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The Patriarchy Will Be Crushed Under Taylor Swift’s Glittering Boot Heel

The Patriarchy Will Be Crushed Under Taylor Swift’s Glittering Boot Heel

We got these nice cards at the movie theater.

So our son’s girlfriend and her friend wanted to see Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour and our son wanted his brother along for company, so it ended up being all of us going, somehow. Her parents came along as well, and got us all our tickets. Not that I knew anything about Taylor Swift other than that she is immensely popular, and that she had a hit song called “Shake It Off.” I went because I always want to be in the zeitgeist, as this blog’s title indicates.

The theater was one of those dine-in places, and I grabbed a beer and a wine at the bar while Aileen ordered us some nachos. As we went in to the theater to sit down, an employee approached us and asked us what our favorite Taylor Swift song was. I answered “Shake It Off,” as that was literally the only one of her songs I knew of. “That’s in the show!” the employee said, and for my trouble she gave us each a sticker from a bag she was holding.

The seats were nice, not recliners but big and comfortable. We were sitting in front of our son’s girlfriend and her friend, and when I showed them my sticker, it turned out they hadn’t gotten any, so we gave ours to them. The friend in particular was a big fan, and had already seen the movie the previous night, at a different location.

The movie, which is a film of Swift’s currently touring concert, turned out to be very long (but not even as long as the actual concert, as I understand it). It was filmed at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, just last August. It was quite entertaining, and I enjoyed it throughout despite its length, and despite the small crowd of young girls who were noisily singing along to every song.

And I mean girls – just kids, some no more than 5 or 6, who knew every word of the lyrics, though I had to wonder if they really understood them. They were being supervised by their moms, who presumably were the ones who had indoctrinated them into the cult. The moms were about the same age as Taylor Swift herself, and recorded the girls on their phones as they paraded through the aisles and sang off-key. I’m sure it would have mortified any fire marshall, or voice instructor, who might have been there.

The show is a spectacle, with lots of fun sets with moving platforms, flashy costumes, and incredibly talented musicians and dancers. It is divided into multiple acts, each featuring songs from one of Swift’s albums, in chronological order. These are the “eras.”

But the thing about her music is, to me at least: all her songs sound the same. They have the same dancy beat, and I could barely tell the melody apart from one song to the next. The lyrics aren’t poetic so much as personal monologues, like each song is a journal entry. Her concert ends up being a musical about the last ten or fifteen years of her life.

What stands out about Swift’s performance isn’t her musical creativity so much as her incredible poise and presence. If she were an RPG character, her main stat would by charisma. I mean, she has it at legendary levels. How else do you think she got millions of followers? She’s been brashly telling them her life story through song, freely confessing to every insecurity and petty grievance, and they are hooked on it.

Swift is an iconic embodiment of the ambition and confidence of her generation of women. She’s a Millennial, and even identifies as such at one point in the program. Her generation was raised to believe in their specialness and their capability, and the women of her generation in particular have benefited from this upbringing. They are the “girl power” generation, and Taylor Swift surely projects power when she is on stage.

She projects the self-assurance of an independent woman, like the female pop singers of a slightly older age (Beyoncé is a great example) that came before her. I’m sure this is part of why the MAGA crowd is so annoyed with her. That and her support for Democratic candidates. It might be only superficially, but in her style and choices she is clearly on the side of the Culture Wars that supports diversity and inclusion. If MAGA has a problem with that, she just tells them: “you need to calm down.”

As I watched the spectacle on the screen, I realized that it reflected a vision of women and minorities empowered that is the antithesis of the reactionary MAGA vision. Taylor Swift’s cult of personality is thus in direct opposition to the one of that other guy. Joanna Weiss, writing for Politico, noticed this as well, commenting on the power of group belonging, and how it shapes politics.

Culture and politics instersect, and though Swift isn’t a politician, if her superfans of voting age follow her lead, she will certainly act as a counter to the other cult leader at the ballot box. His rallies might have their own energy and enthusiasm, but they don’t reach anywhere near the scale of a Taylor Swift concert. Judging from that alone, in the final anaylsis, the partiarchy doesn’t stand a chance.

Memoir of a Millennial Childhood

Memoir of a Millennial Childhood

I recently finished this coming of age memoir, by Emi Nietfeld, a young woman born in the early 1990s. It was a fascinating read for me, since we have had such different lives, being a generation apart in age. I have read memoirs by women of my own generation, born around the same time as me, and honestly I recognize much of my own experience in what they recount. But not so much with this one.

Here is my review on goodreads:

A frank, revealing, and often harrowing coming of age memoir by a young woman, structured around her college admissions experience. The author comes from a disadvantaged background, facing many difficult constraints, including treatment for mental illness. In her mind, college represents an escape to a better future, but she becomes disillusioned when she realizes she must disguise her past in order to receive the acceptance she craves. I found this a fascinating read, since Emi Nietfeld’s life experience is so far removed from mine. I am from an older generation, and male, as well as having had a fairly ordinary family as a child. I did recognize in Nietfeld’s memoirs what I understand to be common themes for Millennial girls growing up: intense pressure to achieve and conform, confrontations with stubbornly dysfunctional adult institutions, and a panoply of self-destructive behaviors for stress release. I very much appreciate her openness and honesty describing her experience, which she does skillfully and even with a little humour, where she can find it. An eye-opening read and highly recommended.

