January 8, 2013

Millennials Nostalgic For The Not-So-Old Days

In November 2012, The New York Times featured an opinion piece written by a Millennial entitled "How to Live Without Irony" (see http://nyti.ms/1058Qvm for that piece) about the life of self-described urban "hipsters". The author wrote:

"The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things."

Hipsters An Easy Target For Mockery

She adds "He [the hipster] is an easy target for mockery."

Fair enough.  Check out the illustration that was featured in the article:

I look at some hipster hairstyles, for example, and think to myself "I can remember when people wore their hair like that the first time around, and those styles look every bit as tasteless now as they did back in the seventies." It was unattractive back then, and it's every bit as ugly today.  The hipster, a term which itself was self-applied, hence the group gave themselves a term they believed to be cool (whether they really are cool remains open to debate) are, in the words of The New York Times author, victims of ironic living. I don't claim to comprehend the perspective that the hipster has (or doesn't have) since I'm a Gen Xer who's now too old to buy into the perspective of martyrdom which many hipsters seem to embody.

Hell, I saw the "21 Jump Street" movie reboot and realized I have no clue what it's like to be a high school kid today, not that I'm sorry about that.  I hated high school and couldn't wait for college, which was great for me.  But I'm actually happy to be middle-aged, with retirement to look forward to in about 2 decades, although I worry about whether I've planned sufficiently.  But the martyrdom that many Hipsters project upon themselves and their collective generation stems primarily from a lousy job market, while simultaneously failing to acknowledge that any kid who graduated high school in the 1970s, or even as I did during the recession of the early 1990s (following the stock market crash of 1987), know full well the Hipster's current economic lot is hardly unique.  They'll adapt, and if they're lucky, some Baby Boomers will finally retire, making room for new hires sooner rather than later.

Millennials' Job Market Woes Suck, But Are Hardly Unique

To be sure, Millennials' employment situation stinks, and, many have far too much student loan debt than preceding generations had (indeed, one could argue that many people collectively encouraged the assumption of massive student loan debts without certainty those debts could be repaid (check out http://n.pr/NKWIYP for more background), and thanks to so darn many Baby Boomer student loan defaults back in the 1970s, U.S. Congress passed laws which prohibits the write-off of student loan debts, putting people without incomes in a very difficult position.  The fact that this was never acknowledged in the autumn Presidential Debates when it deserved to be means the issue is being ignored by lawmakers, which is a failure of political activists representing the youth population.  What are organizations like MoveOn.org doing?  On the other hand, Millennials they aren't unique in struggling with economic downturns, even though the sheer number of them has brought attention to the issue.  Everyone wants economic growth, and some are making it happen by starting businesses of their own, which is really the American way of doing things.

In fact, the U.S. largely avoided the boom-bust cycles for an unusually lengthy period of time prior to 2009, but no one should be fooled into believing Federal policymakers somehow had it all figured out.  Not matter what they claim, policymakers have NOT mastered the art of managing an economy to avoid recessions, and that's not going to change anytime soon.  Downturns are a fact of life, and that's not new.  Millennials aren't the first, and probably won't be the last to endure that not-so-pretty fact. When I graduated college in the early 1990s, the New England (where I attended college)  job market sucked, and I had plenty of student loan debt to repay (although nowhere near as much as many 20-somethings have today) so I had to make sacrifices to accommodate, including taking a job with a very long commute and living at home with Mom & Dad instead of sharing an apartment with others my age because I simply couldn't afford it at that time.  But I endured, and just as they are learning to do now.  By the way, I'd recommend any Millennial readers of this post catch the June 9, 1997 issue of Time magazine by visiting http://ti.me/R47pfh.  There were similar predictions of my generation turning into a lost generation, but we turned out OK (check out the University of Michigan research on that at http://bit.ly/q0HaoX), and so will Millennials.

I empathize with the predicament of many Millennials, and I think they ARE unique in living with an unprecedented level of student loan debt, but I also worry my own generation is likely to be victimized by the youth of today in their efforts to deal with huge debts their parents accumulated for things like tax breaks that were never paid for and 2 unnecessary wars which were also never paid for because Gen X is next in line after the Baby Boom.  The people who really should be paying more are rich old people who are benefiting from Government largesse when they can easily afford to pay their own way.  Leaving a big inheritance to unappreciative kids isn't a right that's earned when you're successful (or lucky).  I hope that policymakers of the future won't decide to make aggressive age cutoffs on retirement benefits (Social Security and Medicare) at progressively older ages, because many middle-income people have made financial plans based on presumption that they would be eligible for benefits at a certain age (indeed, some of us DID presume we'd have to wait longer than retirees today, but we don't have the luxury of turning back time).

