Saturday, March 13, 2010

I just don't get these kids today

Ok, so D-fav J is on a rant and decided to pull me into it. I thought I'd take just a moment to defend myself and my original argument.

A. The original intent of my post (as opposed to the letter I actually wrote to the company), was a sort of tongue-in-cheek poke at myself. It's the inevitable dismay at having turned into my mother.

B. I think you have misunderstood the nature of my complaint. In that original letter I wrote to Steep and Cheap, I was pointing out that I don't wish to encounter the word "shit" when I'm trying to shop. The "there are kids reading this" comment was secondary to MY preferences and I felt you sort of focused on that part of my comment when that was just a lazy phrase I threw in. I felt (and still do) that I have every right to express my opinion to companies whose services or products I purchase...whether it be for the manner of their advertising (take Nikon's Negro in the jungle ads, or Steep and Cheap's bomber jacket's da shit ad copy), or the taste of Campbell's soup (too damn salty! already). I feel no differently about this interaction with a corporate entity than I do when I ask Kroger to add a few more organic and green product choices, please. And really, if you had read that particular Daily Dose where he talked about going into a bar and calling some Irish guy a drunk Mic or something, you'd know where I'm coming from.

The "you kids get off my lawn" title was intended as a poke at my advancing age and the stereotype of grumpy ol' Mr. Wilson trying to rid himself of Dennis the Menace (I know, probably an obscure reference for you). But with respect to young people, yeah, I do care when teenagers sling around the f-bombs when families with small children are trying to eat. I do care when some drunk concert-goer screams like a little girl through every fucking song when I paid $60 for a ticket to listen to the performer actually sing it in person. I do care when lifeguards text message on their cell phone when they are supposed to be in charge of saving lives. However, I don't really give a flying rat's ass what the young kids do amongst themselves. They want to call each other "nigga" and I'm supposed to believe it's not racial, so be it. When my nephew posts pictures of himself and his friends on Facebook playing with balloons in the shape of a penis and testicles and act as though they are giving each other blow jobs, I'm not saying a word. Let him realize how embarrassing that's gonna be when he tries to get a real job post-college.

But let's get real here for a minute. You have rigorously defended the younger generation as though they are a generation of polite, smart, civic-minded Kevin Arnolds, and I think you are living in a dream world there. Sure, the younger generation is not racist. I think the younger generation is not racist NOT because they are some greater level of benevolent than previous generations but because their parent's generation purposely raised them not to be racist, in defiance of their (parent's) own upbringing. But overly civic minded? Horse shit! I believe this generation is as apathetic as most other previous generations. I believe your sense of your generation being so proactive is a product of your personal experience (and you hang with a pretty damn upscale crowd), and not indicative of the larger community of young people. Go to a soup kitchen. Or a hospital. Or a reading program. Who do you see volunteering? Who is walking around your neighborhood trying to solicit donations for charity? When I was 37 years old, I began volunteering at the zoo. I was the youngest volunteer in my area by about 25 years. No one is going to come close to approaching the elderly in terms of giving of their time and energy. It takes time to gain the perspective and see the value in "giving back". Young people (as a group) just aren't there yet.

So, while it may not be okay to be openly racist these days, there are plenty of other things that these "kids today" have no problem being pretty darn insensitive about. (Although, I will admit that it is not significantly different that the lack of civility and sensibility that one finds in the public at large---this really doesn't seem to be a product of age.) However, it was YOUR argument that the young people today are so much better than the young people of previous generations.

Case in point. Let's go back to the Steep and Cheap advert about the hat with a zippered pocket for the ski-lift doobage. I heard back from Fred after that post. Here's what he had to say about the rules he had to implement regarding ad copy. And keep in mind, that this is just the bare minimum.
I have made progress on the editorial front by implementing at least the following guidelines and limitations:
  • Absolutely no use of the “f” word in backcountry copy
  • Avoid sensitive issues related to politics and religion
  • Never make fun of a human disease or disability (this was out of control before)
  • Absolutely no hate speech or anything that can be perceived as bigotry
  • Be sensitive to the values of parents
Your concern about the “stoner culture,” as you call it, is also a concern to me. I mean that sincerely.