As a long time student of generations, I have read a lot about the Millennial childhood experience, but of course that does not compare to actually living it. The closest I could come to that is, well, reading a memoir such as this one. I really was struck by how much the author’s experience aligned with what generational theory has to say about the Millennial peer personality, particularly the traits of: pressured, achieving, and conventional, if not so much sheltered *, since she had a tough family situation.

Nietfeld overcame the difficulties of her background, or at the very least made it out of childhood and into therapy, as she relates in her epilogue. She is active online, and you should easily be able to find her on social media, where she advocates for reforming institutions to better serve the needs of “troubled kids” in circumstances like the ones she faced. In particular, she is against the idea that a difficult childhood should be tolerated, or even accepted, as a means for someone to develop “grit” or “resilience” and emerge as a stronger person.

To me, this really stands out as a turning away from the attitude of my generation – Gen X. We believed that no one would look out for us, and that it was indeed up to us to develop the inner strength to withstand whatever abuses the world hurled at us. Emi Nietfeld’s response – that we should fix institutions to make them work, rather than avoid them as inherently unworkable – is the surest sign that she is a member of the Millennial generation.

*for more on the peer personality traits of Millennials growing up, see the book Millennials Rising by Neil Howe and William Strauss

Off to Beach but First a Movie Review

Off to Beach but First a Movie Review

Here we are at the height of summer, when the days are long and the UV radiation intense. We’re about to vacation at the Delaware shore, where we will be seeing the whole extended family, while celebrating my Dad’s 80th birthday. I’m looking forward to the trip, and to being (mostly) offline for the duration. But first, let me just share some brief thoughts on the Barbie movie, which we saw on preview night.

Note: many Barbie spoilers to come, so if you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to turn back. Go see it – it’s well worth your time – and have a wonderful summer.





You’re still here! You’ve already seen the film, or you don’t care about spoilers.

You’ve probably heard mixed reviews of Barbie. Some say it’s brilliant, others call it a hot pink mess (why can’t it be both?). And you may have heard there is some outrage coming from the political right, who accuse it of being “woke” and “gay,” presumably representing all that is wrong with society today. This outrage sentiment seems to be coming mostly from Millennial men in the alt-right.

It is true that the movie makes fun of men (in the form of multiple Ken dolls), though I wouldn’t say that it’s hateful in any way. You have to consider that the setting of Barbieland is a fantasy world, an imaginary realm of dolls that girls are playing with. It’s Barbie and Ken in this fantasy land, not the other way around. And this place is absurd; all the Barbies are impossibly happy, living in dream houses that are facades, working at jobs that are completely unnecessary because where they live they don’t even follow the laws of physics. And yeah, Ken is secondary (or “beta,” as an alt-righter would put it), but that’s because this is a land of imaginary female empowerment.

Which turns out to be the point of the movie: when Barbie and Ken visit the real world, they discover that women are not, in fact, in charge. Life is messy and complicated, not a perfect dream where happiness is guaranteed, an entitlement that comes from simply existing. Whether you are a man or a woman, whatever your place in society, you will ultimately have to be grounded in yourself, and make the best of an imperfect world.

Barbie might be an inspiration, but no real woman could ever become her. Instead, women must contend with unrealistic expectations in a world of contradictions, as described in Gloria’s monologue, which is the crux of the film. Ultimately, Barbie herself rejects her plastic fantasy life, and decides she would rather become a woman in the flesh, with all that entails, including health issues, growing old, and dying. As powerful of an idea as Barbie is, she would rather be real.

I thought that the movie was, in fact, brilliant when it made its existential points. I mean, I know I’m reading a lot into it, but isn’t coming into imperfect physical form out of the realm of archetypes exactly what it means to be human?

Where the movie was a hot mess was in its plot execution. The Mattel executives with their antics seemed superfluous, and the whole patriarchy wars plot was silly. But I suppose that was the point – this film is self-consciously ridiculous, being a satire of our society as seen through the lens of imaginary play with a line of dolls representing fashionable, feminine, and highly successful career women. I suppose I might come to appreciate the plot more on a rewatch, and just the fact that I would like to rewatch the film says a lot about its quality.

Going back to Ken and his obsession with patriarchy, it’s interesting that at the top of the movie, Ken is the only character with a motivation, an important one from a plot perspective. Barbieland is not a dream world for him, as he is perpetually frustrated in his quest for Barbie’s attention. His obsession with Barbie and with winning her over reminded me of a point that Camille Paglia makes in Sexual Personae, which is that women have power over men because women keep men in a perpetual state of anxiety as they seek women’s approval. This goes all the way back to their mothers and the Oedipal complex.

