Part Of The Noise II: A Short Interview With Generation X, Continued

(More answers in a conversation. See Part One.)


A: Right, the acquisitive thing. I think this is in some ways the key paradigm shift of what we’re talking about. At the risk of overextending the analogy let’s talk about Mac and PC.
A PC person wants the guts, wants to customize. The PC person wants control over the environment. A Mac person wants a turnkey solution: Intuitive, understanding and anticipating my needs. I don’t need to get in the guts, because the guts already know what I want.
And so if you compare this dichotomy to the shift in the way our media reaches us, you have on the one hand people like you, people who stored up on tapes and LPs these rare recordings and bootleg versions, traded them wildly, cared about preservation and cared about obscurity.
But what’s going on now is, everything is available. Name a bootleg, the location and date of a particular musical performance, and the internet will provide it. If not immediately and digitally on a video upload site, or via gray-market pirate sites, than by the action of microbusinesses providing analogue recordings through Amazon or auctions.
And while this doesn’t appeal to the collector brain, it appeals very much to us, because the vast capability of our entertainment world means it’s really just one collection, which belongs to everybody. The ocean in which we go diving.
A: You could take it to the postmodern place if you want, sure. Lady Gaga coexists with Louis Armstrong and everything’s a mixtape. You’re not wrong.
But even that doesn’t describe it fully, because you’re still thinking in Generation X terms where you’re collecting, not curating. When all of you is available for exposure, and pleasure, even bookmarks are passé.
So when you want to hear a song, you go to your record albums and you pull it out and you lay down the needle and you have yourself an experience. But when we want to hear a song, we listen to it.
And then the internet says, through our social connections or just through a fairly simple algorithm, “If you like this, maybe you will like this other thing,” and we find ourselves in the net of association, weighing out our likes and dislikes. Swimming through things and discerning among them based purely on pleasure rather than self-identification.
Now, I can see this threatening you, because you think you are what you buy a lot of the time. You don’t think of it that way, but that’s what’s going on: You are presenting yourself as the sort of person who. Which sometimes means forcing yourself sternly to listen to things you don’t even particularly, in your heart of hearts, love, because it fits with the image you have of yourself.
Books, too. Some of the people who love books the most, in Generation X, have the least to say about them and take the least pleasure in reading them, because you treat them like accessories instead of parts of yourself.
But if you can imagine the entire internet, this sum total of human knowledge and interaction, as a suit you put on and take off, then none of that means anything anymore. Everything is available, all of the time, for any mood. You don’t have to be just one person, you don’t have to fit yourself into just one shape. And once you understand that, the whole question reveals itself to be pretty meaningless.
A: No, there’s a place for the archivist. Film and books are their own thing and we’ve mostly been talking about music. But I think Generation X gets a fairly large amount of identity from the idea that everybody is an archivist, and I don’t know that that’s necessary any more than the idea that everybody must be a foodie. It’s a special interest that’s become a generational marker.
Although it’s interesting to look at it that way, because nothing is more transient than the art of cooking and eating. It’s the opposite of this storing-up of information and experience and documentation that we’ve been talking about. And it’s completely sensual so you get a lot more out of the food photography and styling on blogs than the actual content itself, because that can’t be represented in words.
I think food is one of the few places where our two philosophies actually meet. Although it’s funny, because of this food-truck thing and the way that stylistics and trendiness have such an impact on the desire to consume this ephemeral pleasure. Restauranteurs are the architects and designers of the modern experience, just incredibly adept at making food mean more than it does. And you guys still find a way to make it about status.
A: The whole thing about conspicuous consumption is that it’s done for other people, just like conspicuous thrift: Placing yourself in a vector triangulated by you, the imaginary observer, and the thing itself.
But I would say that if you take that observer out — because it’s a useless concept and nobody is looking and nobody is judging you — then you’ve got a map completely focused on yourself, with everything else in the observable media universe coming off like spokes on a wheel.
Which is why the collector/curator thing is so important, because if you’re stuck in this idea that your likes and dislikes represent you as a person, you’re sharing but not completely. When boys give you a mixtape it’s invariably about them, with you sometimes guest-starring as a subject of desire: These songs represent the narratives in which I feel you and I — but mostly you — are represented. But my grandmother always said that the perfect gift is about you, and about me, and most of all about us.
A: Yeah. That’s a big one. You guys spend a lot of time complaining about sequels and remakes and rehashes and reboots and covers and George Lucas. Firstly I think this comes from a place of nostalgia, which I reject out of hand because now is always better than then. And it’s this impossibly glamorized and sensationalized then, which has no bearing on reality. You remember the feelings you felt, not the actual quality of the thing, which makes no sense to us.
While we may all meet for a kickball game over the weekend, you’re doing it as a conscious act, a return to a golden time — we’re in a place we never left. Nothing gets broken and nothing gets replaced. We don’t really have a yearning for childhood because it’s always there, accessible.
Which I think is really the deal with the George Lucas thing: You’re so used to dividing things up between then and now, good and bad, childhood freedom and workaday slavery, that you think things can be lost. Or taken away, or misplaced. And to me this is just a part of the collector brain working, this privilege of the physical and analogue over the available and digital.
A: Sure. You go see the Transformers movie, expressly ironically, and in order to bitch about it. That seems nuts to me. And what seems even more nuts is this continual arched-brow discovery of the cynicism of the culture, “who are they selling this to,” because you’re calling everybody else out for what you, yourself, are doing.
It shows a real susceptibility to marketing. The reason they keep making comic book movies and remakes is because that’s all you people will show up for. That includes your slumming, that’s part of the business plan: Nostalgia, with a touch of nastiness.
And of course, anybody younger than you who might enjoy it unironically is committing at least three offenses: First by doing anything unironically, second by enjoying something you’re too good for, and third because they missed out on the good old days.
And then you complain about it, because it doesn’t measure up to the memories you have of the original thing, which bear usually very little resemblance to the original thing. That’s a lot of work for something that you know, going in, is going to suck. That’s going a lot way for this ephemeral joy of being the one person ahead of the pack, the one sheep that figured it out.
A: Sure, Daria. As a community-building exercise, hatred has always been the quickest way to get things done. But to us, the whole joke is really inauthentic.
Because as it turns out there was a movie playing next door that was awesome. But you bought into the shitty lowest-common-denominator advertisements and decided that this movie was for people who weren’t as smart as you are — instead of doing the work yourself of finding out for sure, against all evidence and word-of-mouth — and so instead you did something you hate, for no good reason, and then went home to talk about how this is everybody else’s problem.
Instead of, say, looking up old episodes of Transformers on YouTube and reflecting on how you’re an adult now, and it was never actually as awesome as you believed — and continue to believe — it was.

