She completed all her homework assignments with a plastic giraffe pen. I would steal something from her bedroom every morning, forcing her to call me later that day. Today I had stolen her giraffe pen. You piss me off so much. I pulled her closer and kissed her and she tried not to smile, feigning indignation. When she said that I knew I had stolen her heart. Summer would come a few weeks later and we would wordlessly part ways as separate atoms racing through the immeasurable void.
In the event that you find yourself without a social circle following your high school years (an all too common fate), the entirety of your future female connection will be sourced through online dating applications. Here more than anywhere else, your sexual value as a man is reduced to the capricious whims of distracted girls swiping through your profile in between bored glances at Netflix. If you are not photogenic, or worse, genuinely mediocre in appearance, your prospects are dismal. Tinder is the Colosseum and you are the lowly gladiator whose survival depends on appeasing the vapid egos of the patrician caste.
The matches you do get invoke a thrilling, short-lived dopamine release; that is until you view her sixth picture and discover she’s obese. Gone are the lithe, fourteen and fifteen year old blondes who pined after you in high school. The metaphysic of filth we inhabit taints their little souls with a rapid, unrelenting savagery. Your high school girlfriend, should you have been so fortuitous to have experienced young love, is now a single mother: on methamphetamines and with a tattoo reading LIVE LAUGH LOVE displayed furtively above her mons pubis.
Certain Internet forums, the names of which I am disinclined to mention, propose that men have but four bargaining chips in the sexual economy: appearance, status, wealth, and social skills in descending order of importance.
Your appearance is, more or less, at the mercy of biochemical reactions that occur before you are even born. The face, rather the unalterable geometric proportions that constitute your countenance, is irrefutably the largest determinant of your attractiveness. Euclid was a bastard.
Second only to this is height, again a factor dependent on your genes and childhood diet. Frame is the third constituent of appearance and the most readily alterable. The weight room is filled to capacity with young men, who lacking suitable facial aesthetics and heights starting with the number six, spend hours per week lifting weights in order to make amends with Nature’s cruel machinery.
Now, status, wealth, and social skills are much more nebulous concepts, not as easily quantifiable as appearance (save for wealth), and lacking all three, I am not qualified to discuss them at length. We all know of rich men with bitch Asian wives, henpecked at home and at the office, who in a last ditch act of desperation either commit suicide or flee to Thailand and spend their remaining days drinking cheap beer and sleeping with prostitutes (a form of suicide in its own right). Likewise, status is no longer a guarantee of a fulfilling sex life unless you were born into a powerful family and given the access code to the secret Illuminati Tinder app full of fifteen year old American Apparel models.
We are thus left with social skills, or ‘game’, as it is referred to in the aforementioned forums I am disinclined to mention. ‘Game’ has been the subject of many an e-book, hawked online to lonely subcontinental men lacking entirely in the other three bargaining chips. However, I will argue, social skills cannot be taught. Like appearance, your ability to navigate the intricacies of the sexual economy is largely based on early childhood experiences. Appearance and social skills go hand in hand. Beautiful people can do no wrong. This is why attractive women, though they may not deign to sleep with you, are wholly more pleasant to talk with than less attractive women.
If you were ugly as a child, you missed out on many of the formative social experiences enjoyed by your more attractive peers. You were not invited to the parties, the dances, the trips to the beach. Through no fault of your own, your exclusion from these outings ensnared you in a vicious circle: exclusion reduces your opportunity to improve your social skills, poor social skills result in your exclusion. Blizzard, realizing this troubling social trend, graciously released World of Warcraft during your adolescence, providing you with a simulacrum of community (if you rolled Alliance, stop reading).
The mass shooting is the last shocking act of post-modernity. Aside from those massacres of a sectarian nature, episodes that have become all too familiar in the West in recent years, the mass shooting represents a lashing out of the repressed violence and unfulfilled sexual desire dormant in the young men of our society. Our society, one accustomed to fictionalized representations of sex and violence via the media, is appalled to witness the fuming reaction when the two mix in real life.
Young men shoot up their schools and universities for the deceptively simple reason that they’re not getting laid. Parents and the media are swift to blame guns, video games, and a lack of proper mental health care (as if boys aren’t being prescribed enough medication already), but in reality, like all things, it comes down to sex. If a boy is sexually active, he’s not emptying a loaded magazine on his school cafeteria.
