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Glee, Another “Old” TV Show to Review

Glee, Another “Old” TV Show to Review

Some time back we were watching Smallville, and I noted in my mini-review that the family might move on to the popular television show Glee next. We did binge-watch the first season some time ago, but didn’t go any further. I guess we weren’t pulled in. We watched it on Netflix. The girl and her boys had already watched the series when the boys were young; they were interested in rewatching it and in catching me up on it. I’m always way behind on my pop culture consumption.

Here is my take on the show.

Glee revolves around a high school glee club and their competition with other better-funded and more talented glee clubs in other high schools, as well as their competition for status and funding with the more prestigious cheerleader club in their own school. If you don’t know what a glee club is, it’s a musical or choir group.

In this case, the club is co-ed and performs musical numbers with a significant amount of dance choreography, which are way more sophisticated than what you would expect a high school glee club to be able to pull off. You don’t even see them rehearse much! They kind of cheated with the casting; the star student of the show, Lea Michele, was a child actress on Broadway. As is typical for these kinds of TV shows, the cast of students is a bit older than high school age. This all leads to a very unrealistic portrayal of an extra-curricular activity, but if you think of this show as basically a musical, then it’s fine for it to be unrealistic.

Glee might also be unrealistic in how it portrays the rest of the high school experience; at least, that was my impression. The show covers typical high school concerns like bullying, cliques, overbearing parenting, teenage sex – but in over the top ways. I couldn’t help but wonder, “is that really what high school is like now?” I think it’s meant to be parody to some extent, but as I haven’t been in high school since the 1980s, I guess I could be wrong. I do think it captures one Millennial generation theme well: it emphasizes diversity and inclusivity, and the students always choose what is best for the group in the end.

Meanwhile the Gen-X teachers and staff are caught up in their own drama, and struggling to find their footing in their personal and professional lives. A career in high school education isn’t exactly glamorous or fulfilling, as it is portrayed. The one Boomer on the cast (Jane Lynch was born in 1960 so I’m giving her that) portrays the domineering cheerleader coach, and she is driven to the point of insanity. Again, one wonders, “could a teacher really get away with that?” She does have her redeeming qualities, however, which we discover as the season progresses.

The show aired from 2009-2015, which puts it squarely in this Crisis Era, and means that these characters are all in the second wave of their respective generations. In other words, the characters would have been born in the 1990s, since they are teens in 2009. The actors, however, are first wave Millennials, born in the 1980s. It’s odd, but it does allow the show to explore more mature themes.

Sadly, Glee’s cast seems to be cursed; no fewer than three cast members have died in the past decade, with one of them surrounded by scandal. Is it really a curse, or just bad luck? I guess that’s the same thing. It’s not enough of a taint to stop me from wanting to watch the show, which is what happened to me with regard to the scandal around the Smallville cast.

The Millennial generation is now on the cusp of middle age, so it is not surprising that tragedies befalling their individual members have accumulated. Things do seem less sunny for them now. But I’ll try to conclude this little review on a more positive note.

With it’s thrilling musical numbers, and fun energy, Glee is enjoyable even though its characters and plot are unrealistic. It’s like a relic of a not so distant past when there was more optimism surrounding the prospects of the young generation. Just think of it as a musical when you watch it, and hope, like I do, for a happy ending.

What Do We Do To Get Through This Crisis?

What Do We Do To Get Through This Crisis?

I’ve been thinking about the way the book The Fourth Turning described the Crisis Era and its generational constellation and how, when we reached this era, we would all have roles to play based on our generation and phase of life. Based on this, here is some advice for each generation on how to best live up to that role do now that the Fourth Turning is here. Call them Life Pro Tips for the generational archetypes. You might have noticed the generations already following this advice to some extent.

Boom Generation (Prophet archetype) in elderhood. Be wise, and champion the values that need to be preserved through this Crisis Era. Emphasize the urgency of our need and be willing to make sacrifices for yourself, as well as expecting sacrifice from younger generations.

Generation X (Nomad archetype) in mid-life. Be pragmatic, cutting through process and complication to get things done. Resist the urge to sit back and let the world burn. Use your experience and savvy to lead and guide the Millennial generation.

Millennial Generation (Hero archetype) in young adulthood. Be responsible, and use your hivemind powers to reach consensus and to enforce good conduct among your peers. Have faith that we can make our institutions work again.

