5 Ways We Ruined the Occupy Wall Street Generation
At this moment, a whole lot of people, most of them 15 to 20 years younger than me, are protesting in every major city. What are they angry about? A lot of things, some of which are partially my fault.
See, I'm a part of Generation X, the post-Baby Boom era kids who grew up on a mental diet of Beavis and Butthead and Alice in Chains. We wrote poems about how angry we were at our fathers, wore goatees like weapons and made panties burst into flames by playing Pearl Jam's Black on our acoustic guitars. We were a bridge from the Baby Boomers to all you guys who are in high school and college now. And I'm pretty sure we fucked up that handoff pretty badly.
This is not a sarcastic apology, I'm not a big enough dick to write all of this as a backhanded insult about how lazy and entitled you are. Because you're not.
I'm honestly apologizing for ...
Making You Ashamed to Take Manual Labor Jobs
During one "Occupy Wall Street" protest, somebody from the Chicago Board of Trade dumped McDonald's applications on the protesters. This made me think of a viral Facebook post that David Wong showed me the other day:
If you know who that came from, we'd love to give him/her credit for the post. And a high five or something.
Because yes, you guys are getting hammered for being too lazy or "entitled" to take on a low-paying job, and for standing up and demanding help paying for college, etc., instead of just being happy "flipping burgers." People my age and older will go on and on about how in our day we weren't too good to get our hands dirty when the good jobs dried up.
But I'm pretty sure we taught you the opposite of that. And the Baby Boomers taught us.
"Lesson 12: When you have brown people over, always smile. They can sense your fear."
See, we were raised on 1980s movies and sitcoms, and the "cold, unfeeling grownup who works too hard" was the villain in half of them. The whole point of these "body switching" comedies -- where a kid winds up in the body of a grownup -- was that the career-driven workaholic dad learned what life was really all about. The message was clear: If you work too hard, you'll lose your soul.
The characters who worked their asses off were shown to be stiff prudes who come down on the lighthearted main character with an iron fist. Or maybe that person is the main character, but by the end they realize that the only way to truly enjoy life is to lighten up and embrace their inner child. They finally stand up and quit their grindstone job in a hail of applause, and live a life of stress free bliss. As a side note, at some point, those people had to urinate ... so the little kid trapped in the dad's body was physically handling his dad's cock. That image is on the house -- you're welcome.
By the time the Grunge Era came around, the "slacker" and "loser" characters were heroes, the guys who knew that life was really all about having fun. We were a self-depreciating group of people who proudly declared that we were what our parents always wanted to be: laid back and carefree. "Loser" and "slacker" were terms of endearment. We knew that the whole suit-and-tie job was a one way ticket to becoming Principal Vernon from The Breakfast Club. So many of us ended up slacking our way into fast food jobs. We were the guys from Clerks.Flash forward a couple of decades, and most of us are now parents. We've since found out that there's not much market for making a really good honey bear bong or winning a contest for having the dirtiest flannel shirt (first place four years running, thank you very much). We've cut our hair, bought some decent work clothes and moved on -- lesson learned. But that fast food job stuck with us. It became a scare tactic to use on our own kids. We want them to have something better.
"When we smile, it means that something that was recently inside of us ... is now inside your pizza."
But here's the thing: Those Baby Boomers who started this "you don't want to flip burgers" bullshit did flip burgers. Or roof houses, or mine coal, or wax porn stars' assholes. And that wasn't something to be ashamed of back then -- that was the era before you needed a bachelor's degree to get a job waiting tables (but more on that in a moment). But at some point between my grandfather's time and now, getting your hands dirty became something to be ashamed of. My generation perpetuated that. We made it socially unacceptable to:
A) Do any job that requires sweat and/or a uniform.
So if you don't do either of those things, what's left? Getting an education and waiting for a good job in your field. But now, when we catch you doing that, we mock you and tell you to go flip burgers. And that's bullshit. We told you your whole lives that those jobs were for idiots and failures. You think you're too good for those jobs because that's what we've been fucking telling you since birth.
