Sustainability (and such)

Talking about my generation…Let’s be Thunder Buddies!

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on July 6, 2012

Over the last week I’ve seen/read two surprisingly optimistic explorations of generational values and ethics. One,Ted, is the raunchy box-office champ about a generation that can’t give up its childhood security; the other, When We Argued All Night, is a sweeping new novel by Alice Mattison that also deals with human strengths and limitations. I recommend them both because they remind us about the messiness of loving each other.

I think we’re all identified by our birth dates, many times by hardships. My parents were part of the Veterans – born between 1922 and 1943 – who survived the Great Depression and World War II. If you’re a Boomer like me (born between 1943-1960), you’re shaped by social causes and politics such as Watergate and the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements.  After that, there’s a huge shift in lifestyles and values, mainly because Gen X-ers  (1960-1980) and those in Gen Y (1980-2000) are defined by media and doting parents. As “Ted” points out, it’s easier to wax nostalgically about nachos and video games than ancient events. And then there’s Generation Z, aka the Net/Virtual  Generation of those born since 2001, who will be online curators with no memories of life before globalization and technology. These are tricky times, when we all sit next to each other at the workplace as well as the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Which makes the value of “Ted”  much more than just the newer version of “Beavis and Butthead”.  It’s a quick yet piercing look at culture-cling that allows us to root for characters despite frat boy stereotypes. Even though we already know how the film will end, Seth MacFarlane surprises us with his razor-sharp lens that maturity is meant to be delayed, at least by the alphabet generations. We don’t actually meet the snowplow parents who enabled a child-centered culture with talking teddy bears, but we do sense that hard work and discipline are fluid goals that are up for grabs.

And When We Argued All Night looks even closer at our personal development and social structures.  In focusing on a 65-year friendship of two men, Mattison helps readers mediate issues of aging as well as coming of age. Her words soar beyond Joan Didion’s finality of loneliness or Marilynne Robinson’s tales of survival amidst transience; instead, we are enmeshed in watching how, despite everything, we share common paths amidst lifelong struggles of heredity and happenstance.

P.S.  From a marketing standpoint, Generations X, Y, and Z have little brand loyalty and a hands-on presence that ignores broadcast spin.  It’s breathtaking to watch them identify as cynical, independent, and entitled entrepreneurs within today’s climate of global warming and economic chaos. And it’s a popular theme:  The New Yorker just ran a column by Elizabeth Kolbert about how spoiled rotten kids are turning into “adultesence” who expect elders to take our their garbage and tie their shoes.  While I don’t agree with all generalities, I do think it’s important we acknowledge our differences:  Here’s a chart that sets out the influencers, core values, and attributes of each group – and after you see “Ted” and read When We Argued All Night – let’s talk about how both work as social commentaries that condemn and celebrate demographics.  Oh, and let’s sing the Thunder Buddy song…together.

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