That’s why men made a patriarchy! To carve out an exclusive masculine sphere of competition and achievement where men can work hard to impress women. According to the Futurama educational video I Dated a Robot, all of civilization is just an effort to impress the opposite sex. At least, that’s the benign interpretation of patriarchy. In the less friendly version of patriarchy, men dominate women with force in order to avoid the pain of rejection, and to control women’s lifegiving power. As Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood puts it, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Luckily for Barbie, plastic dolls can’t be hurt or killed, and Ken’s patriarchal temper tantrum becomes a comic spectacle that transforms into a thrilling song and dance number. But this is in an imaginary world, of course. In reality, men must develop confidence and independence to become the partners that women need. Which Ken does, in his way, though Barbie leaves him behind in the end.

l can understand why the message of this movie would gall right wingers and reactionary “feminist backlash” young men. Thanks to the successes of feminism, as symbolized by the very existence of Barbie, Millennial women are poised to be the most financially independent generation of women in history. Meanwhile, Millennial men have been falling behind, and young adults are delaying marriage and family formation. This could arguably be interpreted as a sign that feminism has, in fact, run roughshod over the traditional family, which is the gist of the complaint against Barbie as “woke feminism destroying us all.”

So what could have just been a fun summer blockbuster and product promotion movie has turned into a flashpoint in the Culture Wars. I guess that’s what Warner Bros. gets for hiring an intelligent director. Personally, I don’t think the problems facing young people today should or could be fixed by “restoring patriarchy.” I think most people agree with that sentiment, which is why the movie is a smashing success at the box office, and the haters are on the fringes.

The primary reason the young generation isn’t forming families has nothing to do with the culture; it’s because of financial insecurity. Fixing that issue requires reforms to our economic system, with new laws and tax structures. Barbie doesn’t address any of this; instead, it promises that you can find fulfillment in life, provided you are grounded in youself. In a way, it is an apology for the current system, which focuses on the individual as a self-reliant unit, thriving in a consumer economy. This is an understandable worldview for Mattel to promote. After all, they have dolls to sell. But if Barbie is undermining society in any way, it’s not by being woke, but rather by supporting the neoliberal economic regime, which for decades has been eroding away the middle class.

Well there, I’ve probably put way too much thought into Barbie. But hey, if a movie makes you think, then it’s done its job. Aside from its message, the film also has wit, charm, and tremendous visual appeal. I expect it will be awarded for its impressive art design. There are tons of recreations of toys and outfits from the Barbieverse (is that a thing?), plus fun original songs by top pop artists, and sly references to other films.

That’s it from me, soon we are off to beach. Maybe we’ll see Barbie again while we’re there. Stay cool, folks, and remember – you are Kenough.

A Millennial Learns the Hard Way to Act Her Wage

A Millennial Learns the Hard Way to Act Her Wage

Recently we enjoyed the Netflix limited series Inventing Anna, based on the real-life story of a young woman who scammed New York high society for a good while during the 2010s. A lot of the show focuses on the high life – international travel, high-end hotels, designer clothes, expensive food and drink.

It reminded me of how movies from the 1930s were often about the well-to-do; everyone is in top hats and tails or fancy dresses with low cut backs, attending parties with ever flowing champagne. What Great Depression?

Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise is a delightful pre-Hayes code 1930s film about con artists travelling in high society.

Those movies were a form of escapism, and I got a similar vibe from this show, with its Millennials living like the Kardashians. But that’s not the norm for Millennials, right? Millennials are suffering in this economy, right? From watching Inventing Anna, you’d barely know – there are no gripes about student loans or the impossible cost of living, just young people living large. That’s why it struck me as a parallel to the films of the 1930s; it’s entertainment obsessing and focusing on the lives of the wealthy, while pushing the troubled nature of the economy out of sight.

It might not be fair to say that the titular character Anna was simply a con artist. Aileen and I had a discussion about this after we finished the show. In my opinion, she wasn’t a straight-up scammer in the Jimmy McGill sense. She was self-deluded and trying to accomplish something using sheer gumption and wishful thinking; she was trying to “fake it until you make it.” She was living way beyond her means while attempting to get a huge loan for a business venture, for which purpose she engaged in some technically fraudulent activities. She got caught because she exhausted her credit, and was charged with crimes, convicted and sentenced to prison (she has since been released).

But what if she had pulled off her scheme? What if she had somehow gotten the loan and started the business and made it profitable and joined high society for good, to the point that she had a cadre of fancy lawyers who could clean up her little bit of fraud behind her. Fait accompli. Then she just might have been another highly successful “art of the deal” type scammer. Like, you know, the guy who was President of the United States at the time.

My Man Godfrey is another 1930s film set in high society, which actually addresses class issues and The Great Depression.

Critiques of the show and of the magazine article on which it is based have tied the story to the class issues facing Millennials, as well as to the erosion of standards of truth and honesty that characterized the previous administration. Young adults today see the lives of the rich and famous plastered all over media, even while the chance at upward mobility is denied them, with economic opportunity available to fewer and fewer people as income inequality worsens. Why shouldn’t they do whatever it takes to make it?

