Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is This All There Is?

What does Lindsay Lohan's odd New York magazine photo shoot with Bert Stern, emulating Marilyn Monroe's 1962 session, have to do with the new study on the front page of The New York Times showing skyrocketing rates of suicide among 45-to-54-year old men (and increasing at an even faster rate among women of the same age)? You know it would have something to do with death and prescription drugs, as everyone is urging Lindsay not to pull a Marilyn, and the Times was hunting for a cause for middle-age suicide's popularity amidst all the Lunesta and Ambien floating around.

But I'm seeing something broader and eerier, touching on a subject Adbusters magazine has been hitting on for years. The Canadian anti-consumer journal, which has tended to be anti-script-drug without going all Tom Cruise about it, warns that corporations lull consumers into believing so utterly in the power of products and pills to provide meaning in their lives, that it can send some people into a spiral from which they never recover. The harsher analysts watching baby boomers go all morbid in midlife say that they're crybabies compared to the Greatest Generation, those stoic folks who put up silently with the Great Depression and WW2. Adbusters would respond that the silent majority never had to put up with the barrage of unhealthy messages telling boomers they could have it all, that the capitalist cornucopia would never end, and that there would never be a lull in success or a time for growing old.

Well, hell, now we've got a recession and a massive national debt, corporations are cutting out mid-level managers and making middle-agers feel worthless, and none of those prescription pills do jackshit except cause Ambien zombie driving. Need anyone ask why suicide is more popular among this segment?

And what about the young? If the Lohan-Spears syndrome is any indication, the 20-somethings are more narcissistic than any generation before, and more prone to turn every bad wrinkle in life into a drama-queen crisis -- and one publicized on Facebook and MySpace, thank you very much. Lindsay's seen the craziness of her peers, the accidental death of Heath Ledger, and seems to be saying that if all the wheels fall off her Landrover, she wants to turn it into a marketable item. Hence the photo shoot. To envision what comes after the boomer suicide craze, remember what Karl Marx said about how "history always repeats itself twice, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." The farces are omipresent already, except that there's nothing very funny about Marilyn Monroe retakes or campus massacres, just as there's nothing very funny about a lonely 53-year-old man filling his garage with carbon monoxide.


Ruth said...

These young people are the first segment to start life in a car seat. You would not believe the stories I could tell you about college students here. They are incredibly bright people, maybe the brightest generation yet, thanks to the information accessible most of their lives, and taken for granted by them perhaps. But many seem ill equipped for regular daily living, partly I would think because of society/media messages, as you've beautifully articulated. And partly because of parents who have a warped sense that their children should have no obstacles in their lives, and if obstacles do arise, they must fight them for them. I have a great deal of hope in this generation, but I think they need some ways to test their skills in conflict.

wretch said...

Kids in the last generation or two are also different in a particular experience -- few have participated in many endeavors that have not been mediated by adults.

I haven't seen a bunch of kids who have organized their own game of kickball or baseball or touch football or anything since I was kid.

Birthday parties are planned to the minute. Child get-togethers aren't called "play dates" for nothing -- they're scheduled meetings.

I don't know what that does to kids, but I suspect it does something.

BTW, I don't buy into any "kids these days" wailing. I heard the same shit about the Baby Boomer generation. Of course, after 8 years of Clinton and another 7 of Bush, maybe our parents were right after all...


Ruth said...

You make a good point, Wretch. As an academic adviser to college students, I've wasted time complaining about "kids these days." I'm realizing I have to accept who they are or I'll get nowhere fast. But gosh, they really do annoy me sometimes. Like do you HAVE to call your friend between every class?

Greeley's Ghost said...

This generation seems to be apeing previous generations like there's no tomorrow. Everything is retro in one form or another. They don't seem to be innovating except in consumption behavior, poor fashion decisions and and expectation that the world should be delivered to them on a platter.
Man, do I sound old.
Maybe it's not the generation per se. Maybe it's the media.