He actually had to distribute rules that said they would not drop f-bombs or make fun of human disability. Now there's some upscale thinking for ya.

I am not blind, deaf, or an idiot. My nephew uses the term "gay" as a put down. I find it appalling. I have heard him talk to his friends when he thinks he is out of earshot and he calls women "bitches" and "ho's". Cringe City. He takes pictures of he and his friends flipping the photographer the bird. So 1977. And apparently, there is some quality of mouth wide open, tongue hanging out that he finds to be a heart-warming Kodak moment. I take a "I won't ask, please don't tell me" approach.

Do I think that kids enjoy pushing the envelope? Of course. Do I tire of having it thrust upon ME where I find it difficult to avoid? You bet. I find it irritating the same way I find it irritating that blue jeans come in two varieties--elastic waist just beneath my cleavage or producing a muffin top/threatening to show my butt crack every time I bend over. I am 47 years old and I'd like MY preferences to be considered along with those of 12-24 year olds. I'd like Campbell's soup to make a low, LOW sodium soup that I could choke down. I'd like my concerts without the vomit, pot-haze, or screaming ninjas, my swimming pool with an attentive life guard, my shopping experience without the shit-fucking-stoner copy, and I'd like to eat in peace. I realize the value in NOT selling alcohol at venues that attract a lot of people. I don't consider it an inconvenience anymore--I consider it a public service.

As for the young people of this generation, I think they have great potential. I think they have great challenges. I don't think they are substantially different than my generation, my parent's generation, or your generation. They have their own culture and they are welcome to it. But they do have to interact with people of all ages, and that includes customers of their businesses. And if they want to sell to people outside of their generation, they are going to have to consider the sensibilities of people outside their generation. I don't think you call your colleagues "homies". I don't think you call your boss "nigga". I don't think you use the word "shit" in ad copy and I do think it's irresponsible to encourage drug use. Steep and Cheap doesn't want to sell to me. That's their choice. I have every right to open a dialogue about it, to encourage them to see me as more than a cranky old person. Maybe one day, probably when they are 47, they will begin to think of me as a valuable customer. But by then it will be too late. No one will be listening to them either.


  1. Hmm. We seem to be partly talking past each other. The idea that kids are more civic-minded -- or "a generation of polite, smart, civic-minded Kevin Arnolds", is completely besides the point of my argument. The main problem I have is with people justifying their complaints with "it wasn't like this when I was younger" or some such. Your preferences as a consumer, citizen, etc. are perfectly reasonable and I have no particular issue with the things you named. They may not be my preferences in all cases, or my concerns, but I have zero issue with you having them in itself -- it's the idea that in a past age things were simpler or better or more civil that I take issue with. And not even the simple idea that they may have been -- but rather that arguments that things were better are near-uniformly backed up with, not evidence, but anecdotes, assertions and personal memories. I also find the idea that family life was "simpler" rather than full of different problems to be uncompelling; there are a number of added complexities in today's life, but every generation pretty much has faced more complexity than the previous in certain terms; I don't think we can assert a secular progression in the complexity of family life without defining a lot a lot of terms. The proliferation of information and media don't mean life or relationships were less complicated--for example, there are assuredly certain things in life made more simple by not, for example, owning indentured servants or worrying about slave revolts or attacks by the indigenous peoples. We have a complex war on terror, but don't see armies advancing throughout Europe; we have nuclear proliferation, but the risk of nuclear annhilation seems to have decreased from Cold War brinkmanship. We have venereal diseases, but AIDS is no longer a death sentence.