5 thoughts on “Part Of The Noise II: A Short Interview With Generation X, Continued

  1. Hm. One of my markers for someone I don't want to continue to converse with is the phrase, “I'm the kind of person who….”

    It's like, “I'm not one to talk about other people…” – a cue that the person talking is beyond un-self-aware and all the way to delusional.


  2. Born in 1984, and this is refreshing to read. I still get defensive when people talk about “kids these days,” even though I am not a kid anymore, because the underlying process behind all of those statements is “why is it all about you, and not about me?”

    Our generation is what it is in large part due to who the GenXers are (calling us Gen Y is the perfect representation of this), and working in a field that studies people, I often feel like I have to defend our generation against the kind of assumptions that your invisible questions reflect.


  3. “I'm the kind of person who…” = Death.

    I like the aspiration of it, I like the fact that you wish to be the person who, but if you have to see it, you're doing the opposite of being it.

    Completely agree. It's like the Godwin's Law of identity.


  4. Would you be willing to give a bit more analysis and/or genealogy of these trends in behavior, perceived identity, and community?

    It's possible that the climb in divorce rates in the late 70s lead Gen X kids to seek recognition and appreciation from their peers more than their parents. That would be the tip of the iceberg at best, and falling in the Gen Y category, my understanding of the Gen X experience is limited.

    What needs does this mentality and behavior attempt to meet, and why don't these strategies succeed? What would you prescribe to amend these failing strategies?

    Hope you're kicking butt. Stay sweet and have a great summer, Jacob!


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