Thursday, November 23, 2017

Shallow Grounds

Irony is more of a Gen X thing, isn't it?

There was a small push-back on one of my posts. I brought up "references" and Millennials (I am Generation Y) and how they use it as a crutch in all their works. This response wasn't in the comments, but from the outside world.

The accusation wasn't so much a charge that Millennials do not engage in this trifling attitude (it is impossible to deny) but that references as a concept are nothing new and are in every piece of work from Twilight to Shakespeare. This is true. Referencing history, classic fiction, and real world events is natural and expected, and this generation is no different in that regard. So why are Millennials so much worse at it than anyone else? That is a fair question.

It's simple. It is because they are shallow and irreverent references.

Now I'm not saying every work needs to make reference The Castle of Otranto or the Knights of Malta, but it would be nice if these modern stories didn't all touch on the exact same subjects from the same era in the same way without any nuance or wrinkles. You can tell a reference from a Millennial coming a mile away. This generation all has the same response and thoughts on every subject.

There are very obvious examples that anyone who has been paying attention can already mention.

When a child of the 1950s writes about the era and their experience in it we get The Outsiders, a reflective look at how other teenagers were at the time, how they thought, and how they all grew up at the time. The tone is both critical and nostalgic, respectful and understanding, but never false or hollow. It is of a specific place and time, but relates to a reader of any generation. It is made to connect to a specific audience.

Now when a Millennial writes a story about the 1950s, what do you get?

You're already picturing it in your head right now. Every person acts according to their skin color and their sex. Every person that does not think in a (post)modern mindset is stupid or ignorant and must be taught the error of their ways. The ending is always about how much better the present age is to the old one because we're not neanderthals anymore. This current generation is the best ever!

They are all like this. Every story with the same beats, the same morals, and the same character archetypes. It's tiring. There is absolutely no nuance or understanding about how anyone who thought different in another age could be anything but stupid and unenlightened. There's nothing original being said, and nothing worth saying to begin with.

What is left is a tepid story with cardboard characters, a disrespect to those who came before, and a lack of any attempt to connect with anyone outside of your narrow worldview.

Take that example and apply it to every era and time period. Millennials do it to everything. This is why we have ended up with the barren wasteland of entertainment that we currently live in.

And that's not coincidental.

Millennials are well established and thought of as the least empathetic and most vain generation* to ever walk this mud ball. This impression did not fall out of the sky. Millennials are completely uninterested in anything that occurred outside their lifetime except as a means to denigrate those who lived before and put themselves above their ancestors. This is important to their self-esteem. Because they believe they are the best and the most important people to ever grace God's green earth.

This means, by definition, that Current Year is the greatest time to be alive. And yet, ironically, by their own works, it is also not as good as the past, or at least their childhood. It is a strange dichotomy this generation holds in their heads.

You can easily confirm they believe this strange notion by what Millennials consistently reference in their stories. It is always the same. What do they reference? The 1990s. That is because that is when they grew up which makes it the most important decade in human history.

Sure you might see a 1960s reference (it will only ever be hippies, Civil Rights, or the Beatles) or '70s (afros, punk and metal fashion, and . . . that's usually it) but never earlier in time except to make a cheap joke at the era's expense or to spit on those earlier generations who lived before them. The '80s are the prime example. In every Millennial work, the '80s are referenced to mock as if it is still considered the worst and most embarrassing decade (a notion that only exists in Millennials) and an obvious step down from the glorious '90s. This is a very shallow outlook on culture and humanity as a whole.

Their influences only go so far, like what their parents rented for them when they were kids. How many times have you seen Star Wars referenced, but not the pulps or serials that inspired that franchise's creation? How about Back to the Future? The Goonies? Power Rangers? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Old Nintendo or Playstation games? How many times have you seen these products, or exact facsimiles of them, used to prop up some Millennial's unrelated work?

It's a very small window that only exists for them and others like them to peer out of. It is not for anyone else, and that is the opposite of what art exists for.

Naming a gang boss "El Scorcho" after an old Weezer song is a lazy reference because it does not mean anything in the context of the story. It exists only to wink at the audience. Having the main character in your comic use a guitar as a weapon because Haruko in FLCL did is lazy and without any purpose. It does not exist because the story calls for it: it exists because the author wanted it to be there. Having defeated enemies in a comic turn into coins because River City Ransom did it doesn't mean anything except to call attention to an obscure reference. If it was taken out of the story, everything else would remain unchanged.

