So anyway here we are now in our new world. Which, in my long-winded way, I am going to sort of accuse of being at least partially responsible for our whiny Facebook narcissism. Because, like, why bother “working hard and doing a good job?” We’ve realized it’s all bullshit, but we still lack the means of creating fundamental change. So we’re mired in this horrible quagmire of realizing “hard work at some random job” is fucking pointless while still lacking the means of really accomplishing any other way of surviving. We have to be self-involved because our sense of global community and pulling together is basically gone–we have to make our own individual worlds. Because our shitty new world is a harsh place, and it’s harder to put your finger on its harshness than it is in, say, some grim poverty stricken famine-ridden land crippled by U.S. sanctions where babies are starving in the streets. It’s easy to say “hey that baby is starving in the street. That is terrible.” It’s harder to say “I don’t like the way jeans are being marketed to me,” even though the jeans-marketing angst actually isn’t frivolous, it actually does point to some super deep, gnarly, destructive shit about our world. It’s Huxley stuff vs., like, Upton Sinclair stuff I guess. Or, it’s those two kinds of stuff combined. Our new world, over here in wealthy America, is shitty in a whole different way. Yes, certain social battles have progressed nicely since those days, particularly in the realms of racial and gender inequality as well as things like LGBT rights and such. To think that when the Boomers were young INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE WAS ILLEGAL and now there are lots of states where two dudes can get married–that’s awesome. Women are CEOs now–not many of them, but some–and viable presidential candidates and soldiers and whatever else they want to be, except hardly ever serial killers, apparently. We have a goddamn black president who is literally named Barack Hussein Obama. How awesome is that?
But then a cynical person might be like hey, women getting to have careers seems to have culminated in this shitty new world where everyone HAS to work–where single-income families are a thing of the past, where we’ve actually just agreed to hook ourselves up to this increasingly gruesome relentless capitalist machine that will NEVER STOP WANTING MORE FROM US WHILE GIVING US LESS IN RETURN, because that is the definition of capitalism, and where, like, one parent has to devote 90% of their salary just to paying for day care or whatever, and yet we’re still expected to poop out 2.5 babies even though it’s increasingly becoming this grueling slog just to get through a fucking day, and we’re filling our entire planet up with shit-filled baby diapers that will be there for 1,000 years, and like, FOR WHAT. And oh, yippee, gay people getting married and just ascribing to basically middle class heteronormative values. And hooray, now women and gay people can join the army and murder civilians in other countries so that Mitt Romney can make another cool billion in his stock portfolio or whatever you call it. like how lovely that all our exciting alternative lifestyles are actually just being co-opted by the über mainstream–like everyone just wants to be a married middle class office worker with 2.5 kids and a huge polluting ecosystem-destroying lawn they mow on Sunday, and that’s equality, that’s utopia? And then you become exhausted and disheartened, like is there nothing a person can believe in anymore? Is there no cause we can espouse without it having a dark flip side? Must we all go live on lesbian separatist land? But I like taking showers and going to the movies, not to mention doing it with dudes!!! IS NOWHERE SAFE FOR ME.
So now everyone has to work, all the time and more and more, and we’re all making like half as much money, comparatively, as our parents were making at our age doing the equivalent jobs, and none of us can buy homes, and we’re all crushed by student loan debt, which our parents also didn’t have, and the gap between the rich and poor is widening and widening and 99% of our taxes go to support that same army that all the gay people just joined, and when we’re old there’s not even gonna be social security anymore, AND we’re gonna have our ancient Alzheimers-ridden parents on our hands, still, because of medical science making everybody live forever, and our kids are gonna be living with us too because there aren’t gonna be any jobs, and Manhattan will be under water, and anyway what are we all gonna DO???? and meanwhile we’re all screaming at each other about abortion and Jesus, like AS IF.
So then you can understand why we are the way we are (hedgehog posts on Facebook). Things feel unlivable, even as on the surface (social issues) they seem to be getting better, and you’re accused of being a grouch if you point any of this out. So your world gets smaller and smaller, and you don’t believe you can make a difference, which makes you cynical and ironic about everything–or makes you hysterically focus on the surface-level good stuff happening in the social issues world, so you don’t have to look at the deeper income inequality/systemic racism/dying planet stuff that is literally unmanageable, both emotionally and in terms of you yourself being able to do anything about it–and you just sort of hang out and limit your world to your friends and, like, your band’s new album, or a funny cat video, because you don’t have control over anything else, and you don’t honestly feel like you have that many options (while simultaneously you feel guilty because you know you’ve been given all the best things in life, you have every possible option, so what kind of loser are you that you aren’t happier, as it seems like you’re supposed to be, surely, compared to everyone else in the world who’s starving to death or being genocided?), whereas in the previous generation it seemed like a basically competent person of our rough demographic couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a lucrative career and a gorgeous 4 bedroom Victorian on a nice street for like twenty thousand fucking dollars. We don’t live in that world anymore. So now we’re stuck with the limitless narcissistic self-love of the Boomers but without their capacity for realizing that self-love. Which makes our love turn to hate and self-destruction, OR twee avoidance tactics.