"Give me shit all you want -- my car has gas and my fridge is full of stolen chicken."
Implying That College Would Guarantee You a Good Job
Last month, I overheard a conversation between a steakhouse waiter and an older couple he was serving. He knew the couple, but not intimately. They politely asked how his classes were coming along, and he said that he had in fact graduated with a degree in architecture. For the next several minutes, the old couple awkwardly tried to reassure him that something would come along while he attempted to justify to them why he was serving steaks for a living.
It was painfully clear that he felt like a failure, and that he dreaded having this conversation with every older member of his family he encountered. Having to put a positive spin on his own life, trying to reassure them that he wasn't a failure, or lazy, or hadn't dropped out of society due to a drug problem. Yes, I did get my degree. No, they're not hiring.
"I cannot only tell you the year, but I can break down its exact molecular composition."
So, here's the thing. You have to go to college. Your parents told you that, I'm telling my kids that. Every high school teacher you have or had told you that. ("You don't want to wind up flipping burgers, do you?")
And they're not wrong; if I'm an employer looking at 200 applications to fill one job, and 50 of them have bachelor's degrees, those are going to be the ones I move to the top of the pile, even if the job is that poor bastard who shakes a sign outside of Little Caesars.
The problem is that we've sort of set you up to think that after high school, the next step is college, and after that you just jump in and start working at the job you went to college for. We kind of implied that this "college to job" transition is as natural and orderly as "high school to college." That is, if you get the right grades, you "graduate" to it. That's not true, and it's our fault that so many of you think that.
"A master's in psychology? Pretty impressive. How would you say that qualifies you to answer the phone?"
See, our parents told us that because they didn't actually know. As a generalized whole, they didn't go to college. You have to realize how recent the whole "everybody goes to college" thing really is. It was only two generations ago that college educations were rare -- in 1950, less than 10 percent of adults had bachelor's degrees (hell, only half even graduated high school). People back then were less mobile and more likely to stay in the town where they were born. That meant that their options were limited; men joined the military, or went to work at the local factory/warehouse/whatever was hiring. Women got busy having babies and being waitresses/secretaries/whatever was hiring. College was something that smart kids and people with money did. And they probably thought those college kids had a free ticket to a nice job in an air-conditioned office.
So when they worked hard and gave their kids the opportunity to get a degree, they thought they were giving us what those fancy smart kids got: an automatic job with a hotass secretary to feel up. Sexual harassment wasn't a thing yet.
It was considered more of a perk than assault.
Now everybody has a degree. It's the baseline minimum. So when you finally take those first steps out of university life and enter the work field, it's an absolute system shock to find out your $30,000 to $100,000+ bachelor's degree doesn't guarantee you a position in your field of study ... possibly ever. At least 40 percent of you who get degrees will wind up in jobs that don't require a degree at all. And the rest will wind up in jobs outside the field they studied.
Again, it's not that you shouldn't get a degree. Far from it. It's that the system we've declared to be the default also happens to be fucked. And not in the good way ... in the "chick breaks a porn record" way. You're not going to use 90 percent of what you learn.
I have dozens of examples of this in my inbox right now. People who have been where I've been -- poor and struggling, willing to do whatever it takes to get out of that soul-crushing hole. After years of it, they finally have enough and decide to go back to college. So I ask, "OK, that's a good idea -- then what?" And they don't know. They hadn't considered that even after graduation, they might be in exactly the same position as they are right now ... plus another $50,000 worth of debt. Nobody told them, or at least didn't tell them loud enough.
So, yes, you're frustrated and angry about that. You have a right to be.
Adding Seven More Years to Being a Teenager
In my parents' day, it was always just sort of assumed that at age 18, you pack your shit and get the hell out of the house. Go back 40 years and you find everybody getting drafted into the military at that age (Vietnam and before that, Korea, and before that, World War II). When you got back, you started having babies. So if you were still living at home at age 25, they made you stay in the attic and told the neighbors you had died from tuberculosis.
