This is a Wicked Generation

One of the things that has been gnawing at my mind for the past year or so is how the present generation, my generation (though we’ll be replaced soon) is talked about. Formerly known as Generation Y, we’ve been dubbed much more recently as the millennials. That’s been an about face that’s been hard for me to wrap my mind around, since Millennial is the ‘new’ term my brain always wants to apply it to the teenagers I see instead of 30 year olds like myself.

I’ve sat through many conversations about “this generation” or “kids these days” (kids, in this case, being 30+ year olds). I’ve heard about our lack of respect, our lack of morals, how we’re lazy and self-entitled. Generally, this talk is tied to how this is the worse possible time to be alive and how much better things were in the good old days. The good old days, I’ve come to understand, are represented in TV comedies set in the 1950s. If only we could return to the 1950s, forget the falling violent crime rate we’ve for the past few terrible decades. Let’s return to the days of political witch hunts, the Cold War and 74%-91% tax rates.

The problem isn’t that this generation, or even the next, are the worst, most selfish humans to have ever existed, it’s that humans have always been the worst, generation after generation. Those who complain about how my generation, collectively, possesses no morals seems to forget the free-love movement of the 60s. Complainees who bemoan our lack of respect forget about the internment camps and open segregation, lynchings that have occurred within living memory.

Let’s take a quick look at a video that I constantly see in the feeds of baby-boomer social media. It’s from a particularly terrible show called the Newsroom, and it’s very impressive in the way that it gets so much right and so much wrong. I can’t embed it, because every copy I can find on youtube has embedding disabled, but here’s a link.

This video encapsulates the issues I’m talking about, after going off on a litany of why America is not the greatest country in the world (though I prefer ‘Thank You for Smoking’s answer as to why it is: “Our endless appeals system”) our author stand-in resolutely informs his strawman that she is part of the Worst Period Generation Period Ever Period. Well, alright. All of America’s poor rankings that were listed previously, how is that the fault of a 20 year old’s generation? All the problems about how we and the government act now that he takes issue with, how is that the fault of a 20 year old’s generation? Why is it so damn hard for him to see that the problems he’s railing about aren’t the fault of a generation of kids who are barely old enough to run for congress but his own generation? He speaks wistfully of how America used to be (And he speaks about an America that never existed), but can’t bring himself to admit that whatever it is he thought this country was, it was his own generation that ruined it.

My wife and I were once at our favorite local drinking establishment when another man and his associate sat at the table next to us. This man was firmly in the now hallowed baby boomer generation, he was also the award winning owner of a local business. Before long he was telling his young employee about everything that was wrong with his generation, how they didn’t have respect, or loyalty to businesses (this was his biggest concern). More employees gathered as time went on, and he was telling the crudist, dumbest, most sexist jokes I’ve heard in public family setting, loudly, demanding, begging to be heard. When he joked about raping a waitress, we decided to leave and let him know what we thought of his behavior. He was unapologetic. This is a man complaining about my generation, his employee’s generation. And he’s a damn pillar of the community. My House Stranger has said that if people complain about how this is the generation where everybody gets a trophy, who is giving out the trophies? That is the kind of man who is giving out the trophies.

I think the greatest lesson to take from this is to do away with mortal hero worship. The Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, Bucer, Roosevelt, Reagan, Obama, no matter who they are or how brilliant they were, they’re but fallible men who do not hold up to scrutiny. Canonizing them doesn’t do them or us any favors.

My generation is not the Greatest Generation 2.0, and I roll my eyes whenever I hear it talked about that way, but we’re far from being worse than any previous generation. I just finished a biography about Cicero and in 50 B.C. they were complaining about how the youth were immoral and didn’t respect tradition. I don’t think there’s been a period in time when people approved of their replacements. I’m already having difficulty accepting some of mine, with their Snapchats and their Vines. Get off my lawn.