Homeland Generation (Artist archetype) in childhood. Be kind and considerate of others. Remind the older generations that love still matters and that we are all in this together.

What I Got Out Of “The Sopranos”

What I Got Out Of “The Sopranos”

An episode of The Sopranos always begins with the opening credits scene. It pulls you in immediately with a compelling rock song – a little bit funky, a little bit hip-hop. It’s a song for the ’90s but it reminds you of the ’70s. The song goes…

You woke up this morning
Got yourself a gun
Your mama always said you'd be the chosen one
A shot from the opening credits of The Sopranos.

A serious looking middle aged man is driving on the highway through an industrial section of northern New Jersey, smoking a cigar. He definitely could be a 70s tough guy. The song goes…

When you woke up this morning
All that love had gone
Your papa never told you
About right and wrong

He exits the highway and proceeds through lower class sections of the city. You see buildings that will become familiar as you watch the show, which promises to be urban and gritty. The song goes…

You woke up this morning
The world turned upside down

Suddenly he’s in a much nicer neighborhood, pulling into the driveway of an upper middle class house. The grim look on his face as he exits his SUV suggests a lot of serious business on his mind. What has he had to do, and to put up with, to get to this large automobile and this beautiful house? The scene ends as he closes the car door. He’s come home.

That’s what this show is ultimately about; coming home. It’s about family, the bedrock of American life. And in the grand tradition of American fiction, it’s about aspiration, about wanting to rise in wealth and status, and maybe even become the boss.

And, of course, it’s about crime. Because Americans do love a good crime story. Via character dialogue, the show even unabashedly compares itself to The Godfather and Goodfellas, the two iconic movies which define the modern era’s obsession with Mafia-related entertainment. Some of the characters on the show aspire to achieve the celebrated fame of those movies, though others, wisely, prefer to stay in the background.

But the real point is that these characters are part of the modern era. Organized crime, like the rest of society, has had to adapt to the times. The show famously starts with mob capo Tony Soprano in a therapy session with a psychiatrist. He’s there because he’s having anxiety attacks; even a tough guy has trouble coping in this world turned upside down.

Tony Soprano’s therapy sessions are a wonderful contrivance for looking into the psychology and the moral perspective of someone who makes a living as a criminal. Through these sessions, he is humanized, and we learn that he has the same problems as any other middle-aged family man. He has to balance work and family life, maintain his marriage, and raise his children, all while overcoming the baggage from his own upbringing. In some ways, he’s just like the rest of us.

But, of course, he also has his unique work-related problems, the exact details of which he cannot reveal to his therapist. In other words, he’s not like us at all. As the story develops, we the audience get a tantalizing look into his world. This is why we come to these kinds of shows; his life is far riskier and edgier than ours, and we want the vicarious thrill of living it through his eyes. We want the excitement of transgressing moral boundaries, but not the consequences.

Which just goes to show the moral dilemma that this show raises. If we enjoy this story, and even identify with its protagonists, are we not condoning their behavior? These guys murder people, then go to their favorite restaurant for some wine and pasta, like us when we leave the office for a night out at Olive Garden. If they’re so much like us, then are we like them? Do we accept, even celebrate, a world where crime pays?

I think that question troubled the creator, David Chase, which is why he famously ended the show without resolving the chief protagonist’s story arc. But to be fair to the television audiences of the time, crime has always been a popular subject in TV and film, and has often been glamorized. What makes The Sopranos different is how it places this subject in the context of the social era at the time of its premiere in 1999.

In the 1990s, crime rates were high, the Culture Wars were heating up, and there was a pervasive sense of society coming apart. Baby Boomers were in mid-life, parenting Millennial children. David Chase (b. 1945) is a Boomer, and I think he was exploring his generations’ experience of the era – including that question of how much moral looseness a society can and should tolerate. While not all of the actors are strictly Boomers by birth year, some being just a little too old or too young, I think the mid-life characters are meant to be. Tony Soprano clearly is, based on flashback scenes of his childhood in the 1960s.

In one scene, when Tony’s teenaged daughter uses language which upsets him, she defends herself with the statement, “this is the 90s.” Tony retorts, “out there it’s the 1990s, but in here it’s 1954,” pointing first out the window, then at the floor of the house. Tony is a moral reactionary, despite his chosen profession. His Millennial daughter is what we would call “woke” today, and might even have reacted to her father with an “OK Boomer,” though that is an expression well ahead of her time.

