Wednesday, June 18, 2008

We Don't Wanna Grow Up! We're Toys R' Us Kids!!

There are lots of differences between Baby Boomers and Generation X or is it Y or Next, I can never remember what we’re called. It doesn’t really matter does it? What I have become more and more intrigued by is my generation’s growing, sprawling Peter Pan complex. In fact, if so many people have it to begin with, is it even a complex?

Baby Boomers have been obsessed with defying the natural process of aging for a long time now. This “Just for Men” culture has existed largely in the cosmetic industry and in the fodder that the mid-life crisis often creates. But I wonder if being Peter Pan is no longer reserved to middle aged men buying the sports car of their youth. Is it possible that we, the young never want to grow old. Is our’s a generation of lost boys and girls?

When I think to our grandparents, I think of kids that rushed to be adults. They married young, volunteered for one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, sacrificed their personal interests to grow the most powerful nation on the planet. When I think of our parents I think of a generation that also rushed to grow up, they were the protest generation, the generation of civil and gender rights. The generation that watched their friends, brothers and husbands fight and die in a war they didn’t understand. It was only after the harsh times of revolution and after they had bore their own children that they began to recede to wanting to reclaim their youth in the form of Mediterranean vacations and skin peels.

I look now to our generation and see a very different curve. Promised that we were to be the most powerful generation, a generation that could seize the full power of our educational assets and economic prowess, unfettered by global conflicts like WWII, Vietnam or the Cold War, we were free to do and become anything and indeed create a bigger and better world. Our college educations paid for, our parents relatively comfortable, we had no national interest to be concerned, no concerns at all really, but our own.

Then September 11th happened and a global conflict of mass proportions that had laid dormant for decades awoke to grasp a nation and a generation. Echoes of the calls to service heard during WWII, and Vietnam were heard. As a generation we were certain that we were going to be called to sacrifice as our parents and grandparents did. We were certain we would grow up. But something different happened. We weren’t called to arms. We weren’t called to sacrifice. We were called to the mall. We were called to make sure that we continue to keep the economy rolling along despite the huge problems our nation now faces. Our government told us that we faced huge crises ahead and they alone would solve them for us. Our government would go on to wage two wars, while cutting taxes. As a generation we weren’t asked to do any heavy lifting, just live our lives. Buy an iPod, if you don’t, the terrorists win.

But in the last decade something more is going on, something beyond political rhetoric. In the 1980’s Toys R Us the toy superstore chain came out with a national ad campaign accompanied by a now famous song. The primary lyric, “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid.” Two decades later, maybe we didn’t grow up. Look at our culture. We are now the most coveted of demographics. The 18-30 year olds. Hollywood like most industries wants to create film titles that we will shell out money for. So have they turned their writers loose on creating a new set of provocative stories or a new set of action heroes built for our time to appeal to our new sense of heroism? Do we get our own versions of Captain America or Rocky or Star Wars?

No, we get to relive the characters of our childhood over and over again. A new working class hero? No, we get Rocky Six. A new sweeping action adventure in a far away time and space,? No, we get the Star Wars prequels. Since 2006 we have seen Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Spiderman (three of em), X-Men (ditto), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Indiana Jones, Live Free or Die Hard, Fantastic Four (twice), The Incredible Hulk (Twice), and who can forget Transformers (rumor is two more are on the way). These mega-titles are the driving force of the film economy.

So what? You may say. Well there’s more to it than nostalgia in film. While we are reliving our childhood fantasies at the movies, we are watching people attempt to live out their fantasies on TV. Becoming the next top model, becoming the next American idol, landing a rich bachelor, surviving a desert island, all done by real people. Our television landscape as become a rich tapestry of people living out their childhood fantasies. We all watch programs that elevate the mediocre among us to superhero status, at least for a little while, and we engage in the fantasy.

It’s not that I see total gloom on the horizon for the nation. Many people of my generation are starved to do something to change the path we are on, to wrestle control of our politics and culture away from huge, thumping corporate interests and engage the nation in a move toward progress.

It’s just that I see a generation already swimming in personal debt from credit cards and car payments and student loans, a generation for whom home ownership will be a difficult thing to achieve, who’s wages are growing stagnant and ever receding when adjusted to inflation. I see a generation that hasn’t been engaged enough to get outraged over the fact that our nation is plunging into debt, and we will need to figure out how to pay it off. But I wonder if like September 11th our gut will tell us we need to change our ways, but our culture and our president won’t be there to tell us to just keep spending money and it will all go away.

We may be looking for a change we can believe in, but are we ready to change? Are we ready to grow up?


Marc V said...

I'm grown up. I have the mortgage bills and everything to prove it. Great point James! I f-ing hated the new Superman. Nostalgia my ass...

MickieD said...

One of the ironies of being a member of the "protest generation" is watching my contemporaries, once idealistic, rebellious, questioners of authority and the status quo, turn into the very people they once maligned and protested against. How can they have lived through the debacle of the 1968 Democratic Convention and it's call for a pivotal change of election process and today allow shameful voting violations to occur, not to mention the suppression of the anti-Iraq war demonstrations in New York City a few years ago. I look at a majority of the politicians and can't believe THIS is where their ideals have led them! They grew up all right, and apparently forgot to create the change they were given an opportunity to make. There is much to be said for remaining young at heart… or at least enough to always seek change for the better and to remember what all the protesting was for.