Earlier this week, VICE published an interview with Bret Easton Ellis in which he well and truly hammered home his three-year old point that, if you grew up in tandem with the rise of the Internet, you’re probably a massive crybaby who can’t handle real life. For Ellis, “Generation Y” translates to “Generation Wuss” (Generation Whine would have been punnier but whatever, who am I to correct the man who invented the world’s most frighteningly relatable serial killer).
For those of you that haven’t been following the happenings, Ellis has basically pointed a furious finger at everybody currently in their twenties and said, “You can’t take criticism and because of that culture is turning to shit and eventually dialogue will cease to exist,” which is a pretty heavy review of us all. Then there was this rebuttal on the Independent from exactly the kind of massive crybaby Ellis was talking about in the first place being all like “but Bret! I’m not like that at all :((((“, thus proving his point entirely whilst simultaneously embodying the total cliché of younger generations thinking the older generations are total clichés who couldn’t possibly make a valid point about youth culture because, y’know, they’re OLD.
Other reactions to Ellis’ outburst were mostly either a) too right, Bret, these kids today don’t even know what it’s like to ride a horse not for fun GOD BLESS ‘MURICA *shoots gun* or b) BLAME THE WOMEN. So, as an undeniable and self-confessed member of Generation Wuss with absolutely no national pride whatsoever and a perspective that reaches beyond blind misogyny, here’s what I reckon.
For what it’s worth, I agree. My age box is full of wet blankets way more reliant on their parent/s or guardian/s than they should be, but I don’t blame us, to be honest, and don’t think Ellis does either. His message is one of warning rather than condemnation.
Ellis grew up in ’70s LA – his childhood was punctuated by parties attended by celebrities who would gather around his parents’ pool every weekend to do cocaine off an endangered animal and then shoot it or whatever it is rich people do for fun. His was neither a time nor a place of economic hardship, whereas ours is a generation raised on promises already broken. We were told to set our sights on things that would disappear before we were even old enough to reach for them. Why? Because some wise guys thought the key to Western happiness and stability came in the shape of a credit card. Most still do.
Obviously I can only speak for those who grew up in a similar circumstances to myself, but after doing a BA, dossing around for two years and failing to find a job, going back to University to do a MA which propelled me further into personal debt and then still not being able to find a job even though I graduated with a distinction, mine is a classic Millennial Tale. We talked about our hopes and dreams after 6pm on a dial-up connection and now we’re glued to our smart phones desperately trying to find out where they went. We are the buffer between the generation of cynics that came before us and the completely desensitized NekNominators that followed.
Can we really be blamed for cryin’ to our mommas about it? This was not what we were expecting. We weren’t ready for such abject failure. WE NEED AN ADULT. So no, we can’t be blamed for our circumstances, but we can be blamed for the way we react to them if we continue to complain and do nothing in equal measure. I get the impression that a lot of people my age feel like they’re owed something. And I get this impression because I am exactly one of those people. “Why aren’t I able to write for a living, yet?” I’ll ask myself at 2am. Then I realise I’ve spent the entire night watching Community with one hand on my phone and the other down my pants.
Collectively, we turn our heads to cyberspace and scream “WHY ME” so loudly that we fail to pick up on the millions of voices around us screaming the exact same thing. Of course we love to complain, we’re young, unsatisfied and British, but eventually it’s like oh just shut up and do something. I’m the first to admit that the world and its inhabitants constantly fall short of my expectations, but I can’t even begin to list the amount of people I know whose reaction to their perceived disappointments or injustices is to take straight to a social media platform and whinge about it. To those people, I say this: your life is not that bad. Really. I’ve seen the links you relentlessly “share’ so I know you know that North Korea exists. Get a grip, you massive baby.
Just to be clear – I’m not saying we were coddled to the point of incompetence and that’s why we can’t deal with anything. Where I come from, kids don’t go to Oxbridge. They don’t do internships at Reuters, rub shoulders with celebrities or have parents who rinse all their fliff on modern art. They take science lessons in what the school will cutely refer to as a “terrapin” but is actually a static caravan made of old wood and do poppers around the back of it at lunchtime. I grew up twenty minutes from where Richey Edwards lived and believe me, From Despair To Where is a very real narrative. Is this worth complaining about? Sure. Can you do that in a way that isn’t annoying to everybody else? Anything is better than sending a sadface emoji to everybody in your phonebook because a stranger on Twitter called you an ugly twat.
If you’re not satisfied with something, change it, use it to your advantage. Some of the greatest works of art have been created in the face of adversity. Dostoevsky had a positively miserable time. The Scream was not painted because Edvard Munch had a very pleasant time in Norway, thank you. Seattle was not a city of dreams in the ’90s. You don’t have to be pushed to extremity, but you do need to have some kind of resilience to criticism. If all anybody had to say about anything was “I like this” and “that’s nice” and “well done” we’d be in a pretty bleak way, culturally, and that’s what Ellis is emphasising.
“In a way it’s down to the generation that raised them,” he says, “Who cocooned them in praise – four stars for showing up, you know? But eventually everyone has to hit the dark side of life; someone doesn’t like you, someone doesn’t like your work, someone doesn’t love you back… people die. What we have is a generation who are super-confident and super-positive about things, but when the least bit of darkness enters their lives, they’re paralysed.”
I think this spearheads into the notion of a Nanny State, but that’s another argument. The point I want to stress here is that if you want to write, act, make music or generally succeed creatively in any way, it’s safe to say that you’re nobody until somebody hates you. If you put yourself out there publicly you’re going to cop some flack from somewhere, because people are horrible and people + Internet are even worse, so if you can’t take it and turn it into fuel that pushes you forward, you’re a goner. Some of the best advice I ever heard was when one of the professors on my MA course told the entire class in the first lecture, “If you can’t write well, you might as well save your money, drop off this course and empty bins for a living.” If that sentiment makes you actually want to give up on a thing you want, welcome to Wussland. May I offer you a tissue and a prescription for some mood elevators that you probably don’t need?
Complacency is a cultural cancer. Whatever faux neu-age hippy type advised you to “let go of your anger, man,” I wouldn’t be so quick to listen. Have you seen who has been running our country, lately? If there was ever a time to be angry, it’s now. Generation Y lacks fury, plain and simple, which is a bitter shame because we need it in fucking abundance.
Originally published on The 405 here.