Songs for the Struggling Artist


Context Is Everything: A Gen X Look at The Lost Daughter

There’s a little bit of a conversation happening in feminist circles around the movie The Lost Daughter, written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I felt it was my duty, as a feminist on the internet, to watch it. I didn’t really think I’d have anything to SAY about it necessarily but I like to be informed and it turns out I do have something to say. Funnily enough my thoughts are probably more Gen X related than feminist related, though. I suppose at its heart it’s Gen X feminism that’s gotten under my skin.

The movie takes place in the more or less contemporary moment (though not precisely, as it is a covid-less world) and Olivia Coleman plays a 48 year old woman. When the movie flashes back to her twenty something self, it is to about twenty years ago, though it has a vague sense of being in the 90s. The character wears foam earphones, like back in the day. The song she tells us she loves is the Gen X anthem of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” The context of the film says, “This is a Gen X woman.” But very little of this makes sense. Like, I guess a Gen X English woman could go crazy for “Livin’ on a Prayer” but it’s odd. It would mean something in real life. I don’t know what it would mean exactly but whatever it means doesn’t add up to the person in the movie.

Look, I, like the character, am also 48 so I may be overly tuned in to the specifics of this woman who is meant to be my age – but I would be awfully surprised to meet a woman my age who grew up in Leeds, became a passionate and respected academic translator of English poetry into Italian AND her favorite song was “Livin’ on a Prayer.” I’d need a whole movie to explain how that could be. Honestly.

Also – one of the central events of the movie  is just so weird and out of generational character that it would need another movie’s worth of explanation to make it make sense. In the movie we learn that Coleman’s character has two daughters in their mid to late 20s – which means she had them in her early 20s. This would be extremely unusual for a highly educated ambitious Gen X woman. Certainly there are Gen X women who had their kids young, no doubt. But it is incredibly rare in a character like this one. Most Gen X academic nerds would wait years to have their kids. And to have TWO kids so young? Again, as an ambitious academic? One, I can buy. That’s a mistake, probably. Two, seems crazy. Like, I need an explanation for it, or I’m going to spend the whole movie confused. Which I did.

Anyway – (and this is a spoiler so skip ahead to the * towards the end if you want to be surprised)

SPOILER FOLLOWS:

 

– when her kids are five and seven she leaves them, whole cloth, never to be seen again until three years later. The movie tries to make this understandable but it’s just – weird.

As my Gen X friend, with whom I discussed this, said, “There WAS child care in the 90s.”

Like – leaving their kids is just not something I’ve ever heard of anyone doing.  Tempted? Sure. Kids’ll make you crazy, I’m given to understand – But to just leave? When divorce, joint custody, childcare and blended families are all options that are on the table? She leaves her family for a rewarding sexy professional life. Seems like a nice life she’s leaving them for but the choice is super weird. Gen X moms know how to work it out. We grew up with working moms. The work/life question really isn’t this giant a conflict for Gen X moms. It still sucks. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s not so extreme that leaving for years at a time makes any sense. Our conflicts in this arena are much more subtle, more nuanced. We didn’t have to flee the people we love to have a life of the mind.

The thing that seems important to recognize is that this film is based on a book by Elena Ferrante – who writes about the specifics of Neapolitan women in earlier eras with razor sharp analysis. I haven’t read The Lost Daughter – but I’ve read her Neapolitan quadrilogy, with which it would seem to have a lot in common. I’d imagine they are set in similar time periods. I assume, from the structure of this film, that the book takes places decades ago. I know from the articles about it that it is concerned with both the mom character’s Neapolitan background and the bits of that she shares with her fellow tourists in the group. I assume that the main character, Leda, is of an entirely different generation. I can probably even guess which one. Based on the choices she makes and the desperation she feels and how limited her scope is – I’d say she’s a contemporary of Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton. These are women so backed into corners they feel they have no other choice but to stick their heads in the oven or permanently walk out the door.

These choices are perfectly readable in a time of extreme oppression. And I’m delighted to realize that the 90s were not a time of extreme oppression. Gen X women did actually have choices in the 90s. If we wanted to study Italian poetry, we did it. It’s not that extreme, actually. So this character just seems like she has a need for some medication and a good therapist, at the very least. This story, as told in the film, makes no sense. But – if I just sort of overlay the events on to say, the 1950s or early 1960s– with a bunch of Neapolitan roughs – it all falls into place. Context is everything.

Let’s do some math. Let’s assume this film is set in this current moment. So – this character is my age, right? Which means she probably graduated from college in 1995. Her eldest child is 25 – so she had her two years after she finished undergrad so that’s 1997. The character is a serious academic so she must have gone on to get a masters, probably a PhD. Did she get pregnant while she was in grad school? Probably. Unless she’s supposed to be in grad school at the point when we first meet her? And that old guy is her advisor? I don’t think so – because a well regarded scholar wouldn’t be citing the work of a grad student. She’s published somewhere. She had her two kids somewhere in the middle of getting a PhD and getting published. I’m not saying that’s not possible – but it is pretty unlikely in the late 90s. At the point when we meet this character, her kids are 5 and 7 which means it’s around 2002.

