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"Future historians will note that American society peaked in the late 1960s"
 
   
 

 

Reality Bites


 

by Ken Mondschein

 

 

We are people of this generation, bred in the most hedonistic society the world has ever known, housed now in over-mortgaged tract homes, and looking uncomfortably to the world we leave to our children. We were born in the days when the Soviet Union was the Evil Empire, a college degree was the ticket to the middle class, and being born American meant that unlimited opportunity was your birthright. We saw the Soviet empire fall, and realized that we had geared our entire society to prepare for a war that no one had dared fight.

Our college degrees hang on our walls, but though our mental horizons have been expanded, our economic opportunities have not. We were told that success does not matter if you are black or white, male or female, and while the political successes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and even Sarah Palin seemed to vindicate this philosophy, it does not obviate the fact that opportunity for all still means that most of us are doomed to lives of obscure mediocrity. The dot-com boom and bust, the current depression, the unwinnable wars in Asia, all have convinced us the truth of the anthems of our youth. We are here now, and we are not entertained.

Future historians will note that American society peaked in the late 1960s. Culturally, this is a foregone conclusion. We listen to our parents’ music and call it "classic rock," a canon that can be approached but never surpassed. When we think of art, we think of Warhol and Rothko. Our top-selling cultural products have names like "Star Wars" and "Star Trek"—nostalgic Baby Boomer dreams that one day man will dance amongst the heavenly spheres, whereas in reality we have come crashing down, Icarus-like, in fiery debris. After the sun-bright Baby Boomer generation flared into supernova, it collapsed into a black hole.

We knew all this long ago. We were called the "slacker" generation. But how could we not be, after Free Love turned to AIDS, we saw Peace commodified and sold for junk bonds, and realized the calls for "revolution" were nothing more than the mewling of infants begging to be indulged? Our coming-of-age movies were "Reality Bites" and "Fight Club." Our famed irony and sarcasm were not a sign that we value nothing: They were self-defense in a world where nothing is valued. This is the world the Baby Boomers, the so-called flower-children, have left us: A world poisoned by me-firstism, by NIMBYism, by I-got-mine-ism. Our parents' generation has rebutted the hard work and sacrifice of our grandparents with short-term thinking and situational morality justified by Excel spreadsheets.

We grow into middle age not surrounded by prosperity and security, but by our doubts and fears. Even as the rich have gotten richer, we have seen our standard of living fall. The middle class is barely reproducing itself, bifurcated into those barely treading water and those on an endless paper chase after useless honors. Our hopes have been dashed, our dreams sold for firewood to keep warm and hold back the wolves for one more night.

I should end this essay on a note of hope, or at least a call to action. Such would be the traditional coda. However, I cannot find it within me to do so. The myth of Progress is dead; all we have to look for is a mediocre world of diminished expectations. Somewhere along the way, someone might have tricked us into caring or having hope, but we have come to realize that the current "crisis" is not the result of a great country hijacked by a cabal of free-market capitalists: It is, in fact, the new baseline. Things are not going to get better; all we can do is hope they will not get worse. We take from this the great lesson learned by abused children everywhere: It hurt less when we didn't care.

 



Posted January 1, 2009 3:54 AM

 


 

Backtalk

This is nothing new. Nothing is original. Society, people, thoughts are all cyclical....to say this is the most hedonistic culture ever is to say the Romans were Puritans....to say that the world is not going to get better is just another repeats of doomsdays and naysay that have happened throughout history. The fact is that mankind will all ways grow and wane and grow again until the day that God decides we have had enough....or a big space rock hits us....whatever comes first.

Posted by: S at January 4, 2009 8:18 AM

This is nothing new. Nothing is original. Society, people, thoughts are all cyclical....to say this is the most hedonistic culture ever is to say the Romans were Puritans....to say that the world is not going to get better is just another repeats of doomsdays and naysay that have happened throughout history. The fact is that mankind will all ways grow and wane and grow again until the day that God decides we have had enough....or a big space rock hits us....whatever comes first.

Posted by: S at January 4, 2009 8:18 AM

A more honest and true view of our societies position than i have ever heard. No wonder so many people are either depressed or medicating.

Posted by: Sean at January 4, 2009 8:34 AM

damn good essay brutha. to add to your pessimism, all i can say is "smoke em if you got em".

Posted by: bogart momo at January 4, 2009 9:08 AM

Look out, you've been Farked. May god have mercy upon your soul. Also, nice.

