The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Sep 292010

I have missed (first-wave Boomer (born 1943-1960), radical feminist) Camille Paglia.  She’s so pungent, so smart.  And now I see this: Her total put-down of Lady Gaga and her entire generation—by extension, we would have to say, of her entire Millennial (born 1982-200?).

Paglia’s emphasis on Gaga’s essential a-sexuality reminds me of that famous Rolling Stone expose of the Millennial libido a few years ago, “The Young and Sexless.”  Gaga doesn’t  say a lot that’s interesting or coherent, but she has commented several times that young people can be happy with or without sex.  She is, as Paglia observes, simply indifferent to the question.

What rankles many Boomers like Paglia is the fundamental sense that Millennials show no evidence of experiencing life with the same clarity, passion, depth, authenticity, and desire to break through and outrage as older generations once did.  Paglia is especially bothered by Gaga’s inability to articulate a single coherent feeling or idea—and her fans’ total comfort with that.  Note Paglia uses Madonna (b. 1958) as the positive Boomer foil.

Critics compare her to the outrageous staging of “glam rock” bands like David Bowie in the ‘70s.  But I don’t really see much resemblance.

Anyone care to guess what role, if any, Gaga will play in defining Millennial pop culture?

Sep 282010

Interesting piece in a recent Salon about the troika of big vampire series for tv/movies: BuffyTwilight, and True Blood.  The author tries to distinguish each series (I’m not sure entirely successfully) by its political or ideological outlook.  What some of the commenters point out, however, is that the shows are intended for different demographics—that is, while Twilight is intended for teens, TB is an HBO show intended for older audience… hence, the more nihilistic outlook of the latter.

Btw, does anyone watch True Blood?  (Apparently, it’s HBO’s biggest hit since the Sopranos.)  To the extent most critics have identified any politics at all in the show, it’s centered about echoes of the gay rights movement (“God hates fangs,” “Coming out of the coffin,” etc.).  But apparently, the main plot lines are pretty unruly… and gruesome.

Sep 242010

Glenn Beck has quickly become just about the most polarizing figure in America today.  If Obama has come to represent America’s left brain, Glenn Beck is auditioning to become its right brain.  (I mean that in both senses.)  In a Third Turning (Unraveling), this would be cause for entertainment.  In a Fourth Turning (Crisis), this development takes on a darker, more sinister hue.

The red zone widely reveres Beck—not for who he is (no one really knows that much about the guy), but simply for what he says.  The blue zone widely reviles him—not for who he is or what he says, but rather for what he reflects about what is happening in America today.  The Obama election already seems distant.  For the literati, Glenn Beck is William Butler Yeats’ “rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.”  See this cute Youtube video from NYC (“Glenn Beck Scares Me”).

He sends the prophets of the secular left into such apoplectic rage that, like Kunstler, they simply shout themselves into incoherence.  The dominant theme of Kunstler’s piece is that prayer “is what people resort to when they don’t understand what is happening to them.”  I’d love to hear Kunstler’s take on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s original 1963 speech.

Kunstler is on firmer footing when he says that Obama’s caution often stems from the fear that any precipitous policy change may trigger a catastrophe.  In 4T-land, one is tempted to walk on tiptoes.  You are on the brink.  Don’t you dare throw the shadow-bank CEOs into prison.  Or raise tax rates on the rich.  Or shove cap-and-trade down the throats of big energy.  Or close down Gitmo.  Or offend Putin.  Or vaporize Ahmadinejad’s new reactors.  The economy may implode (again).  That dreaded WMD may finally be unleashed.   And *then* what will everyone think of your presidency?

True, by behaving (in Kunstler’s unplugged words) “like a weenie,” Obama may end up encouraging the very riptides of history he is trying to evade.  On the other hand, by behaving as Kunstler would urge, we would almost certainly end up in the midst of a crisis  Though perhaps, Kunstler would argue, it would be a crisis we could survive rather than one that we could not—logic that only makes sense to an Ayatollah like Kunstler.  Maybe what really burns Kunstler up about Beck is that they both share the same turning-yearning.

I offer  here two other more even-tempered reflections on the Beck “honor” rally from the Washington Post.

The first, by Kathleen Parker, makes the interesting point that everything about Beck’s message stems from the 12-step recovery program—with a  riveting emphasis on the utter worthlessness and depravity of the speaker.  Glenn Beck, a first-wave Xer (born in 1964), does this with grandiose self loathing:

“Hi. My name is Glenn, and I’m messed up.”