    As far as the civic-mindedness of kids these days, I'm not arguing just from personal experience. There actually are several articles (popular and, I think, scholarly, though I don't feel like searching) that have made this argument; indeed, they made it before I believed it. I was equally skeptical. But my students today are quite different than my students 7 years ago, and much much different than my fellow students when I was in school. I vividly remember in the 90s how completely uncool it was to care about anything. This was clearly different than how the 60s and 70s were portrayed, and certainly, the amount of overt political activity on U of M at least decreased dramatically from the 60s to the 90s. I would argue the 90s were more apathetic than usual; some, and FAR from just me (other faculty, as well as several journalists) have argued the pendulum is swinging the other way. As far as I see it, the jury's out, but this isn't my assertion only, it's a number of people's. And it's certainly plausible -- I think the most likely mechanism is that only a minority of people (or kids) are usually politically active at any juncture in history; in the 60s this minority may have swelled to be more significant; during the 90s I would near guarantee that it decreased; there are signs, far from concrete, that it's back on the rise.

  2. It seems like you and I have been talking past each other in our discussions for months now, I don't know why -- your focus wasn't so much on "kids these days" and insofar as it was it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek; my focus wasn't on how kids were objectively better, and I *certainly* never claimed they were uniformly a group of nice Kevin Arnolds (and I firmly remember Dennis the Menace in several incarnations, thank you! :) My larger point is that if one wants to complain about an issue at hand, that's fine and even often laudable/important/necessary; but the assertion that things were better before is both unnecessary and, I think, largely a product of age and not fact. If one wishes to seriously assert that things are qualitatively or quantitatively different, it should require evidence.

    My point was that Language Log and other posts have shown that these concerns are perennial, and as they point out in the comments, if it were indeed true that each generation was losing something over the previous generation, then since the complaints heard of insufficient reading and respect to elders in Sumeria, Rome, and Egypt means that, even at some small objective decline of, say, 5% or less per generation, we would now be at approximately 0.01% of the civility or what have you of Rome. The details of whether or not kids or people are more or less civil would require lengthy debate, but I certainly wouldn't argue it's because they're inherently more beneficient--your point that less-racist kids would be a product of their parents' upbringing is, to my mind, clearly a big part of the truth. But the source doesn't affect the existence (or non-existence) of this quality. Kids have mocked each other with racial, sexual, etc. slurs for time immemorial. I don't know that they do it more or less, though perhaps more openly.

    Anyway. I don't know why this is the second or third or fourth time we've had a version of a debate where we seem to not be getting each other's points, but I rather enjoyed it more when we were amplifying each other's ideas rather than deconstructing them. It's important to do both, to be sure, but I still prefer the former :) I don't disagree with a number of the things you find bothersome or disturbing, I do on others. As far as this generation, I'm not the first to have thought things are changing among them, nor the only one, and I think the data would back up a change in attitudes, though perhaps not action. I can't make a strong case of this, but as it's based on more than just my own experience, it takes a faint stab at what I'm asking for. I would say that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I need more evidence--just like if I wanted to seriously argue that they are worse. After all, things *do* change, I just think it occasionally behooves us to define what we think is changing and back it up.

    Occasionally, but not always, and especially not if the point we're (or you're) making is really something else :)

  3. So once I get rolling, I can't stop, but I just wanted to re-iterate some things--

    Not sure how tongue-in-cheek the "J is ranting and decided to pull me into it", but it wasn't meant to be an attack on what you posted but the kind of cross-blog convos we used to have. Maybe I've been too cranky in my phrasing recently? And like I said, I think we've definitely not quite thoroughly got each other recently, though maybe you disagree and maybe I'm the only one who's not quite reading things in the spirit they were written. (Seriously).

    Also, you said "But the point is, that it is the crankiness itself that is a product of age. In the same way young people think (and rightly so), that the older generations are out of touch with their culture, old people think (and rightly so) that young people are vastly irritating. See further response on my page."

