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RE: We're All Borf In the End


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RE: We're All Borf In the End
Topic: Society 12:09 am EST, Feb 23, 2007

Decius wrote:

What do you think?

I have a rather different take on the whole thing. Willan concludes by saying

Until we can find our own vision to aspire to, maybe Borf and Andre the Giant are all we have.

We are clearly meant to identify with the emptiness the author feels, his lack of place or purpose. Or, rather, not his but "his" in the collective, generational sense. I largely agree with the facts being presented, but interpret them differently.

But I'll come back to that in a moment.

I feel like I should start by saying that I've never really grasped the notion of "generations," since it always seemed to me like people were being born an dying pretty much all the time and that this general cyclic meta-grouping was kind of arbitrary. That is to say, one's "generation" has everything to do with common philosophical themes and popular media and that it's basis in date of birth hardly regular enough as to be predictable.

Therefore, I'm going to roughly group my 28 year old self in with the 21 year old author and use pronouns like "we", "our" and "us". I'm not gen-X -- again, to the extent that I understand the meaning in the first place -- and gen-Y, as I've heard, is so indistinct and non-descript that it essentially captures the same sort of existential no man's land the author so dishearteningly expounds upon.

Further, and it may not need to be said, but I'm really only talking here about the United States, perhaps even being broad enough to include "the West" as a larger element, but certainly not the entire world. The author states

... this hailing of "American youth" displays a paradoxical lack of awareness of our generation even as it tries to pin us down. There's no such thing as "American youth" -- or British youth, come to that, these days. That's exactly what we're not -- a body, a set.

and I think his essential point is correct. There's little enough cohesion among youth of a similar age which would permit such a generalized reference to have any real meaning. I'm going to discuss this further, but one of the reasons for that, I think, is that the concept of "similar age" has itself changed lately. In ages past, 10 years difference in age was probably less of a gulf than it is today. I am certain that the day-to-day experience of college now is substantively different than when I left a mere 6 years ago. But I think this is a small part of it.

While arguing that modern youth are not "a body, a set" above, Willan does bring up the notion of collectivism and particularly the way in which the internet fosters that sort of anonymous social interaction. I don't think he's quite making incompatible statements here; he's arguing that the anonymity is what strips us of our icons -- our Ginsburgs and Kerouacs -- and establish the emptiness of our generation's social fabric.

He's not wrong, but I think he crucially overestimates the negativity of that position. Decrying the barren musical landscape which lacks towering edifices of meaning -- "no Bob Dylan, no Bruce Springsteen" -- misses the fact that that landscape has Connor Oberst and Thursday and Radiohead and Bad Religion and Del and The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Ted Leo and Avail and the Eels and Rage Aginst The Machine and The Refused and, well, I could go on.

This complaint that music now is all commercial dreck, stuffed down our gullets by multimillion dollar market campaigns, is made without the slightest mention that it's been that way ever since the modern recording industry coalesced. Payola is an old concept, now made sneakier, and we've long had visions of Elvis in movies that were barely plausible vehicles for his music not to mention variety hours with such blatant commercial intent that it's laughable now.

No, music isn't worse at all, it's better, if the metric is how many voices are presenting something of meaning. That these artists are harder to find now, that they don't stand quite as tall amongst the otherwise unremarkable background, is a function of the fact that this landscape I've been discussing has changed. We see more now. The resolution is higher, and where once we could only see giants amongst noise, we see millions and millions of artists, and find it that much harder to locate and elevate those which would formerly have stood out so clearly. So we've traded our 10,000 foot monoliths for a profusion of smaller, but now distinct, pillars, spires, minarets and citadels. How can one look out upon that and despair? It's a vision of rich, genuine art, and it's not theoretical in the slightest.