Anna Sorokin had none of the qualifications for entering the world of fashionable socialites, but the lure of that lifestyle was irresistible to her. So she invented the qualifications; she created a “German heiress” persona and she attempted to insert herself into high society simply by acting like the people there do. What’s astonishing is that, for a few years at least, it worked. All she had to do to become a socialite was to act like one.

You might say that Sorokin didn’t act her wage, and for that paid a high price in reputation, and even lost her freedom (though I understand she got a handsome payout from the Netflix series production). What does it even mean to act your wage? This question leads me to the concept of “Hidden Rules of Class,” which I learned about in a workshop called “Bridges out of Poverty” that was held at one of my workplaces.

The concept of the hidden rules of economic class is that living in a particular socioeconomic class means having certain attitudes about and approaches to dealing with life’s basics. For example, with respect to money: when you live in poverty, money is simply something you need to survive. Easy come, easy go. But when you are middle class, money is something you have to manage – you have to tend it the way a farmer husbands livestock. When you are wealthy, money is now something to conserve. It’s more than a means to live, it’s a legacy.

If you’re wondering whether you are middle class or not, just ask yourself if you have to manage your money. If you have no savings or income surplus to work with and are just living hand to mouth, then, sorry, you are poor. But if you have the ability to live within your means, so long as you budget, and have enough leftover income after paying for necessities to plan how to use it – to save for big purchases or vacations (or retirement!) – then, congratulations, you are middle class. You might live in one of any number of tiers of the middle class, defined by the size of your house and the fanciness of your car and the cost of your vacations, but if you have to pay attention to your income and expenses, then you are middle class.

Only if you are truly in the wealthy class can you live like Anna Sorokin tried to live, casually travelling to anywhere on Earth and spending money on expensive luxuries without any thought. In that socioeconomic class, there is no concept of work-life balance, because you don’t work to live. You don’t go on vacation, you just live on the planet wherever you want, and naturally you choose pleasurable locations which for the middle class are occasional vacation destinations. You aren’t managing money at this point to get by, you are managing connections and exclusive memberships – your status is what you groom, not your account balances. The money takes care of itself.

That is how Anna lived, with incredible chutzpah, even though she wasn’t in the right class. And because she did it so naturally, she pulled it off – for awhile. It couldn’t last, of course, because there was no actual capital backing her up, just imaginary capital. I say she must have been self-deluded, because how else could she convince so many others of the reality of her delusional persona? Whether she realized it or not, she was taking advantage of the hidden rules of class to roleplay someone in the class she wished to be in, for as long as she could get away with it.

Empowered Millennial Women

Empowered Millennial Women

Four years ago, a young woman gave a victim impact statement against a man convicted of criminal sexual conduct. It was a high profile case, because the criminal conduct had been ongoing for decades and involved hundreds of adolescent girls. The woman, Kyle Stephens, confronted her victimizer and made a powerful statement which included these resounding words: Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world. It was a landmark moment in the history of the #Me Too movement.

Stephens is a member of the Millennial generation, while the man she was confronting is from Generation X. Her statement was like a challenge to the men of older generations: you can’t get away with what you used to do. It was a sign of a new young adult era, with a new young generation on the rise – a generation with high expectations, and one that wouldn’t tolerate bad behavior. A social movement was underway, and the careers of many prominent Boomer and Xer men who were guilty of sexual harassment or assault, even if it had been in the past, crashed and burned.

The Millennial generation had been the beneficiary of protection, regulation, and zero-tolerance policies throughout their childhood, and it was to be expected that this trend would follow them into young adulthood. With all that structure while being raised came boosts to self-esteem, along with pressure to achieve. This is how Millennials came of age with high expectations, which has caused older generations to complain that they are “entitled.” But how could older generations think that Millennials could – or should – settle for less, or be taken advantage of?

Millennial girls, in particular, were raised to believe in their specialness and in their capabilities. They were the high-achievement Lisa Simpsons, in contrast to the slacker older brother Bart Simpsons of my generation (Generation X). In popular kids’ entertainment their role models were empowered: Power Rangers, Powerpuff Girls. The pop superstars of their adolescent years were GenX/Millennial cuspers like Brittney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Beyoncé – independent ladies singing about how they were in charge in their relationships with men, if they even wanted a man at all.

Small wonder that Millennial women have taken the adult world by storm, and asserted their rights within it. True to the spirit of Destiny’s Child and Independent Women, they may be the most financially successful generation of women in American history. They are faring better than their male counterparts in today’s job market, which is not surprising given that they also dominate college enrollments. In fact, one of their hurdles in life is finding a partner who is a good match, given these disparities.

That’s not to say that women don’t still face discrimination and harassment. Nor is it to justify anti-feminist backlash. But where such backlash exists because of the gap in outcomes between Millennial women and Millennial men, that is a problem. The solution is not to disempower women, but to find ways to empower men as well. Raising job prospects for those without a college degree would be a good start. Making life more affordable for the working class in general is also a good bet.

