(Not) Talkin Bout My Generation

Escaping the theme park of branded remembering            

Words © Paul Ransom / Author images: Jeremy Gill (1985) – lensbyz (2021)

“The world is passing through troubling times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behaviour and dress.”

– Quote attributed (probably apocryphally) to Peter the Hermit1

X or Y, Millennial or Boomer? What if I said none of the above? Suppose I refused to identify as belonging to a ‘generation’ and, furthermore, that our easy recourse to gen labels was lazy at best, if not downright ridiculous?

Perhaps you might think me pointlessly pedantic, a nerd-arse naysayer stating the bleeding obvious in pursuit of…who knows what. (Certainly not style points.)

Clearly, the idea that any particular cohort – as defined by arbitrarily nominated timeframe – should be specifically blessed or cursed with good or bad traits is not only absurd but repetitive. My contemporaries now scoff at the young as they were once scoffed at, and today’s derided youth will surely grow into disapproving elders, insisting their kids have gone buck wild, or have no fucking idea about anything.

Whether this cycle of disapproval is generated by Ephebiphobia (the fear of youth), fuelled by the multiple fancies of nostalgia, or simply fanned by bored opiners with nothing better to whinge about is not my key concern; because my gen denial is more personal – triggered back in the 80s by those who insisted I give up ‘poofy synthesiser crap’ for the reputed virtues of old time rock & roll. According to the canon law of 1968, the class of 1983 were feckless, lazy and not at all what they grew their hair and burnt their bras for. Indeed, I recall being told by a fellow demonstrator at an anti-nuclear rally that “kids today would rather play Space Invaders than fight for justice.” (Back then video games were meant to herald the dissolution of moral fibre and the decline of civilisation. Strangely, this has yet to occur – although my fellow 50-somethings, some of whom are lifelong gamers, now gleefully insist that music is dead, the kids are Insta addicted idiots, and football stopped being football sometime in the 1990s.)

  • I wonder what our quotable friend Peter the Hermit would make of all this. Perhaps he would furrow his venerable brow and bemoan the demise of decent naming conventions. Doubtless his buddy Walter the Penniless2 would concur.  

Perhaps because I recall how relentless and smug the legislated nostalgia of my forebears was, I have been reluctant to join the backward looking chorus of my greying contemporaries. Much as I might be critical of kids poking phones while crossing the road, nor be able to tell the difference between the various auto-tuned divas of pop stardom, I do not take this as a cue to insist that everyone under 30 listens to Surfer Rosa3 on repeat or takes up the excessive use of hair gel.

Though you may never hear me describe anything as ‘amaze balls’, nor indeed be rendered envious by bad photos of the latest Espresso Martini I just paid too much for, I am not about to declare the English language in terminal decline nor bore you with hazily remembered tales of ‘real’ drugs. (Anyone got any Laudanum?)

Yet, beyond a reluctance to impose my nostalgia on gen-whatevers, I have little wish to torture myself with it. The notion of 1979 on groundhog loop is, frankly, nightmarish. That I should still be mainlining Depeche Mode’s Some Great Reward or endlessly re-watching The Young Ones on You Tube simply doesn’t bear thinking about. Neither do I wish to taint the present by regarding it as an inferior replacement for old school telephones and illegible handwriting.

  • As for the dewy-eyed exaltation of Back To The Future…c’mon folks, it was little more than school holiday, popcorn pap. If it represents a high water mark in anything, it’s the manufacture of rose-tinted glasses.

I say this not to dismiss my years of youthful blush (c.75-90) as uniquely awful – perms notwithstanding – but to leave space for a flourishing present, and for the possibility that the ‘time of my life’ might be more than a mawkish marketing opportunity or crushingly predictable playlist. Sure, I’m crinklier and uglier and everything seems to ache a lot more, but I’m not so exhausted as to yield meekly to the generational brand profile of the 50-something tastemakers; nor indeed to berate younger people for not according to the date-stamped orthodoxies of curated memory.

That the world does not precisely resemble the one I knew in the 70s and 80s is not the world’s problem. That kids drool over celebs I’ve never heard of or use apps that are beyond my limited technical capacity is not a sign that they “love luxury, have bad manners [and] contempt for authority,” or indeed that everyone born after 1999 shows “disrespect for elders and love[s] chatter in place of exercise” – despite what Socrates allegedly insisted.4

Yet, even if dear old Soc was right about the young Athenians of yore, their faults were once mine. If folks my age content themselves with dreams of generationally superior intellect, ethics and vigour, I would respectfully remind them they are kidding themselves.

Weren’t we all once young enough to know everything?

Though our youth may have been wasted on us, quite why we would wish to waste our old age in a blow hard, finger wagging fug is beyond me. Jealousy and regret perhaps?

Sadly – if forced to it reduce it to a brand – I would re-badge my so-called generation Gen W. (W being for whining, woebegone, and wallowing in a swamp of hindsight bias.)

  • Ooh, I can hear them grumbling from here – huffing and puffing and reminding me that it was Sting who ended the Cold War, and that our shared childhood was the very acme of childhood. Perhaps they should stir their tiring indignation and haul me off to a generational re-education facility, where they could force me to binge on Happy Days until I disavowed my gen-apostasy and learned to love jumping the shark again.

However, in fairness to my pre-internet pals, living in an analogue dream is a principally self-harming and largely victimless crime. As long as I am not forced to join the snooze-a-thon, or the weight of their accumulated nostalgia and atrophying muscle is not loaded onto the shoulders of Atlas the Younger, I will remain content to let them bask in the lingering afterglow of the 20th century. 

To my younger friends…please be patient with your grumpy elders. For just as our seniors saddled us with Reaganomics and Rocky IV – and our lot lumbered you with climate change and the information superhighway – you in turn will bore your own offspring senseless with misty-eyed mis-rememberings of faded You Tube stars and classic iPhones. (Now that was a real phone.) 

But before then, remember that as much as the future can be said to ‘belong’ to anyone, it belongs to you – and unlike many of my contemporaries I choose to believe you will do your best to make a good fist of it and, what’s more, that your net-native ways and selfie fixations will not necessarily result in cataclysmic global decline, nor indeed the long-heralded ruination of music.

So, sally forth young millennials, and never mind that the sagging cohorts of yesteryear are snickering at your overuse of ‘like’ and challenging you to decipher the connection between cassette tapes and lead pencils – because the tapes were really shitty, and the lead (even though it’s graphite) may just have made us stupid.         

PS: For more on the theme of legislated nostalgia, check out Set Adrift On Memory Bliss elsewhere in this site.

1: Curiously, some attribute this as coming from the text of a sermon delivered in 1274, although Peter The Hermit is said to have died some 159 years earlier in 1115. Either way, the point is that we have a long tradition of bemoaning the kids of today – in addition to relying on apocryphal ‘quotes’ to help stitch together our otherwise dodgy arguments.

2: In spite of his legendary hermitude, Peter had a trusty (although broke) lieutenant named Walter, and together they played a big role in the so-called People’s Crusade of 1096. Unfortunately for many of these ‘people’ the crusade ended in premature, possibly agonising, death.

3: Surfer Rosa – 1988 debut album from the subsequently ‘legendary’ American indie band, Pixies.

4: The full quote, according to Google, goes like this: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannise their teachers.” Though we may be sure that neither Socrates nor Plato would have used the term ‘dainties’ we can be certain that the attitude reflected here most likely had currency during the Athenian golden age – some 2500 years ago, when leg crossing was clearly a thing.

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