Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Defending Millennials



I:

I am so tired of hearing "in the real world . . . " as a way of putting down 18-20 year old students and a way of further saying "I don't get that kind of treatment at my job, why should students think they should get special treatment?" It's petty and ridiculous and I will tell you why I think so.

I am on all kinds of education lists on social media. One day the conversation turned to extra credit as it so often does. Now, there are many reasons for and against extra credit assignments, but of course we eventually got to the usual and inevitable "In the real world, you don't get extra credit . . . ."

The fact is that many people DO receive extra credit in the form of bonuses and promotions and other little perks called "incentives." One person questioned if this was really extra credit, but it is credit given to someone over and above their salary for doing extra work. Sounds like extra credit to me.

And if you want to take the remedial view of extra credit, even if you are not doing well on the job they don't normally just fire you, but give you another chance to prove yourself, ie, extra credit. In the "real world" you don't get grades or write papers either. Your boss does not ask you to pull out a sheet of paper and write 200 words on the value of customer service. There is a difference between the conventions of what one does in the so-called real world and in a college learning situation, and I think that's ok. Students are there to learn and instructors, professors, teachers, etc. are there to teach. No one is there to serve a customer or client, help them to see an improvement in their business, stocks, or home investments just yet. Student and teacher. Student and mentor. Period.

This is all more of a move away from education as instilling the skills needed to be a good citizen and a well-rounded person and towards education as a form of discipline and training for corporate America, which let's face it, has also been a part of education for a very long time as well.

Personally, I am for anything that will make students do a little extra work and think harder. The thing about extra credit is that students rarely take advantage of it. Even if you make it available to them, they rarely have the time or inclination to take you up on it. They seem to just want to know that it's there.

II.

Moreover, I can’t help but feel that this is a form of discriminatory resentment, the suspicion that someone else, in this case another generation rather than another race or class of people, is getting something that you aren't. “These Millennials – they not only get an education (which has been leveled against generations at least since the GI bill if not sooner)(and which they have to go into enormous debt for), but also have all of this technology available to them at an early age and NOW they want EXTRA CREDIT when they are not doing well in their classes. What is with these kids? If I had had the kinds of advantages they have, why I would have aced all of my classes in ½ the time they take to text their friends. What nerve!”

This is the resentment of the very future that was promised to us. Now that the Silent or Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, and the Atari Wave Gen Xers (see Strauss and Howe, 13th Gen) are too old to enjoy the full promise of the technology of the future, we resent that others have the opportunity to do so. Or perhaps, like George Orwell and Aldous Huxley warned us, the future is here, but it has turned out to be what Irving Howe called an un-utopia is his article The Fiction of Unutopia, what we now talk about as dystopia. Maybe it's not as great as promised. For every GPS that helps us find our location, we also secretly fear a Stephen Spielberg-Minority Report scenario in which our car drives us to work following the pre-programmed GPS route or takes us directly to jail. Maybe we didn't want all this technology anyway, and who are the Millennials to not see this? They are naive and blind to the downsides. Who wants all this technology anyway.

III.

It is not that far from resentment of Millenials and white male resentment towards women and “minorities” for affirmative action. How dare someone else get a piece of the pie? Or as it is now, “there’s not enough pie for me, and now somebody wants my already small piece?” I just saw an article on Facebook that said that white people claim more racism against them than people of color do. Everybody wants to be a victim it seems in this society, to justify their feelings of being left out and falsely blaming young people for being spoiled is another way of pointing to someone and saying “No fair. They got something I didn’t.”

“Adults” love to tell young people that the world isn’t fair, but they are the first to insist that Millennials haven’t “paid their dues” and yet are perceived to have the world as their oyster.

The fact is that people have said that about all of our generations.

IV.


The so-called Silent Generation or Greatest Generation was portrayed in popular culture as Beatniks and rebels (without causes) when they were young. They were a threat to the old order and had to be put in their place, which was in the suburbs working newly middle class jobs for the corporations who had been rehabilitated in the wake of America’s defeat over fascism into good corporate citizens offering good jobs to Americans. After all, what is good for Chevrolet is good for America.

Of course, who could have anticipated that the Baby Boomers who came after them would be a bunch of smelly hippies holding sit-ins and teach-ins rather than going the colleges and universities that had only been recently unlocked to them by their parents. What nerve they had, demanding democracy in those very universities, let alone an end to war and a just society. They should just shut up and take their place as the next generation of workers.

Then, when the Baby Boomers took the reins, they criticized the Gen Xers, my generation, for not engaging in mass movement politics as they did. We were all a bunch of apolitical slackers who contributed nothing to society, choosing skateboarding and video games over communes or worse, Alex P. Keatons and Charlie Sheens who had abandoned their parents values altogether in favor of greed. Many of those who did not go that route and chose instead to go their own way rather than working soulless corporate jobs got met with the parents' lament "when are these children going to move out of the house?" I believe that many Millennials are facing a similar lament from their own Baby Boomer and Gen X parents.

V.

Do you see the pattern I am presenting here? The fact of the matter is that the Millennials will find their own way(s). They are dealing with an economy much like the one that I came of age in with little opportunity, but at least 25 or 30 years ago we still had a social contract in place, which appears to be more than we have at this moment in time.

More than that, they have global warming and an America in decline (at least for the moment). Like most young people, they appear to be governed by people who do not share their values. And add to that the fact that many people see them as over-privileged brats. I recently watched a video in which Millennials addressed this perception of them. One person that stands out from the video is the young woman who said she felt so privileged to have to work 4 part-time jobs. I imagine that will also someday be used against her children. “You young people today! When I was your age I had to work 4 part-time jobs!” But let’s hope she has a little more perspective than that.