The #Me Too movement was actually started by a Gen Xer, a decade before it grew to prominence. It has come to the forefront of public consciousness at a time when Millennials are the rising young adult generation. In that sense it represents the demand of a new generation of women, raised in a sheltering social environment, that the adult social environment also be safe for them and respectful of them. Only then will they be empowered to achieve their destiny.

Generations on the Internet: 2022 Update

Generations on the Internet: 2022 Update

On this blog I often write about generations, and when I do I often find myself writing specifically about the generations online. For example, I have posts about social media, where I’ve observed how different generations experienced social media at different life stages, thus having a different relationship with the technology. It’s like what I really blog about is the Internet, and that’s not surprising given that I spend almost of all of my waking life there, whether at my paying job or working on personal projects like this blog.

It’s nothing new; on my old blog, I had a background section about the generations, and it emphasized their presence on the Internet. For example, I noted that the GI generation did not have much Internet presence, and that it was members of the Silent generation who were typically portrayed as the older people just learning how to get online. Meanwhile, Boomers and Gen-Xers were the Internet entrepreneurs, and the Millennials had their own unique online portals. I was writing all of this in the early to mid-2000s, so a lot has changed. If you go to my old site, you will find that some of the external links still work, but many, if not most of them, are dead now.

Back then, I focused on “the web.” Web 2.0 was young, and social media was still evolving as a concept. You might note that in my background section, social media makes an appearance on the Millennial page, in scare quotes no less. Twenty years later, I think it’s natural to associate social media and the ubiquity of apps and crowdsharing with that generation; it goes hand in hand with their consensus-seeking peer personality. Now that social media apps, with their relatively closed platforms, are supplanting the more open world wide web, what has changed about the presence of the generations online?

Well, for one thing, everyone is on the Internet now. You can’t really talk about any particular”online generation” when the Internet is part of the background of everyday life. At best there’s the idea of “digital natives” to cover all the people so young that they can’t remember when there wasn’t an Internet. But I think all generations from Boomers on down are comfortable with life online.

I would say that, as a rule, different generations tend to congregate in different platforms. Facebook and Twitter, and what’s left of the old world wide web are where you find the older generations, while Instagram, YouTube, Reddit and TikTok are where the younger generations are. This assertion is based on no data at all; it’s just my impression. While all of the living generations are on the Internet, they have different reputations online and different presences as a generation. Let’s call the sum total of all that a generation’s Internet profile.

First, for the Boomer generation and older, I’d say their Internet profile doesn’t looks so great. There’s not much around specific to the Silent generation, except for pages that amount to encyclopedia entries. Boomers as a generation have a terrible social media presence, since they are mostly the butt of jokes. As I noted in an earlier blog post, there’s a Facebook group devoted to making fun of Boomers. And we all know about “OK boomer.” As individuals, plenty of Silents and Boomers are in command of their social media presence, particularly celebrities and prominent and powerful officials. I imagine that many elder leaders actually have teams of younger people managing their social media accounts.

The Millennial generation’s Internet profile is a bit of a muddle. For one thing, younger Millennials would prefer to disassociate themselves from their older generational peers and call themselves Generation Z. Articles about the gap between Millennials and Gen Z are generally silly fluff, but the real story here is that there is a reluctance among Millennials to embrace their generational moniker. Despite the fact that the term “Millennial” has become a commonplace and is ubiquitous in online discourse about the state of society, Millennial individuals are not keen on taking on their generational name as a brand.

This takes me to my generation, Generation X. Of all the generations, Gen X is the one which most willingly – eagerly, even – embraces its identity online. Gen X’s Internet profile is like a bold statement – don’t you forget about us! There are so many Gen X themed YouTube channels, podcasts, social media pages and accounts that I am not even going to list any here. Instead, I’ll pick that up in a future post. Suffice it to say that many Gen X individuals see themselves in terms of belonging to their generation, and a lot of what Gen Xers obsess on in their online content and sharing is nostalgia for their past. You know, that time before there was an Internet.

Subreddit of the Week: antiwork

Subreddit of the Week: antiwork

You may have seen a chart like the one on the right, which I took from Wikipedia’s page on workforce productivity. It shows labor productivity growth compared to wage growth since the end of the Second World War. What’s remarkable about it is how the two statistics track one another for a period of two decades or so, but then suddenly veer off, dramatically so for non-managerial workers. Workforce productivity starts growing much faster than nonsupervisory workforce compensation, as the latter curve flattens out.

What this means is that for a good couple of decades (the length of a generation), after 1948, as output per hour of work improved, so did the compensation for that work. The improvement in the value of labor was transferred to the workers themselves. But suddenly, in the early 1970s, gains in output were no longer matched by gains in wages. The improvement in the value of labor benefitted only those managing or employing the labor. This trend continues to this day, and is at the root of what is wrong with the economy, with its massive income and wealth inequality, and lack of economic opportunity for the working class.

