What Is it About Teen-Somethings?

2010 September 23
by Carl Watson

Alice shows her muchness as Joan of Arc

Turk Studzel has recently commented in these pages on the absurdity and misguided gist of a recent N.Y. Times Magazine article titled “What Is It About Twenty-Somethings?” in which Robin Henig, taking herself far too seriously, poses the question, Why are so many people in their twenties taking so long to grow up? I must concur with Turk’s comments and will even add my own, as I was not only stunned that such a subject was ink-worthy in the Times, but that it was also air-worthy in an NPR segment. Not only is this theme at least something like 50 or 60 years old, but the fact that’s its being recycled through the culture now, as if it was “new” information, or a “shocking recent discovery”—or whatever gives it credence as worthwhile journalism—is a sign of our increasing conservatism. After all, similar complaints were voiced in the 60s and 70s and even the 80s, and thus are pretty much a cultural given. Indeed, the early 2oth century and 19th century also had their grumblers about youth. It is simply a blasé topic that is both overanalyzed as well as just over. Nevertheless, Henig must give a name to this new stage of growing up: “emerging adulthood.” She even goes so far as to construct some neurological explanation, which I don’t think is needed. I never thought twenty year olds were adults anyway. But, then, I don’t think adults are adults either. This thing called adulthood is kind of like a hammer held over the head of the human spirit by a dictatorial daddy.

However, I must take some of this back. I suppose it is possible that the 90s put a new spin on the twenties. Indeed, in the 90s, twenty-somethings seemed to be getting in line; they were learning that existence was really nothing but empty self-advertizing, and so many of them opted to turn entrepreneurial early. I think they were getting married too, (something my generation was loathe to do even in old age). In fact, I had already suspected that today’s youth were already overwhelmed with the idea of being professional, whether it is a professional creative-writer or creative business person, and this was even more true in the oughts. But now at the end of the oughts, it seems the youngsters are not, in fact, doing what they ought. You are now pretty much expected to have formed your own company by the time you’re twenty-five. If you’re not selling your home-made fashion on the net, or figuring out ways to be a middle man to people that don’t need one, or somehow working your own e-business, you’re slacking and likely doomed. Indeed, the internet has played a hand in these expectations, providing today’s youth with the means to get rich quick without spending a lifetime of planning and deceit. That coupled with high capitalism means you really only have to have some “ideas” and a laptop to make it. I don’t have much sympathy for twenty-somethings myself, I used to be one. So I don’t care if they lay around and do drugs. But what I want to know is what’s wrong with Teen-Somethings?

I became concerned about this shocking new trend in our culture, after watching the new Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland, the one where Alice is about to be married and is bidden by “the rabbit” to return down the rabbit hole of her past to save her little underworld friends from the machinations of the Red Queen. It is all well and good and quite entertaining, what with the special effects and all. However, there is an agenda in the new Alice, and she comes to us with two contemporary “messages.” The first is the quite appropriate young feminist message not to be bullied by moms and boys—find your own happiness, which is noble. What is more sinister is the blatant capitalist message that sours the end of the film and seems so incongruous as to have been tacked on by some free-market editorial hand, or else Tim Burton is now fronting for Milton Friedman. In this New Wonderland, Alice returns from her adventures, turns down her suitor, and having demonstrated her muchness, earns the opportunity to join her dead father’s firm. In fact, she already has ideas for expanding the business. There is an ominous quality to this decision, as her father’s business seems to be a transparent stand-in for the British East India Company. Growth is good, as we say, and Alice insists the company ought to move on to the far east, China and Indochina, to expand their trade routes and increase their markets. It’s an odd ending for this movie actually, as if the real rabbit hole Alice had gone down was the Capitalist rabbit hole that grafts self-worth to income. In the last scene we see the new entrepreneurial Alice on the prow of an outbound vessel ready to open the world to trade and domination by the British Empire.

Entrepreneurial Alice says "Goodbye to all that," as she heads out to to conquer the East.

Gone is the metaphysical fantasy of Wonderland. Here is the Market persuading our children to come and join it. Today’s young girls are not only being told that youthful capitalist ambitions are good but that imperialism is not so bad either. So quit laying about in reveries and dreams, get to work Young Americans, start earning your fortune. Cheers and godspeed to all you fast-trackers. Go Alice! Go Zuckerman! And remember kids, if you’re waiting to finish high school before you turn your first million, your not keeping up with what our society expects of you. C’mon, the economy is failing, and we expect (indeed, we need) you to be borrowing, buying , getting in debt. Quit fucking around!

As an addendum to this, I recently heard on the radio that many high schools are now offering “Entrepreneurial Action” classes, in which young teens learn to set up corporations, do market analysis, etc. When I was a kid we had shop classes where you learned to do something relevant to trades, manufacturing, and industry, after which you could earn a good wage and maintain a middle class life, even on only one income. Nobody works for wages anymore in America unless you are an immigrant. And if you do you’re considered either low in ambition or an outright failure, even if you are twenty-something. And no one can be middle class on one income anymore. So you teens better start getting married right after you graduate. Take me as a warning: I spent my entire twenties and good deal of the rest of my life drifting around, trying to learn about the world. A total waste of time, because the world disappeared. Maybe Robin Henig and the N.Y. Times should do a follow-up article “What is it about people of a certain age?” But then I don’t spend much money, and my prospects are pretty much shot, so I’m sure Robin doesn’t care what I do.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.