A Clickhole World

I’m pretty sure anyone who has ever lived has dreamed of living in a fictional world, we’re all checking wardrobes to see if they lead to Narnia. You might want a simpler life in the Shire, dream of receiving that Hogwarts letter, waiting for that wrrrr of the TARDIS appearing on your front lawn, tapping your foot, holding out for NASA to discover the Prothean cache on Mars that you know, deep down in your brain’s heart, is there.

I don’t think this is something we get over either, it’s not a childhood fancy that we outgrow. If anything, our fantasies of other worlds just become more pedestrian. What you’d do with all that money if you won the lottery or powerball. How your life would be immeasurably better if your team completed that pass or made that touch down… or that the team that you really, truly hate to the depths of your being lost. Your country would be saved if your candidate won whatever election. What it could have been if that TV show you cherished wasn’t cancelled. We dream about being an amoral captain of industry from an Ayn Rand novel, or at least letting a boss or client know what we really think. I’ll take the childhood fantasies any day over those. They seem more achievable, and those dreams rarely end happily when they do come true. Lottery winners tend to end up worse off and even more miserable, your team’s win makes the next season’s loss more embarrassing, no politician will ever be the Savior you want them to be, that TV show just won’t be as good as it used to be when Netflix picks it up and living your life like an Ayn Rand novel is the quickest shortcut to being miserable that I can think of.

One of my wish-fulfillment scenarios when I was young (I’ll leave out the more embarrassing ones, mostly involving Middle Earth and the Wheel of Time, this one I had the good sense to keep private) was finding some two way portal to Steven Brust’s Dragaera. This seemed feasible, as portals like that existed over there, Easterners clearly came from earth and the main character was narrating to a person who was obviously from this world. Once there, despite being a young, weak Easterner, I’d be able to make a fortune importing soda (specifically, Simply Soda from Costco), which I’d say was some form of brandy which the characters in the book enjoyed. I obviously didn’t have the faintest clue what brandy really was, but in my defense, Vlad stated many times that the Dragaerans had no idea either. I’d make my fortune, sell primarily to Morrolan, buy a title in the Jhereg and spend my time in Castle Black, what could be better?

I’m glad I didn’t share these fantasies of mine too widely, not that my parents would have thought much of it but those were the days of Columbine when everyone was worried about a child not being able to separate fantasy from reality. But I think one of the side effects of living in a fallen world like this is wishing, within the limited scope of our minds, for something better that we know is out there.

These days I don’t dream about selling HFCS non-alcoholic brandy to elvin lords or that Middle-Earth may be an actual pre-history. I tried to place my hopes in politics for a time but was left sorely disappointed from the experience. If anything, I’d like our world to more closely mirror Clickhole.

Clickhole is the Onion’s response to the ‘viral media’ phenominem capitalized on by familiar websites like BuzzFeed and UpWorthy. The junk food of internet content, you can digest it quickly and it’s fun but you feel gross afterwards. When Clickhole first arrived I didn’t think much of it. I thought it was a clever idea, but surely it wasn’t sustainable, it’d peter off after a year or so. I was wrong, Clickhole may very well be the extension of John Hodgman’s unparralled trilogy of complete world knowledge, ‘The Areas of my Expertise’ ‘More Information than you Require’ and ‘That is All’. It marries the mundane to the absurd. It dials everything to eleven while cutting it down at the same time.

Are you exasperated with seeing yet another post or tweet about ‘how to treat introverts‘ as if they are some sort of magical, delicate unicorn that must be carefully groomed and managed? Clickhole has that covered. But you’re special, you like being alone AND you like having friends (like a wretched party person)? Clickhole has that covered. I think I’d actually enjoy football if it existed here like it does in the Clickhole reality. Even politics get better in the Clickhole world.

What Clickhole does isn’t easy. It’s not just taking a trivial aspect of life and giving it a veneer of hyperbole. It takes the mundane and addresses it as mysterious, interesting. Thanks to Clickhole my roommate and I refer to each other as ‘House Stranger‘ and are much better off for it. Sure, there are times when it has content that might as well be an actual blog post by someone you might know, but its alternate reality proves the quote I’ve dubbed ‘Hodgman’s Law’: “Truth may be stranger than fiction, goes the old saw, but it is never as strange as lies. (Or, for that matter, as true.)”

