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Twenty-nothing Revisited

So what was the result of all that “twenty-something” soul-searching that so enlivened the mass media over the last year? After months of delicate inquiry and painstaking attention to the subtleties of “our” generation’s experiences, angsts, and deep longings, the nation’s mind-makers have announced the discovery of that most celebrated of American institutions—a virgin market niche! From the ashes of our fabled discontent has arisen opportunity of the most luminous sort. The mandarins of Washington have a new vocabulary in which to couch their empty platitudes, the men of Madison Avenue a panoply of new imagery, the masters of MTV a new array of “alternative” bands, and the kaisers of couture an entirely new palette of looks to exploit. And us? Aside from all the new products with which to amuse ourselves, we have a legion of new “spokesmen,” magazines and political groups who have been decreed our lawful leaders by the cultural powers that be (U.S. News, New York Times, Time, Business Week, etc.).

The standard argument went something like this: our generation was suffering from an identity crisis because business had not yet nailed down a coherent consumer profile for us. But now that has been remedied: with a great plethora of culture products having been specifically targeted just at us, we finally exist. And since we exist, we must have leaders and spokesmen to validate the newborn stereotype and lead us in the ways of consumer correctness. Everywhere the scramble to connect the ‘twenty-something’ attitude to lifestyles and commodities of all kinds is in high gear, in magazines of “our own” like Raygun and Inside Edge in addition to the frothing ministrations of newly enlightened journals like Details and Spin.

The once-threatening “New Generation Gap” has also been cleverly utilized to saddle us with a host of new “political” organizations (featuring the latest Kennedys!) mouthing the usual tepid bullshit about “leadership” and the futility of “partisanship,” droning predictably about the pure motives and clear-sighted nobility of youth, protesting about nothing with an earnest ingenuousness which of course they will auction off as quickly as possible for a place as a token “Gen Xer” on somebody’s staff. We have even been blessed with a “political” magazine for “twenty-somethings,” a kind of bantam New Republic that fancies itself the responsible voice of the young, crammed with nauseatingly righteous fake idealism. Politics is, as ever, little more than a profession for self-designated “leaders” who vie with each other to create ever-vaguer platitudes. The only difference between this latest crop of generational opportunists and the lukewarm D.C. careerists of the past is that the new version of the standard high-school-civics-course blablabla about “serving” and “bipartisanship” is more watery and devoid of meaning than ever. As if the clichés have at last worn themselves out, lost their narcotic power through sheer mileage, become so self-evidently unconnected to the reality they purport to describe that they have been reduced to nothing but a glorified word game (“When they say ‘family values,’ we counter with ‘bipartisan spirit.'”). Maybe the facade is finally beginning to crack.