Sex serves as the ultimate demarcation of social status in early adulthood, effectively separating young men into castes based on their attractiveness. A boy with minimal sexual experience will gradually find himself unable to connect with his male peers. Social isolation ensues, and with it a slew of mental health issues. You can guess what happens next.
Were the young men of our society not so thoroughly anesthetized with pornography and electronic entertainment (arguably the two most effective forms of social control), there would be a mass shooting every day. Nobody playing League of Legends into the early hours of the morning and jerking off three times per day is killing anybody.
One cannot fault young men for dropping out of society. We are caged lab rats in Calhoun’s great behavioral sink experiment. Childhood friends will stab each other in the back for the opportunity to become some drunken floozy’s fourth sexual partner. Participating in the sexual economy yields a diminishing return; and in the majority of cases, no return at all.
Today we have a special guest essay from Twitter user @MAGAMan8 on the striking similarities between the Lost Generation and the millennial generation.
In his 2010 book Ill Fares the Land, the late historian Tony Judt laments the fate of the “millennial” generation, burdened with debt, war, and vanishing opportunities beyond short-term desultory labor. Here, Judt makes a striking comparison- or striking enough that I jotted it down:
The last time a cohort of young people expressed comparable frustration at the emptiness of their lives and the dispiriting purposelessness of their world was in the 1920s. It is not by chance that historians speak of a “lost generation.”
In one sense, it is though. The “lost generation” moniker was possibly in some limited currency when Ernest Hemingway put it down as an epigraph in The Sun Also Rises and emblazoned the term on the 1920s. As every student knows, Hemingway was quoting Gertrude Stein, his then-mentor and the “mountain of the Left Bank,” when she said “all of you young people who served in the war. You’re a lost generation.” Stein, in turn, was likely quoting a French garage mechanic’s lament that it was impossible to find young French workers after the Great War. Stein and Hemingway, however, saw it as a perfect description of the young Americans they watched aimlessly floating around Paris after the end of the First World War, getting drunk and pissing away their abilities without anything solid and substantial in which they might invest them.
My great grandfather knew a guy by the name of Guy Hickok who was there as well, writing for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and spending his lunches and afternoons in the Eagle office talking with “Hem,” the younger journalist, about the art of writing. Guy, too, was struck by these ex-servicemen, who seemed to be decommissioned from all of civilized life. He wrote numerous articles about how many of them wound up in Europe, without housing, enjoying the lack of Prohibition, and eventually landing in French prisons. His mother, Clara, in fact, was dubbed the “angel of the prisons” by readers, for her efforts to ease their plight while behind bars and get as many released as possible.
Guy could be funny, more often the humorist than Hemingway, and he also poked fun at the respectable Americans who would arrive from the states, have their first taste of unrestricted booze, lose all inhibitions, and make trouble for the “American colony” that already lived there. Guy estimated that “nine out of ten” of the destitute and abandoned had “no good excuse for their condition” aside from “taking chances that nobody but an imbecile has the right to take.” But the ex-soldiers and “men on the beach” bothered him.
Behind his wit, Guy had a noticeable discomfort for what was happening back home. America entered the war late and suffered less compared to Europe: about 53,000 Americans killed versus 1.3 million Frenchmen, for example, but the country went through a post-war wave of reaction that seemed a desperate attempt to shore up her society in spite of the fact.
Strikes broke out in most major industries and were often suppressed violently, white-led race rioting burned down black neighborhoods across the country, the Volstead Act that prohibited the production and sale of alcohol was followed by Congressional measures stripping all of the progressive legislation passed during the war, and wartime jingoists still beat up anyone they suspected of not being “100 percent American,” something that troubled Guy deeply enough that he startlingly referenced it in Berlin, 1933, in comparison to the Brownshirts. As another expatriate, Malcolm Cowley, remembered of the post-war years: “Prohibitionism, Puritanism, philistinism, and salesmanship: these seemed to be the dominant causes in America.” It was no surprise how many came over like Caresse Crosby, as “escapists from the society in which we had been brought up…”
Well, certainly, we still know from philistinism and salesmanship today. It’s striking in their correspondence how little time Guy and Hem had for the business wizards of the newly dominant United States, who would be eating their words by the end of the decade. As Guy wrote his friend in 1930, after the Crash:
How is the dammerung of all the industrial and financial Gotts? Who listens now to Henry Ford on how to make the world rich in 24 hours? Where is the guy who invented the high wages = permanent prosperity theory? What of all the boys who used to say, “My boy, don’t be a bear on America; it’s only just begun.”… What say the drys who attributed the boom to prohibition? Do they also claim the glory of the collapse? What is the expression now of all the lads with the big cigars who used to look so pityingly at poor old Europe who just wouldn’t learn how to do big things in a big way? And how, by the way, much did Sloanes Linament make in 1930?(1?)