Things started to change with the "everybody goes to college" era. Going to college means you're probably not supporting yourself, you're living in temporary student housing and your parents keep your old bedroom in place for when you come back for the summer. So then if you don't get a job out of college, you're right back home at age 23, possibly still sleeping on a bed shaped like the Millennium Falcon.
OK, so I actually would own that, even as a successful adult.
So now you guys are living in a world where kids don't move away from Mom and Dad until their mid 20s to lower 30s. And it's the same story with marriage -- today you tend to marry in your late 20s, as opposed to my parents' generation, who did so five years earlier.
But this has created a very annoying, ugly side effect in the culture: the phenomenon of the immature Man-Child. The twenty-something dude with his collection of anime action figures, the guy pushing 30 who's still sticking it out with his garage band and spends his nights getting in screaming matches with teenagers on XBox Live, the hipster who spends 80 percent of his income on wacky ironic clothes and mustache growth supplements.
This man gets no apology. He brought that upon himself.
In other words, we've extended the awkward teenage years into the mid to late 20s. Now, I would not be apologizing for this if it was just the result of social and economic factors outside our control. But the problem is that we made a hero of that person. Think Kelso in That '70s Show, or Joey from Friends. My generation aspired to be that guy, the kid in a grownup body with simple, childish appetites and aspirations. I was that guy for years -- a dude can get very popular doing that.
But let me tell you from experience, the longer you put off adulthood, the harder the transition is.
And staying home longer does delay it -- a huge part of becoming an adult is living on your own and finding out through trial and error what works, living through seemingly simple things like balancing your budget, cooking your own meals and learning how to get blood stains out of your ceiling without repainting.
And what's going to happen is you're going to run into a whole lot of people who still judge you according to the age scale set by my parents' generation -- that you should have your shit together by 23.
So you grow up in a culture that tells you maturity is for boring assholes, and then suddenly you get dumped into a world that expects maturity.
Creating the Idea that Entertainment Has No Monetary Value
If I type the phrase, "piracy hurts the entertainment industry," several hundred people will, without reading the following words, skip down to the comments and carefully explain that pirates don't actually download music or movies or games unless they weren't going to buy it anyway. Then they'll pull out some studies showing that music downloaders also buy the most music.
But the bottom line is the music industry lost more than half of its sales since downloading became a thing. And, by what I'm sure some of you will say is pure coincidence, PC game sales collapsed in that exact same time period. It has nothing to do with whether you think piracy is wrong, or if you can justify your own personal habits. The black and white numbers say it's factually harder to make money by creating entertainment now.
I guess that's not always a bad thing.
That's bad for you. And you can thank us for getting it started.
It made sense at the time. When I was a kid, buying music was a huge pain in the ass. CDs, cassette tapes and records were expensive as fuck, so you had to be very selective about what you bought. Finding out that a record sucked was like taking a month's worth of allowance out of your wallet, wiping your ass with it and then setting it on fire (you owe my entire generation $20, Motley Crue).
And that's if you could find the album at all; if you lived in a small town, you didn't exactly have a record store on every block. The ones you had were small and basically never had the album you were looking for (try being a small town Midwestern kid in 1989 trying to find a copy of Straight Outta Compton). The rest of your music came from Wal-Mart, who by the way didn't sell the uncensored version of any record, and you usually didn't know that until you got home and played it.
The only words left on an Eazy-E album after censoring were conjunctions.
What I'm trying to say is that price, availability and quality were shit. The music industry was an absolute fucking mess, and we were at the mercy of it.
Until the Internet, and specifically Napster came along.
You mean we can get just the song we want, for free? Well, hell, that's no worse than recording it off the radio. So, we jumped on that shit and never looked back. Then the dam broke. We started downloading PC games, even though that industry had done nothing to wrong us. Yes, it was illegal, but it was illegal in the way that speeding on a country road at night is illegal. You had never met anyone who had actually gotten caught doing it.