I see this likewise on the net; the transformative technologies we have now, the unprecedented pervasiveness and spontaneity of communication -- textual, audible, visual -- virtually guarantees that no single phenomenon will massively outstrip all of the others. This is the "Memestream" writ large, if you'll allow it. People don't have time or inclination to focus on one author or star... there's always more coming behind. Or if people do focus on one individual or movement -- and they will of course, banding together around a common thought, ideal or notable person -- there are a million others as well, and unlike previous times, you can see them ALL. Even 25 years ago, the landscape would be dominated by a few voices of extraordinary volume. These voices are but a tiny fraction now, and their movements or groups cannibalized by the countless others out there. The network is the beginnings -- only the beginnings -- of this great leveling, which is being held back, as all change, across all time, by the inertia of the old ways. But it will happen.

In one passage, the author states :

We're a voiceless generation. We have nothing we can point to and say: "This is us, this is where we stand." We're lost and silent and we don't know what to do about it.

Again he conflates truth but misses something larger; the lack of voices that Willen describes is anything but. It's rather a superfluity of voices... a grand cacophony that lacks cohesion or purpose because it has a million disparate meanings and purposes. Of course this is more difficult to process than the old, simpler system, where people could rally behind a movement or scene and really conceptualize themselves in relation to it. One thing that's happening is that people are, more and more, realizing that that's all bullshit. It was an outgrowth of a system in which control and access was centralized and so therefore were the themes and ideas. We don't have that now. Despite the heavy hand of Copyright, and entrenched interests, control and access are decentralizing and the result is this explosion -- a controlled explosion, to be sure, and far from the overnight multimedia art extravaganza you had been expecting, yet still hardly minor change -- is a mess. That the mess hasn't yet sorted itself out is simply a byproduct of it's newness. We may be lost, but we're not at all silent. And we won't stay lost. We'll get there.

The form these changes have taken thus far is also sort of predictable, in retrospect (I'm taking a lot of liberties in saying that, i know). I've noted before that our generation is more than a little bit obsessed with the value of the reference. Our pop culture is absolutely rife with it. The Family Guy is perhaps the most perfect example... an insane show with an absolute minimum of temporal consistency and virtually no plot, comprised of little more than a rapid fire series of references to itself and other pop culture iconography. And it's *great*! We love it, eat it up. Our parents don't get it. The Simpsons did the same thing, though less and not so brazenly, much earlier, of course, and there are tons of other examples.

The point is that we're a "generation" that is obsessed with the notion of referential value. In-jokes and novelty are the coin of our social exchanges, and the structure of the web and it's billions of blogs and flickr's and meta-blogs and trackbacks and youtubes -- that's all perfectly in line with our mentality. I'm not going to assert which is a cause and which an effect; in fact, I rather suspect there's something of a feedback loop involved.

So, you want to attach some kind of label or attitude or philosophy to our generation, that's it. We're meta. We're a jumble of people who feel detached and disenfranchised at the very moment we're just the opposite of that. Because it's overwhelming. It's unprecedented. Sites like this one try to separate the wheat from the chaff, but it's too hard yet, and the landscape still too much in flux. And beyond that is the thought that maybe the distinction between wheat and chaff isn't the right metaphor; that in fact what we now call "wheat" is retroactive and that any number of other bits might have been so, if only they'd been bubbled to the top or caught the collective attention.

If Generation X was "The Lost Generation", then ours is the generation which is finding them, and everything else too, exploring every nook and cranny, exposing any hint of clever or interesting content to whomever might appreciate it.

I think we'll find, 40 years hence, that when we look back on this "generation" what we'll see is that we were the heralds of the decentralized universe of creation and consumption. That we are not something more, that we haven't yet got the reins quite in our hands, is, perhaps, unfortunate, but it's hardly the sort of melancholy non-existence proposed by Willan. Rather, it's a vibrant, challenging and fascinating universe to experience. That I can't now apply some simple and concise descriptor, slot "this generation" in just the proper place in the Great Universal Card Catalog of All Time is immaterial. That we live in such interesting times is all that matters.

RE: We're All Borf In the End

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