The Least Interesting Generation

The problem of “generation snowflake”, where millennials and younger generations feel their opinions are completely different from that of older people, is the subject of a new article in The New Yorker. This generation’s difference will make it harder for them to find jobs than previous ones.

The “art of manliness podcast” is a podcast that discusses the topic of masculinity. The host, Brett McKay, interviews interesting people about their experiences with masculinity.

Steve McQueen had worked on a farm, joined a circus, sold pens at a traveling carnival, hitchhiked and rode the rails across the country, worked as a lumberjack in Canada, worked on a chain gang in the Deep South (punishment for vagrancy), served a short (and illegal — he was underage) stint in the Merchant Marine, and joined the Marine Corps for a three-year enlistment before turning 18 years old. Following his discharge from the military, the newly-minted veteran relocated to New York City, where he “handcrafted sandals, lugged radiators out of condemned buildings, loaded bags in a post office, ran errands for a local bookie, recapped tires in a garage, sold encyclopedias door-to-door, made artificial flowers in a musty basement, sold pottery in a large department store, and repaired television sets,” according to Steve McQueen McQueen tried his hand at laying tiling, driving and repairing taxi taxis, and slinging drinks as a bartender before ultimately finding success as an actor. 

While Steve McQueen’s resume was notable for its breadth and adventure, having a fascinating and diverse background was typical among performers of his period. 

Sean Connery worked as a milkman, lifeguard, truck driver, laborer, and artist’s model before making it big in movies. He served in the Royal Navy from the age of 16 to 19 (voluntarily; this was after World War II). Connery competed in bodybuilding competitions and once used his strength to fight off a gang of cutthroat thugs who had been harassing him; despite the fact that it was a six-to-one fight, Connery held his own (at one point putting two of the thugs down by clunking their heads together), earning the gang’s respect as a “hard man” and being left alone. James Garner joined the Army National Guard as a 16-year-old after serving as a merchant mariner at the conclusion of WWII. He spent 14 months in Korea as a rifleman and won two Purple Hearts after being twice wounded. During WWII, even Paul Newman, who was a touch more attractive than his peers, served as a turret gunner on a torpedo bomber. 

Early to mid-twentieth-century writers had comparable intriguing origins. 

By the age of 22, Jack London had worked in a cannery, an electrical plant, and a laundry facility, learned to sail, eluded the law as an oyster pirate, tramped across the country by rail (earning him, like McQueen, a vagrancy conviction and a month in jail), sailed the Pacific aboard a seal-hunting schooner, and gone gold-hunting in the Klondike. 

Ralph Ellison tried to become a professional trumpet player before turning 25, lived at a YMCA in New York City (where he met Langston Hughes), and worked as a shoeshine boy, waiter, short-order cook, drugstore clerk, paperboy, janitor, baker, receptionist for a renowned psychiatrist, dentist’s assistant (though only 12 at the time, “he learned how to cast inlays, pour plaster-of-Paris models, and make crowns and some He couldn’t afford the train ticket to Tuskegee Institute when he was approved, so he hoboed his way there on a freight line, always on the alert for the guards who looked for trespassers and frequently used violence against those they discovered.

 

J.D. Salinger served in the Army throughout WWII, earning the rank of Staff Sergeant and participating in five operations, including ones that took him through D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, and a concentration camp. After the war, he re-enlisted in the Counterintelligence Corps to do “Denazification” duties in Germany. 

As a child, Ernest Hemingway learned to fish, hunt, and bushcraft; at 15, he worked on a farm; at 16, he went on a weeks-long backpacking expedition (subsisting on fish he caught himself); and at 18, he served as an ambulance driver in WWI. He received the Italian Silver Medal for Valor as an aid worker for transporting a wounded soldier to safety despite being struck by cannon and mortar fire twice. 

Many of these guys continued to pursue various, risk-taking pursuits and hobbies when they achieved breakthrough success in their older years, as well. And, while we know about their fascinating backgrounds because they created culturally significant work and thus had their lives documented, it’s not the case that having such fascinating resumes was limited to the creative class or the uber successful; pick up a biography of a twentieth-century business executive or military commander, or simply the journal or personal memoir of one’s own grandfather or great-grandfather, and you’ll find that most had similarly fascinating resumes. They hunted, worked on a farm or ranch, tried their hand at manual labor, sailed, participated in one of the global wars, and so on.

Today, the situation is quite different. It’s quite unusual to come across someone with even a tangentially intriguing past, much alone a McQueen-esque one, whether they’re famous or not. 

Instead, a contemporary writer’s bio usually goes like this: “So-and-so grew up in the outskirts of city. He earned an English degree from liberal arts institution. He then went on to write a best-selling book.” (A simple comparison of the length of the early-life/pre-career sections of the Wikipedia pages of writers/actors/musicians who rose to prominence in the early-to-mid twentieth century versus those who rose to prominence in the late twentieth/twentieth century is instructive; the latter tend to be dramatically shorter.)

Without the public praise, the ordinary non-Wikipedia-ized guy has a comparable life story: I grew up in the suburbs, worked in a call center making sandwiches, waiting tables, and answering phones, went to college, got a job in an office, and then relocated back to the suburbs. It’s a backstory that can be summed up in a few, uninspiring sentences. 

The point of expressing this remark isn’t to disparage people of the present generation for being rather dull. Because it’s not all our fault. The world has changed dramatically in the past 50 years for reasons both simple and complex, making it more difficult to enjoy the kinds of diverse, exciting experiences that men of a century ago did on a daily basis.

 

While it is still technically possible to find farm or manual labor jobs, as well as to (illegally) ride the rails or hitchhike across the country, guys who grew up in the suburbs typically lack the skills, know-how, or simply the confidence to try their hand at such endeavors, and they don’t know who to ask or where to go to even investigate the possibility. 

Family and peer expectations have shifted as well; the “normal,” acceptable thing for a young adult to do is to play it safe, stay in town, and work as a barista. Even if today’s parents permitted their adolescent son to go out into the woods and live off the earth as Hemingway’s parents did, neighbors would likely contact the Department of Children and Family Services to investigate an apparent case of abuse. 

Higher education is the most significant shift in societal expectations. All of the men named above, with the exception of Paul Newman, did not complete high school; some even dropped out. Today, every young adult is expected to go and complete college, and any diversions that could divert this path or detract from the stellar résumé required for admission to a reputable institution (especially a criminal record!) are strongly discouraged.

Even those channels for fascinating efforts that remain of much of what Jack London termed “the spirit of romance and adventure” have been suffocated by the emergence of digital technology. You could travel throughout Europe and be completely inaccessible for lengthy periods of time even twenty years ago. “Would you want to send me a message?” In three weeks, you may phone me at a hotel in Budapest.” There’s basically no place you can go these days where you won’t be tracked down. And this level of interconnectedness not only makes journeys less romantic, but it also takes away part of their transforming force. While difficulties encountered on one’s travels used to need a certain amount of anxious self-reliance, unsure improvisation, and mustered-up courage, they may now frequently be fixed promptly and flawlessly with a few touches on a smartphone. 

Then there’s the most obvious reason why courage-testing, life-changing situations are harder to come by these days: there hasn’t been a global war in 75 years or more. Instead of being called up to serve as a turret gunner, rifleman, or counterintelligence agent, today’s young men grow up in an era of widespread peace and prosperity. 

So, no, the purpose is not to be accusatory, but just descriptive when analyzing the relative dullness of the present generation’s life tales. To explain various cultural trends and personal experiences that many people have had but haven’t been able to pinpoint or express. 

For one thing, it helps to give a name to a real-if-hard-to-acknowledge sensation of deprecation and desire that many of us Millennials feel. We may not believe the criticism over things like avocado toast and lattes is legitimate, but in quiet times alone, we have a feeling that something in our cohort is missing. That lack of confidence and gravitas is probably due to a lack of “seasoning,” the type that comes from a wide range of life experiences and conveys confidence and gravitas to others as well as oneself. It’s a deficit that stems from the fact that we all have an itch that hasn’t been fully scratched. 

 

The above insights also explain why, even when their work is exceptional, neither contemporary artists nor their work seems as compelling as that of their forefathers.  

Even while there are current performers that share McQueen’s excellent looks and charisma… there’s still something lacking in their make-up. And that “it” is a personal history that encompasses a wide range of life experiences. The fact that previous performers had seen and done a lot of different things unavoidably shaped their personalities and performances. Because it relied on their vast variety of genuine experiences, their acting had an inimitable, and eventually famous, swagger. While current actors’ coolness seems to cease at the surface, older actors’ coolness appears to go deeper.

Similarly, although there are many excellent new books being released these days, none of them seem really “classic.” They don’t seem to have the same staying power in the cultural canon as Hemingway’s and London’s writings. While there may be various, contested explanations for this, one of them is undoubtedly that previous literature relied more heavily on the concreteness of actual experience. The writers of twentieth-century literature were able to fill their works with the pulse of actual blood, sweat, and tears, which makes them seem heavier in some ways. Despite the fact that these authors lacked a university education, their writings had an unique resonance since they had seen death and dread up close, struggled with nature, and encountered numerous levels of the human condition. Modern literature, on the other hand, pulls more from abstraction — from what the writers conceive the most intense dramas of the human experience to be like.

The message isn’t that contemporary men have no possibility of leading an interesting life by making these observations and communicating these sentiments. While much of the romance and adventure spirit has gone from the globe, there is still travel to be done, physical difficulties to be conquered, and beautiful scenery to be discovered. The message is clear: don’t attempt! What a difference there is between a guy who tries all he can to constantly pushing himself and seeking new horizons and a man who entirely surrenders to a mundane, staid life! 

It’s simply good to understand why, when one surveys modern culture’s media, interacts with others, or assesses one’s own state, one frequently experiences a strange sense of emptiness; it’s simply good to understand why, when one goes looking in such spaces and places, one frequently experiences disappointment — the sinking realization that, alas, there’s nothing there, there. 

 

 

The “die red” is a book written by Douglas Coupland. It is about the least interesting generation who are not being able to find meaning in their lives.

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