21 August, 2008

Generation Y & False Rebels

30th September 2007

To make sure everybody knows what I’ll be dealing with here, I’ll begin by a quick summary of some terms. And a little bit of history as well. Right after the end of World War II, people made lots of babies, who would later become hippies. Those people had dreams, and mostly, everything failed. Those people also had children, the next generation, who would later be called the X Generation, or Generation X. Roughly, these are people born in the 60’s and 70’s. One of the most famous Generation X people is Kurt Cobain. The ideals of the hippies having all failed, these kids grew up in an atmosphere of failure, and in what historians call the 20 gloomies (it shall be said that I’m perhaps utterly wrong on that term), meaning the 70’s and 80’s, in reference to the 30 glorious years between 1940 and 1970.

The Generation X people also had kids. That would be my generation, even though my parents never were hippies; this doesn’t work on a case by case scenario, more of a global rendering of ideologies shared by many. The Generation Y – people born between the late 70’s and early 80’s, roughly – is us, even though the name isn’t yet official nor clear. It takes a lot of distance to be sure about history, and a lot of retrospect, which we don’t have yet. There are other names going around for this generation: The Digital Generation, kids growing up with internet and videogames, and many others I forget. It all depends on what significant events you select to categorise a generation.

I like “Generation Y” for two reasons; first, there’s a cool pun; second, it makes us serial; as if we were just the next generation of nobodies without dreams and hopes. The Generation X was the first nameless generation, and now we don’t even have that, we’re just the next nameless generation. But that is likely to change. Some historians close the Generation Y at the year 2001, because of 9/11, and so it’d go from 1980 to 2001, roughly; but this is much debated. Making up generations is of course a matter of abstract thought and structural ideals, never absolutes. No one will ever entirely fit a given profile for any generation, but, overall, some things are shared by most, if not all, even though the said things may not have reached everyone individually. Suffices that it changes the world in which you live, and you’re in.

What I notice to be pretty unique in this generation is that, I think, we are the first to look back so much. Never before did people pay so much attention to the past, to the literal exclusion of the future. Many young people dress like hippies and listen to bands of the 60’s and 70’s, and while I understand one can appreciate music from any given period in time, I think there’s more there than just musical taste. I think there is a strong sense among us that “history is over” and that basically we just look back, feel nostalgic, and try to get some of it. Think of all the bands which dress like it’s the 70’s and play like they’re the Velvet Underground. I’m not here to condemn or condone that, it doesn’t matter, but I think it’s interesting to note. Other bands went even further into the past, with the use of those round hats from the 19th century. The past is always more clear and more structured than the present, and its distance from us gives it an air of inaccessible sanctity. Indeed, since we can’t affect the past in any way, it is invincible, it won’t change, it can be trusted. If you worship Bob Marley, you have no reason to be worried that he’d suddenly start making crap music and sell out to Pepsi. People who worship Britney Spears know what I’m talking about. Distance creates sanctity of time.

And now to the false rebels. The biggest way to conform today is to be a “rebel”. People who are rebels, are rebels according to 19th century standards: they hate Christianity and the idea of God, they’re sexually libertines, they scorn institutions and nations like it’s 1914, (different century, I know), and they think they’re romantic marginals, some kind of modern day Baudelaire with a Che Guevara T-shirt. The point these people are missing is that being a rebel means you’re going against the grain of the current paradigm, and our current paradigm and mainstream dominant thought and ideology is exactly what “rebelism” is about. Religion-less, unless it’s a watered-down version of Buddhism, freely sexual (as long as you’re not too involved with the people you fuck), materialists to the point that they no longer know what materialism is. And meanwhile, the true rebels are perceived as if they were the safe-keepers of traditions. Being a rebel is not cool, by definition. Thing is, nowadays, it is commonly believed that rebels are cool, when in fact it’s the direct opposite. Being cool means you fit in with what is popularly thought to be the best standards, and that, of course, is the direct opposite of being a rebel.

The current paradigm draws a lot from Darwin. And that doesn’t affect, or infect, evolutionist theories alone. Up to Darwin, there was a sense that life had some meaning, that there was a sense to things, and that we just didn’t know it. With Darwin, it became possible to envision a world where randomness and accidents were the driving principles. If you truly understand the implications of this, you know how frightening that is. That ideology pervaded every other domain of thought. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Darwin was wrong to do what he did, but I don’t believe in Darwinism entirely, though I believe in evolution.

To give a quick portrait of the current situation, let’s say that most people are atheists (which really means they either never gave much thought about God or think the issue utterly useless) and yet, each atheist thinks he’s somehow a rebel and that the main structures are religious, even though there is no reason to think so. This applies to many European countries, and I’m aware it doesn’t apply to America. Some even force it, trying to see Christian conspiracies where there’s really nothing: it wouldn’t be quite as cool to be a rebel against nothing, so they blow up Christian dolls to shoot at. See Dan Brown for further information.

