The Long After-Party

Recently I read the article The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond, and like anything philosophical there are a lot of directions to go. One aspect of Postmodernism is the historical context it innately brings with it. Postmodern obviously means after Modernism and there is a lot of dispute about when these different “isms” started and ended. However, in 1967-1969 there was a cultural explosion that marked the beginnings of Postmodern culture, and conveniently marks the arrival of Baby Boomers. The term Postmodern leaves no endpoint to it’s historical era. Really, any time after 1960 could be called Post-Modern.

So like, forrr-eeee-vver.

What comes after the Me Generation?

Why is “foreevver” problematic for our generation? Stephen Colbert helped unpack some of my thoughts in his recent commencement speech at University of Virginia. It helped me figure out why it’s important for millennials to distinguish themselves from the recent past. In talking about the self-absorption of the Postmodern era, Colbert explains of the Boomer generation:

Stephen Colbert“…this week’s Time magazine called you [millennials] lazy, entitled narcissists who are part of the ‘Me, Me Me Generation’… Your generation needs everything to be about you and that’s very upsetting to us Baby Boomers because self-absorption is kind of our thing. We’re the original ‘Me Generation.’ And we’ve made the last 50 years all about us.

We took all the money. We soaked up all the government services. And we’ve deep-fried nearly everything in the ocean. It may seem that all that is left for you is unpaid internships, Monday to Tuesday mail delivery, and thanks to global warming, soon a semester at sea will mean sailing the coast of Ohio.

In our defense… how were we supposed to know that you were coming? We thought it went like this: every successive generation of mankind– and the us! Ta-daaa! Roll credits…”

Colbert is right. At this long after-party everyone got knocked up, gave birth to a generation of millennials and now we’ve even sung all the songs along with them. Sure millennials, you know all the words to The Who’s My Generation, but when you sing it, you know it’s not your generation right? To me Postmodernism can mean, yes we are still talking ’bout your generation. And now, since we’re adults now, we’re (literally) stuck with the bill of a party that went on way too long.

Boomers have convinced us that we are them

I’m glad Colbert points out that millennials are being blamed with traits that are being projected onto us. TIME coined us as narcissists, entitled, self-absorbed. Another example of this identity-transference is the New York Times article that says millennials brought around the “End of Courtship” with our so-called “hook-up” culture.

While many millennials don’t buy into this identity-transference, some still do. Some have a “parents just don’t understand” attitude, like somehow this “hook-up” idea is foreign to our predecessors. Upon reaching adolescence, I remember when headlines hit that the first Baby Boomer president elected to office had a hook-up in the Oval Office. I have to laugh because even with the phrase “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” still ringing in the annals of Postmodern history, a Boomer still has the audacity to blame hook-up culture on millennials? Please— millennials are just following in your footsteps.

Ironically, a conclusion about media-hyped hook-up culture is that it may actually be in decline after a 50 year run based on studies of actual millennial behavior. So don’t buy in to just another blame game on the behalf of a particular Boomer. Stephen Colbert doesn’t buy it, you shouldn’t buy it, and this millennial from New York Times doesn’t buy it either:

“We’re subverting the rules of courtship? Confused? Let’s remember that half of boomer marriages ended in divorce. Subverting a few dating rules might not be such a bad idea.”  –The Truth About Millennials (in Boomer Eyes), NYT

Why does this matter?

With all that said, I think it’s important for millennials to not “retro-ize” our entire generational identity. We wore retro clothes, we sang all the songs of our predecessors, celebrating their very long after-party. But now I think we’ve taken on a Postmodern identity except for a couple things: questioning our predecessors, and breaking from the past. No, even that we had to leave to a Baby Boomer, and he did a great job.

Colbert’s speech ends with:

“In our benign self-absorption I believe we have given you a gift. A particular form of independence because you do not owe the previous generation anything. Thanks to us, you owe it to the Chinese.”

Basically I think what I’m saying is shake it off millennials, shake it off. Post-2008 world. Post-postmodern problems. I think it’s time to turn a critical eye to the present instead of rehashing issues that actually belong to a previous generation.

1) We should examine our approach to Postmodern issues that are still ongoing. Ex: So a Postmodern era means race issues are solved, right? Unfortunately this attitude leads to things like hipster racism— “the art of showing how beyond racism you are by, basically, making a joke of your latent racism — as though it doesn’t hurt the people around us.” Recently a 29-year-old millennial killed a 17-year-old millennial. The Trayvon Martin case reawakened public consciousness to the issue of race, and wow, it’s as divisive as ever.