Posted by: Anon at January 4, 2009 9:14 AM

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA.. Hilarious.

Posted by: David at January 4, 2009 9:18 AM

meh. Whine some more ya big baby.

Posted by: Rob at January 4, 2009 9:30 AM

Your notion of the 60's and reality is based on media. Culture was mass produced on the television on 3 channels and everyone was exposed to it and it was the largest generation. You can look at the fragmentation of media and see the cultural 'decline' is highly correlated with this. The truth is we've gotten over aggrandizing and oversimplifying things. In 1966 the vietnam death toll for American's was 27,915 people. Life is more than what is on tv. The people who died in war, because of their race, or for whatever reason in the 60's probably would look at your blog and disagree with what you have to say about living during 'the peak.'

Posted by: Ziad Hussain at January 4, 2009 10:00 AM

Wow, talk about WHINY! Grow a pair, son.

Posted by: Ralph D. Wunderllama at January 4, 2009 10:08 AM

US will pass the crisis and will move on higher, is the only country in the world where dreams can become reality

Posted by: catalin at January 4, 2009 10:53 AM

thank you

Posted by: Theadeaus at January 4, 2009 11:25 AM

Dangit, I came up with the term "me-firster" 20 years ago and I never get credit. Where's my money!? How's that for "me-firsting?" Good essay, you plagiarist. / kidding, good essay, really, but I did come up with the term after going to highschool with the wealthy who were feckless selfish scum that got Porsches as 16th birthday gifts. I drove a station wagon.

Posted by: Curt at January 4, 2009 12:13 PM

So get up and do something about it.

Posted by: X at January 4, 2009 12:21 PM

What utter crap.

Posted by: jms at January 4, 2009 12:35 PM

You're a 'mewling' idiot.

Posted by: Dork at January 4, 2009 1:20 PM

I look at the world, and see it as the result of affairs set in motion long before the Baby Boomers were even thought of. We live in a new century - a new millenium - that still resounds with the echoes of the most dynamic, violent, astonishing century in human history, a time when the progress of the new collided with the institutions of the old. It saw the fall of old empires and the rise of new ones, at rates unprecedented in human history, with consequences being visited now. One thing that history has taught however is that humans remain the same. We all share the same fundamental hopes and dreams, the same fears and failings, not only globally, but throughout time, too. In time, it will fall to the so-called 'slacker' generation to recognise and act (when the time will come) on picking up the pieces, patching up the holes and weaving a new social tapestry, proving to the world that far from being a generation of do-nothing layabouts, we are the most sensible, level-headed, responsible and mature generation ever seen. Many generations react to ones from before. The dynamics of the 1960s largely represent youthful reaction to the war generations that preceded them. The new generations inherit a world that has been ravaged, used, abused, ignored and violated. We however belong to a generation raised in the shadow of images brought back from space of a world fragile and alone, a 'grand oasis', precarious and delicate, vulnerable and ultimately very, very precious. It is my fervent hope that with this new-found perspective and wisdom, we will better take care of that which takes care of us. The Baby Boomers are a great lot, and I wish them all the very best, for it is they who lay the foundations for us, just as it is us who lay the foundations for those to come after us. It is up to us to make things better, not because we want to appear as a better generation than any before, but because we have been raised with the sensibility that not only if something is worth doing it is worth doing well, but because one must do whatever needs done, and done as best as it can be. Modern institutions are crumbling, outdated sensibilities are dissolving, a new era beckons and it is us that will be responsible for modelling the new infrastructure to take us into that future. The future is as bright as we want it to be, and care to make it. The current strife is merely the pendulum swinging a little too far one way. This is what happens when extremists are in charge. Rest assured, lessons are being learnt. The trick is to remember those lessons when the time comes, as those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. David (born 1969)

Posted by: David Sander at January 4, 2009 1:45 PM

You live in an age of miracles and wonders and all you can do is complain that it can't go on forever. Things will get worse for some, better for some. In the end there are a lot of people on a finite world. Those efficient in their needs will prosper.

Posted by: NoName at January 4, 2009 2:13 PM

yep, still self obsessed. Still a loser. Still no hope....for you! The rest of us are moving onward and upward.