“You know, we all have our inner demons. I, for one — I can’t speak for you, but I’m on the verge of moral collapse at any time. It can happen by the end of the show.”

“You can get rich making fun of me. I know. I’ve made a lot of money making fun of me.”

And some of his lines are just funny, showing that he didn’t become a radio star for nothing.  Parker quotes one of them.  Not coincidentally, it extends the addiction metaphor in a new direction:

“It is still morning in America. It just happens to be kind of a head-pounding, hung-over, vomiting-for-four-hours kind of morning in America.”

The second, by Ruth Marcus, points out that Beck’s rhetoric has found a way to unite the two sides of GOP—the libertarian (business) side with the moral (evangelical) side.  The tea party has never enjoyed such solidarity, with its “black robe regiment” (an allusion to the [Prophets] archetype during the American Revolution) blasting away from the pulpits.

And to accomplish this, only a cross-over Boomer-Xer voice seems to work.  Beck is Boomer (born 1943-1960) in his bombastic moralism, yet also Generation X (born 1961-1981) in his pessimism about human nature, his fear that everything around us is vulnerable and at risk, his historical revanchism, and his in-your-face bluntness.  His opening lines, announcing that today we talk too much about America’s “scars” and not what makes America “good” is very Xer.  Only a kid who was born the year after MLK’s speech and who grew up in the 1970s would say that.

Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin remind us of the un-pretty side of the Gen-X role in history.  Let me offer a prediction we made in The Fourth Turning(1997):

“By the middle 2020s, the archetypal constellation will change, as each generation begins entering a new phase of life. If the Crisis ends badly, very old Boomers could be truly despised. Generation X might provide the demagogues, authoritarians, even the tribal warlords who try to pick up the pieces.”

If any of this comes to pass, I have no doubt that many of the Xers who fill the role described here will remind us of Beck and Palin.

The original MLK (Artist archetype) appealed to our super-ego.  In front of the Lincoln Memorial, his lofty, grandiloquent words appealed to principle on the eve of an era of economic and aspirational inflation.   In front of the Lincoln Memorial, he was the right man for his time.  Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (Nomad archetype) appeal to our id.  In front of the Lincoln Memorial, their blunt, sardonic words appeal to honor on the eve of an era of economic and aspirational deflation.  Are they (gulp!) the ineluctable duo for our time?

Sep 232010

Three GOP Gen-Xers offer their own roadmap, such as it is, for a remake of the GOP party and Congress.  Along with Beck (“Arguing with Idiots”) and Palin (“Going Rogue”), this will give a strong Generation X (born 1961-1981) cast to whatever happens in the coming by-election.

Three young (OK, aging X) guys come together here to draft a new political vision.  No, let’s not compare them to HamiltonMadison, and Jay in the “Federalist” papers (whose average age was considerably younger).  But, take note all the same!

Sep 132010

An interesting defense of LeBron against his Xer detractors.  Interesting that most Generation X (born 1961-1981) did not say, OK, LeBron is just maximizing his  future fame and income and looking out for himself.  Who needs Cleveland?  Who needs community?  Instead, they’re on LeBron for wanting to *join* his superstar buddies rather than *compete* with them.  Michael and Kobe says that LeBron could turn out to be many things, but now that he’s buddied up, he’ll never be “the man” who singlehandedly turned it all around for his team.  Jordan and Bryant didn’t invent this charge.  I think the first person to say that LeBron will never be “the man” is Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post.  And to an Xer athlete, nothing could be more important than being “the man.”

“SuperFriends.”  Now that’s Millennial (born 1982-200?).

Sep 102010

The answer to on-line plagiarism is for faculty to ask Millennial (born 1982-200?) to do something more creative and interesting than simply to turn in a mindless encyclopedia entry “essay” on some utterly generic topic—like the Great Depression.  Have students invent and defend their own unique point of view on a topic.  I’d be less interested in whether they copy this or that part than whether the whole thing hangs together.

Here’s what’s interesting.  If, one year out of college and working at Accenture, a Millennial is asked by a boss to prepare a quick background on (say) the black market trade in terra cotta figures in and out of mainland China, no one will mind at all if he or she lifts some parts of the memo (say, the part on the origin of terra cotta ceramic) from Wikipedia.  Indeed, the employee will probably be praised to working quickly, not wasting time, and focusing instead on the issues that are unique to the client’s problem.  We need to get higher ed to redesign the curriculum so that the skills they test are aligned better to the skills that have real valued added at the frontier of today’s professions.