There are actually a slew of economic indicators that shifted dramatically in the early 1970s, along with political and social indicators. They are all captured on a site here. This shift can be seen as the start of a new economic regime.

So what caused this shift to a new regime? Arguably, a shift in social priorities and the rise of a new generation into the workforce. In the early 1970s, that generation would have been the Baby Boomers. They brought a new inner-world, moralistic focus into American life. For Boomers, work was a personal mission, a matter of defining the self, not a matter of bargaining for rights and responsibilities as part of a collective.

Consequently, union membership declined as this generation entered the workforce, yet another indicator shift to join the ones on the site I linked above. Boomers were pursuing their own individual agendas through their work, not participating in building any kind of functioning system, as their union-joining forefathers had done. Boomers gave us the concept of the workaholic, someone for whom the work itself was the reward. Success in work became a status symbol for the inner-driven, wealth-obsessed yuppies of the 1980s – a sign of individual merit and self-worth.

By the time Generation X started working, labor rights had become completely passé. Gen Xers entered the workforce with an attitude of self-determination, as free agents, always looking out for the best deal for themselves. They gave us the concept of the perma-temp, the employee with no benefits or safety net, who drifts from employer to employer. As a Gen Xer might have put it, “it’s just a job.”

Gen Xers were the young adults of the boom times in the 1990s, when economic growth was high and productivity growth was on the rise. But in the new opportunistic economic regime, economic growth no longer acted as a rising tide to lift all boats. Instead, it was like a wave that some successfully rode, and others did not. Workers separated into economic winners and losers, with far more of the latter. Today, Gen Xers are middle aged, and one has become the richest person in the world. Many others have utterly washed out.

Now Millennials are the young adults in the workforce, doing much of the nonsupervisory production work which has experienced so little gain in compensation compared to the actual value it provides to employers. The “slackers” of Generation X, raised with low expectations, may have been willing to tolerate these circumstances. They may even, like Kevin in 1984’s Repo Man, have seen opportunity in them (see the video clip below). But not so Millennials.

Raised with high expectations, in a structured environment that rewarded following the rules, Millennials have not taken well to the free-for-all job market they have inherited from Boomers and Xers. Many Millennials have gone into massive debt for a college degree, only to discover that the jobs which a college degree opens up don’t pay well enough to justify the cost. Milestones of financial and personal success, such as buying a first home or starting a family, are elusively out of reach for Millennials, given the economic disparities that have grown over the course of the meritocratic, “neoliberal” regime established by Boomers and Xers.

Millennial disappointment with this state of affairs is visible in the many memes that fill social media feeds, comparing the economic circumstances of their generation with those of past generations and highlighting their disadvantages. Talk of “late stage capitalism” and enthusiasm for progressive politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez point to disillusionment with the current economic system. Could Millennials even be willing to embrace – gasp! – socialism? Red zone pundits would certainly like you to think so.

This brings me to my subreddit of the week, /r/antiwork. This subreddit has taken off in 2021, in concert with all the news stories about the “Great Resignation” and the labor shortage.

On /r/antiwork, the workers of reddit unite to commiserate over the awful conditions and abuses suffered by workers today. They post about the absurdities of our system, like costly health insurance that provides almost no benefit, and low salaries for jobs with high education requirement. They proudly tell stories about how they quit their last position, and encourage and praise union efforts.

Do reddittors really think we can reach a state where no one needs to work? Or is this subreddit simply a forum for venting about the miseries of living on the flattened curve of low compensation employment, where so many are stuck today?

I think that what this subreddit is really bringing to light is the pent-up demand for significant structural economic reform. A new generation with new priorities is in the workforce, and a new regime is required to meet their needs for an economy that provides fair rewards for work, and fosters financial security and not merely the opportunity for personal achievement.

Unfortunately, the only policy the U.S. government can come up with is to borrow and spend to keep the economy hot. While that might relieve the pain for some in the short term, it’s doubtful it will change all those economic indicators for the better in the long term, or quiet the dissenting voices of /r/antiwork. For that, major economic reforms would be needed, to transfer the value of labor back to the workers themselves. Maybe then they won’t mind coming to work so much.

Young Gen Xers bullshitting about work in the mid-1980s.
A Noir Sitcom

A Noir Sitcom

← My partner and I recently watched the first season of this intriguing show. We were drawn to it because it stars Annie Murphy from Schitt’s Creek, which is one of the best television shows ever made (I haven’t blogged about it before, but there you have it). Her new show is called Kevin Can F**k Himself, and is available on AMC+ streaming for all you cord cutters. Why she always ends up on shows with curse words in the title, I couldn’t tell you.

Kevin Can F**k Himself is a dark comedy and a parody of sitcoms that runs with the premise that a clichéd sitcom marriage is actually highly toxic. The wife and lead role, played by Murphy (b. 1986), is trapped in a living hell she is desperate to escape. The titular husband is played by Eric Petersen; I couldn’t pinpoint his birth year but I believe he is on the Generation-X/Millennial cusp.