Posted by: anon at January 4, 2009 2:24 PM

I've read your essay. Someone's a little depressed! Yes, I study the news, trends the world is taking, history, game theory, and in some ways take it as a hopeful sign that things are all 'gone mad'. It is this madness that will breed us a new century and the more insane it becomes the grander the outcome. So bring on the fires, the floods, the wonderment. We're all dying of the same things and you assume here and now, that you can know the shape of the future from this past laid out behind us? You know the world has it's ups and downs, it's goods and bads. We live now in the best century so far for humanity. By simple numbers we are dying less than ever before and the so called 'riches' which we decry as so vastly unfair and horrible because they are not hours and are not being used to benefit the majority are only numerical values. What do you want? To be a rock-star amongst billions of rock-stars? To have great adventures and swing your sword around? Are you a victim of this great, fantastic, beautiful madness? Good. Be a victim. Lay still. They like it when you lay there too convinced of the inevitability of the Hells you're in to squirm. Tell me what you want. Say it's all terribly unfair, tell me how horrible and pitiful it all is and how we're all gonna die then run in circles waving your hands. Maybe one day that'll work. When you have something to actually do...a suggestion, a methodology, even possibly an inspired vision of futures beyond our ken...come back. Write another essay and on some other New Year give it to us and who knows? You might change the world.

Posted by: Chessie at January 4, 2009 2:25 PM

What do you mean we? It's just you.

Posted by: Dave at January 4, 2009 2:48 PM

My comments are at my site.

Posted by: Annoyed White Male at January 4, 2009 2:52 PM

You said it better than I ever could.

Posted by: KittyLitter at January 4, 2009 2:56 PM

Nice read, it's 10:14 in the morning. I'm trading my coffee in for a bottle of wine. Cheers =)

Posted by: oxentrot at January 4, 2009 3:15 PM

If it broke do something to fix it then and stop whining about it.

Posted by: kingfish2004 at January 4, 2009 3:19 PM

To respond to reality with despair and apathy is the worst offense against the world around you. To have no hope is lower than having misguided hope. Even though the Baby Boomer generation has created such failure, to wail and despair and turn you back on reality is a far greater offense. By this you will never accomplish anything other than to poison the hearts of your fellow man.

Posted by: Rolander at January 4, 2009 3:24 PM

the begining of the end was when Ronald Raygun was elected in 1980. for 8 years he hounded us about 'getting government off the backs of business" and "government IS the problem" and "cut taxes" and "cut more taxe" especially for the Rich/Big Business. and Deregulation was the catch phrase he used so much. well, we're reaping the rewards for all those tax cuts and Deregulation. Thanks, Ronnie

Posted by: Neo at January 4, 2009 3:33 PM

Ken Mondschein, are you a baby boomer? If you are, that would explain this article.....

Posted by: george at January 4, 2009 3:56 PM

Classic rock and Star Trek are the pinnacle of American culture? Right... I mean, maybe you think that's true, but I hardly think that historians will agree with you. You seem to have missing the birth of a culture new, vibrant, and novel, which didn't happen in the 60s. In fact, you're participating in it right now. It happened in the mid 90s, and it's internet culture. Historians won't be talking about TOS, they'll be talking about Dr. Horrible.

Posted by: Renee at January 4, 2009 4:04 PM

"American society peaked in the late 1960s" Peak year of the baby boom was 1957. Thus, the late 1960s saw an average baby boomer age of around 12 years old. The earliest boomers were just starting off in adult life. Kind of hard to blame the boomers, isn't it? Very few boomers I know have done well economically. It's easy to blame an entire generation for today's problems. I propose looking at the USA in general and specifically the economic aspects through a different lens; a belief that perhaps the USA has been and is in the throes of class warfare with a minority of elite class ultra-wealthy and politically powerful Americans usurping the many separate aspects that comprise the whole that is the USA to the benefit of the few.

Posted by: Obbop at January 4, 2009 4:15 PM

We have great circuses though - with billion-dollar Colosseums in which our gladiators fight and sacrifice themselves for our amusement. There is plenty of bread, and cheese, and beer. Our legions are unmatched on the field of battle. I'm even learning to play the fiddle - here, have a listen!

Posted by: Corey at January 4, 2009 4:15 PM

Oh, dear. Another tiresome whine from a Gen-X slacker who took all the opportunity created by the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers and pissed it away. Such self-indulgence. Such mental masturbation. You are right, though. Our society did peaked in the 1960s. We built a nation the whole world envied. Then, a generation who could not be bothered came along and consumed it, replacing nothing, adding nothing, and just bitch, bitch, bitch because life isn't a bowl of cherries.

