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Month: February 2022

Theater as a Sheltering Space for the Young Generation

Theater as a Sheltering Space for the Young Generation

Last weekend I went to see a high school musical show – Shrek, to be precise. On the way in I was handed an LGBTQ pride flag and told it was my “freak flag.” I didn’t really know what this was about, having never seen Shrek before, but I eventually found out. “Freak Flag” is actually the name of a song in the show, sung by the fairy tale characters. It celebrates diversity and inclusion, and through it the characters resist how they are treated by the oppressive chief antagonist (you may recall the story from the movie).

It’s not a stretch to associate the unique fairy tale characters in Shrek with minority groups in real life who face discrimination and barriers to acceptance. So it seemed fitting enough to have these flags to wave while the fairy tale characters sang their “fly your freak flag” refrain. As I watched the kids dressed as fairy tale characters walking down the aisles of the auditorium, I wondered how many of them might experience discrimination in real life, given how kids on the fringe – whether gay, or neurodivergent, or just outsiders – are drawn to the arts and to theater.

This message of inclusiveness and acceptance was part of the show from the onset, as in the curtain speech (the speech made before the show to introduce it) the director spoke, as if assuring the parents, of how much he and the staff make sure all of the students feel accepted and valued. Everyone of them, like each unique fairy tale character, knew how special they were. To my mind, this was a perfect generational moment – this is exactly how I would expect Generation X (the director’s generation, as well as mine) to treat the children of the Homeland generation (to which all but the oldest of today’s high school students belong). Sheltering them in a protective bubble. Teaching them to be sensitive and considerate of others.

It was a moment that perfectly captured the zeitgeist of this era. I should have more such moments in the future, as the spring season is upon us and I will be attending a lot high school performances in the weeks to come.

5 Years On

5 Years On

I’m happy to announce that today is the 5th year anniversary of this blog. My, my, my, how time flies.

I started this blog just after the events of 2016, a month after we’d gone to D.C. for the Women’s March. I remember that I had already been mulling the idea of blogging again. I think the intensity of national events in that time period really had my thoughts churning. I wanted to start sharing them again, on more than just social media.

On social media and other online forums you don’t have as much control over your content. Technically, what you post belongs to someone else. That’s a reason why I wanted to start up a blog. With a blog, you own the content, assuming you host your own site instead of using something like Tumblr which is just another social media platform. I had maintained a blog called “Generation Watch” in the 2000s, which I painstakingly crafted with direct HTML in a text editor, so I had some experience already.

This time, I researched blogging software, and decided on WordPress. I already had the “stevebarrera dot com” domain name from way back, which at that point just redirected to a simple web site. With WordPress, it was pretty straightforward to set it up on a hosted platform, and I shifted the domain name to that.

On February 25, 2017, I launched In The Zeitgeist. My first blog had been focused on “news and views of the generations” – it was all connected to my study of generations theory. This new one has a lot of generational analysis posts, but also more personal stuff. It’s part commentary, part personal diary. As the tag line in the header image indicates, it chronicles my experience in this era. And what an eventful era it has been.

When I started this blog I lived alone, in a house I owned in North Carolina. Since then, much has changed in my life. I switched jobs, sold my house and moved to Pennsylvania. Then I switched jobs again. Then a pandemic happened. I moved into my BFF’s house and started working from home. I’m still here, still staying home most of the time, keeping very busy with work and multiple other projects, and watching world events unfold.

It’s been an amazing 5 years, and I’ve enjoyed blogging throughout it all. This is the 216th post on this blog, which means I’ve averaged 3.6 posts a month during this time. I hope to keep up the pace in the years to come.

Thank you to all who have read and commented on my posts, and liked and shared them on social media. It means a lot to me to know that people are reading what I write. I’ll keep chronicling these times, and I wish us all the best of luck navigating the changes.