Clickhole essentially just takes the mundane things that we obsess over and build idols out of and cuts them down not by making straw men out of it, but by making it surreal. By giving it a level of draw that obsession over the handling of introverts or local colloquialisms never could. It’s not designed to make us feel special or different, it’s set up to cut that down and just make everything plain weird. And just like how I can’t help but lose myself in the world of Hodgman’s invented facts whenever I open his books or listen to the audio tapes (and somehow always actually end up learning something), I think that taking in that absurd, weird world that Clickhole gives us is a much better use of our imaginative brainpower than what we’d do with half a billion dollars from guessing some numbers.

A Magical Kennewick?

While in Bellingham this weekend, my friend Jesse showed me a map from a fantasy book she was reading. It looked frighteningly familiar. Click the thumbnail for a full-size picture.

Not normally the kind of book I read but… how can I resist a fantasy novel set in my beloved Tri-Cities? DO VAMPIRES DRINK AT ICE HARBOR?

St. George Day

Today is St. George’s Day, patron saint of England. In celebration I bought Margaret Hodges and Trina Schart Hyman’s masterpiece St. George and the Dragon (Of course I tracked down a hardcover copy.)

I have fond memories of this book. I used to ask my dad to read it to me every night, until we finally progressed to The Restaraunt at the End of the Universe. Although it has been over a decade since I’ve seen it, every picture is still vivid in my mind. It left quite an impression on me. Thanks to this book, I never minded my dad calling me ‘George’.

It will be a fine addition to my collection of children’s books

Smug-Read

My older sister just posted a wonderful entry about homeschooling her children and their reading habits. She also talked about her own and even paid me a compliment:

… I read a lot when I was little but always stuck to one particular genre. I disdained animal books, didn’t care about adventure books (and any book that Geoff said was good), and pretty much just read all the fluff romantic historical fiction I could get my hands on …

:)

But yeah, pretty much the only thing I enjoyed at first but now regret reading is The Wheel of Time series. But I’ll talk about pallid Tolkien impersonators later.

Thanks for the shout-out Mystie!

I am a Library

Loiosh informed me of his approach just before he said “You may borrow them, if you wish,” so I could avoid letting him startle me.

“I’d like that very much.”

“I should warn you, however, that I have several volumes devoted to curses for people who don’t return books.”

“I’d like to borrow those, too.”

-Steven Brust ‘Dragon

Fiction in Life

Steven Brust just posted a review of an unreleased book, and he seems quite charmed by it.

The quote that stood out for me was:

Ever read one of those YA books that drops in the occasional mention of what is obviously a favorite book of the author’s in such a way as to give you the uncomfortable feeling that you’re supposed to like the character because the character likes that book, or maybe likes books, and you end up feeling manipulated? This ain’t that. This ain’t that all. In this book, we follow Mor, aged 15, as she voraciously read sf just as we did, and it gives her bursts of insight just as it did us. The sf she is reading is part of who she is, and who she is becoming, and it is so real it hurts.

I had never even really thought about it that way, but it’s just so true. As a teenager I felt a strong connection, or even a relationship with my favorite characters. Vlad, Peter, Eustace, Aerich. Although for how much I read the Lord of the Rings, I never felt that connection with the characters there. The characters are too good. They are paragons with virtues beyond our reach. Which I suppose is the point, since Tolkien wanted a mythology for England. But Aragorn isn’t relatable, not even the hobbits are. They are extremes of different values and virtues. I would like Aragorn to be my king, but I don’t think I could hang out at Ice Harbor with him.

Those flashes of insight though? That’s what reading sci-fi and fantasy is all about. It shapes who you are. I believe reading has made me a better person than I’d otherwise be.

Now I have to shake my fist at Brust for telling me about this book that I want to read so badly, and can’t until next January. Noooooooo.