Guy was equally scornful about the “traveling circus” of statesmen who simply could not make peace in Europe after disastrous years of war. Both men, and many of their compatriots, were simply fed up with the lies and cant of the era, which seemed to them to cover for stupidity and incompetence, a common enough feeling in what E.E. Cummings called “the age of dollars and no sense.”
Any of this sound familiar?
Characterizing a generation is a bit like reading the oracle bones: writers closely pick over a few specimens in their immediate vicinity and apply what they find to the unseen millions born in the same general time and place. Hemingway’s novel is about a group of dissipated young wastrels drinking itself to destruction in Paris and Spain, but it was taken, as intended, to be emblematic of the young American generation that returned from the war disillusioned with the values of their elders, those Big Words, that now seemed like yellowed poster bills for events that left town long ago.
Born in almost the same year as Hemingway, Jean Renoir would put it in his movie La Regle du jeu, “Today, everyone lies. Pharmaceutical handbills, governments, the radio, the movies, the newspapers. So why shouldn’t simple people like us lie as well?” It reads like a passage from Hemingway. Actually, it reads like a passage from A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway’s second novel:
I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them, on proclamations that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it… Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates….
Hemingway’s writing thus seems an attempt to strip words of the dross of cant and lies, and pin them pitilessly to the page. Even his morbidity and bloodlust formed a part of this project of rejecting the dishonesty of common language. This was a common project in the era. In his inimitable correspondence, Ezra Pound would write fellow poet Louis Zukofsky: “Gertie [Stein] and Jimmie [Joyce] both hunting for langwich, but hunting, I think, in wrong ash-pile.”
The journal transition would declare in their pages “The Revolution in the English Language is an Accomplished Fact.” If Kundera was right that kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, Hemingway’s response is summed up in his childish limerick of the early ’20s that ends: “And in the end the age was handed/ The sort of shit that it demanded.” In this 24/7 Misinformation Age, the need for clean and honest writing is ever more pressing and its absence glaring.
Certainly, my age makes me aware of the mug’s game of generational divination: born in 1998, I was too young for “Generation Y” when that was the obsession of pundits and too old to be a part of the “millennial” generation that is their current fixation. I feel a bit like Guy, who was a decade older than Hem, never called for service, and merely observed the younger generation. Nevertheless, I believe a few observations can be made about this generation, in comparison to their ’20s forebears:
It is obvious that war is not a common experience for them in the same way it was for the “lost generation.” Even though America’s current military engagements have extended longer than any in her history with little support from Millennials, or anyone else, service has been more limited without a draft, and many of them do not know anyone who has served. They are not defined by their proximity to the war so much by their disconnection from it.
Nevertheless, they almost radiate anxiety. Talking with them about their lives and the world in which they live, one hears exactly the sort of dissatisfaction and dispiritedness that Judt describes, along with a fair amount of strain and feelings of powerlessness.
These anxieties are often economic in nature. And if there is anything that bears down on the current generation, it is the widespread fervor among their elders for a market economy that drives policy, misshapes culture, and treats their work as a disposable, short-term resource. At the least, their generation has made “inequality” a watchword and they share with their ’20s forebears a frustrated sense of having dissipated talents and wasted potential, and of the meaninglessness of the world they inherited. Given that I am an 18-year-old with no PHD, mounting debt, and a part-time job as a prep cook and dishwasher, I can speak from this position keenly the sense that, perhaps, this generation will simply be passed over.
Relationships are another source of anxiety.