Generations in the Comic Series “Give Me Liberty”

Generations in the Comic Series “Give Me Liberty”

I’m not a huge comic books fan, but I do have a small collection of mostly indie stuff from the 80s and 90s. Included in my collection is the Frank Miller series “Give Me Liberty,” which features my favorite comic book hero of all time, a scrappy young soldier named Martha Washington. She has no particular powers, just grit and determination and a good heart, although she isn’t beyond an occasional breech of moral conduct. The series itself, including all the sequels and one shots (I own almost all of them), is colorful and over the top, which is pretty normal for comic books. It’s not a superhero story, but rather a political satire about the United States, with strong science fiction elements, mainly in the form of advanced A.I., robotics and military technology.

I like the comic’s clean style and fun sci-fi storylines, but what I really love about it is the way it depicts America’s Culture Wars as a real life war, with the different factions actually forming into different political entities and duking it out in a second American civil war. I will note that this is fun only in the context of a comic book. In reality, a second American civil war would be an absolute horror. It’s not something to wish for. But through the medium of comics, with cartoonish characters and outlandish premises, a fictional civil war becomes a way of exploring America’s politics in the Unraveling era.

What am I talking about? Unraveling era? Well, I’m back to generational theory and the cycles of different social eras. In generational theory, the Unraveling era is a period of cultural fragmentation that comes after a great spiritual upheaval. The recent Culture Wars era, from 1984 to 2008, was just such a period in history. The comic series was published in the 1990s, right in the middle of this period. Part of what it makes the comic such outlandish fun is how it portrays America’s subcultures as organized groups wielding actual power and capability beyond anything reasonable or accurate to the time period.

Now, the action doesn’t start in the comic book until 2009, so it’s ostensibly predicting the future, as though those subcultures were destined to evolve into hardened factions. And given how things are actually going now, it might not be completely off the mark. Arguably, the comic is only wrong in the details about the factions, which admittedly are portrayed in a satirical, hyperbolic manner. Also, there might be too many of them. In real life, they’ve consolidated a bit more.

Here is a more or less complete list of the factions you will encounter in the comic: environmentalists, radical feminists, health nuts, religious fundamentalists, “real America” reactionaries, capitalists, computer geeks, gay white supremacists (I kid you not), regular white supremacists, and radioactive party mutants. Outlandish, right? Some of these factions form their own breakaway countries during the civil war. The feminists take over the Southeast, and the reactionaries take over the Southwest. The Pacific Northwest becomes a totalitarian state devoted to healthy living; some people today claim that any government attempt to enforce COVID-19 mitigation mandates amounts to the same thing.

As I already noted, these factions are depicted in a satirical and over the top fashion. It makes the comic humorous and fun. But there’s a grain of truth to the depictions, as there is to all satire. That people could identify so strongly with some subculture, to the point of physical conflict with other subcultures, has been made plain in our time. Proud Boys and Antifas battling in the streets of America in the 2010s isn’t so far off from what Miller has written in his comic books. The real life factions even have over the top costuming to maintain group identity, which we make fun of on social media, calling it “militia cosplaying.” But though we may mock the more devoted members of these groups, this factionalization is still dangerous. It’s just not certain we are likely to break up as a country as dramatically as happens during the fictional lifetime of Martha Washington.

Speaking of the main character in the comic, I wanted to also discuss the comic series from the standpoint of the generations depicted. Martha Washington’s birth year is actually given in the story – it’s 1995. This would have been in the future at the time the story was first published. This birth year makes Washington a member of the Millennial generation. Now, at the time the comic was released, the Millennial generation was in early childhood, and Miller may not have been aware of them or their qualities. The character he creates, I believe, is really from Generation X, based on her life experience and personality. She’s abandoned in childhood, left to fend for herself (which she does very well) and is basically a rogue-like character. She is self-reliant, but also loyal and honorable – Gen X qualities.

This is a pattern I encounter in speculative fiction all the time. The authors of the stories observe the contemporary generations and social era, and extrapolate the then current trends into the future. This is why this story, set in our time (that is, in the early 21st century) is really a parable about society at the time it was published (that is, the late 20th century). The characters belong to the generational archetypes that fit 1990, not the ones that fit 2010. I hope this makes sense.

Martha Washington and the other soldier-type characters she encounters are Gen-Xers. The primary antagonists, all older than her, are Boomers. A particularly fun character is the supervillainish Surgeon General, who leads the totalitarian “Health State” in the Pacific Northwest. He is definitely a Boomer parody, with his obsession with pure living. Another character, President Rexall, is clearly a parody of Ronald Reagan, which would make him GI or Greatest Generation. The President who replaces Rexall for an interim is kinder and more tolerant, and I make him to be a Jimmy Carter-like member of the Silent Generation.

Again, this is typical of speculative fiction: you see character archetypes that make sense for the time the story was published, projected into the near future, completely disregarding the fact that as time passes, generations age and the roles played by the archetypes change. But that’s OK; the point of this kind of fiction is to playfully examine the current state of society in an imaginative context.

In the case of Frank Miller’s Give Me Liberty, the author, who is a member of the Boomer generation, has crafted a story about a sort of uber-Gen Xer surviving in a fractured, falling apart society. I’ve seen this pattern in other work from the 1990s, particularly in the cyberpunk genre. It’s like this generation of late wave Boomer creators was a bit infatuated with the rising young generation, and imagined stories where they take self-reliance and rugged individualism to new levels, proving how much the individual can achieve through authenticity and force of will. Miller even admits in an afterword that one of his stories was inspired by that iconic champion of individualism, Ayn Rand.

How far individualism can really get you in a fractured society is being put to the test in the real world today, and the record so far doesn’t look as good as it does in a comic book adventure story. But that doesn’t take away from the value of comic books themselves, as a vehicle for expressing our ideals and speculating on our future fates, given what we know about human nature.

Years ago, I wrote about this comic on my old Web 1.0 site. I just added a page with a detailed breakdown of the generations of the characters in Give Me Liberty and in the sequel comic series. Unless you’ve actually read the comics, however, the breakdown probably won’t mean much.

Workout Playlist of the Week: Alligator the Right Way

Workout Playlist of the Week: Alligator the Right Way

So the one problem with the title of this post is that I hardly work out any more. A daily exercise regime was one casualty of the pandemic for me. At best, I go for walks outside, but I don’t have walking outside music because I don’t think it’s safe to have music playing through earbuds/headphones when out and about outdoors, since that means you might not be aware of what is happening in your surrounding environment. But once upon a time, I did work out to the playlist that is mentioned in this post’s title, and that playlist comes with a little story.

Back in the early 2000s, I used what was that era’s version of a streaming music service: everyone and their cousin downloading and sharing music. One of my coworkers had a huge collection on his work laptop, and just put it all on a share drive on the company’s intranet and I copied it all to my work laptop and had new music to listen to for the next few years. We were all pretty brazen about it. You may have similar memories from the same time period.

Another friend who lived in a different state would burn me mp3 discs and mail them to me. It was like we had peer to peer file sharing with a snail mail extension. He liked to introduce me to new bands, and one time I got a disc that included the album Alligator by The National. I liked it! It was rock and roll with intelligent and subversive lyrics, each song a tight little package rich with meaning. The pacing and style of the tracks varied from hard driving rock to gentle, jangly dirges, which made it perfect for a workout album – you can use the fast bits to push yourself, and the slow bits to pause for a breather.

I copied the album to my mp3 player (remember, this was in the long ago) and it entered my workout music rotation. I liked how it started off right away with a really heavy, hard hitting track. The album really got my blood flowing; it was a good choice for a sort of power workout. If you recall any of my earlier workout album posts, you will note that I tend to favor EDM (electronic music) over rock, so this album was kind of a stand out.

As the years went by and the mp3s just died, I switched to using my smartphone for listening to music. When I queued up Alligator, I was shocked to discover that the tracks were in the wrong order! The album didn’t start like I was used it to starting, with an instant dive into a fast, hard riff. It was a bit disappointing.

As it turned out, the mp3 burn that I had been listening to previously had the tracks in a different order than they appear on the album. This was because they were sorted by track number, starting with track #10. I had been listening to the songs in the wrong order the whole time!

But it was the order I was used to, and I liked it, so I made a Spotify playlist which reordered the tracks accordingly. Here it is, and you can check it out and see if you agree with me that it’s the best way to listen to the album.