This Gen X mom abandoned her kids in 2002. It’s not 1957. It’s 2002. There WAS childcare in 2002. Again, not great childcare- but childcare. Also, there were cell phones. I got one in 2002 and I was very late to the party. AND – as my friend pointed out there was feminism. There was serious feminism. I’m sorry but you couldn’t be a serious scholar in this era without some encounter with feminism. It’s a whole field of scholarship and no Comparative Literature scholar could get through academia without a serious grounding in it. I’m not saying every academic in this era was a feminist but to not have any relationship to those issues at all in this era? Sorry. No way. You’re either in the game or you’re Camille Paglia and no one’s going around just translating a bunch of male poets in 2002 with no awareness of what feminist scholarship would have to say about it.

But set in the right context – in, say, an era that had problems “that had no name,” like what Betty Friedan was talking about, and when second wave feminism was really just strapping on its boots, sure – it all would make total sense. We would, in fact, root for a character to get out in that context. This character would be a singular person up against the tide of her culture and her time and we would have her back.

I mean – the thing is, both feminism and childcare had been around for decades by the time this character leaves her kids. A lot of Gen X kids were raised on both of those things. Many of our mothers were feminists. Many of them were working mothers who sent us to daycare. Our parents got divorces when things didn’t work out. And it was fine. Not a big deal. But this film somehow lives in a world where there are neither Gen X feminists nor Baby Boomer feminists or Millennial or Zoomer feminists for that matter. This is probably because it’s based on a book that takes place so long before.

Do Gen X moms fantasize about leaving their families and disappearing for awhile? I’m sure they do but fantasizing is very different than doing – and the choice to chuck it all, just generationally, doesn’t make sense. I feel like a lot of Gen X moms waited to have kids so we wouldn’t feel the need to abandon them.

 

*SPOILERS COMPLETE

Is the film well done? It is actually. The performances are excellent; Coleman is always amazing and Gyllenhaal has done extraordinary work. I loved how the eroticism of the character’s work was palpable and exciting. There’s an artful quality to it all – but it’s just weird. And not in a good way.

As Nylah Burton said, in Bitch Magazine,

“We need more messy female characters, but “messy female character” does not have to mean illegible female characters. Sometimes the two are mixed up. Confusing the audience about who a character is at their core doesn’t endear us to them or make them feminist heroes;”

Making Coleman’s character specifically Gen X makes things that would have been legible, absolutely opaque. The good news is that this movie makes me see some incredible progress that has been made over the years – that Gen X women are actually more together than I’d have thought.  

I feel like you could MAKE it make sense – with another few hours of story and context and explanation. Just the way I’d need another movie to figure out how a working class Gen X academic woman from Leeds ended up a big fan of Bon Jovi, I need another movie to make this movie make sense. It might be an interesting story but it would take a long time to explain.

I mean, this is a pretty Gen X look. I can’t argue on that point.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Circles of Gen X Friends

Someone in the Gen X subreddit proposed a “dating” app for making Gen X friends. I expressed my enthusiasm for it, saying it appealed to me because most of my Gen X friends have moved out of NYC. Someone replied that they still had a lot of Gen X friends in NYC and I did not respond to that person with a hearty sarcastic, “Well good for you! Aren’t you a lucky one?” Though I wanted to.

I did not say, “I guess most of your friends didn’t move to NYC to chase their theatre dreams or their art dreams or their music dreams or their poetry dreams or their film dreams or their dance dreams and I guess everything worked out for your people, huh?”

Now I don’t mean to imply that stuff didn’t work out for my friends. They moved here to follow their dreams and then they followed them to other places. They run theatres in their hometowns or their adopted cities. They have poetry programs and dance companies around the world. They make movies in their native mountains. They make paintings and sculptures of their new neighborhoods. They bring their big city dream-following perspective to young people in far flung spots. It’s working out for them.

But the fact of those folks leaving does mean that any community that formed when we all moved here has been scattered and lost. I imagine that this happens to every generation at some point. Everyone moves to NYC like they’re going to be here forever and then they leave after a handful of years. I guess that’s the norm. Contrarian that I am, I moved here like I was only going to stay a year and here I still am, over two decades later. I miss the leavers and need to find (or reconnect to) more stayers.

That’s why a Gen X “dating” app for friends sounded really good to me. That’s why (prior to the pandemic) I wanted to be invited to your party. That’s why I joined multiple book clubs. That’s why I joined a knitting/crochet group, even though I am VERY BAD at crochet. I will tell you – in every single instance of attempting to make friends in this city – I was always the lone Gen X-er. Every single time. So, sure, this random person on Reddit may still know a lot of Gen X-ers who live here but they probably travel in much different circles than I do. Maybe they’re high-powered lawyers or over-committed doctors. Maybe they belong to the Yale Club or Soho House and hang out drinking martinis with fancy people. That’s nice. Sounds like fun. I used to hang out at Dojo where you could get a whole carrot-ginger dressing-covered dinner for less than $5.  It’s harder to find Gen X-ers here, in general, and even more challenging to find some who would have felt at home on the St. Mark’s Place of yore.