Posted by: Such Crap at January 4, 2009 4:40 PM

I think I liked this essay better when it was published in 1982. Or 1992. Or maybe it was 1974. Has it been re-zeitgeisted for our times? The upside of recessions is that "thinkers" have more time away from shopping and clubbing to plumb the depths of their cognition to say "whoa man. . . this really sucks . . . nothing is real . . . shit. . " The web has made it quicker and easier to share these nuggets of wisdom with other highschoolers of all ages. I suppose at some time I would have found something meaty here. Now I just think of what Victor Frankl discovered in his years locked up in Dachau: Suffering is like a gas that equally fills any container you put it into. The affluent boomers who contemplated suicide or fell into alcoholism or drug use or cult membership because there were no more worlds to conquer hurt just as much as a the snot-nosed 22-year-old who finds his MIS degree won't get him a job that lets him move out of mom and dad's while keeping his broadband and unlimited mp3 downloads.

Posted by: Mr. Happy at January 4, 2009 5:09 PM

"When we think of art, we think of Warhol and Rothko." No. No, we don't.

Posted by: Erin at January 4, 2009 5:17 PM

The amusing thing is you can find this type of whining in any given stage of a civilization's existence. There was a reason Homer described the predecessors of modern men as giants, yet his society was still far from its pinnacle.. The current economic maladies are nothing special really, as they have been repeated every couple of decades for our entire history. You fear mortgage rates? Tell that to the people who have been shot and killed in this society for just trying to make a beggar's wage in a mine (less than a hundred years before your beloved 60's, i might add.) It's just that historians usually wait awhile before making an analysis, as those who remark upon their own lifespans are generally on the level of chicken little...

Posted by: Satan at January 4, 2009 5:21 PM

Life is what you make of it, nothing more. Live cheap, love your friends. Take all you need but not a drop more. Misery is the offspring of unrealistic expectations. The American dream is as alive as ever. It simply means something different than what we want it to mean.

Posted by: dwindle at January 4, 2009 5:31 PM

Perhaps you should have titled the post as "Emasculated by the PR man: Or how I lost my balls when I couldn;t afford a plasma"

Posted by: Observant at January 4, 2009 5:33 PM

Hey Ken Mondschein, we have a saying from the 1960s. It goes, "America - love it or leave it!" Why don't you take the next plane to Quito?

Posted by: Dan of 1953 at January 4, 2009 6:09 PM

It's a mostly economic phenomenon. Real wages peaked in the early 70's and have drifted downward since then.

Posted by: krackpipe at January 4, 2009 6:11 PM

The best music was in the 1960s? Stop listening to that Creedence crap and listen to what's out there now. Yes, the top-40 stuff isn't as good as it was back then (music and vocals replaced with dance, lights and sex), but there's so much other music that wasn't getting played on the radio that IS now. Warhol? He had his time. There are artists these days worth a serious look. But art takes many forms. Architecture, for one. Just as information does. Newspapers may be dying, but the demand for information continues growing. Does the impending doom of newsprint mean society is dying? No, just in the midst of drastic upheaval. We're headed into an economic meltdown because of easy credit, aided by vote-buying through promises of government-backed home loans and deterred oversight of Freddie and Fannie. Thank the Democrats for that, as well as for depleting the Social Security trust fund. Thank the GOP as well, for not letting failing banks go belly-up, taking a socialist power grab that will change the face of this nation for a long time to come. If we truly want change, we need to purge Washington of careerists and bring government back to the people. If we really want to make a difference, we'll get out from behind our computers and go out and do something.

Posted by: Stupefied at January 4, 2009 6:52 PM

this is a profoundly stupid post for myriad reasons. It would have saved everyone much time and effort if it were simply titled, "Here's where I bitch and moan like a little girl. Feel free to skip ahead"

Posted by: tigger at January 4, 2009 7:29 PM

That was probably the stupidest thing I've ever read. You should really make your contribution to the human gene pool by castrating yourself NOW. Really. You are just another of the millions of hippie-worshiping fucking morons too ignorant of actual history to have a valid opinion on oatmeal.

Posted by: Miscalato at January 4, 2009 7:31 PM

Ken Ė In your lionization of the sixties and there generation and all there idealism, please realize they didnít really change anything, and as you said, there music and imagery has been co-opted for corporate profitÖI believe that this generation has learned from there mistakes, and George W Bush has catalyzed a new generation that are out to change the world in a different way, from the inside, through incremental policy change, sure itís not as sexy as peace and love, but itís realistic and longer lasting.