Tony clearly wants to return to the “father knows best” social order of the good old days. You can tell that all the old gangsters do. They even complain about the breakdown of morals in their own organization. Drugs have had a corrosive influence. You can’t trust the gangsters today, who turn state’s evidence instead of doing their civic duty and serving time in prison. You just know that any of these guys who surivived to see 2016 would be sporting red MAGA caps at a Trump rally. They certainly wouldn’t survive today’s cancel culture, being too blatantly racist and sexist and homophobic.

The Sopranos stands out as an artifact of its place in history, the Bush era transition into the 21st century, with the Cold War receding in the rearview mirror, and all of these new concerns coming down the road. With its frank maturity and uncensored sex and violence, it also helped inaugurate the television noir age we enjoy today. In many ways, it did it better than any show since. It’s so well written, acted and directed, that you might even say it achieved Peak TV.

That last statement, I suspect, is controversial, but it really was the first thought I had when I recently started rewatching the show. And I have a lot of shows fresh in my memory; I’m a man who watches way too much television, a mid-lifer in a new era of staying at home with endless streaming video. In the great treasure trove of video content available online, The Sopranos is a real gem from what already seems like a fading time.


This post is the second in a 2-part series about The Sopranos, following up on an earlier post.

The Last of Us Watch

The Last of Us Watch

When I was young man I played computer games. A lot. That was so long ago that being a computer gamer put me in a minority, part of the maligned “nerd” subclass of Generation X. Today’s Millennial gamers are much more of a mainstream group. Nowadays, being a young man who plays video games is pretty basic.

Now, when I was a young man (so very long ago) we would sometimes get groups of guys together for a computer game. We typically would play what is called a “hot seat” game – there is one personal computer (PC), and everyone takes separate turns in the game. When it’s your turn, you sit in the chair that is in front of the PC, hence “hot seat.”

Another way to do it way back when was a LAN party, where everyone brings their PC to a common location and you play multi-player on a local network. This was done because you couldn’t play a graphics intensive game over the Internet. No one had the bandwidth; people were still using modems to get online. Going to a LAN party was a bit cumbersome since you had to cart your PC to someone else’s house and set it all up, and I never got into the practice. But some people did, and LAN parties were a feature of Gen X computer nerd culture back in the 1990s.

One thing about these Gen X approaches to group gaming is that everyone gets to play. It was unusual for someone to be willing to come hang out where everyone was gaming, but not actually play in the game.

Around this time, console gaming was starting to pick up. That particular format had actually suffered a drought following the failure of the Atari console, which had come out in the youth of early-wave Gen Xers such as myself. But then came the rise of Nintendo, which accompanied the youth of late-wave Gen Xers and the childhood of Millennials. It’s all documented in this great book called “Game Over, Press Start to Continue: How Nintendo Conquered the World.”

With console gaming, you start to see this pattern of people gathering, and some people just sitting and watching while others play. After all, there are only so many controllers. It wasn’t something I was ever hugely into, and in fact I have never owned a video game console. But I went to a few parties where the console was the center of attention.

For the Millennial generation, watching others play video games has become a common practice. In fact, it’s a whole culture; there are live streaming sites like twitch that are dedicated to it. There are YouTubers who make a living sharing streams of their games with added commentary. As in, very popular YouTubers who have become wealthy doing so.

As a mid-life Gen Xer, my computer gaming has shifted over to games that simulate board games, rather than the more active and real-time type video games. I honestly was never heavily into first person shooter or arcade-style games; I prefer strategy games instead.

But what I have done is watched my Millennial stepsons play video games. Specifically, this really cool post-apocalyptic game called The Last of Us. They sit us old folks down around the TV, and then play the game on a Sony PlayStation 4 while we spectate. It works really well with this particlar title because the game is story-driven, with programming that railroads the player throught a plot (in contrast to “open world” games where you can just wander about and do whatever).

The visual design of the game is stunning, even though you can sometimes spot a video glitch which briefly interrupts the cinematic experience. These glitches don’t really matter because the setting is so artfully rendered, with contrasting visual landscapes of urban ruin and beautiful overgrown nature. The sound design is brilliant as well, with music that builds the tension as the characters get into dangerous situations.