It’s not like I don’t have any Gen X friends here. I still have quite a few. It’s just that I used to have a community of Gen X friends, or rather, communities. Two decades ago, I had circles of friends. I had theatre friends, music friends, circus friends, education friends, college friends, Shakespeare friends, random friends, friends from my home state. There were circles that intersected and some that never would. I have lone friends now. The communities have gone off to more hospitable climates but one lone friend usually remains. Often, I am that lone friend.

Also, the friends I still have here are New Yorkers and therefore usually impossibly busy. Most of them are also parents so they don’t have acres of time for galavanting around NYC with the childfree likes of me. It’s not that no Gen X-ers are here. It’s just that they are busy and the social nets of our communities have vanished and so we stand a vanishing chance of just happening to be in the same places together at the same time.

So maybe I don’t need a Gen X friend app. I need a Gen X circle creating app. It’s not that all the dream followers have followed their dreams elsewhere – some of us are still here – it’s that the communities that formed around those dreams have dissipated and there’s no good way for those of us whose circles have vanished to build new circles.

Frankly, I think it’s a problem that this city spits out as many artists and dream chasers as it does. It may be good for the places it spits people back into, but it is terrible for the artistic life of this city.

We lost artists from multiple generations this last year and a half. The city failed to support most of them in their darkest hours and now we’ve lost them, probably forever.

Most Gen X artists already left when they were in their 30s and now most Millennials are in their 30s (the eldest ones are turning 40 this year) and what with the abysmal way this city supported its artists recently and the inevitable waves of NYC spitting out its dream followers, I think there’s bound to be an exodus in the next decade. Maybe I’ll be in it, who knows? (Unlikely, where would I go?)

Will Gen Z artists and dream-followers even bother coming here? If they do, I hope this circle dispersal doesn’t happen to them, too. I read recently that we know a city is dying when young people stop moving there to chase their dreams. I’m not loving the prognosis for NYC that way right now. Maybe let’s get that circle app going, pronto.

****

In case you’re new here, I wrote a whole series about Gen X a few years ago. It starts here and expands in many thematic directions. Or you could search the whole range of Gen X writing here.

Just a circle of Gen X childfree friends galavanting around the city like we used to. We’re going to go get a soy burger at Dojo after.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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The Intersection of Capitalism and Patriarchy Is a Killer
July 25, 2021, 9:40 pm
Filed under: art, Gen X, Visual Art | Tags: , , , , , , ,

TW: Suicide

You know how certain roads just seem to be extra dangerous? At some intersections, you see heaps of flowers and other tributes to people who were lost there. Governments attempt to put up traffic lights or stop signs but some of those intersections are just relentlessly dangerous.

The places where patriarchy meets capitalism are like that, metaphorically speaking and they seem particularly dangerous for Gen X men.

The day I watched the memorial service for my Gen X actor friend, I also saw an obituary for a Gen X visual artist. Both of these tributes paid homage to the generosity of their artistry, the dedication to their crafts and both seemed to suggest that these men just never really figured out a way to effectively make decent money.

To say I relate to this problem is an understatement. I also have never cared much for material things and also have never really solved the problem of capital. And yet I have not even been tempted to throw myself into a river as those men did. I’m not saying this is why both of those Gen X men ended up this way. We can’t know that. In at least one case, severe mental illness was also a factor but I was struck by this commonality between us all and was reminded of the year when I devised a show about money. In having conversations with my peers about money and all the baggage that came with it, I learned that a lot of the men felt an intense pressure to provide, even as they were following their dreams. There was a different quality to their ambitions to make money. Their manhood depended on making a substantial amount of it. They had a little patriarchal demon on their shoulders at all times demanding that they provide. Or maybe there were two demons – one a patriarch and the other a capitalist and they just goaded one another along, degrading a man’s self-worth until he ended up at that treacherous intersection.

The thing is, even though I have a similar relationship to money and success as these guys, I feel fairly certain that no one would mention it in my obituary or in a eulogy. As a woman, it’s not that big a deal, I think. If I’d managed it, the world might be impressed but not managing it is weirdly expected. (That may be one of the reasons it’s not working so well for me.) That men have to suffer so profoundly if they don’t somehow make capitalism work for them is the intersection with patriarchy. Patriarchy defines manhood and success and it uses capitalism to keep its men in line.

The visual artist we lost sounded like a kind man. He drew hearts in chalk all over the city. There are testaments to how his drawings gave people hope in a dark time. This is a beautiful thing to do. He ought to have been rewarded, honored for his service, given a grant to continue it. But no ones gives grants for stuff like that. A grants committee would have laughed such a project out of the room.

But he couldn’t figure out the unsolvable problem of how to capitalize on a work of service and perhaps saw no way to go on. A project like that is not a commodity. It’s not for sale. It shouldn’t be. And an artist shouldn’t have to starve while he creates things that are truly for the greater good. The thing is, I’ve known quite a few artists who died at the intersection of patriarchy and capitalism. Some leaned into capitalism and some ran from it – but the result was the same. It’s heartbreaking every time.

I don’t know whether this is a peculiarly Gen X problem or if we ought to start keeping an eye on Millennial men now just in case. Maybe it’s just part of middle age? It feels like our generational antipathy to selling out and/or working for the man, as well as our propensity for questioning authority might make this intersection especially dangerous for our generation – but I can’t know for sure.

But I do know that smashing the patriarchy would do a lot of men as much good as it would women. When I fight for the end of patriarchy, I really am fighting for men, too. For some of them, it is a life or death situation.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Paulina Forgot to Cancel the Mariachi

When I started watching the Mexican TV show, House of Flowers, I was immediately struck by this one character’s way of speaking. She spoke so slowly and strangely, I thought maybe the actor was a non-native speaker – which would have been odd for a show about a family. I was so curious about this actor’s voice, I looked her up and discovered that, no, in fact, she is Mexican – though she trained in the US and worked at Steppenwolf, no less.

I had no explanation for this voice but I was still intrigued. Then a few episodes in, I had another question about this show, so I looked it up on Wikipedia and suddenly discovered that this character’s voice was a phenomenon. It had captivated people around the world and even become a social media viral sensation.

I learned that Cecilia Suárez, the actor, brought a version of the voice to the show and the writer/director encouraged her to take it further. It is, apparently, modeled on the speech of some upper crust Mexicans they knew. So it traveled from a highly specific population to social media challenges around the world. (My favorite crossover is the actors from the Cable Girls in Spain doing this voice from Mexico.) Netflix based their advertising campaign for Season 2 of this show on the popularity of the character Paulina’s voice. It’s huge, apparently.

The thing that delights me about this story is that the center of it is an actor’s choice. An actor looked at this character on the page and felt like she had a take on it. She tried a bold choice and her writer/director didn’t just approve it, he asked her to take it further.

Another thing I love about this is that she’s about my age. So this celebration of an acting phenom is not of some fresh faced newcomer but an experienced veteran of the craft. She’s a Gen X phenom, not a kid. It is such a good example of why we train. A novice would never even consider such a thing.

And it’s not just a silly voice. It’s a style grounded in the given circumstances of the piece, in the guts of the character- in such a way that it reveals things about her we wouldn’t otherwise know.

I also love that this celebration of an acting choice is happening in a comedy. Usually, it is only drama that draws admiration from the outside world but this comedy performance is shaking up those norms.

I know there are likely many things I’m missing about it. I’m sure if my Spanish were better, I’d catch details upon details but as it stands, I can catch a lot – just from sound and tempo. To even be able to notice a vocal choice in a language I don’t really speak feels extraordinary.

It just feels like the perfect model for collaboration in the dramatic arts. When we teach acting, we are always talking about choices. When we praise an actor, we praise their choices. When we’re looking for someone with some spirit, we choose someone who makes bold choices. But it is very difficult to find an instance where we see this in practice so vividly. Part of the reason awards tend to go to actors who have crying scenes is that it is the most visible demonstration of someone acting. But there are choices happening all the time that are just not obvious.

Cecilia Suárez’s voice choice is clearly a choice and a choice that was developed and nurtured in a collaborative process. Both actor and director took a risk in going with it. It’s odd! A more skittish director would never have approved it and a less bold actor would never have proposed it. It’s a risk for both of them. But they went forward with it and it seems that everyone loved it. There are memes of this actor now. There are videos and tweets and TikToks and Instagrams. This voice is a hit. And I find myself delighted – not just by the voice itself (though it is a delight) but by the worldwide celebration of an acting choice. It’s something this actor is doing, on purpose. It is something she created. It’s not a famous person she’s imitating or a disability she’s pretending to have. It’s a bonafide acting choice. It has become one of those things that would help me explain what an actor does. So many times, acting seems like it’s just a person being themselves in front of a camera saying other things than what they usually say – but Cecilia Suárez is acting. She made a big choice and now we get to enjoy her acting her face off with that extraordinary voice.

This line has become so famous you can buy fan-designed t-shirts of it.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Is There a Gen X Aesthetic?
December 19, 2020, 7:03 pm
Filed under: age, art, Gen X, podcasting, theatre | Tags: , , , , ,

Prior to my deep dive into Gen X-ery, I honestly didn’t think about our generation much at all. It was one of the last things I considered in my identity, particularly in my artistic identity. I have a very particular aesthetic and, I’m given to understand, an identifiable one, as well. I would have called that MY aesthetic, not a Gen X aesthetic.

Then the stats for my audio drama podcast (The Dragoning, listen wherever you get your podcasts) started to roll in and it was absolutely clear who my audience is for that. In case you can’t see this graphic, it’s a chart of listeners by age, where each column is a different collection of ages. To me, it looks like a hand with its middle finger extended and that middle finger represents people who are 45-59 – that is, most of Gen X. This has not shifted as time has gone by. The graphic looked the same when we had twenty listeners and now that we have 200. If I have a demographic for this podcast, it is clearly Gen X.

Meanwhile, on the podcast version of this blog, where I directly discuss matters pertinent to Gen X, my listeners actually skew quite a bit younger. The tallest column is people who are 28-34. They’re squarely Millennials. (Though surely not square, they’re my listeners, after all!) I have no idea why this is but it is so and has remained fairly consistent over the years.

