Joy­less bores? No, to­day’s young are quiet rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Do­rian Lynskey

The nat­u­ral process of gen­er­a­tional change was mem­o­rably summed up by Grampa Simp­son in The Simp­sons episode Homer­palooza: “I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s it seems weird and scary to me. It’ll hap­pen to you.” For at least the four decades be­tween rock’n’roll and rave, it was un­der­stood that the lat­est “it” would be weird and scary be­cause it was wilder, louder, sex­ier and more free, ren­der­ing yes­ter­day’s rebel to­day’s square. The chang­ing of the guard was un­com­fort­able for the mid­dle-aged, but it had a cer­tain logic.

The gen­er­a­tional ten­sions of the 2010s are strik­ingly dif­fer­ent. The pop­u­lar stereo­type of some­one un­der 30 is now no longer a sex-mad freak but a strange hy­brid of to­tal­i­tar­ian and wimp, for­ever say­ing, “Don’t”. Ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­minable genre of ar­ti­cle, mil­len­ni­als and young peo­ple are pu­ri­tan­i­cal snowflakes who in­sist on trig­ger warn­ings and safe spa­ces, don’t drink or take drugs, think clap­ping is too aggressive, can’t tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween flirt­ing and sex­ual ha­rass­ment, and de­light in ex­plain­ing why you should feel bad about your favourite clas­sic sit­com.

So­cial change al­ways in­volves some com­bi­na­tion of two con­trast­ing en­er­gies: lib­er­a­tion (you can do this now) and con­straint (you can’t do that any more). The protest move­ments of the 1960s and 1970s were bru­tally hard for those on the front­line – but for less ac­tive fel­low trav­ellers, protest and plea­sure went hand in hand. You could op­pose racism and the war in Viet­nam while also en­joy­ing more sex, more in­ter­est­ing drugs and bet­ter mu­sic. Lib­er­a­tion was the driv­ing force. Punk, too, though darker and an­grier, rep­re­sented an ex­pan­sion of pos­si­bil­i­ties. The walls came tum­bling down and the pre­vi­ously ex­cluded walked right through.

The cur­rent cul­tural ten­dency, whether you call it wo­ke­ness, po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness re­dux or any of the other im­per­fect terms avail­able, seems to lean more to­wards con­straint, build­ing new walls be­tween the ac­cept­able and the ver­boten. Inevitably, that looks less like fun.

It’s no won­der that boomers of­ten seem be­wil­dered by the cul­ture bat­tles of the 2010s. If you’re some­one like Matt Groen­ing, Terry Gil­liam or Jerry Se­in­feld, al­ler­gic to cen­sor­ship and rules, ac­cus­tomed to buck­ing the sys­tem and say­ing the un­sayable, it’s un­nerv­ing to find your­self on the “wrong” side. Your nat­u­ral ene­mies are the stuffed shirts and Bi­ble-bash­ing moral­ists, not peo­ple 40 years younger telling you that, ac­tu­ally, what you just said isn’t OK any more. It’s an un­com­fort­able role re­ver­sal. To quote an­other Simp­sons episode, in which Grampa is dragged to Wood­stock, “Whoa! Get a load of Cap­tain Bring­down!”

The stereo­type has some ba­sis in re­al­ity. Crit­i­cisms, es­pe­cially on so­cial me­dia, can be sim­plis­tic, ahis­tor­i­cal and mad­den­ingly self-righteous. So­phis­ti­cated con­cepts such as priv­i­lege and cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion be­come cud­gels when they should be scalpels. The deadly idea that the pur­pose of good art is to reaf­firm moral or po­lit­i­cal val­ues,

which the critic Robert Hughes termed “the ther­a­peu­tic fal­lacy”, is gain­ing ground. The or­tho­doxy that des­ig­nates some artists un­touch­able and oth­ers in­de­fen­si­ble stops more in­ter­est­ing and hon­est con­ver­sa­tions.

None­the­less, when the ex­cesses of a loud mi­nor­ity are am­pli­fied and turned into a car­i­ca­ture of a whole gen­er­a­tion it looks sus­pi­ciously con­ve­nient. The idea that mil­len­ni­als are joy­less bores ab­solves older gen­er­a­tions of the need to keep up. It is a kind of self-flat­tery: “We struck the right bal­ance be­tween progress and fun, they’re the re­ac­tionar­ies.” If these peo­ple tell them­selves that it’s im­pos­si­ble not to cause of­fence, then they can duck the need to ask them­selves tough ques­tions or re­think long-held as­sump­tions. The back­lash against #MeToo is the most glar­ing ex­am­ple of a re­luc­tance to con­sider that the free­doms they en­joyed when they were young were un­evenly dis­trib­uted and fre­quently abused.

The car­i­ca­ture also ob­scures the fact that the “woke” also want lib­er­a­tion. Far from pro­duc­ing box-tick­ing moral­ity tales, the rel­a­tively re­cent fo­cus on di­ver­sity has al­ready ex­panded the range of sto­ries that can be told and the peo­ple who get to tell them. The cul­tural wave that has brought us Moon­light, Get Out, At­lanta, Black Pan­ther, Trans­par­ent, Ms Mar­vel and Pose is hardly dry, doc­tri­naire or obliv­i­ous to nu­ance. With­out progress, and a few painful ar­gu­ments, those voices don’t get heard. The #MeToo back­lash frets about the ca­reers of men who have been ac­cused of sex­ual of­fences, but not the work that their al­leged vic­tims never got a chance to make. To con­cen­trate on what young peo­ple want to restrict is to ig­nore what they want to ex­pand: em­pa­thy, op­por­tu­nity, free­dom of ex­pres­sion in its fullest sense. They’re still push­ing more boundaries than they’re im­pos­ing.

In 2018, the most fa­mous man who busts taboos and says the un­sayable isn’t some mav­er­ick standup but Don­ald Trump. Al­though he could hardly be less like a coun­ter­cul­tural rebel, Trump is a prime ex­am­ple of boomer en­ti­tle­ment: I want, I get. He’s the gar­goyle of lib­er­a­tion, rev­el­ling in the free­dom to do what­ever he wants and fuck your feel­ings. If you want some­one who will never apol­o­gise for an of­fen­sive joke, he’s your man.

Older peo­ple who re­sent mil­len­ni­als be­cause of a Twit­ter storm or some student union amend­ment that some­how be­came a na­tional news story might con­sider why, at a time when so­cial progress feels shock­ingly frag­ile, there’s a de­sire to draw a few lines – not in or­der to kill any­one’s buzz, but so that more peo­ple can feel more free. Then maybe it won’t seem so weird and scary.

• Do­rian Lynskey writes on mu­sic for the Guardian

Moon­light’s Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins at the 2017 Academy awards. ‘Thecul­tural wave that has brought us films like this is hardly dry, doc­tri­naire or obliv­i­ous tonu­ance.’ Pho­to­graph: Steve Granitz/WireI­mage

‘In the 1960s and 1970s, you could op­poseracism and the war in Viet­nam while alsoen­joy­ing more sex, more in­ter­est­ing drugsand bet­ter mu­sic.’ Pho­to­graph: Alamy

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.