Don't raise the eligibility age for Medicare to age 66, then 67, 68, 69 and 70.  Instead, try saving money by implementing means testing for elderly benefits such as Medicare.  If you're old and rich, you don't need Medicare or even social security payments as you retire in a luxurious Palm Beach winter home while shopping at Needless Markups (I mean Neiman Marcus) for new winter outfits and dining out every day without a care in the world, then returning to your other home in affluent New York or Chicago suburbs during the summer.  Instead, some people feel entitled to bitch about estate taxes they'll never have to pay (their beneficiaries will), while simultaneously collecting Medicare and Social Security, as if they're somehow getting screwed.  Does anyone else notice something misprioritized in this picture?

NPR Reports on Nostalgia For Recent Times

Anyway, although I thought it was a bit premature to suddenly feel nostalgic about the 1990s, and last April (2011), NPR's "All Things Considered" program reported that people now in their twenties were finding nostalgia for the not-so-olden-days.  In the NPR story "Children Of The '90s Nostalgic Over TV" (listen below, or by visiting http://n.pr/gbpmzK), the reports suggest there are some good reasons, most notably that television represents a break from the always-connected world many people live in today.

The term "Couch Potato" did not originate because television was ever an "active" experience. Indeed, TV is usually passive, and the article notes twenty-somethings maybe turning to their own retro TV "to get away from the media torrent" in which they live with mobile phones attached to them 24/7/365. That's a valid reason.

Is Nostalgia For Not-So-Old Stuff Genuine?

However, nostalgia for not-so-old-times is unusual for television, but the NPR story notes that it seems to be happening so soon. For example, "The Brady Bunch Movie" was released in 1992, fresh on the heels of Gen X's nostalgia period, but that was 20 years after the original show aired on TV. Feeling nostalgic for Nickelodeon shows like "Rugrats" in 2013 is harboring nostalgia for something that (to my knowledge) never left the airwaves, or if it had left the airwaves, it was only off for a few short years.

NPR rightly notes that kids of the 1990s may be "the last generation to use television as their main cultural snorkel to the universe". I think the main difference between them and Generation X is that they already had many cable channels to choose from, while Gen X had just the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and later Fox plus PBS if you count that, too).

I've written in the past about (see http://goo.gl/l4Z85 for details) how cable as we know it didn't become widespread until the 1980s. Many small towns in the U.S. weren't even wired for cable until the 1980s. (I provided stats that cable subscriptions more than tripled from 15 million in 1980 to 47 million in 1989 in my post on "Family Ties", see that post at http://goo.gl/DRmhw for that).

The New York Times writer notes that the nostalgia-so-soon phenomenon seems to be accelerated by using apps like Instagram which has functionality to make a photo appear like a distinctive old Polaroid instant photo, for example, even though few users have ever seen a real Polaroid camera.  However, The New York Times article opinion piece also wrote:

"Furthermore, the nostalgia cycles have become so short that we even try to inject the present moment with sentimentality, for example, by using certain digital filters to 'pre-wash' photos with an aura of historicity."

She appropriately added:

"Nostalgia needs time. One cannot accelerate meaningful remembrance."

Always-Connected Means Nostalgia for Simpler Times May Be Real

Harvest Gold Memories is all about nostalgia, but until I caught the NPR "Children Of The '90s Nostalgic Over TV" story, I never thought that a decade was anywhere near enough time to feel nostalgic about something, especially when the stuff (like TV shows from the 1990s) has never really disappeared. However, I believe that in the always-connected world we live in today, with a never-ending stream of news, emails, and other media content, the evolution of short nostalgia cycles is perhaps understandable.

Still, wonder how nostalgia might be delivered 30 years from now when it's already available on-demand? Will Hipster Millennials look back at their own past?  Will they be able to write a blog in coherent prose without all text acronym gibberish?  Maybe they'll pick it up!

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