The show uses an unusual contrivance to contrast “sitcom life” with “real life.” It takes some getting used to but I think the creators pull it off. It has good writing and excellent performances by the leads, as well as by Mary Hollis Inboden (b. 1986) in the supporting role of next door neighbor buddy.

Traditionally, sitcom television is “comedy of errors” humor deriving from misunderstandings/poor communication. Someone overhears something, misconstrues the meaning, and hijinks ensue. By the end of the episode everything is cleared up and back to normal (status quo ante). The characters are typically two-dimensional and stereotyped, foils for one another and fodder for repeated jokes.

In Kevin Can F Himself these tropes are twisted and the consequences become tragic. Kevin’s lack of communication skills and simplistic personality are a nightmare for his wife, Allison, who somehow is unable to break out of her own responsive patterns when she is in his presence. Miscommunication isn’t a fount of humor, it’s the corrosive destroyer of a marriage.

The characters are Millennials (technically geriatric Millennials), and the show explores themes that resonate with their generation’s experience. In particular: the relative immaturity of men relative to women, the difficulty of forming satisfactory relationships, and the lack of economic opportunity for the working class. As staples of sitcoms about married, suburban life in a gentler past, these themes might have provoked light humor, suitable for a laugh track. But for Millennials in the throes of late stage capitalism, these problems of the middle class have mounted to the point of being unbearable, and the humor has become dark in turn.

Kevin Can F**k Himself thus ends up blending genres. It’s a sitcom that bleeds into a noir show more in keeping with the times. Unlike what usually happens in a sitcom, it does not return to status quo ante at the end of each episode, but has an ongoing, developing story arc. Whether the show is a tragedy or a comedy actually depends on the final outcome, which hasn’t yet been determined. Season 1 left us with a major plot twist, and I’m hoping that the show gets renewed for another season. It’s an out-of-the-box creative effort that deserves a longer run.

Subreddit of the Week: insaneparents

Subreddit of the Week: insaneparents

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the movie The Shining.

You may have seen the meme that Independence Day 2021 was the 100th anniversary of a famous fictional event: the 1921 July 4th Ball pictured at the end of The Shining. The event is depicted in a photograph that mysteriously features a younger version of Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance. In celebration of this anniversary, our family decided to watch the movie on the night of July 4th, even though we’ve all seen it multiple times, it being an excellent and iconic example of the horror genre.

The highlights of the film are Nicholson’s creepy, expressive performance, and the tense, suspense-building score which is artfully synchronized to the action. The camera work is great, too, and the film shows how much emotion can be generated just from pacing and music, with slow buildups to cathartic release. The strings slowly rise, and then the axe suddenly falls, and the viewer’s heart skips a beat. But frankly, the film is a little light on story, of which there is much more in Stephen King’s book. The sequel movie from 2019, Dr. Sleep, drawing more story from the novel which it adapts, is a supernatural horror action adventure with a much richer plot.

In The Shining, Jack’s son Danny is played by Danny Lloyd, who does a decent enough job of portraying a harried Gen X kid dealing with less than ideal parenting, not to mention bizarre otherworldly events. Here’s the scene from the end of the film where he escapes his deranged father. Note his inventive survival skills. That really marks him as a Gen Xer.

When I watched this scene, I couldn’t help but imagine how it would look as a post on the subreddit /r/insaneparents. Something like, “when I was a kid, maybe about 10, my Dad chased me through a snow-covered hedge maze with an axe – he really wanted to kill me, I’m not joking – but through some misdirection and careful hiding I managed to escape him. Never saw him again after that, I actually think he might have died that night. Can’t say that I miss him, but I will say that the experience really made me who I am today…”

If you don’t know about this subreddit, it is basically a place where people go to share the bizarre and unwholesome parenting behavior they have experienced. I imagine that most of it is Millennials calling out their Boomer and Gen-X parents; one can never be sure since reddit is mostly people posting anonymously. It is possible that older posters are bringing up their long ago childhood experiences, or that Homelanders (the post-Millennials currently in their early teens) are already sharing their own victim of parenting horror stories.

I imagine that this is mostly a subreddit for Millennials not only because reddit itself was founded by Millennials, but also because Millennials are champions of Internet reviews. It all ties into Millennials’ collective peer personality, which seeks rational consensus on the best choice. Here’s a post on LinkedIn that shows what I mean. More and more, choice in the marketplace is driven by communal decision making, rather than personal preference.

As this generation has risen into adulthood, they have helped drive the proliferation of reviews on commercial web sites like Amazon and on web directories which also function as review sites, such as Yelp. As students in higher education, they have access to resources to rate and review their educators – why shouldn’t they know ahead of time if a professor’s class is worth taking, or be able to give their feedback after taking a class? In a way, the subreddit /r/insaneparents is just a site for reviews – albeit anonymous ones – of parents.

Parenting, I believe, is the hardest job in the world. Everyone is expected to do it, but the only training anyone gets is a bad example. Since not everyone makes the strongest parenting choices, you get a subreddit like /r/insaneparents. So parents out there, do try to raise your children well, or you just might end up getting a bad review on the Internet.