So as a college instructor, I actually burn when I hear people talk about students and how spoiled they are or how they don’t understand the workings of the “real world.” Of course they don’t. I didn’t either. I asked my teachers for unreasonable things like extensions and extra credit. I cut class. I didn’t understand how the world worked, and I was in the top 15 percent of my high school graduating class and even graduated a year early. I made several embarrassing missteps early on in my working life. I had what adults would call “book smarts” and not “street smarts.” But “street smarts” come from hardship. Don’t we all want our children not to go through excessive hardships?

I can only guess that most “adults” have repressed these memories to protect their own psyches and in order to further protect themselves, they must also vilify all of those lazy, na├»ve young people that came up after them.

VI.

I remember working in a test scoring center. The students had been assigned to write about a time when they had to overcome something. Most of the students wrote about a hard class or a cheerleading tryout. But some had terrible things, like one who had a friend decapitated in car accidents or more frequently, surviving abuse. I remember our scoring director telling us not to discount the cheerleading stories if they were well-written because she said “a cheerleading competition should be the worst thing for a 15 year-old to worry about.”

VII.

There is plenty of time to figure out the “real world” and maybe even reshape it in ways that the previous generations could not or did not or to at least leave it a little better. Frankly, this business model doesn’t work for us anyway and maybe businesses should look at how education or non-profits are run and take their cue from that, rather than seeing non-profits or education as a place to retreat from the "real world." The “real world” is overrated and should be shaken up and reshaped anyway.

The fact is that at nearly 50, I still don’t understand the so-called real world and if we were really honest with ourselves, few of us do. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so much information available on the web about how to get along with one another, how to get jobs, how to buy a house, etc. No one knows how it works. We somehow all suspect that it’s a secret society to which we don’t know the handshake. And so we resent anyone who we perceive as getting just a little bit ahead of us, whether that perception is correct or not.

VIII.

Are some Millennials spoiled and overprivileged? Sure. Just like there have been spoiled and overprivileged children who grow up into spoiled and overprivileged adults since the beginning of time. I think Cain and Abel could probably be scrunched into that category as well if I were willing to take the time to do so. There were Silents, Baby Boomers, and Gen Xers who were spoiled and overprivileged. And there are those who are smart and conscientious and willing to work hard, and many of those are my students. I have sat by and watched 3 generations of young people vilified by the media all in the same way. I’m not going to listen to or believe it any more.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Duck Dynasty: Joke's On Us

I have heard recently it said on Facebook that the members of the “Duck Dynasty” were, in fact, not these rustic types living in the backwoods of Louisiana, but in fact, are clean shaven professional men, yuppies, who saw an opportunity to be on television and took it. Whether or not these yuppies are racist and homophobic is not known, but it would seem that the Duck Dynasty would be bigoted, and so these professionals, actors, decided to play to public perception.

Now, I have not heard anything that makes me think that I can confirm or deny these rumors with any certainty. But it did make me think of Andy Kaufman and the many characters he played, including his baffling performances on Saturday Night Live as well as his wrestling career in which he wrestled women, culminating in a very public feud with wrestler Jerry Lawler in which Andy Kaufman was (supposedly) injured and had threatened to sue Lawler. Now, 30 years later, there is a suspicion that Lawler was in on the joke and that it was a hoax – a very well-acted piece of performance art that neither party ever completely admitted to, but carried it into their public personas, never letting their guard down.

So all of this makes me wonder, what if the joke is on us? What if this is a hoax, a brilliant piece of performance art that doesn’t take sides, rather is to pull the wool over all of our eyes? Perhaps the portrayal of a racist, backwater family with pre-Civil War attitudes is supposed to show the polarization of our society, exploit it, and hold a mirror up to all of us. What if it is a parody of life in the United States, showing the disparity in lifestyles between the two societies we have become, one that holds stubbornly onto the old way of life, resisting social and technological progress and the other presenting itself as moving forward into the 21st century (or as Buzz Lightyear says, to infinity and beyond!)

If this is the intention of the Duck Dynasty, you might argue that it is about 10 years too late to the party. This is well-covered terrain. But there’s another layer involved as well—our willingness to watch and comment upon this type of reality program, to look at “those hillbillies” as a way to feel better about ourselves, whether it’s to watch them as circus freaks or to admire their willingness to endure a harsh way of life for their “values.” In other words, we are so used to viewing people in these kinds of terms, is our outrage perfunctory? Are we outraged because we are used to being outraged, and not out of a genuine kind of surprise any more? And if it is a hoax, then those “values” seem to amount to nothing more than money. If there is no real conviction behind it, is a legitimate hoax in the Kaufman-esque sense of the word, or is it just making a buck?

A&E is one of several channels that have come to specialize in this kind of programming and making a fortune on it. The actors on Seinfeld, when renegotiating their huge salary increases, justified them on the grounds that the network was making an enormous amount of money off of their talents, and so why shouldn’t they. Having been sensitized to stories of actors in the 1950s and 60s who did not receive residuals for their television shows, we bought into it. So why should we now expect that the so-called reality stars are not just in it for a share of the pie, rather than that they truly believe in every word they say. We are at once cynical about reality television, but we are also willing to believe the worst about some characters because it reinforces what we believe and provides us with an outlet and a scapegoat for our rage at the injustices we feel in our society, which are many at the moment.

I don’t know if Duck Dynasty is a hoax or not, but I am becoming more and more taken with the idea that we have all been fooled. Again.