All of this is just signalling to other Millennials about things from their youth, and nothing else. There is no attempt to connect to the greater humanity or anyone outside a tiny circle of people who wore the same pajamas they did when they were six years old. It is completely shallow. And that's the exact problem.

Classical references in older works existed to link the creator's piece to a canon of works much greater than they are. It was to be part of the bigger whole. Millennials and their miscellaneous childhood references are minuscule in the greater scheme of things, and that is why they fail consistently to connect with anyone not of their ilk. Their works are made for them and other people like them and no one else. It is deliberately insular.

When I talk about shallow references, this is what I mean. Millennials only want to cater to themselves and do not care about anything except that trivial audience.

Writers do not use the Super Mario Bros. 3 box art for their covers despite it having no bearing on the story except to leech nostalgia. Everything in their writing is in service of the story and nothing else.

Which is what matters most: the story.

The story is what connects the creator to the audience, and not the small, usually nonexistent, group the Millennial thinks is interested in their stories. They are spiting the core potential audience to indulge in their own fantasies.

And that is what bothers me the most about Millennials. They have no attachment to anything outside of their box, no intention of empathizing those they disagree with and demonize, and they are hard-headed and insular despite claiming they are against that sort of mindset. But art is about connecting with others, and you can't do that if you look down on groups of people and only want to please yourself. It's not possible.

Not only do they not want anything to do with eras from before they lived, they are perfectly fine with ignoring their ancestors and castigating them as objectively inferior. In other words, these creators are missing the point, and loving it.

So yes, these references are absolutely a crutch. They're the crutch of a generation that has no interest in anything but itself, and that is a very large part of the problem as to why they are so miserable. They have no link to the past which allows no hope for the future. They are cut off and adrift.

Open your front door, guys. There's a whole universe out there waiting to be explored. The sun might hurt at first, but it sure beats a slow death alone in the dark.

Give it a try.

*I, for one, do not believe this. There is a far more selfish and vain generation than them, but I don't need to tell you who they are. You already know.


  1. Luckily, Millennial influence in pop culture is already waning. See the massive yawns that greeted the Ready Player One trailer.

    1. The reaction to that trailer has honestly been my pop culture highlight of the year.

  2. "He's so unhip that when you say Dylan, he thinks you're talking about Dylan Thomas, whoever he was. The man ain't got no culture."

    The problem with my children's generation, I think, is that they can't make deep references, because they don't know what they are. I work at a university, and I have talked with faculty members who have never read Milton or Shelley or Eliot. They think Nineteen Eighty Four was written about the Republican Party. They were taught by highly paid teachers that people in "the olden days" were stupid and evil. Think Romeo And Juliet is a love story with Leo Dicaprio and Clare Danes. I've talked with people--people who teach on a University level--who honestly believe that computers were invented in the 1980s and refuse to believe that the US was ever at war with Japan. (Those are both examples from conversations I've had. Someone was complaining about Trump's alleged disrespect in his recent visit to Japan and finished by saying, "And Japan is one country the US has never been at war with." I laughed, and then I realized that she was serious. And the other one was someone who said that the reason that more people had jobs in the 1970s was because computers hadn't been invented yet.)

    1. This is a real shame. There's so much these kids are missing, and they don't even know it!

      I'm sure the school system is also to blame. I remember very little in what I learned in school, and most of what I do know was cobbled together by what I pursued myself. And I'm still learning now.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. There's a strange nostalgia for the 80s, probably because despite the modern denigration of the era where we opposed the Soviets and watched music videos on tv, there was an honesty and a 'bigness' to it.

    I dunno though it its just millennials. Hegel's weedly fingers reach to all, with the foolish belief that 'novelty is improvement' and 'becoming.' I find that the reference based culture is a bizarre mixture of people wanting to attach themselves to a time when they were younger, more innocent, and happier.

    For every man, his youth was Arcadia.

    Maybe the referential stuff in its way is like people sitting and singing songs in Babylon? They want their homeland, but they've exiled themselves from it.

    I might be being too philosophical based on a mix of illness and cold medicine though. :/

    1. Nostalgia is definitely not relegated solely to Millennials. I'm not all that sure it ever existed on a wide scale before Boomers, since they were the first comfortable generation, but it appears to be a fixture for modern life now.

      It might be because things are always getting worse, or because their youth actually was better, or maybe some combination of the two, but I think it all has a common denominator in believing the present isn't all it's cracked up to be.

      There's nothing wrong with reflecting and respecting ones youth, but I have never met a happy man who still lives there into adulthood and isn't a neurotic, depressed mess.

      Nostalgia is almost like a religion these days.

      Thanks for the comment! It's given me a bit to think about.