    I wouldn't really say any of these things uniformly; though I guess I'm trying to fight the tendency in myself to be cranky about young people, since I know it's only a recapitulation of the same things that were said about me. For example, I love swearing. Don't get why some words, other than direct/personal attacks (or those based on gender, race, etc.), are inherently offensive, other than tradition, and I don't like doing things just because they're tradition and outside of a rational basis. In any case, in a line tangential to my work, I find it more interesting to see what the common and causal factors are in these types of things (why are kids always seen as less polite, why do adults often focus on negative characteristics--for example, they surely thought the "kids" less civil or whatnot during civil rights, but surely the kids and adults that "acted out" then were often, though not always and not for all actions, broadly right to do so and helped bring us where we are today). Other people see such a tendency as tiresome and over-analyzey, which can certainly the case sometimes. But I'm interested in unpacking these things as phenomena and less interested in my feelings about them or the complaints themselves for the most part. This may not be my most endearing characteristic.

  4. I don't think young people are vastly irritating; some are, some aren't, just like older people. I would say the same about older people vis a vis crankiness. And older people often *do* get younger people, far more so than is perceived, because they've gone through it all (or some/much of it). We/they may not get why, say, a certain song is popular, but the general shape of rebellion, feeling immortal, pushing the envelope, making your own mistakes--that all seems familiar to me. For example, I may not "get" a teen's specific behavior because I want them to behave reasonably; on the other hand, I "get" that I was an unreasonable dick as a teen and that most teens are in many situations. I get the hormones and remember the newness and uncertainty and the feeling of not being understood... I don't think "niggas" is an appropriate term of endearment, not now any more than I did when kids said it when I was in elementary school. But of course, as many adults do that as kids I think, just not in public or mixed company--one of the things adults "get" that kids don't is moderating yourself for different audiences. They'll learn--and many of them won't and will just be like the adults now who haven't learned it, and the adults 300 years ago who used some kind of embarrasing/offensive language in public, taking the Lord's name in vain or some such.

    I'm not going to natter about evidence here again, but like I said above, I find the analysis more interesting and edifying than the assertion, but not all (or perhaps most) assertions should be taken as much outside of people blowing off steam, or voicing a complaint that is reasonable in the general (civility in society) and the flourish of saying "these days" is one I spend overmuch time considering. So maybe I was just being cranky?

  5. You? Cranky? You don't strike me as cranky. Overly analytical perhaps. More or less Eyorish, for sure. For the record though, I was only teasing about your "rant" and pulling me into it. Truth is, I just never felt like I responded to your previous comment (about the S&C hat) because my dog died and that that particular bitch festival lost its attraction to me. So when you brought the topic up again, I thought I might at least say what I had long intended to say but never got around to. So yes, my comment to your post today doesn't really respond to your current post, but was in response to your earlier comment to a post that I wrote. One that I let drop because life intervened. Capishe? I sure hope so, because I really don't want to have to unravel that for anyone. :)

    Hope all is well and congrats on the job offer. Is it a faculty position or a post-doc?

    Anyway, you are probably right. We have been talking past each other of late. Can't say why. I think maybe we have our buttons and are overly sensitive to any comment we think may be trying to push them, and before you know it, we've veered off the intended path. It's a theory anyway. Of course, I guess we are as prone to get out of sync as in sync, and honestly, I've really been off my game over this dog thing.

  6. Yeah, I'm sorry to hear about your dog. That is major. So my sincere condolences.

    It's funny being called Eeyorish, since I'm also constantly pegged as naively optimistic these days (for our work on high production from organic agriculture, for thinking this generation might be going in a better direction, for thinking that there is possibly/likely a sustainable, more cooperative future in our future). But, Eeyore is my more accustomed role in life.

    And on the second read through, I Capped your Pishe, so no unravelling necessary :)

    Job = faculty. Me = somewhat weirded-out. Me also = planning on driving through Carbondale on my (out of the) way West :) I plan on us meeting in person, dammit!