It can’t be this hard to understand that a true rebel goes against the majority. A true rebel, today, is someone who believes in God, in many cases. When the majority doesn’t, or doesn’t care to, the rebel is the one who does; it’s mere mathematics. Being a rebel on standards that belong to another time than ours is not being a rebel, but a drama queen.

Take the Pope for instance. Is there anyone who actually cares to see what the man has to say before bashing him? I don’t condone or condemn him because I don’t know enough, but at least I’ll suspend my judgement until I can sort out a thing or two about him. Not everyone is as cautious as I am. As a symbol, the Pope is an easy target; he does stand for Christianity, albeit the Catholic version, and so he’s available for every joke and attack you want to apply to him. That’s ok with me, just don’t think you’re being a rebel for doing so, when the large majority does too. Maybe you are not aware of this, but Christians are not the majority of people, and long gone are the times when the Church had real executive power over the people and the laws. You’d be a fool to keep pretending that things are the same as they were during the inquisition and the conquest of the New World. Things have changed, there is a very real separation of Church and state, which doesn’t mean religious people can’t work in the state, don’t be stupid.

The falseness of coolness is most obvious when you realise that being cool is its own reward, not the ideas you fight for, or simply have. In times when death penalty was used (in Europe), you were a rebel to be against it; today, you’re just conforming to the paradigm, regardless of whether the death penalty is a good or a bad thing. Being a rebel, per se, or a conformist, isn’t a bad thing of itself, or a good thing; it all depends on what you believe in, but my point here is that the status of being a rebel shouldn’t be abused or misconceived, which it is, and allows many to fight for the mainstream thought with the validation of the (false) minority. It’s like all those people going on plastic crusades against racism. Believe it or not, but most people aren’t racists, and you’re preaching to the choir 95% percent of the time. Proof of this is that when you listen to what anti-racists say, you realise that no true racist would ever change his mind because of what they say. People have a tendency not to listen to those who insult them. So it’s just masturbation.

Like it or not, Neo-Nazis are rebels. And as I pointed out before, being a rebel, per se, isn’t de facto a good thing, as in this case, but they’re rebels nevertheless. A paradigm is never as strong as when people think there isn’t any. No one, in Europe, thinks that there is any influence of the higher structures about the idea of the non-existence of God. Everyone thinks they reached that conclusion of themselves, and that they weren’t influenced by anything, no matter that no true religious education was given or any religion truly explained to them. Whenever someone strays from the main path, they get seriously scorned, almost deprived of their human status, as Neo-Nazis are. If it makes you itch that I seem to defend Neo-Nazis, then you’re right at the heart of the problem. True rebels cause itching. Just because I don’t agree with them doesn’t mean I must think they are pieces of shit, and even if I did think of them as such, it wouldn’t mean they are. I’m not concerned about my opinion of them, just the status they are given within the current paradigm. They wouldn’t have been rebels under Hitler, I think we all understand this, but they are under the contemporary situation.

True rebels are shunned like the pest nowadays. Everyone hates them, as rebels tend to be hated. Religious people knocking on your door to save your soul, those are your contemporary rebels. And I know most people think of them as sheep, in some cases that’s what they are, but not every time. Everyone is somebody else’s sheep. Which leads me to my next point.

Under our current paradigm, we tend to think that we’re entirely free of imposed opinions and thoughts. The idea that most take for granted is that there’s such a thing as a neutral zone, and that things like the idea of God doesn’t belong there, for instance. This being said, though, the problem is not so much about what is thought to belong or not with the neutral zone, but the very fact that such a zone is thought to exist. It’s never neutral; you live under beliefs at any time. Belief in God is a belief, but atheism is also a belief. In either case you just believe in a worldview, with more or less doubt. It becomes dangerous when you are not aware that you’re under a paradigm, and not in some neutral zone free of premade beliefs and ideologies. As for the “rebels” who think they belong to the minority when in fact they’re pure conformists, people under paradigms whose existence they are unaware of are more likely to show a ferocity rarely seen from people who are aware of being under a paradigm. They have the fury of the self-righteous, because they genuinely believe they’re not promoting or fighting for any ideology.

The important point here is to realise that educating a child under the paradigm of Christianity, for instance, is no worse, or better, than educating a child under what is thought to be no paradigm, the neutral zone, when in fact, it has every bit of a paradigm too. You’re forced to have opinions on things, and more importantly, beliefs. I insist on the term because nowadays, with the arrogance of science, a lot of people allow themselves to be sure of many things. Science is the Church of the day, make no mistake. It’s all the more dogmatic as it doesn’t claim to have dogmas, but it has. That is why I say that atheism is a belief, and until someone comes up with a proof of the non-existence of God, it will remain a mere belief. Proving God is an entirely other subject which would deserve its own chapter, so I won’t talk of it here. There is no safe way to go about paradigms, in the example of educating a child, except that of offering several worldviews and making it clear that it’s unsure for most of us and for various reasons.

