Rambling Across the Generation Gap
Has anyone ever sent you a rambly list via email about all the ways things that youth in America doesn’t know? You know the ones: Kids today! They don’t know how to use postage stamps! They’ve never seen record players! All their cars have power windows!
Well, these lists are released by Beloit College–they were originally created to give their professors some perspective re: what kind of cultural and historical references their incoming freshmen were going to be clueless about. Because we are right on the cusp of a new school year (well…everyone except me, BURN!) another edition has come out. It’ll probably run in your city newspaper, but here it is anyway.
They have always pissed me off.
The first one I ever saw got sent to me when I was a freshman in college–when I fit perfectly into the demographic that it’s meant to describe–and I was really insulted that some committee at Beloit College thought I was paying so little attention in the world that I would be baffled if questioned about rotary phones, White Out and anybody who may have recorded “American Pie” before Madonna (yes, she did, in 2000, remember?). I resent the implication that as a teenager I couldn’t see past my own cultural context.
What these lists are really doing is stretching the generation gap as far as it can go. One generation telling another, “because I remember the Kennedy assassination, and you weren’t there, I have this wealth of knowledge that you can never touch.” Yeah, and none of us alive today know a damn thing about Lincoln, or Franz Ferdinand, or Napoleon, or Charlemagne. WHO ARE THOSE GUYS?
I know exactly as much about Jimmy Carter and Watergate as my parents knew about the Battle of Midway. So what? Personal recollections are written down, and shared, and in a relatively short time all those people who were actually there die. And then we all know everything the same way: secondhand. In For the Time Being, Annie Dillard asks what kind of news stories the ancient Egyptians chiseled on their walls, and if we could interpret them, if they would matter anymore. With hundreds of thousands of years of human development behind us, we’re supposed to get bent out of shape over one generation of cultural shift?
Let’s agree that the only attitude to take can be summed up by one of my generation’s philosophers, Travis the Stoner from Clueless:
I had an insight, Mr. Hall… The way I feel about the Rolling Stones is the way my kids are going to feel about Nine Inch Nails, so I really shouldn’t torment my mom anymore.
Yeah. Time passes. (Hee hee hee. Nine Inch Nails. How 90s.)