Thursday, August 9, 2007

Polaroids From the Dead

I’ve just finished Polaroids from the Dead by Douglas Coupland. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t read Coupland without very serious introspection. I suppose it’s a good thing. Generation X produced not only an awareness of my own takeaway stories, but a movement of storytelling within my community. Hey Nostradamus! made me revisit my feelings surrounding the Columbine School Massacre and come to terms with some very ugly things inside of me. Now Polaroids from the Dead has sent me into a slightly unhealthy Kurt Cobain obsession (which, knowing me, will be forgotten in about three weeks, so don’t worry too hard) and has me trying to figure out exactly where I fit in generationally.

Depending on whose idea you hear about the cutoffs for Generation X and Generation Y, I don’t technically fit into either. Most of the materials I have come across include those born from 1961-1976 in Gen X and those in the high-school class of 2000 the beginning of Gen Y. More liberal accounts have Gen X ending with those born in ’81 and Gen Y beginning with those born in the late 70’s. I was born in mid ’81 and graduated with the class of ’99. Who the hell knows where I fit? I’m too young to identify with a lot of key Gen X issues – like the recession going on when a good chunk of them were ready to enter the work force and the ending of the cold war – and I’m too old to identify with a lot of Gen Y culture – constant text messaging, Robot/digital pets, YouTube (I still have no clue how that works!). On the other hand, I do identify with some significant issues / events / media from each Generation – the death of Kurt Cobain & grunge music, the O.J. Simpson case, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Whatever. I’ve decided to name my own Generation – the I-Don’t-Freakin-Know-Where-I-Fit-So-I’m-Going-To-Put-Myself-Wherever-I-Damn-Well-Please Generation. I’ll call it something ridiculous like the Last Generation of Saturday Morning Cartoons Worth Waking Up Early For or Generation Green Day. Those of you born between 1976 and 1982 can submit suggestions and cast votes, if you like.

Anyhow, that’s not the point of this. I’ve somehow digressed.

What I really want to tell you about today is Polaroids from the Dead and my most recent Coupland-inspired introspection. Here’s an excerpt from the book – it’s in the section about Deadhead culture:

“Skye says, ‘Dad, you always complain people my age never protest about anything, but the first moment we even try to make a peep, you ex-hippies are the first to slam us, saying we’re nowhere near as passionate or effective as you were in those fucking sixties. Make up your minds. Stop making us have to subsidize your disillusionment with the way you turned out.’”

This got me thinking about protesting. First off, it has been noted that it’s not a good idea for me to protest. I’m so far out of balance that protesting leaves me perpetually pissed off, moody, and withdrawn. It’s not very good for me or anyone around me. But I suppose if that random voice in my head which may or may not actually be God was persistent I would protest and try to keep my moodiness out of it.

But when I thought about this more I realized I wouldn’t even know what to protest. Consumer greed? Our lack of investment in people who are being wiped out by genocide? The depersonalization of society? Disconnection? Excess pride masquerading as independence? The rigidity of the modern church?

I don’t even know where to start. These are all things that I think are important – all things that I think contribute to a general decline of our society. I mean really, people waiting on sidewalks for 5 or 6 or 7 days to purchase a $700 phone is not good for our society. It’s a symptom of consumer greed and an indicator that we feel entitled to have whatever it is we want, at whatever cost it takes. It is not good for us. If World War III breaks out, how many consumeristic brats who have been spoiled with the ideology of entitlement are going to do any sort of decent job fighting for the freedom of a nation that is something beyond their immediate selves?

Answer: None.

There’s no motivation. There’s no sense of duty to anything other than their own wants and desires. Yes, it’s an extreme example, but it says something about the climate of our culture. What it says may be ambiguous, but it definitely points to NOT GOOD.

Same thing with the rest of those things on my list. If we sit back and let governments and rebel groups commit mass genocide while we’re fully aware of what’s going on and while we happen to be the superpower of the world, what does that indicate about the collective conscience of our society? How is the depersonalization of our society not bad for us? How is it at all healthy to be so totally disconnected? And on and on and on. I don’t even know where to start.

But here’s the thing…

Even if I knew where to start…. well…

Where would I even protest?

One of the challenges of my generation (whatever generation that is) is not just what to lobby for (or against) but where to lobby. In 1969, if you were pissed about the Vietnam War (conflict, I mean, the Vietnam conflict) you marched your ass down to Washington D.C. But tell me, where should I go to protest consumer greed? With whom should I register my complaint? Maybe I’ll start with the retail industry. Too big? Maybe the advertising industry. Still too big? Maybe I’ll just start with the masses and try to convince them they don’t need so much stuff. Hmm, still too big? The issues aren’t cut and dry anymore – it’s not an issue of war or no war. One of our greatest challenges is that we care about abstract, internal issues that cannot be easily regulated by any one approachable entity.

You see, it’s not that I’m part of Generation Slacker (ooh! Good name!) or that I just don’t care or refuse to give of my time. It’s that I don’t even know where (or with whom) to start.

What’s that line from Smells Like Teen Spirit? Goes something like,

“I found it hard, it was hard to find a well, whatever, nevermind”

No-freakin-wonder. My whole community sees this ugly stuff, we just wouldn’t know where to go with it. We open our mouths, then we think for a moment and close them again. You ask what we were thinking and all we have is, “Never mind”. There’s nowhere for me to even go with this. I’m Generation Nevermind.

The greatest asset my generation has is the freedom to choose to live our lives in ways that reflect our values. I have nowhere to go with my complaint of consumer greed, but I have choices about what I purchase, how much I purchase, the kind of ownership of things I deem necessary. I cannot stop the kind of raw division I see in the church between the command to love and the rejection of ‘sinners’, but I can claim the same God and choose to love wherever I go. I cannot stop people from allowing technology to disconnect them, but I can choose to live in community and to invite others to live in community as well. My lifestyle is coming in line with my ideology more every day.

My lifestyle is the single greatest tool for social change that I possess. My lifestyle speaks for all the places where I feel strongly and can’t find the place for my voice. I don’t know how much good it will do. I don’t know how much my choices will influence others. I can only try. I can only hope that something that is beautiful inside of me will infect the people I see every day. I am the generation who will have to change the world by the way I live each day – the Conscientious Generation – Generation Beautiful Infection.

Your lifestyle is the single greatest tool for social change that you possess. What kind of changes are you inspiring in your world?

1 comment:

Cuthbert said...

Howabout Generation Nemo? The generation kinda like the generation X lack of identity without the super-individualism and also extreme tech dependancy and forced groupings of Y. Generation Nobody. Kinda in the middle. Just a thought.

I love your line: "My lifestyle is the single greatest tool for social change that I possess." I believe you. And I think that you live like you believe it too. There isn't a whole lot of credibility to our non-generation. And not very much leverage either. The only stage we really have is in our own circles and in our own lives, and the more deliberately we effect social change in our lives, the more ears and eyes will receive our 'protests'.

You rock!