2. The internet: Now we are finally getting to your question. So at the same time as your worldview is getting ever-smaller and more cynical, your world in terms of circles of acquaintance and access to information has gotten much bigger. Like, so much bigger it’s hard to even imagine/remember how small everything felt before. Now you have daily contact with so many people you don’t even remember–who are they, and why are you facebook friends? No one knows. And everyone feels this simultaneous biggening and smallening of the world of possibilities–limitless on the one hand and incredibly circumscribed and oppressive on the other. AND ALSO, here we all are, having spent our whole lives being told how great we are, how anything is possible, all we have to do is believe in ourselves and our dreams will come true, which is what our Boomer parents told us, because it’s how it happened for them. And so we’re all like “everything I feel and think is worthy of notice.” Hence the completely insufferable “Memoir boom.” Hence reality television. Hence Facebook. Hence blogs like this one. Every idiot in the world now has a venue to say whatever stupid shit is on their mind. Look at me, giving advice! Who the fuck am I? We also think that “being happy” is our singular life goal. Not working for social change. Not doing difficult shit. Not being heroic. Not thinking for two fucking seconds about the food we stuff into our faces. BEING HAPPY. And what does that mean, to be happy? No one could really be happy in this world. So we fail at that too. Then we feel sorry for ourselves for failing at it, because we were raised to believe that “being happy” was all that mattered.
So on the one hand, you’re right. All this stupid bullshit when all around us the world is falling apart, everyone in Africa is dying of AIDS, there are fucking unmanned drones murdering hordes of civilians (but being controlled by a possibly openly gay person or a lady, which makes it progressive or something), the polar ice caps are melting, it’s awful. But, much like the hysterical moms in the park who freak out if your dog is off leash, I think a lot of people, feeling utterly, utterly powerless in the bigger picture (capitalism, global warming, robots spying on you from the sky) turn their crazy controlling energy to things that feel more manageable (leash laws, funny cat videos). Wanting to feel like things are okay; they have control; if there is a funny cat video or if a dog is put back on a leash maybe that balances out some genocide being committed somewhere that they can’t do anything about (it doesn’t). So we create our own little world of friends and message boards and blog posts about how shitty the world is, which ironically just helps isolate us ever-further from the 99% out there with whom we actually have a lot of common cause. Thanks to the internet we see the immensity of The World and it crushes us. Why go to an Occupy protest when you see the utterly unmanageable Whole Wide World of Horror that is going on everywhere all at once, and the enormity of it with regard to the incredible tiny insignificance of You? Just stay home and watch Mad Men.
Or, maybe this is too cynical and sad. If you get too cynical you come full circle and become one of these jackass hipster bacon enthusiasts, like caring about stuff is so emo and earnest and so 10 years ago, lets all just eat a pound of bacon and make jokes about it. And nobody wants to be that guy, in his little fedora. Deep inside that guy and his little fedora there is a deep well of shame. He has given up, or else he’s just stupid, neither of which are admirable qualities. We don’t want to give up. We want to live strongly and courageously. We love the Hunger Games because we recognize our current dystopia in it and we believe we’d be like Katniss and not like all those other assholes (in spite of the Macbooks which we buy in spite of the fact that we know everyone who makes them is so oppressed and disheartened that the factory has to have suicide nets all around it). We want to be brave and awesome, but we have no opportunities to do so, because our entire lives are lived on the internet or just, like, trying to explain to some uncle why you don’t just go work for Citibank for 30 years like he did. We’re all basically waiting to die of global warming, like what is even the point. We simultaneously strive for so much more and achieve so much less, and it is disheartening, and what do we turn to when we feel disheartened? Posts about hedgehog solidarity. I know I do. To be fair, hedgehogs are amazing. I personally have not found the walkable avenue between pointless lazy cynicism and unrealistic twee positivity. I think this is really our quest.
So anyway, here’s my advice: quit Facebook for six months and see how it feels. I recently quit for a full year and while I missed certain things, it actually felt like a huge relief. I am back on it now and already feel myself sliding into bad habits, even though I also think Facebook is really fun a lot of the time. Either quit for awhile and see how the world looks to you with a major social media outlet no longer available, or, intensely re-vamp your settings. Unfriend everyone who has consistently annoyed you. Actually work to create the Facebook that you want, if indeed you want it at all.
I’m not sure what the general cultural solution is. On the one hand I get disgusted with myself and my cohort, but on the other hand I feel deep empathy for us all, because we didn’t make this world but we all have to live in it. And the internet is amazing, even though it’s also disappointing and sometimes nefarious, and lots of people my age are doing amazing beautiful things, in spite of our narcissistic cynicsm. I’m a big fan of drastically re-thinking your ‘tude as a means to a better life. If you’re unhappy with your time management, drastically re-think it and then actually commit to your new vision. If you are dissatisifed by your relationship with the internet (or your relationships on the internet), change them. You don’t have to read all those Facebook posts! I have lots of friends who’ve NEVER been on Facebook in their lives. You don’t have to read the hedgehog posts, and if it bothers you I don’t think you should. Make that stand! That’s a stand you can actually make, and I think you should do it. Drastically re-envisioning your life on the internet might lead you to re-envision other aspects of your life; form new habits; form new ways of seeing the world. I’d say that would be a cool thing. Who knows what it might lead to?
Writing this made me feel really bad, about myself mostly, for this kind of meta-narcissistic rant that probably doesn’t do anybody any good, but in terms of advice it’s the best I’ve got. You shouldn’t hang out with people who make you feel bad, lets just go with that.
Or just take this terrible advice that is maybe the most depressing thing I have ever seen. It’s like, Mission Accomplished, America: