I recently finished watching Season 2 of the Netflix series Aggretsuko, which I recommend if:
You like anime.
You need a show with short episodes to watch during meals or whatever.
You want to see a show that captures the Millennial zeitgeist.
Yes, I really do think this show does the last thing on the list, which is a big reason why it fascinates me. Plus, all the anthropomorphised animal characters are just adorable.
Aggretsuko is an anime, full of the tropes of that genre. You have to watch it in Japanese, with subtitles. It’s main character, Retsuko, is a young single woman working an ordinary office job. She is self-conscious, anxiety ridden, stressed by the demands of everyday life, and feels pressure to fit in and appear normal from her peers and social media – in others words, a Millennial. She remains calm – if nervous – on the outside, while cultivating an inner rage that comes out in private moments.
It’s not only the peer pressure and the burnout that make Retsuko so Millennial. As her story develops and she grows as a person, she is able to adapt to the many aggravations coming from the personalities that surround her. She matures, and learns to own her rage, while remaining true to herself. And what she learns about herself is that she just wants a conventional life.
Aggretsuko is loaded with references to modern pop culture and social trends. It satirizes modern life, but there is no nihilism here. In the end, the ordinary aspects of life – a job, a family, friends – are celebrated and valued. And when Retsuko rages, she doesn’t rage destructively to take down society, but rather constructively to find her place in society. Now how Millennial is that?
Don’t you just love beautiful rural country? When I am driving through rolling, wooded terrain that is cut through by small waterways and dotted with rustic buildings, it takes me back to a part of the country where I spent a great portion of my young life. When I’m driving through this kind of country, I always say, “this reminds me of Virginia.” Where I live now, just west of Philadelphia, the countryside of Chester, Berks and Lancaster counties in Pennsylvania is most certainly like this. It can be quite rugged, even though it is so close to the coast, and often feels like I’m back in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, where I went to college.
If you look at a topographic map of the Eastern United States, you can see why this is so – below the Mason-Dixon line, the eastern mountain chain lies far from the Atlantic Ocean, and there is a vast coastal plain (the sandy pine lands of the South), but north of that line, the mountain chain veers eastward and the plains dwindle away, so that the foothills lie very close to the coast. This is the land where I live now. I still find it a bit startling that there is rural, mountainous terrain so near the urban coastal strip where I work, since it’s not what I have been used to my whole life.
In addition to the difference in terrain, there is also an apparent cultural difference between the inland counties and the urbanized coast. Inland, I don’t see nearly as many non-white people, and it feels like I am back in the Appalachian mountains of my youth. In fact, central Pennsylvania is actually Northern Appalachia, and shares much in culture, ethnicity, and political outlook as the rest of the mountainous east. Now, I say “apparent” cultural difference because I know that many people, such as myself, move freely in and out of this milieu. They may sometimes just be dabbling in rural life.
Which was basically what I was doing this past weekend when I attended the annual Hay Creek Apple Festival, sponsored by the Hay Creek Valley Historical Association and held at Joanna Furnace. This is an old iron smelter that was active in the 1800s, before the once prosperous and powerful iron industry died out in the region, and has since been renovated and turned into a historical site that is open to the public.
Last weekend the site was filled with food vendors selling food that in large part involved apples (hence the name of the festival), which are widely grown in Pennsylvania. This state actually has a huge agricultural sector, and much of the beautiful rural country of which I write is farmland. In fact, with the presence of so many Amish and Mennonites, traveling through this farmland can feel like going back in time.
In addition to food vendors, there were family-friendly activities and a large flea market. I was there to support the Morgantown Arts Center, which had a booth with arts and crafts, as well face painting. You can find the arts center on Main Street in Morgantown, PA – they have paint and sip nights, classes, open studio nights, and more.
When I did find time to step away from the booth and walk around, I checked out the buildings in the complex. There was a booth where the archaeological organization that does the renovation was set up – the structures are mostly recreated from evidence, once the foundations are located. The furnace itself is original; for practical reasons it would have been the sturdiest structure at the site. It’s basically a giant brick tower that was filled with charcoal and iron ore and burned fiercely hot until the iron melted out, but of course it isn’t operational.