It is a combat game, so there is graphic violence, as well as grotesque horror elements. But it’s in the context of a very well-written and poignant story, featuring complex characters and difficult moral dilemmas. Our sons see it as its own genre of cinemtic story-telling, even better than film or television. I can see why they do, and as computer graphics improve the genre could become even more immersive and emotionally intense.

As they play the game while we oldsters watch, our sons are essentially taking on a directing role. They have already played the game through before, so they know all the places to go in game, as well as actions to take, so that we get the complete story as efficiently as possible. They also take us on little “side quests” to see the less important but still interesting stuff. Since it is a game, there is some amount of collecting resources and spending them to upgrade the characters’ capabilities. This video game trope, while “unrealistic” in a sense, does not in any way detract from the story telling or aesthetics of the experience.

Watching the game all the way through took us many, many hours. We watched both the original game and Part II. It was the same as binge-watching multiple seasons of a good streaming TV series. Would it have been as much fun in TV format? I guess we may find out, as rumor has HBO is making a TV show based on the game.

I’d like to thank the boys for sharing this experience with us. It really is a new way of experiencing cinematic story telling. It shows how far the video game medium has evolved since the days I sat in my parents’ basement playing Tunnels of Doom on a TI-499/A (I’m not even kidding). For the new generation, it’s become much more immersive, and grown into a communal experience, and a part of everyday life.

Boomer Moralism and Today’s Dysfunctional Politics

Boomer Moralism and Today’s Dysfunctional Politics

I’ve read somewhere, more than once, that the Baby Boomers are the worst generation of political leaders in U.S. history. They are presiding over an era of extreme political partisanship and government paralysis. What I mean by “presiding” is that they are the majority of top political leaders, and that it is their generational peer personality that is primarily responsible for the combative, partisan nature of politics today. As I reviewed earlier, some Boomers acknowledge this, and that it’s even worse than you think. Basically, with Boomers in charge, nothing will ever get done, and government is doomed to be an ever-worsening shitshow.

At the heart of the problem is the moralistic character of the Boomer generation. This character was evident in their youth, which was famous for campus unrest and protests against the government policies of older generations. When Boomers aged into mid-life and entered politics themselves, starting in the 1980s, they brought their righteous indignation with them. Politics became more about confrontation over moral principles, and less about actually instituting policy.

This tracked with the overall evolution of the social order, which was steering away from the outer world and collective action, and toward the inner world and individual empowerment. It was what Strauss & Howe call the Unraveling Era, when the demand for social order reaches a nadir. But now that we are in the Crisis Era, and the demand for social order is rising, the confrontational, partisan mode of politics is proving to be severely detrimental. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, for God’s sake!

Which brings me to this remarkable essay by Julius Krein, called “The Three Fusions.” I bring it up because the author pinpoints moralism and ideology-driven politics as the root of this era’s failures of government. I’ll briefly review the essay, without going into what he means by his three fusions, or the details of how he breaks down the ideologies of the Left and the Right.

In “The Three Fusions,” Julius Krein argues that moralism in politics has undermined the democratic nation-state, which is why neither political faction (Left or Right) has been successful at implementing its particular political agenda. The problem is neither faction really wants the collective to be empowered, since each sees virtue as residing in the individual, not the collective. Both the Left and the Right end up trying to advance their goals by putting responsibility on individual morality alone. Each side’s vision of an ideal society can only be achieved by having all individuals freely internalize its moral principles, since neither side will allow for the empowerment of collective will through state action. Hence the ridiculousness of virtue-signalling memes buzzing through our social media feeds, as though given enough time they will cause a majority of the populace to internalize the correct moral viewpoint. But that doesn’t happen; each side’s social media bubble is impervious to the memes of the other. Representative democracy can’t work with two factions in total opposition and government consequently gridlocked by partisanship. So we’re stuck without any means to empower the state to serve the national interest.

Krein is a Millennial, born in 1986. His generation is of the opposite archetype of the Boomers, so it’s no suprise that his instinct is to turn away from moral correctness as the legitimating principle of government. He clearly yearns for a more practical, functioning mode; one that acknowledges differences in belief about morality while still allowing for collective decision-making. I think many in his generation do, as their political activism shows.

But how to get past the dysfunctional Boomer paradigm? And to be fair, it’s not just the Boomer generation that bears a responsibility for excessive moralism. Younger generations are playing along, even Millennials – just scroll through Twitter to see what I mean. They are following the lead of their visionary elders, which might work, if only there were a more clearly dominant vision.

Eventually, as the generations age, moralism will fade away on its own accord. But by then the damage done may be irreparable. There’s certainly no resurrecting all the people who have died from Covid-19. And it might be too late to restore trust in democracy, or to revert the trend of ever-widening inequality. We’ll end up in a 21st century dystopia.

I honestly think that getting to a dominant vision is probably the only way to a resolution of this problem. It allows the Boomers to fulfill their archetypal role of visionary, and the younger generations their roles as well. It won’t matter that the dominant ideology has logical contradictions. Obviously, not everyone is going to like it. But it’s either that or twisting in the wind and enduring the pain of a broken system. Lord knows we’ve endured enough pain as it is.

Book Review: It’s Even Worse Than You Possibly Could Have Imagined

Book Review: It’s Even Worse Than You Possibly Could Have Imagined

I just finished this quick read – It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein. Here’s my review on goodreads:

The Boomer generation is one whose scholars and thinkers (and they are a thinking generation rather than a doing generation) tend towards pessimistic outlooks and dire prognostications. They are also the most politically destructive generation in living memory. The destructiveness the Boomers have wrought in American government is the subject of “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks”, a collaboration by two of their own chorts. While the book isn’t explicitly generational history, the story it tells, of government becoming increasingly partisan and conflict-oriented rather than coalitional and achievement-oriented, clearly coincides with the Boomers’ rise to political power.

The authors trace the beginnings of this trend all the way back to 1978, when Newt Gingrich first took office in the House of Representatives. Before reading this book, I had not realized how far back the inception of the Gingrich Revolution was, or how long it took to come to fruition. It was predicated on a strategy of confrontation and disruption, and of questioning the legitimacy of existing institutions: the Boomer modus operandi since the days of the student movements of the 1960s. By the time of the Obama administration, when this book was first published, the strategy enabled a Republican minority to hold the United States government hostage.

The fundamental problem which Mann and Ornstein diagnose is that parliamentary style political parties do not mesh well with a system of separate branches with checks and balances. A minority party can easily exploit one branch’s power to limit another’s and prevent any governing from happening at all. This suits the ideology of the Republican party, which holds that government is actually undesirable altogether, and their asymmetric use of this strategem against the Democratic party has defined politics in the United States in our time. Generation X politicians in the GOP, like the “Young Guns” of the 2008 election cycle, have been happy to take up the banner of obstructionism in the name of anti-government principles. This alliance between Boomer and Gen X conservatives has wielded considerable power, and clearly marks a generational shift in U.S. politics.

Again, the authors don’t explicitly make a generational point. What they do is break down the problem in terms of specific factors and offer some possible remedies. Foremost is improving voter participation and shifting away from winner-take-all electoral processes, which prevent moderate politicians from winning elections. Campaign finance reform is another possible remedy at the electoral level. At the institutional level, reducing the use of the filibuster to obstruct legislation and executive nominations is key. Finally, improving the culture overall is required, to restore public trust and recreate a sense of public space.

The authors released an edition in 2016 with the title updated to “It’s Even Worse Than It Was”; this is the edition I read. In the afterword, Mann and Ornstein acknowledge that nothing improved since 2011, that all the trends of hyperpartisanship and extremism and lack of compromise have worsened. And this was before Trump won the election; I can only guess that a third edition published now would be titled “It’s Even Worse Than You Possibly Could Have Imagined”. The disastrous inability of the government to address the Covid-19 pandemic clearly demonstrates the damage that the insurgent Republican party has done to our political system.

Overall this book is a quick and easy read, and an eye-opening work of political analysis. It explains the changes that have occurred in government since Boomers and Gen Xers have come to dominate in office, and how the confrontational style of parliamentary politics has rendered our constitutional system dysfunctional. It understands that restoring the functioning “normality” of the past, with parties that are adversarial but able to work together, will be difficult. Informed by generational theory, we must recognize that it will take future generations of politicians to get us there.

I’ll just add that, despite the pessimistic title I gave to this blog post, I feel like we might soon be over with this period of hyperpartisanship. I think the worst of the extremists are being discredited, and are being marginalized in the public sphere. Trump’s hopes of a coup of some sort are fading, and Trump supporters are heading for the shadows.

Obviously a lot is riding on the transition to the Biden administration and its first few months. Like all of us, I will watching intently to see if it finally starts getting better.

World Views on the Web

World Views on the Web

This is to follow up on my last post, where I revisited some Boomer generation founded web sites that were arguably cutting edge “new media” a decade or so in the past, but by now are being submerged by the flood of traffic to social media sites where everyone hangs out today. These Boomer sites are quite clearly split between “red zone” (conservative / traditional / Republican) vs. “blue zone” (liberal / progressive / Democrat) values.

I ended the post by speculating whether the same stark difference would be evident in the web sites founded by younger generations. On the one hand, younger generations aren’t as values-driven as the Boomer generation. On the other hand, they primarily derive their Weltanschauung from the vision of the Boomers, and so that vision should be reflected in their own culture.

Revisiting the sites which I had linked to back in 2014, my impression is that the sites decidedly shift from red to blue as you go from Gen-X to Millennial. However, I would say that the Gen-X red zone sites are less hysterically partisan than the Boomer ones. I mean, Matt Drudge is really a muckraker at heart, not a partisan conservative.

Here’s the list roughly in order from the oldest founder (Newsmax’s Christopher Ruddy, born 1965) to the youngest. Only the founders of Reddit are Millennials; the rest are Gen-Xers. In my judgment there is a shift from the red zone world view to the blue zone world view as you go down the age ladder.

This is true even though the site at the bottom, reddit, accomodates people of all views, in assorted safe spaces called subreddits. They are safe spaces because the admins of the subreddits can ban people who express opposing viewpoints. But, in my judgment at least, the majoritarian perspective on reddit is the blue zone perspective. You can judge for yourself by visiting the sites.

The Old New Media

The Old New Media

Ages ago (2014), on my rickety old Web 1.0 site which I still maintain, I published a list of prominent web sites by generation. The idea was to show how different generational archetypes produce different kind of content. The gist of it: Boomers make stuff that is ideological and righteously free-thinking, GenXers like sarcasm and muck-raking, and Millennials create consensus-building groupthink sites. The premier examples are probably HuffPost, The Onion and reddit, respectively.

Since it’s been a few years now, I thought I’d revisit the older sites, just the ones from the “Boomer” category. See if they’re still up and running. Consider that when they were created, ten or twenty years ago, these sites were cutting edge “new media.” Their Boomer founders were pioneers in a new form of communication. Now that social media has taken off, old fashioned web sites are losing influence (everyone’s going to “Parler” I hear).

As it turns out, all of the sites I originally listed are still up. I put them below, grouped into “red zone” and “blue zone.” The selection is somewhat arbitrary and I don’t feel like hunting more web sites down. It’s my little non-scientific study, but the sample size is enough to show how the red and blue zones really are in different reality bubbles. Two entirely different narratives of what is going in the U.S., particularly in regards to the election.

The Boomers, the Prophet generation in Strauss & Howe terms, is the generational archetype that rules over vision and values. So it makes sense that their cultural artifacts reflect these two dominant visions. But what about the web culture of the younger generations? Is it also split between these two visions? You can follow the other links to judge for yourself. One thing I’ll say is that so long as the Boomers, the values leaders, persist in their competing visions, we will probably remain as two separate generational constellations.

RED ZONE

BLUE ZONE

The Red-Blue Wars: Twenty Years On

The Red-Blue Wars: Twenty Years On

In Strauss & Howe generations theory, there is a concept that the social mood changes as distinct generations pass through the different stages of life. In each social era, there is a distinct generation type occupying each life stage, bringing its collective peer personality into that phase of life and interacting with the other generations to bring about the social mood. This set of generations occupying different life stages is called a “Generational Constellation.”

For example, in a Crisis Era like the one we are in today, the constellation consists of visionary elder Prophets, pragmatic mid-life Nomads, heroic young adult Heroes and suffocated child Artists. I’m using the archetype names here; note how each generational archetype occupies a different life stage: elderhood, mid-life, young adulthood, &c. In our time the archetypes Prophet, Nomad, and Hero would correspond to the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials, occupying elderhood (60+), mid-life (40s and 50s) and young adulthood (20s and 30s) respectively.

Presumably, in the Crisis Era, the vision provided by the elder Prophets guides the younger generations in overcoming the challenges facing society. The Heroes provide the youthful energy and the Nomads the savvy leadership. Together the generations repair the damage from the preceding decades of civic neglect to bring about a new civic order in accordance with the Prophet vision.

But what if there are two competing visions within the society? That is exactly our situation in the United States, with the partisan divide between the Republican “red zone” and the Democratic “blue zone.” It’s come up on this blog before and in earlier writings of mine – going back twenty years. It’s a deep rift, and so seemingly irreconcilable that there is talk of the country being in a sort of civil war.

It might therefore make sense to speak of two different generational constellations – one red, and the other blue – coexisting and in conflict within society. Each has its own vision of what our values should be, each has its leaders and its followers. Each generation, like the country as a whole, is split between the red zone and the blue zone. So let’s take a look at the two constellations that result.

***

On the red side, the Chief Prophet is clearly the current President. Behind him, other red zone Prophets include the fundamentalist Christian leaders who have accepted the President as the “imperfect vessel” of their agenda, as well as whatever GOP officials remain loyal to him. Their values vision is very similar to that which I listed on the Red Zone vs. Blue Zone chart so long ago – conservative, traditionalist, Christian, capitalist, nationalistic.

Supporting these red zone Idealists is an army of hard boiled Pragmatist Republican office holders. It doesn’t get remarked on much, but Gen Xers in politics lean to the right; it’s like all the blue zone Gen Xers went into other careers (I presume tech and entertainment). These red zone Xers are the disciples of the Reagan Revolution, and are hard core free market capitalists, though less culturally conservative than the red zone Boomers.

The red zone Millennials, whom I will call “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” after the famous play, include all the groups of young people going out onto the streets to represent red zone values. Among them are the Charlottesville marchers, the pandemic-protesting militias and the Proud Boys coming out to battle antifa. Online, they are the denizens of 4chan and r/the_donald, busily trolling the libs.

Who are these red zone Heroes fighting against? That’s pretty obvious – their blue zone counterparts are the BLM protestors and antifa activists on the streets, and the wokesters driving hasthtag movements and cancel culture online. These Millennials also deserve to be called “Heroes of the Fourth Turning.” It’s like we have two sets of Heroes, that sometimes come out en masse, goaded by their respective media machines, and on rare occasion, even die for their cause.

The blue zone Nomads include a legion of recently politically energized Gen Xers, decrying the current state of affairs on social media and drumming up support for the Democratic Presidential candidate. You probably know some of them; you may even be one of them, like me. Professionally, blue zone Gen Xers are the media personalities parodying the current administration, or, in the more serious formats, deconstructing its failures.

Blue zone Prophets are also major figures in the mainstream media; they’re the ones being insulted and vilified by the current President. The antagonistic nature of the current media environment, with its personal attacks and cries of “fake news,” can be attributed to the combative peer personality of the Boomer generation. It’s such a contrast to the gravitas of the old television medium, when it was run by the GI (Greatest) Generation.

In politics, blue zone Prophets are out of power, many even out of office. From the sidelines, they promulgate a values vision that is progressive, diverse, multicultural, social justice-oriented, and social Democratic. A common theme of their message is how unfairly the economy is structured in the United States, in contrast to how it works in other Western countries. Some kind of structural reform is needed, which will take us in a new direction from the one we’ve been on since the Reagan Revolution.

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Examining the chart of the red zone vs. the blue zone, which I made almost twenty years ago, and then thinking about the partisan political split today, really underscores how we are at the culmination of the Culture Wars of the last social era. Which side will have its vision prevail in the new order of the ages?

I’d say the red zone has the advantage of a more gelled together constellation, as evidenced by the energy of their rallies. They also are more amenable to authoritarianism, and willing to follow their Dear Leader come hell or high water. But they are in the minority. The blue zone has the majority, but can they leverage that given the unbalanced electoral process? These next few months are crucial for the resolution.

I honestly think that most of the Culture Wars differences are settled, and a lot of the political conflict feels like overblown theater. There is much at stake in the struggle for power, so the leaders keep pushing on the same buttons in their efforts to control the people. But consider the possibility that the true majority is neither red nor blue – after all, more people in 2016 didn’t vote than voted for either Presidential candidate.

It might make sense to speak of a grey zone of neutral non-partisans. What is the grey zone constellation? Washed out Prophets fading away after a lifetime of indulgence, indifferent Nomads hiding from the pandemic, and confused Heroes unsatisfied with either the red or blue visions, waiting for better leadership? If someone could speak to this hidden majority, they might be able to build a new consensus and harness the potential of the Crisis Era generational constellation.

Until then, we’ll continue to frame our political discourse along the tired old lines of the red vs. blue Culture Wars. We’ll do this even as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic overtake us. If political leaders continue to insist on doubling down on the rhetoric and pressing on the same issues time and again, they will only encourage more and more extreme behavior. Only when the fires of rage have burned themselves out will a new order be able to emerge from the ashes.

Heros and Villains by the Generation

Heros and Villains by the Generation

One aspect of this era is the wild success of the franchise films based off of the works of two prominent American comics publishers – Marvel and DC.

There is something quintessentially American about the superhero genre. It tells stories where empowered, self-motivated individuals – what all Americans are in theory – strive to better society while struggling with profound ethical dilemmas.  The stories indulge a form of escapism where the intractable problems of the world are conceivably solvable – given fantastical powers and abilities. Why is it so hard to bring peace and stability to the far-flung regions of the planet? Well obviously we simply lack sufficiently advanced technology.

At their worst these movies are trite and tedious, with the same formula repeated ad nauseam. At their best they are rich allegories about power and responsibility, or intriguing character studies. The modern wave of blockbusters has enjoyed tremendous box office success, and love them or hate them, you can’t deny they are a hallmark of our time.

Because I always like to see the generational angle, I decided to catalog the generation and sex of the directors and principal actors in both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe films to date. Actually, only up to how far I’ve seen the films because I didn’t want my research to reveal any spoilers. But that’s close to all films to date.

So here is a summary of what I discovered.

The franchises have been a bonanza for Gen-X men, who comprise the majority of directors, and of actors portraying either superheros or supervillains. Gen-X men dominate as directors, with a few Boomer men joining their ranks, along with one Gen-X woman (the director of Wonder Woman) and one Millennial man (the director of Black Panther).

Gen-X men play a majority of the superheros, though a significant number of Millennials share that role. The iconic Gen-X example is surely Robert Downey Jr. as reckless playboy Tony Stark (Iron Man), who is a foil for dutiful Millennial Chris Evans (technically a Gen-X cusper) as Captain America. A conflict between the two characters is even a major element of the MCU story arc. And DCEU has its own Gen-X/Millennial pair of frenemies – the brooding Ben Affleck as Batman versus the self-assured Henry Cavill as Superman.

GenX men are less dominant as supervillains, because Boomer men have found a niche there. Many of the villains are egotistical and power-hungry Boomer men – James Spader as Ultron, Kurt Russell as literally a character called Ego. Their machinations are always being thwarted by younger heroes – an allegory about our times, I suppose. But Boomer men have also found a niche in supporting roles, paternal and self-sacrificing – like Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent or Michael Booker as Yondu.

Boomer and Gen-X women have benefited much less from the superhero film phenomenon. There are very few roles for Gen-X women, despite such prominent stars as Gwynneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Boomer women are similarly underrepresented – the only notable example I could identify was Glenn Close in a supporting role.

With Millennials you see the most gender diversity – there are almost as many female Millennial superheros as male. But with the exception of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, no female superhero has her own movie – a fact not lost on critics. There is a female Millennial villain – Cara Delevingne as Enchantress, and there are two if you count Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.

The Guardians of the Galaxy movies have the most gender diverse cast – including the only Gen-X female superhero – Zoe Saldana as Gamora. Thus it is ironic that writer/director James Gunn was hashtag metoo’d out of the franchise.

A final note: only one actor from the Silent generation appears in the MCU or DCEU – Anthony Hopkins as Odin.

In conclusion, the modern wave of superhero movies can be seen as the wish-fulfillment of Gen-X men, who are so prominent in their making. Presumably many of the men of that generation grew up consuming the comics and the earlier movies and television shows made around them. Boomer men, who overshadowed Gen-X growing up, get to be villains or supporting characters. Millennials, meanwhile, are along for the ride, with many Millennial women asserting themselves as equals, as the girl power generation has been preparing to do their whole lives.

Assuming the superhero craze lasts for very much longer, can we expect the Millennial generation to slowly take it over, putting an end to the male dominance that characterizes the franchises today? Or will Gen-Xers maintain their control, until the genre is out of touch with the times? I’m always hearing people say they are tired of these movies, yet there doesn’t seem to be an end to them in sight. And personally I’m excited as any fan about the upcoming releases.