In many cases, their romantic relationships are as fleeting and short-term as their employment options. They often express frustration with the transience and impermanence in their lives, yet receive little advice or help from their parents. Like my own, I divorced. This state of transience and impermanence in their lives is what Zygmunt Bauman refers to as “liquid modernity.”
And yet, they live under increased levels of administration at work and vanishing privacy in public. They are, paradoxically, both invisible and surveilled, micromanaged and transient. Like the image in Islam, they are both present and absent.
Like their Lost Generation forebears, they often express the sense that the world in which they live is out of their control. Given the unending destruction of the planet, and the distance between the haves and the have-nots, voters and government, and the individual and corporations, these feelings are fully understandable.
Their search for authenticity often leads backward. Generally alienated by consumer culture, they often revive dress, folkways, and even occupations of past times (Electro Swing, Cassettes, hell, any of the current hipster trends anybody?). I’ve met novice farmers, weavers, beekeepers, soap makers, etc. In urban environments, one notes plenty of what we could call politically progressive cultural reactionaries.
If the Lost Generation dissipated itself in alcohol, our drug is screens. When they are not online, they’re binge-watching television programs and then logging on to recap what they watched. Certainly, I am not the first to notice how difficult it has become to meet a young person at a party and engage them in a discussion about books. But when one imagines an image of the emptiness of the age, it’s not a young person mouldering away over a gin glass, but over their iPhone.
They have yet to make clear language and articulation a priority in the same way as Hemingway and his contemporaries, who seemed obsessed with it. It is hard to critique one’s youngers without sounding like the angry neighbor yelling to turn down the music, but actually, if I could offer a critique of this generation, it’s that they are entirely too nice.
They opt out of the big political struggles in the physical world and ask for trigger warnings before hard discussions. I’m also not the first to find their culture too twee and whimsical in recent years. But, when your idea of cultural rebellion is playing a banjo and bringing back bow ties, there’s something wrong! Their greatest act of political solidarity was voting in a milquetoast devotee of neoliberalism with the persona of a black Jimmy Stewart.
The right word for this generation’s acquiescence is not complacency, which carries with it a sense of satisfaction at the way things are; they are not happy with the world they see. But, they seem more often fearful and exhausted by the precarity of their lives; a better word for acquiescence under such conditions is conformity.
They have not yet taken ownership of their disillusionment. Working through the last Lost Generation’s writings, what becomes most striking is that the main reason historians remember them as such is because they articulated their disillusion as a key to who they were. Certainly, every generation is alienated to some extent with the fallen world bequeathed to them by their elders. Yet certain generations—the ’60s youth explosion, the Lost Generation, the Romantics—seemingly excelled at expressing their dissatisfactions as a pressing concern: as something that must be addressed. We want the world and we want it now.
The response from those elders, and a good many of their peers, is surprisingly predictable: the kids are spoiled, selfish, weak, morally vacuous, vapid, and narcissistic. The popular press in the ’20s had a field day ridiculing flappers as bimbos, and the veterans of the Great War as wimps. Millennials are supposedly “entitled,” “the selfie generation.” When we discussed this, the scholar Henry Giroux, responded, “That’s such crap! It’s a kind of social tranquilization. It aims to tranquilize people. And it doesn’t work. Increasingly, the contradictions are just too obvious.”
So, it seems to me that what was critical for the Lost Generation was not just the act of articulation but first their claiming the right to articulate, and rearticulate in the face of ridicule and opprobrium. The writers of that era took ownership of that disillusion and kept repeating it. We can talk about identities and the fact that they did so from the safe haven of another country, but the truth has always and will always come from the margins—from those who have nothing to gain by investing in untruth. The Lost Generation’s great gamble was in this conviction that the truth will burn through the lies.
It’s time for this Lost Generation to stake the same gamble.
I watched the twisted, metal Babel erupt into a plume of thick, choking smoke as three thousand souls were consumed by fire. God said the Earth wouldn’t be destroyed by water the second time around. Nobody understood how or why, but there was always some Middle Eastern dictator to blame. The streets were cloaked red, white, and blue in remembrance. Jets took off and the bombs fell on the empty desert. We would have our revenge.
The decade came and went and we were still there. Babylon had fallen. Ancient ruins in Mesopotamia, once places of divine power beyond our scientific comprehension, turned into rubble. Gilgamesh wept.
Our culture of hope had become one of fear. But everything has already been said about that. The twentieth century was dragged out of memory kicking and screaming. Memories bleed, flowing freely from the open wounds of our minds. Pale, scarred over remnants of times and places long past torn open anew.
Patriotism escapes me. It’s hard to love someone you’ve never really known, even harder to love someone you know all too well. America eludes me. I don’t understand her. We grew up together and I’ve wanted nothing more than to get far away from her.
Her broken visage stares back at me from Subway signs and freeway off-ramps. She whispers at night to me about special offers and money back guarantees. Her beauty is apparent to me in the coastal shoals of New England, her ugliness in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. She is neither Lady Liberty nor Whore of Babylon. Her board of directors prefers a different approach to branding.
This land is my land; this land is your land. I am her representative, her ambassador. Foreigners look to me for guidance but I’m just as lost. She’s a whore to them: someone to take what they came for and leave. She’s a lady to me: someone to hold gently in the dawn’s early light. But there aren’t any ladies anymore.
The only girl I’ve ever loved was a figment of my imagination. I spoke to her twice and I never saw her again. I will grow old and forever cling to that which never was. She will forever be fourteen.
We had crossed the veil. Much has been said about the nineties but they were the last decade, the end of history. I came of age amidst two decades of total spiritual rot. I don’t care about the economy or politics or the TSA sodomizing you with a flashlight. I care about those things we’ll never get back.
Those true believers in love and honor and beauty are the martyrs of our age. They will die not knowing what these words mean. The evil men from the desert, our sworn enemies, know these words well. They are willing to die for love and honor and beauty. Their alien god has not abandoned them. Our marketplace god has long left us.
I don’t know what happened that day. Perhaps I never will. Whether terrorists or deep state operatives or extraterrestrials knocked down the towers, it is all irrelevant. Mission accomplished. Whoever sought to destroy the land of the free and the home of the Whopper was successful. No amount of political posturing and empty promises will bring back what was lost.
The end of my childhood coincided with the end of my country. America was not a virgin. Perhaps she never was. But in those days she carried herself with the dignity you might expect from a young mother. Now she’s divorced and sleeps with loud, swarthy men from nightclubs.
An elderly Japanese woman is screaming at her half-black preteen daughter. She berates her in a sickening patois of Engrish and Ebonics. Her daughter is eleven but she’s shamefully unemployed and is still going to school. You need to own business, girl. Anthony Robbins said you need to be entrepreneur, girl. School is waste of time, girl. You need to make paper, girl. I try to tune it out and go back to sleep but the Mexican couple is fucking in the shower again.
When you graduate college you’ll be stuck doing sales. Stuck calling small business owners on the phone and harassing them during dinner. You can’t afford not to have this product, sir. It pays for itself. Your boss will pull you aside and warn you about your attitude. You sound like you want to die. I’m just tired, that’s all. You quit the next week.
Holden Caulfield always liked museums. Museums never change. The scene where he’s watching his little sister on the carousel almost brought me to tears. I wish sometimes I could interact with others without the dark clouds of sex, drugs, and alcohol hanging over our heads. But their impenetrable shadows obscure and ultimately render void any meaningful human connection.
Commercials for Buffalo Wild Wings assault your ears. BEER. SPORTS. WINGS. Most have never seen wings attached to a whole roasted chicken, fewer have seen a living chicken. Apparently Buffalo Wild Wings is affectionately referred to as B-Dubs by people in the know. Kayne West will not rest until everything has a hip hop abbreviation. Nobody knows what it means, but it’s provocative. It gets the people going. It’s all entertainment, all sound and fury signifying nothing.
I like to replay The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time from time to time. Midway through the game, you are forced to become an adult and the world as you once knew it is destroyed. Seven years have passed and you are thrust into a familiar but hideously warped version of reality. The signs were there when you were a kid, but you never paid much attention.
Games never change, only the players. We too were thrust into adulthood, into the sobering realization that things were bad all along. Only we can’t travel through time. We can’t go back. We must march time’s cruel march while everything around us slowly, imperceptibly gets worse. The cavalry is not coming. There is no exit. The ride never ends.