Today's 20-somethings have reason to envy the '60s

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:42 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 21, 2010

We deny it, but I think my generation of 20-somethings is jealous of the kids who came of age in the 1960s.

This week, the third season premiere of "Mad Men," a cult TV hit about an advertising agency in this illustrious decade, coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival. The virtual second coming of the Beatles in the form of a video game will be arriving in early September.

Coincidence? I think not.

The '60s have been thoroughly mythologized as a time of change and revolution — the good kind. Young people believed in their causes, and peaceful protest worked. The causes had an immediate moral weight, because they were so basic and just: civil rights, anti-war and the beginnings of the women's movement. They say that America was naive in the '60s, like it’s a good thing.

And maybe it was. The myth of the '60s, with free love and Martin Luther King Jr., walking on the moon and Jimi Hendrix playing the electric guitar with his teeth  at Woodstock is quite glorious. My feeling is that the young folk today (that means me, too) just can’t measure up. I mean, what are Youtube videos compared to the March on Washington? Or, the Internet compared to space travel?

Don’t get me wrong; the Internet is awesome: It’s practically made libraries go the way of outhouses. My mom thinks it’s funny that I think a newspaper on microfilm is fun and novel. But the material point is that the '60s are now 40 years in the past, and a new wave of nostalgia is rising.

Not that the '60s were all that great. The rampant sexism and racism must’ve been awful. The draft and thousands of Americans dying in Vietnam stunk. We chose to remember the “redeeming” qualities for a reason and forget that life was just as gritty then as it is now.

Generally, I think that my generation is jealous because of the sense of unified purpose, or unified outrage, our parents say they had. Even more, I think we’re jealous that the movements in the '60s had a measurable and memorable effect — not just at the time, but an effect that is still felt 40 years later.

I was 14 when Sept. 11 happened and the perception of our world changed. Many of us in college and straight out of high school can barely remember the pre-Sept. 11 world; taking our shoes off in airports is normal. The political consciousness of a generation was made during years in which fear of terrorism overwhelmed the country and the nation accepted, even applauded, massive curtailments of civil liberties.

This does not exactly foster a sense of faith in America among young folks.   

And this, I believe, is what we are most jealous of: that there was ever faith that the United States could rise above its current condition and live up to its ideals. And not just America, that we ourselves could be better. Sure, we got Barack Obama elected, but the president (even the first black president) is a symbol, not a movement of epic proportions that fundamentally changes the fabric of the county.

Despite the fun to be had playing Halo,  this is something that has been lost.

Erin K. O'Neill is an assistant director of photography for the Missourian and a master's degree candidate at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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tina fey August 19, 2009 | 7:12 a.m.

Young people today do not realize that they 'lack' and that the older generation views them in a negative light. Most youngsters think that they are hip and the older generation is stale. It is this misaligned perception of themselves that confounds older folks. This narcissistic dynamic of young people and the cynicism directed toward them by the older generation has been researched thoroughly and summarized in books such as "The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30)". Essentially, young people are dumber today than young people of the past for a couple of primary reasons. One, they have 'ADD' due to digital toy use and cannot look an adult in the eye and carry on a face-to-face conversation with thought and depth. Two, their narcissism (30% more young people today than 30 years ago responded YES when asked about things such as 'the world revolves around me', and, 'the world would be a better place if I was in charge', etc.). (Incidentally, the opposite of narcissistic orientation is empathy - the intellectual ability to view the world through another persons perspective. This may explain the disaffected and alienation that young people today profess). And three, young people lack intellectual depth since they do not read. Oh, they text, they tweet, they IM, they 'hit' one another with cell calls or Facebook posts, but they do not read books, newspapers, articles and more scholarly bodies of knowledge that permit one to explore new ideas and comprehend greater knowledge. Finally, it is the asynchronous march of young people today that fails to provide the bonding and sense of meaning that young people of the past felt. Young people today do not gather together in one place and experience events in person (synchronous) as much as they all are on different schedules checking Facebook at different times in virtual relationship events rather than in person. In the end, young people today are oblivious to the fact that the older generation is cynical toward them. Young people think they are hip because they love themselves and can text while sitting in class. The older generation thinks that these kids are foolish and narcissistic and just plain dumb.

(Report Comment)
King Diamond August 19, 2009 | 8:16 a.m.

What's wrong with being connected? At least the Amish turned the other cheek.

(Report Comment)
tina feylover December 6, 2009 | 2:07 p.m.

Tina Fey- You are so right, and so perfectly expressed what is really going on with 20 somethings. I am 32 years old, female and every 20 something I have come across, has been 'the most' delusional self absorbed person I had ever met. Thank you for so eloquently stating this fact.

(Report Comment)

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