An Emerging Values Consensus?

An Emerging Values Consensus?

You might look at that title – “An Emerging Values Consensus” – and think, are you kidding?? The Culture Wars and the partisan divide between liberals and conservatives (or the blue zone and the red zone) have been a fixture in our society for decades now. I’ve already written a series of blog posts on the topic, in which I concluded that we were experiencing a “Red-Blue” identity crisis as a society. Which way will we break? Or could we even break into two – split into two societies altogether, possibly violently? There is serious discussion of impending civil war out there.

You’ve probably seen the above map before. It’s from the 2000 Presidential election, and shows the counties that voted for Bush in red and the counties that voted for Gore in blue. It’s around this time that the red zone-blue zone idea came about – the idea that there were two different “values camps” with competing visions of what America should be. Baby Boomers were in mid-life then, and their values-orientation dominated American culture. Their passion and moral zeal is what made the divide between the two camps so deep and so unbridgeable, damaging our political system to the point that many now wonder if it can be repaired. Just think of the events of January 6th this year to understand what I mean.

Back around that time, on an old fashioned web site that I built, I attempted to list out the differences between these two values camps. The list is a bit over-generalized, a bit stereotyped; I can’t deny it. I’m sure many people believe a little bit from column A, a little bit from column B. But to some extent these differences do define the partisan divide, and the thing is, as the partisanship has just worsened and worsened, it’s gotten to the point that it doesn’t really matter what your particular “nuanced” belief system is. The political struggle has become existential, and you have to pick a side and stick with it.

Or not, I suppose. You could just not belong to either side. I have a feeling that many of my generation, Generation X, are in that particular “values camp.” It’s the camp of people who mind their own business and just want to be left alone. As the map below show, if non-voters counted in the electoral college (I know, that makes no sense) then “Nobody” would have been elected President in 2016.

This isn’t to say that non-voters lack values or moral beliefs, just that they might be having trouble finding a political party to fit into. As I already suggested, most people probably take their beliefs a little from the red side, a little from the blue side. It’s even possible to show that the country isn’t so starkly divided geographically as the “red zone-blue zone” maps suggest, by measuring both Republican and Democratic votes per county and constructing a “purple” spectrum map like the one below.

Red v. Blue spectrum version from the 2016 Presidential election.

All I’m trying to say here is that the neat division of values into two columns doesn’t necessarily reflect how people think. And now that Boomers are aging out of mid-life, being replaced by Generation X, moral righteousness as a guiding principal of politics is losing its shine. As I already blogged, Boomer moralism has rendered politics dysfunctional. Younger generations yearn for a practical approach to politics, one that can solve the many thorny problems facing our society. It is perhaps unfortunate, then, that the current mid-life generation, Generation X, which is known for pragmatism, also eschews politics.

I’m just rehashing what I’ve already written about before, so back to the title of this post and the idea of a values consensus. Assuming America is not going to split into two societies, we’re eventually going to settle for some version of “a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B” that works for the majority of us. This will grow more and more apparent as the morally righteous Boomers, who pretty much can’t ever have their minds changed, age out of public life. Those who disagree with these values, who reasonably can claim that there is no “consensus” since they disagree, will be relegated to the sidelines of public life. In fact, you can already see this happening. Isn’t that exactly what hashtag movements, cancel culture, de-platforming are all about? Effectively, if unfairly, enforcing a majoritarian viewpoint?

So what exactly is the consensus that is emerging? I actually tried to predict what it might be way back in 2002 when I first created the red values v. blue values page. Then I tried again and again around the time of the 2016 election. How exactly am I doing this? Well, my admittedly non-scientific approach is simply to monitor discourse on major platforms on the Internet to see what’s going on. I check the reddit hivemind, since I really do think that is the premier site where Millennials are forging a consensus using the tools of social media.

Now maybe this puts me in a bit of blue zone bubble, since all the red zoners are moving to alternate sites like Gab and Parler (so I’ve heard). But doesn’t the fact that red zoners are shifting to less mainstream platforms tell you which way the consensus is going? Honestly, I think there are only two areas where the red zone’s view still has traction, and that is in the two most contentious points of the Culture Wars – gun control and abortion rights.

So here’s where I think we end up:

  • Pro-gun rights
  • Pro-marijuana legalization
  • Equal rights for LGBTQ
  • “Counter-culture” mainstreamed (everyone has a tattoo these days)
  • Pornography accepted
  • Continued restrictions on abortion, though it will never be fully banned
  • Justice and police reform
  • Reform to improve the lot of lower economic classes, even if it’s “socialism”
  • Pro-environmentalism policies to deal with climate change
  • A path to citizenship for “dreamers,” but immigration otherwise limited
  • Acceptance of a multicultural, multiracial, multi-religious society, to the chagrin of White Christian Nationalists

So now that this Culture Wars crap is out of the way, can we end the filibuster already and get some Universal Healthcare?