GEN WARFARE SEPTEMBER 30, 2013
Elizabeth Wurtzel's subjects have always been sadness and age. Her first, famous book (Prozac Nation) was about her youthful depression. Lately, her magazine pieces have fit the theme of, loosely, middle-age tristesse. For New York, she took a freewheeling look at what it means to be a 45-year-old living like a 25-year-old. For Elle, she wrote about her fear of losing her looks. And now, for the Daily Beast, she writes about how today's young people aren't as cool as young people used to be. She is sad for the next generation, a new twist on her theme. I've got good (or maybe bad, by her lights) news for Wurtzel: penning a piece on this theme means she's not living like a 25-year-old anymore.
According to Wurtzel, the only young adult who's done anything at all of artistic note is Lena Dunham, whose thighs she calls "inexcusable." Worse, young adults are consuming the same premium television as people in middle-age, she says. College kids, like her, watch old-fogies Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. And rappers are old! Or at least Jay-Z and P-Diddy, the two rappers she cites, are old.
The culprit, of course, is the Internet, which "is not life. It is digital life." Jonathan Franzen can breathe a sigh of relief: he's got a fellow traveler.
I blame the Internet, for everything really, most especially for the coarseness like sea salt that has taken over. But because of the World Wide Web, there is too much content and not enough filter, and the value of talent has been decimated. Of course, The New York Times and more specifically its bestseller list is still a meaningful screen, but even that is not the same–unless you are the author of a sadomasochistic vampire legal thriller.
Much creative work done by millenials has come in the tech industry, of course, which Wurtzel breezes lightly by with a sartorial diss that's more out of style than the clothes she's slagging. "I know that people in their twenties wearing khaki pants and polo shirts are doing very well with tech startups in places with names like Menlo Park."
I'm mildly sympathetic to what Wurtzel is really trying to get across: that twentysomethings today are a more careful generation than ones past. (There is data to back this up, and there are plenty of reasons why they might be gun-shy.) But she pins this argument on culture and misses too many people to name here. She could have named Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar instead of fortysomething rappers who came up in the nineties. She could have namechecked Tavi Gevinson, who is wildly successful and ambitious and still younger than Lena Dunham was when she frolicked in the Oberlin fountain. She could have brought up a million people putting their comedy and art and writing and music on the Internet and learning from each other's stuff and meeting each other that way. But instead, she named cross-generational successes and the twentysomething art that has connected with older audiences, that has made it past older gatekeepers. In a way, that a 46-year-old (no matter how smart or hip or young-feeling) has missed all this should make Wurtzel happy. It means there is still a youth culture, after all, even if it's one she doesn't like.
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