The flea market was set up in a parking area and people were selling mostly antiques and collectibles, and some original art. In all, walking through the event gave me the impression that central Pennsylvania lives in its past. It’s not surprising to me that this part of the country went to Trump in 2016, since he was promising to bring the past back to them.
There’s a lot to celebrate in this part of Pennsylvania’s history, and all of the rural beauty here speaks of another time. What it will do with the future, I cannot be sure. I have to go down to the city to make my living.
As we all know, it was a Baby Boomer who invented the Internet. Al Gore, to be precise. Ha ha, I jest. But in all seriousness, it actually was a Boomer who invented the World Wide Web. Well, an Englishman the same age as the American Boomer generation. That was when the Internet skyrocketed into public awareness and use (it had been around for decades already in academia and government) and the Boomer generation was still relatively young, and was involved in the grunt work of technology research and development.
Now it’s younger generations who are on the leading edge of technology development and the Boomer pioneers are for the most part resting on their laurels. Steve Jobs has been deified and Bill Gates is busy spending his billions on humanitarian projects. Meanwhile, the Millennial generation has taken over Internet culture and formed a hivemind that is whimsical and heartwarming (doggy memes, anyone?), and also unforgiving in its enforcement of social norms (fear the hashtag). Generation X has been ghosted, and Boomers? – well, their cultural reputation on the Internet has not survived in very good shape.
For proof of this last assertion, all you have to do is get on Facebook and join “a group where we all pretend to be boomers.” It’s easy to do, trust me – I applied and got accepted right away. Here you will encounter the Millennial stereotype of what a Baby Boomer is – basically an old white Christian who supports President Trump, is hopelessly out of touch with modern values and, on top of that, embarrassingly clueless about how the Internet works. Boomers are always posting “MAGA” and “God bless America,” misinterpreting what they see younger people doing online, and going to church and to potlucks.
As for posting memes, well Boomers probably shouldn’t even try. Their memes are dated in style, atrocious in design, and express antiquated values. They should just stick to GIFs of the minions from Despicable Me, inexplicably a Boomer obsession. The idea of a Boomer meme is something you will also find on the subreddit TheRightCantMeme, where a lame meme by the political right is implicitly associated with the Boomer generation.
This stereotyping, of course, is unfair to the legions of Boomers who are on the political left. Not to mention those who are very savvy to the ways of the Internet. Perhaps these Boomers are not on Facebook so much; my guess is they are on Twitter instead. But this association, by a younger generation, between the Baby Boomers and the reactionary politics of Trump supporters (who are not all Baby Boomers, is my point) clearly marks the Boomer outlook as a fading thing of the past. The Internet – and thank you for it, Mr. Gore – belongs to a new generation.
As a Gen-X film idolater, my two favorite genres of film are science fiction and crime drama. The latter in particular is something like a hallowed tradition in the field – just think of how many of the great classics are crime movies. It might have something to do with the film industry’s strong ties to the United States of America, a country which has long glorified crime and violence.
So for this week’s Silent in the spotlight, I choose Martin Scorsese (b. 1942), who has directed some of the greatest crime movies that ever entertained my generation. He’s been at it since the 1970s and is still going strong, and I’m just going to focus in this post on his film directing career. You can tell how much he has influenced people my age by this homage, by avant-garde rock band King Missile, to Scorsese and all of his excellent films:
And this is just up until 1993, before Casino! There’s been so much since then, including his contribution to the genre of good Nick Cage movies (Bringing Out the Dead) and his huge list of collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio, which started with Gangs of New York, then continued with The Aviator and his award-winning masterpiece, The Departed.
But wait, that’s just his films from before the Great Financial Crisis! Since then, he has directed all of these excellent films: Shutter Island, Hugo (proving that it’s not all crime and violence with this guy), The Wolf of Wall Street, and Silence.
You might think it couldn’t get any better, but now he’s coming out with what might be the perfect crime movie. Showing that his generation is always keeping up with the latest trends, he is teaming up with streaming giant Netflix to produce The Irishman. It features a cast of cream of the crop crime movie actors, and covers one of the most well-known stories in the history of the mafia – the disappearance of teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. It’s like the 1970s will never die – certainly not as long as the Silent Generation is still around.