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Generation Jones Living All Together, Yet They Were All Alone

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Mike Brady

That's the exact facial expression I'm talking about.

[And they knew that it was much more than a hunch … Welcome to the second installment of the Born in ’59 series. I’m glad you’re here. I’m not sure what it is, maybe something to do with Google Alerts, but the first Generation Jones piece was the first traffic spike I ever received, and people still continue to show up to read it. Whatever sweet spot I’ve been hitting, it feels good to be illuminating this part of my own and our shared experience. Plus, I just discover Lizz Winstead (web, twitter) is one of us, born August of ’61 and possibly (probably?) conceived the night JFK was elected. Sounds pretty Jonesy to me.]

It wasn’t presented to us that we were the end of an era. It was presented that we’d finally gotten it right, that we would be the first generation to live in a perfected world.

The notion was that we’d been released, that we were going to be living in a post-something utopia. We’re learning things definitely aren’t going to ever work out that way. For us, Barack Obama isn’t so much the first African-American president as he is the first president who’s younger than us.

We knew all along it was Pleasantville, knew I Dream of Jeanie and the Fonz and the lovely lady who was bringing up three very lovely girls weren’t actual representations of an actual reality. It was just the next stage of pretend after you stopped feeling at home in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. We are the last generation even a little bit like us. There’s something about the Simpsons and Family Guy and South Park which start from actual reality as it’s actually lived and experienced. It’s not escapism, but some kind of heightened representation, reality considered and redrawn, maybe as a way to clarify its assumptions and make it not only understandable, but bearable when otherwise it would not be.

Alice from the Brady Bunch

I think she likes me.

In a way, the story of our generation is the story of promises betrayed. All of them, implicit and explicit, were eventually revealed to be deceitful, hollow, imaginary. The Sixties were the beginning of an era of justice and mutual respect; the rule of law can overcome generations of hatred and horror; the Supreme Court will protect us; our country is the world’s strength and its redeemer. We were looking forward to the world Walter Cronkite was promising us, and the world promised by Johnny Carson, secure and righteous enough to relax at the end of the day and enjoy a few jokes, chat with a pretty movie star. The scales fell from our eyes as we reeled and stumbled through what’s now become the standard litany of catastrophes, but somehow it was the bizarre spectacle of Ronald Reagan who hammered the last nails into the coffins of our credulity. It wasn’t just that the eerie emptiness of this lowest iteration of American show business somehow seeping out of its corral into the real world of politics and the world stage, but that his intensely simple-minded and gigantic crimes – funding South American death squads (delivering actual death to innocent but curiously fictional South Americans (it’s all divided up into different little countries down there)) with money from illegal arms sales to our rogue state enemy-customer with some CIA drug trafficking swag thrown into the stew – should end up being laughed off and then escorted quietly off the lot, that was the turning point.

We were the last generation to believe the promises made to us. Subsequent generations were born knowing it was all a shabby and threadbare shell game, to be taken no more seriously than Bob Barker or Monty Hall. You’re a market, we’re going to see how much money we can get to pass through you on its way to us, and other than that, you’re screwed and we don’t care. They’re not even accorded the courtesy of being provided with some fig leaf of propriety or values or hope to try to pretend to believe in. It’s all just nakedly revealed. It turns out it doesn’t matter, or now it doesn’t matter any more. There’s a process that can now be revealed because it’s been completed, that’s about the triumph of greed, corruption, violence and the consignment of huge swaths of the population, including most of us, into a dehumanized mass, functional as long as they’re turning through their cog-like consuming and mortgage-buying and war-fighting functionalities, and of negligible significance if they’re not.

And that’s hardly an upbeat and optimistic call to action kind of conclusion. It’s like a few bitter drops of our final hemlock, the transition we all fear from dismayed and vaguely startled middle age to an impotent, embittered and aghast old age. But maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe the Chinese will make solar panels and build us some sea walls around our still-somewhat-proud metropolises, fence us off into some kind of world park, let us watch Iron Man and eat our Doritos and people can come to watch us in our natural habitat, an object lesson in consumerist economy gone terribly wrong, one more example of the once mighty who now have fallen. But they were very brave about the Nazis and the blue jeans and Coca Cola and Marlboros and MRI’s and jazz and the American song book, those were very nice, and we saw quite a nice production of West Side Story in Singapore just a couple weeks ago.

2 comments to Generation Jones Living All Together, Yet They Were All Alone

  • deserthackberry

    I don’t agree that younger generations are more savvy. In fact, they all seem to have drunken the Koolaid from birth. They don’t know that things were ever different. And they’d sell their Grandmothers if it ensured career success.

    I’ve actually found myself explaining the 70s oil crisis to a 30-something who had never heard of it. He didn’t know that there was a much earlier push for conservation and alternative energy that was squelched by the Reagan administration. It’s kind of like young Chinese who’ve never heard what happened at Tianamen Square, only we supposedly live in a free country with a free press. Hmmmm…

  • admin

    Hi deserthackberry,

    Thanks for commenting. I’m not sure I meant to say the younger generations are more savvy, just that they start off more disillusioned than we did. Maybe you’re making a connection between savvy and “We were the last generation to believe the promises made to us.” I know what you mean about the younger generations, I think. On the other hand, I don’t think my 16-year-old twins or any of their friends are going to develop into people who would “sell their Grandmothers if it ensured career success.” And it sounds like we’re both a little bit of exceptions to the rule, but the generalized American ignorance of history and the rest of the world is shameful and very dangerous and pretty evenly distributed through the different age cohorts.

    Positively,

    Paul

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