Before we knew it, we had created a new reality in which creative content is effectively worthless. Now, kids trade iPod libraries in one swipe, a few gigabytes of songs zipping invisibly over a thin wire in a few seconds -- a library that, once upon a time, would have cost more than your first car.
It looked a lot better before I discovered ramping.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to do that old guy "Back in MY day we APPRECIATED food because we had to KILL IT OURSELVES" thing. I'm saying that we've trained you to expect created works to be free, and that will have the effect of killing off a lot of the coolest stuff. You can snicker and say, "Oh, I REALLY feel bad that the guy who made Transformers 3 won't be able to buy his sixth summer home" but that's the point -- a blockbuster can afford that loss. A cool, risky indie film can't.
See, when piracy hit Hollywood, they didn't stop funding blockbusters -- they stopped funding edgy, creative movies. They're going with safer and safer bets.
Piracy did that. We got that ball rolling, and there is no going back. Instead of Reservoir Dogs, we get Jack & Jill ... and you have no idea how deeply sorry I am for that.
"We're filming the Super Bowl crowd shot today. Bring in Eddie Murphy."
Taking Away Every Reason To Go Outside
Recently, I noticed some ads on the cartoon channels that my kids watch, urging their viewers to turn off the TV and go outside:
Needless to say, at that moment my oldest son was on the computer, my middle son was playing a video game in his bedroom, and my youngest daughter was watching Adventure Time in the living room (because that show is fucking awesome). When they got bored, they'd switch places. And if I didn't make them take a break from it, they'd do that all weekend without batting an eye. I have to make them go outside like it's a chore, because I know they need the exercise.
Older people talk about how fat you're getting, about childhood obesity and diabetes and how you're all lazy slugs. They imply that back in their day, kids got up and did 50 jump squats every morning just because they enjoyed the sense of pride in their self discipline. But let me let you in on a little secret: We only got exercise because there was nothing fun to do indoors. If they had Modern Warfare multiplayer when I was a kid, we would have played the shit out of it.
"We don't put up with that pussy sniper shit."
Instead, we had three channels on the TV, video games were something rich kids had and there was no Internet. So when we wanted to have fun, we did live-action Modern Warfare, i.e., grabbing plastic toy guns and chasing our friends around the yard pretending to kill each other (and the toy guns back then were awesome, they had magazines and slides you could click back like you were reloading them).
All that running around burned calories. Not because we cared about fitness -- what kid does? -- but because we were waiting for somebody to invent something better. They did, and now we spend so much of our day on our asses that we have to remind ourselves that there are legs below it (no offense, Legless Carl).
Again, it's unquestionably progress -- I wouldn't go back to a time before I could pay all of my bills, catch up on missed episodes of The Office, order a pizza and do all of my work without ever leaving my keyboard. But you kids are also missing something crucial. Not just the great outdoors and swinging into a creek on a rope or tackling somebody into a pile of raked leaves. I'm talking about in-person interaction, away from the grownups, outside the structure of a classroom or organized sport. I'm talking about kids, on their own, getting in trouble and setting things on fire. Kid stuff.
Because why should my kids invite friends over to play? They're all right there, on XBox Live. Why should they go out to a movie? We have Netflix.
We talk a lot on this site about how geek culture has taken over the mainstream and I worry that another part of geek culture -- the social awkwardness and inability to deal with social settings -- is also going to become the norm. We've slowly killed off most of the activities where kids get together with other kids and have fun (and in the process, learn how to interact).
"It's so beautiful out here. I'm so glad I have all my friends with me to witness it."
We didn't do it on purpose. We didn't do any of this on purpose. But you'll suffer for it just the same.
So, uh, sorry about that. Our bad.
For more Cheese, check out 5 Internet Life Lessons Parents Need to Start Teaching Kids and 5 Reasons Life Actually Does Get Better.