2) Assess fallout from the Postmodern era, that it failed to address. Ex: Greed and overspending. Financial irresponsibility.

3) How to we recognize issues that are brand-new in a Post-postmodern era? Ex: Depression and anxiety among young people. Or a more obvious issue, finding employment as millennial. Or like Colbert said, the fact that we owe China lots of money?

7 thoughts on “The Long After-Party

  1. OK, as a 61-year old baby boomer, I don’t have any answers but just some observations:

    1) I spend a good bit of time helping to coordinate community service learning projects through AmeriCorps NCCC and other organizations. I don’t recollect the same level of commitment among my generation in our 20s toward something that I consider to be basically an altruistic behavior. That seems different and quite honestly more hopeful. Conversations I have had with these millennials are far more substantive and solution-driven than in my formative years. Yes there was Peace Corps, and other burgeoning organizations, but the very concept of community service learning was embryonic if even a zygote in my youth.

    2) The New Left of the 60s and 70s, saw the issues of poverty, racism as second-class causes to the “revolution.” If there were no draft, would the anti-Vietnam War movement been as powerful? Is that the lesson learned for Grenada, Nicaragua, Iraq, etc. etc. no draft, no effective opposition? It seems even in our left-wing stance of the day we were more after personal purity than effective social change. It took a few hundred Freedom Riders getting the crap beat out of them in the early 1960s, and then some, for my generation to act on race.

    3) A few years ago I was taking one of my regular backroad drives, this time across Texas and happened on Johnson City and a museum to LBJ. The visit left me embarrassed for myself. The person I had vilified as a war-monger, escalator of the Vietnam War, a southern racist, was actually far more complex – particularly on the issues of Civil Rights. And the bottom line is that I still disagree with the escalation of the Vietnam War as much as the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but suddenly, it is not this polar and professional opposition stance. And that is something I learn millennial activists of today – they are more solution-driven and less of a partisan base. The political representatives in DC who are polarized to the nth degree are baby boomers of my generation. I cannot imagine a more self-serving group of folks than our elected representatives.

    4) This year I picked up and read my first 500 page biographical tome of a U.S. President (except Clinton). Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power paints a different picture of the 3rd U.S. President than my high school history books. So yes, the dude was bright, a go-getter and so forth. Seems he spent a good bit of his 5 years in France dillitanting around buying art, shipping wine back to the states, and hooking-up – and then there was the whole Sally Hemmings thing. So yes, he did some great stuff, and still not someone who would have anything to do with the Tea Party folk that claim his legacy.

    I don’t see that my generation or the millennial can be painted with too broad a stroke.

  2. 1) That’s great you see that attitude in Millennials. I agree that they are solution-oriented.
    2) Even though all generational assessments tend to be broad-stroke, this is what I observe as well, Millennials prefer action over talk/personal fulfillment.
    3) “And that is something I learn millennial activists of today – they are more solution-driven and less of a partisan base. The political representatives in DC who are polarized to the nth degree are baby boomers of my generation. I cannot imagine a more self-serving group of folks than our elected representatives.” I agree!
    4) You’re right, the hook-up is hardly new, even for political leaders. There was JFK before Clinton. My point was, “millennials?? how on earth can you buy into one loud Boomer labeling you with something so generic??” Some millennials have defended our generation, and some roll their eyes. But some have bought into this label. Few have pointed out the irrelevance or hypocrisy of it.

    I wanted to use Colbert’s speech because he is a Boomer, and it’s very tongue-in-cheek. The main point I hear him say is, “you have permission to move on now.” I think a main problem with the Millennial/Boomer divide (the little divide there is) is that, you’re right, your generation has key people who are very loud! Millennials are much less loud. If “ruining courtship” is our worst charge… it’s sort of a lame one. Geez, even Thomas Jefferson hooked up a bit, can you really pin it on the current generation? I don’t think we are a perfect generation, but it’s just plain lazy to straddle us with generic overused accusations.

    As far as broad-stroke labels, I think that’s the point Colbert is getting after: Millennials are being saddled with broad stroke labels. And they are not even original. Worse, they very closely resemble the labels Boomers were given in their youth. I think the media hasn’t found their “thing” to label Millennials yet.

    Thanks for your feedback! I appreciate a non-Millennial response. I will add too, amidst all the “noise”, in actuality I would say the Millennial/Boomer relationship is extraordinarily good. I think Millennials like Boomers, and vice-versa. In a sense we are taking up and helping finish Boomer causes, and eager to do so. It’s a good relationship overall from what I’ve seen.

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