Abrupt transition now. Back to our generation and why it looks backwards. I heard a critic say that our generation failed to invent its own revolt, and thus fell back on past ones, because we didn’t have the cultural background, due to bad school, that would allow us to overthrow the values of our parents. I personally don’t give this much credit, because the critic who uttered it was French, and his analysis and interpretation were about the situation in France, and he misses the point that the same thing happens in many other countries, regardless of the quality of the education. Besides, I tend to think that these days the kids have more culture than they ever had, if only because they have a lot more access to it.

My own interpretation, for what it’s worth, is different. I tend to think that, perhaps, the reason why people fall back to past icons and references is that there’s a shortage of them in our own era. And that would be due to the poor quality of our cultural stars. It’s hard to feel flattered looking at Britney Spears; I mean, she’s alright for what she does, but for someone to take the iconic place of cultural reference, a cannonic place, it has to be a little tighter. So, maybe, in reaction to this, people fall back on safe values, such as dead people who, like saints, can’t do wrong anymore because their time is up. Hence Elvis, hence Cobain, hence Marley. And I am by no means implying that the above mentioned had no merit of their own; of course not; what I am saying is merely that the reflex, in the face of cheap plastic icons, is to fall back on safe values.

So the media would be the ones to blame. Perhaps. The thing that one cannot deny is that there is more room for Britney Spears and the likes than there is for the Pixies and Sigur Ròs. To be an icon, a solid one, you need to have the talent and the exposure. If you’re a tremendously talented person, but only your walls see you, you won’t be an icon. If Ani Difranco had played for her cat only, she’d not have become the icon she is now, but she would have had the same exceptional talent and genius either way, that’s understood.

But to be honest, I’m not very sure of all this. It’s hard to tell. Perhaps the fact that the media are so numerous today has diminished the power of the mediatic beam and as a result, the same people who would have gotten all the spotlight back in 1973 just get a show or two now and that isn’t enough to cause a hype.

Another critic suggested that the forced conformity of rebellion was caused by the media recycling any subversive movement into a buyable product. I’m not too sure of this version either. Whoever owns the rights of that Che Guevara picture must surely makes a lot of dough, but I don’t think half, if that, the people who’d buy them would actually know so much about Communism and Guevara in details. It’s not really the fault of the media or of the market if people don’t look up something in details before buying into it. I don’t think this comes from the market or media world at all, and, in general, the market only recuperates you if you let them.

I don’t know when I’ll end this chapter, but I want to quickly mention this slogan: think for yourself. If you don’t have a smile on your face at that, please read it again and focus somewhat. Think for myself... because you tell me to? In psychology, this is called a double-bind, because if you actually follow the order – it is, after all, an imperative – then you are in effect not thinking for yourself, but merely following somebody else’s thought. And then again, truly thinking for yourself will make you follow that order too, even if you were already thinking for yourself before it. Pretty silly eh.

The thing I dislike most about those cheap slogans is that somewhere behind them someone thinks they’re saying something that’s actually original, or that needs to be said. As if there were people among us who believed that we shouldn’t think for ourselves and just follow what anyone else says. I’ll fall back on the Pope now, to just let you know that any Catholic follows the Pope because he or she has decided to; if you don’t want to follow the Pope, well, you don’t; it’s as easy as that. Other cheap slogans like be free suppose that we don’t already want to be “free”, whatever that means, and that some of us would rather be slaves; which, it shall be said, if it was their true desire, then they would be free to make that choice, wouldn’t they.

Albeit for a loose connection, I am reminded of advertising against AIDS and unprotected sex. Interestingly enough, invariably, the models posing on those advertisings are hot. I know “sex sells” as they say (or rather, suggested sex sells) but perhaps, just perhaps, trying to arouse the viewer with an advertising about AIDS is bad taste. I already think that selling milk products shouldn’t have any reference to sex in commercials, because the connection is so inexistent that they have to make a semi-porno exposure of the milk-products, and let’s face it, I don’t want to think of sperm when I’m drinking milk. Sperm is fantastic, but come on, don’t put sex into everything, my glass of milk included. And you know I’m not lying! How many times did I see a hot model wipe off milk from her lips? And yeah, I know the usual defence line: you have a perverted mind to see such things in our advertising. My educated response to this is the following: fuck you. I’m tired of them taking us for idiots. How many more ejaculating bottles of champagne will it take? Anyway, I’m off topic for the most part, but I enjoy digressions and I will always stand up for it. I’m also pro-looser essay structures as you can see by my way of writing those things.

How to conclude this. Strictly no idea. See, when I write academic essays, whose structure has to be tighter than a sewed shut asshole, you got to write the introduction, the development, and then the conclusion. That’s the trinity of essay writing in the academic world, and arguably enough, there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end to everything. But I think there is room for something looser, more wild and free. I think of Montaigne for instance, whose essays had titles that rarely matched the actual subject of the essay. [That’s an exaggeration.] I don’t like the idea that an essay which doesn’t fit a given pattern has no worth. There is more than one way to express ideas, and, this is important, structures shouldn’t be used as a password between elite people to recognise one another and one another’s worth. Structures are there to help express ideas, they’re not secret handshakes.

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