This whole mystery of the Gen X middle fingers of taste has made me wonder if my artistic work is more Gen X than I thought and made me wonder, too, if there is, perhaps, an aesthetic that I’m a part of that I’m not even aware of. I mean, speaking generally, there are style choices that can be made that are obviously Gen X. If it’s got graffiti scrawled across it or if it looks like a John Hughes film or a video by Run DMC or Bananrama, or even if it just sounds loud and angry – those are some Gen X red flags right there. But I swear, as far as I know, I have inserted nary a Gen X cue in my podcast about women who turn into dragons. There isn’t a Nirvana or Digable Planets soundtrack. No one finds anything grody to the max. There is nothing obviously Gen X about it that I can see.

And yet. The middle finger of statistics suggest that it is a work for Gen X.

This makes me wonder if some of my struggles to find a foothold in many of my artistic exploits are a generational problem. Like, if my appeal is primarily to my generation and my generation is the smallest, and dwindling all the time, am I just dealing with a numbers problem? I have, historically, had a very hard time getting people to come to my shows. Gen X Theatre isn’t really a thing. Has never really been a thing. Yet here I am, a Gen X-er making theatre that maybe mostly appeals to Gen X and Gen X won’t come out of their apartments to see it. (In the times when there is theatre and we’re not supposed to be staying in our apartments, of course.) But it’s possible that Gen X WILL listen to a podcast, if they feel like it. If it’s for us.

I don’t know. Statistics are funny and could change at any moment – but I am so intrigued by this clear preference for this thing I made, among many things I’ve made. What about it specifically appeals to Gen X? Did I make an accidentally hyper Gen X world? Do we have an aesthetic? And is my aesthetic our aesthetic, too?

There are generational markers, for sure. Millennials have pink and the whoop. We have…I don’t know. Torn up black clothes? And Mix Tapes?
And maybe a dragon dystopic/utopian world I made up.

I find myself both baffled and interested.

Is there a Gen X aesthetic?

What is it?

Do I have it?

Do you?

Stats for The Dragoning

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help support my aesthetic?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Howard Dean Came for Gen X. It Did Not Go Well for Him.

Well, well, well. Would you look at that? Howard Dean decided to come for Generation X on Twitter. He claimed we were a moral shipwreck and as evidence, cited all such examples as the recent additions to the Supreme Court, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Well, yes, those people are all Gen X, sure. And Dean deleted the tweet after Gen X roasted him soundly – but of course, as your Gen X blogging source, I cannot let this go by.

Generationally, all the conservative dirtbags Dean namechecked, are kind of anomalies. They’re highly visible but they are also exceptions. They are the kind of exceptions the rest of us made fun of in high school. Like, seriously.

And I think it may be important to think about this systemically. Let’s take the two new (horrible) additions to the Supreme Court, who are, yes, Dean, I agree, moral shipwrecks. These two are not judges because they are exceptional jurists. They were groomed, from the get-go by the Federalist Society, when these two shipwrecks were young (unpopular) conservatives.

As a Generation, we pretty roundly rejected these sorts of people. They’re corporate tools, lame, uncool posers who we would never invite to our parties. Also, Brett Kavanaugh was a creep who would definitely drink all your beer.

But you know who DID invite these people to their parties? Conservatives in your generation, Howard Dean, and the generation before yours. These folks were welcomed and trained and made to feel like conservative kings. They were raised up, supported, given mentoring and jobs. And here we are, with these lame corporate tools in office and on the Supreme Court.

There was no one doing this on the left, Howard Dean. There were no lefties welcoming passionate leftist politicos when we were young. No one was waiting anxiously for Rashida Talib to grow up so they could give her a judgeship. I’d wager no Young Democrats association gave Ayanna Presley a scholarship. No one escorted Julian and Joaquin Castro to the Yale Club to get them some funding.

If you don’t see a lot of leftie Gen Xers, Howard Dean, it’s a) because you’re not looking, because I just named four of them and b) because leftie Gen X-ers were left to fend for themselves. We are, in fact, famous for this skill at fending for ourselves. We were known as the Latchkey Generation for a while before Gen X stuck as a name. Leftie Gen X has always been pretty anti-establishment but if anyone had bothered, I bet we could have organized. We’re a bunch of Billy Bragg fans. We’d fight for the union. If conservative Gen X is more visible, more morally repugnant, more famous, it is because older generations boosted them up the ladder in a way that they never did for more liberal Gen X, who are, I think, in the majority.

You made this moral shipwreck, Howard Dean. You did. You were in a position to lead and support and mentor Gen X and you let it slip by and so we are left with a bunch of Gen X corporate tools in positions of big power, that none of us would let in to our parties. You could try to blame us, the way conservatives try to blame the kids who didn’t befriend the kids who became school shooters. Like maybe we should have been nicer to those sociopaths in high school – but ultimately – the lure of money and power would have won them. Even if someone had given Amy Coney Barrett a punk make-over, it would not have been as powerful as the internships, the scholarships and the job that the Federalists had in mind for her.

There is no Generation that is as obsessed with cool as Gen X. Every Gen X-er was judged by how cool or not cool they might be. Would you say Ted Cruz was cool? How about Amy Coney Barrett? Is she cool? Brett Kavanaugh? Cool guy? Not by our standards, my friends. These are not cool people, Howard Dean. They are not the best of our generation and the fact that you think they represent us, suggests to me, Mr. Dean, that you don’t know us at all. You may know our might now that you’ve come for us. I don’t know what my generation mates may have said to you on Twitter to get you to delete your tweets and back down but I know it must have been fierce. Gen X is cool like that.

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Bill and Ted’s Bogus Handling of Older Women

We did it. We watched the new Bill and Ted movie. The trailer made it look kind of charming and our Gen X nostalgia for the original was strong enough to put us in front of, what we knew would be, a very silly movie. And it was! They brought back all these cast members from the original. Ted’s Dad. Ted’s Dad’s girlfriend. A hologram of George Carlin. But significantly, despite the medieval princesses’ appearance in the earlier movie, the actresses who played them did not play them in this new movie. Instead, the filmmakers cast two women who are about ten years younger than the original princesses. This made me mad. And curious.

I investigated the women who played the original roles. Maybe they were too busy to play the parts. Or maybe they were dead! I mean, if one of them was busy playing Hedda Gabler at the Royal Shakespeare Company, I could understand that she might not want to do a sequel to Bill and Ted. But no. Their IMDB pages suggested that they were still acting, though not with really high profile credits. A couple of years ago they were photographed at a Bill and Ted convention event. In other words, they were probably available – the makers of Bill and Ted just didn’t ask them.

I’m assuming. Maybe there’s a great story about this that isn’t the usual sexism – but I somehow suspect that it is the usual sexism. The two women in their 50s were not hot enough for film anymore. (Though, frankly, I’ve seen recent photos of these ladies and they’re gorgeous.) So while the producers were happy to look at Bill and Ted with male middle aged bodies – they needed younger models to represent the hot princesses they married. That’s pretty gross and sexist but, you know, fair point. If I recall, correctly, the original princesses weren’t written to be much more than hot – so if the actors’ hotness has faded, then perhaps it was necessary to get new ones to represent the one trait they possessed.

But even hot people age and not all of them look like Catherine Zeta Jones as they do. Even hot medieval princesses might get a few lines on their faces or find the shapes of their bodies changing. But this movie chose to focus on the hotness instead. They gave Bill and Ted new wives, who were still hot, even though they were in their 40s! (Please read Gen X sarcasm there.)

And I mean no disrespect to the women who ultimately played the wives this time around. They’re both very funny women and I’ve enjoyed their work in other things and even, briefly, in this, where they were given almost nothing to do but complain that their husbands were losers. (Man, women are such a drag, aren’t they?! – Gen X sarcasm again)

But I am furious on behalf of the women who originated those parts, whether they wanted them or not. The film’s treatment of them as expendable is so common and so careless and I noticed it constantly as I watched the movie. In early scenes with Bill’s wife and daughter, I found myself asking “Which one is the daughter again?” Jemima Mays may be 41 but she still looks like she could be twenty something.

And so, despite the sort of feminist message of the men passing on the torch to young women, the movie made clear that older women can take a hike. Women who look like they could be the mothers of children in their mid-twenties are not to be looked at or admired on the screen. They’re not the sort of mothers Bill and Ted would fight for their marriages for. They somehow need hot chicks for the plot to make sense that way.

In some ways, the new Bill and Ted movie wants to be feminist. It wants to say that the future is female and that the people to change the world will be the young women. It has something to say about fathers fighting to keep their families together. That’s often a trope for female characters and it is refreshing to see two dudes try and save their marriages and their children. It feels like a shift.

But if the future is female, it is only for hot young women, not older women. Holland Taylor plays the ruler in the future and she is fabulous as ever but her character does not look like a hero in the end. The movie seems to suggest that old women need to step aside and be replaced by younger women who are more chill and know what’s going on.

Were there some fun moments? Sure. I would watch a spin-off buddy comedy between the couples therapist and the killer robot. And surely the original movie was not a beacon of feminist thought. They have made progress. But someone get me a phone booth so I can go back in time and tell these guys that feminism is not just for young women. It’s for everyone. The movie that denies them is bogus.

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The World I Imagined When I Was a Teen

I wrote this a few months ago and haven’t posted it because so much has been happening and a post about imagining a different world feels so weird in a world absolutely none of us imagined. But maybe it’s nice to time travel. Maybe it’s nice to pretend we’re in the world of a few months ago when this is what I was thinking about.

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Once upon a time, I dreamed of the world I would inhabit as an adult. I thought I would grow up to be Ann Magnuson or Annie Potts. I thought I would hang out in the cool clubs from Desperately Seeking Susan and be taken to a restaurant that had glass tables where I could watch myself while I was eating. The adult world I imagined featured a lot more cool haircuts and funky suits than I ever see in my actual adult life.

I have been thinking a lot about the way we create expectations but also how we create our worlds. The world I imagined no longer exists. It may have only existed in film and TV and it was created by the adults of the moment.

It may have been the underground in the 80s but that underground is long gone.

I find I’m a little disappointed. I live in the very city that used to look so cool in Jonathan Demme or Susan Seidelman’s films but there is nothing here that is as cool as those films. There are so many banks and yogurt shops and hardly any funky thrift shops. You will never stumble upon a crazy cool jacket like Madonna wears in Desperately Seeking Susan – but you can find a dozen high-end cupcake shops.

It just strikes me that every generation probably imagines that their adulthood will look like the cool adults in the previous generations. We think we will grow up to live like what we saw in our youth, despite the fact that when you look backwards, the common denominator is change.

No one grew up to live in the world they imagined when they were children. No one. The first generation to grow up reading novels probably imagined they’d have a life like the ones in books but those lives were already in the past by the time they read them. The children growing up reading the first novels likely lived in a world that looked nothing like the one they imagined.

Maybe a few decades ago, someone dreamed a future full of banks and yogurt shops and so created a New York that reflected that dream. Possibly a yogurt shop and bank New York looks very cool to young people coming up now and they will be disappointed to arrive here in ten years time when yogurt shops are no longer in fashion and there are no more brick and mortar bank branches.

I suppose the tragedy and gift of the world is that change is so inevitable, no one can ever live in the world they imagined when they were young. In so many ways, the world I live in now is far superior to the one I imagined. A South Korean film won best picture and there’s so much interesting TV. There’s been enormous gains in social justice (though not quite as many as I’d hoped for) and technology is like magic.

There’s better coffee and abundant Poke to be had. I bought a pair of glasses for $15 and the Affordable Care Act has made health care a possibility for me and many of my artist friends.

There are a lot of things that are way better than what I imagined but some things are worse, too – and mostly a lot less cool. I’m an Ann Magnuson girl in a bank and yogurt world who knows the world is ever in flux and will never be as it was or what we imagine it will be. That’s just the deal. I know it and I still think it’s weird.

 

Look at Ann Magnuson in the early 80s. This is the only photo of her on Wikicommons and it is perfect. She’s so cool. Why isn’t the world this cool?

 

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There Will Never Be a Gen X President?!?

A few months ago, a friend sent me an article about Gen X and the presidency that was in the Financial Times. (Write a whole series on Gen X, people will send you Gen X articles.) In the article – the millennial writer expresses his admiration for Generation X while simultaneously declaring that we are about to miss our shot to have one of our own become president. I started to write something about it but then I let it go. It seemed to just be a fleeting inconsequential opinion piece in the Financial Times. I can’t catch every single bit of silly Gen X-ery that floats by!

But then this idea came up again in a Gen X themed interview on the Brian Lehrer show. The guest host asked Ada Calhoun (author of Why We Can’t Sleep, a book on Gen X women) about this idea that we’ll never have a Gen X president and I got mad. Not because we won’t have a Gen X president. I don’t really care about that one way or another. But what I did get upset about is the weird ageism or bias that’s built into that assumption.

I also got mad because I bought it for a second. For a second, I thought it was real. That we really had missed our Gen X presidency shot. I mean, sure, I can see how Beto O’Rourke would be a classic Gen X president. Cory Booker was a little more corporation-friendly than the typical Gen X-er – but he literally ran into a burning building to save someone back when he was mayor of Newark. I liked his chances of saving us in a burning country. And I was very very sad when we lost honorary Gen X-er Kamala Harris in this race. (She’s just on the cusp being born in 1964.) I had no idea that Julian Castro was Gen X until just now and now I’m doubly sorry he’s left the race. But this election is not our only shot.

I don’t know if you noticed but we’ve got a lot of old folks running for President these days. Who’s to say some Gen X-er won’t win the presidency at age 80? We’ve got decades to deliver a presidential candidate. I mean, before I float this next idea, I need you to know that there is no world wherein I would like for this to happen – but Ted Cruz (a Gen X-er, I’m a sorry to say) could run for president in his 80s and in a cockamamie enough world, people could elect him. (Please, no!) What’s this assumption that it’s all over about? Is it the fear that we’ll be skipped again? That we’ll have a millennial president before we get a Gen X one?

Yeah. Sure. We could. But – whatever, you know? I’d be delighted to have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before Paul Ryan. Go on, Ilhan Omar, Lauren Underwood, Xochitl Torres Small and Katie Hill. Step on ahead my millennial goddesses!

But… the door isn’t closed for us. I mean – Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Katie Porter are all Gen X mega-stars and I’d love to see any one of them with a shot at the presidency at some point. (Maybe we can get Julian Castro next time?) I get that we’re all in the middle of a pretty brutal U curve and it really does pretty much feel like this is the end for us. Gen X men are knocking themselves off in droves and Gen X women can’t sleep. I see why this bias exists. Most of the dominant voices of our generation are dead – so of course it’s hard to imagine ourselves as old.

But we don’t have to be president right now. I’m guessing most of us aren’t interested. Given the current one in office, I’m not sure the presidency is quite the pinnacle of accomplishment it once was. But maybe, if we can survive past this year, we can prepare for a Gen X presidency in the year 2032. Or, you know, whatever.

Really, though, I give no shits about whether or not we get a Gen X president. The position has been a bit devalued these last couple of years and I’m not sure it’s worth the wanting. But the conversation around it matters because of the ways it reveals our thinking around stuff like this.

I think a lot of us think the game is over because a) we have some kind of intense generational nihilistic tendencies and b) we grew up in a youth culture, not unlike every other generation still alive. Ever since The Who hoped to die before they got old, we’ve all seemed to think that was a reasonable position to take. The culture glamorizes youth and sends the old out to pasture and here we see the evidence that somehow if we fail to elect a Gen X president in 2020, we will have missed our shot.

Now – the nihilist in me can fully understand that 2020 may in fact be the last election we ever have at all – but in that case, all the generations have lost – not just Gen X.

But like I said, this isn’t really about the presidency. This is about counting us out across the board. It’s not over just because our youth is over. People can accomplish great things in their 40s and 50s just like they could in their 20s and 30s. And they can go on to accomplish great things in their 60s and 70s and even their 80s and 90s and on. This notion of having missed our shot is incredibly damaging. It sneaks in to most of us, this sense that it’s all over now. We are vital. We are potent. We can do whatever any other generation can do. Come on now.

There are decades to come for the Gen X-ers who can hang in there. One of them could be president. It might mean less or more by then but it could happen. Don’t count us out yet. We’ve got decades until you can say there will never be a Gen X president. Talk to me about this again in fifty years. That’s when I’ll concede the point.

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Gen X Is a Mess?!?

Well, well, my fellow Gen X-ers. We have arrived. Again. The New York Times put out a style section spread on us and I tried not to pay attention to it because I was done, my Gen X siblings, I was done with weaving together the threads of all the Gen X articles I’d read and considered and so on. It came out a month ago but apparently I can’t leave it alone.

I read the New York Times piece. Sort of. What I actually did was scroll through it and skim the little paragraphs next to the pictures under the text obscuring “graffiti.” And I did click through to read one of the essays and some bits of others. This whole piece was easy to gloss over because there was really nothing there. It’s weird. Let me tell you. I have read so many articles about Gen X. Like, so MANY and this series in the New York Times was the most meaningless I’ve encountered. I’m including BuzzFeed listicles in that assessment. What I’m trying to say is that there was more depth in an “Are You a Gen X-er?” quiz than in the New York Times style section.

It feels like it was written by visitors from another planet who did some research on what was popular in America in the 80s and 90s and then called it “This Gen X mess.”

Listen – we can call ourselves and our stuff a mess if we want to but no one else is permitted to dismiss us this way. Also – where was this mess to which the headline referred? I did not see it explained anywhere. Is it because walkmen came out when we were kids? That seems to be the sort of thing the New York Times wanted to talk about. Walkmen. Strings around necks. A book called The Rules which gets its own essay – but which is a book no one I know actually read. Also featured: a musician “style icon” of Gen X-itude that neither I, nor my Gen X musician boyfriend ever heard of.
What version of Gen X is this?
Was there an alternate universe Gen X where all these things were important to us that I just missed?
Even the essay by a guy who seems to have been there is weirdly disconnected to my experience of Gen X-ery. And, like I said, due to my having written an 8 part series on Gen X, I have read a lot of diversity of Gen X experience. His essay felt as if it were written in an alternate universe wherein Alex P Keaton was not a fictional comedy character from TV’s Family Ties but a real life hero and the dominant cultural icon. It’s like his fan club president wrote this essay and is trying hard to convince the rest of us that Gen X had it so good, has it so good and is spending all our plentiful money on luxury goods.

That’s just not the Gen X I see. Or saw. Or ever saw. Unless it’s an Alex P. Keaton fantasy sequence on an alternate world Family Ties.

A Gen X friend of mine has a day job at the New York Times and told me that many of his cultural references and jokes fall flat due to his colleagues all being younger than him. It seems as if this might be true on the writing staff as well, if this Style section is any indication.

Gen X is not a mess. We may have once enjoyed a messy aesthetic on occasion. The stuff we really liked is not seemingly on the New York Times radar, actually, because the New York Times just went with what was selling well in the 80s and 90s. But Gen X wasn’t really buying, as far as I know.

I keep thinking of Keegan Michael Key on the Stephen Colbert show talking about how someone’s response to the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” gives them away as someone in their 40s. Like, literally. Across cliques and subgroups, I would wager that most of Gen X will lose their mind on the dance floor for “Blister in the Sun.” “Blister in the Sun,” my friends. Which did not even CHART. The song never charted. The album charted eventually but only ten years after it was released! I mean, we loved it but we didn’t buy it.

Maybe I’m just remembering the indie parts but I keep thinking of a line from ani difranco’s song that goes,

“Generally my generation wouldn’t be caught dead working for the man and generally I agree with them. Trouble is you got to have yourself an alternate plan.”

I feel this sums up the Gen X-ers I know fairly accurately. It’s not Gen X that’s a mess. It’s the system, man. The system is a mess. We’ve been saying it for years now. We’re fine. If you want to understand us, the (former) Kids in America, maybe ask us what we think is a mess. We’ll tell you.

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