Posted by: link05 at January 4, 2009 7:34 PM

You can't blame the baby boomers for being born and using up resources. That's what happens when a human is born. All of our problems stem from over population. A lot of baby boomers knew this and didn't have children but others went on selfishly reproducing. If I had to lay blame somewhere, I'd blame it on those religions that encourage over population. They are the real culprits.

Posted by: Nancy Tungston at January 4, 2009 7:59 PM

Sorry Ken, you are having the same epiphany that nearly every generation has had. If you did not grow up in the sixties/seventies, you can't possibly know what the catalysts were for that generation, only what you are told through filters. And filters from those of later generations always tend to blame those before. While American society may have had A peak in the late sixties, don't assume it was the only peak. Your outlooks are based on YOUR experiences. once you expand your experiences and you will find that your outlook will improve. Oh, and that "famed irony and sarcasm"...neither new nor particularly clever. We mostly just found it annoying.

Posted by: McAllisterBryant at January 4, 2009 8:45 PM

You seem to have forgotten that in the 60's you'd have been drafted and killed in a Vietnamese swamp.

Posted by: Les Mikesell at January 4, 2009 8:52 PM

As I read these comments, I see you've caught a lot of flak for an honest expression of dispair and frustration. (I would lump these comments with the opinions of a sports-fan who only likes the top rated team.) If you're not allowed to verbalize frustration and despair, there's little hope that you'll be able to change those feelings. I, too, am stuck in a rut: mid-thirties, well-educated but work ended in June and nothing has opened up. Yes, I do live with my parents now but that doesn't invalidate my opinions. You have my email -- drop me a note... we might be able to put something together...

Posted by: Anti-jingoist at January 4, 2009 8:55 PM

favorite quote: "Culturally, this is a foregone conclusion." This phrase, which arrogantly puts forth the author's opinion as general consensus and tacitly equates such public opinion as unassailable fact, is something I've read in history textbooks from the turn of the 20th century right up through World War II. The Culturally Forgone Conclusions put forth so flatly and confidently by those books' authors include: European countries have a natural right and obligation to conquer each other; colonialism is justified as the white man has a natural place of superiority over the mongrel races; Dreyfus must be guilty even if innocent; capitalism leads inevitably to revolution; might makes right in politics and economy because such is the model Darwin gave us; and much, much more horseshit.

Posted by: boomaga at January 4, 2009 10:03 PM

The boomers had their fun little time being full of their peace and love crap while they were all in college. Draft deferred. Then they grew up, realized that they wanted all their giant SUV's and McMansions after all, that life at the commune wasn't all it was cracked up to be. They stopped at nothing to get their big cars and second homes,(we have a RIGHT to them, dammit! We worked hard at our party colleges!) and all the hippy dippy peace and "I will love everyone" bullshit flew out the window. And you bitches are surprised that everything's crashing down now? Thanks, Boomers!

Posted by: powerballad at January 5, 2009 2:21 AM

This reminds me of the foolish Englishman that wrote in 1890 that there was nothing new to be discovered or learn that everything important had all ready been done. Every generation some little fool claims the world is over that everything has been done and the future will only at best be a pale reflection of the past.

Posted by: welsh at January 5, 2009 4:05 AM

This is so depressing that I could only read one paragraph. Pull the trigger dude!!!

Posted by: WTF at January 5, 2009 6:50 AM

I suspect Ken is right, when America lost its nerve to demand huge pink cars with massive tail fins and acres of chrome the days of the empire were numbered. And a growth based economy had to fail some day.

Posted by: Richard at January 5, 2009 10:43 AM

Wow and I thought I was cynical. Lighten up. Things get a little better and a little worse, but the overall trend is upwards. Maybe not as quickly as we like, but thats where it goes.

Posted by: Frank at January 5, 2009 3:22 PM

I agree with S. As I read the first sentence I thought "this guy has no clue about history past his parents' life." Hedonism decadence in the 1920s was greater than now. We would be Puritans in the eyes on Romans of 2,000 years ago. The Golden Age of U.S. culture was probably the 1920s -- check out the writing, the art, the thinking.

Posted by: db at January 5, 2009 4:47 PM

Comparing eras like this is a bit of a useless apples-and-oranges exercise. Despite the way things might look, somebody is ALWAYS out there pushing and prodding to find the thing that's going to push our culture forward. The question you need to ask yourself is: do you want to be one of those statistically few people creating innovation, or do you want to be one of the complacent masses that simply co-opts and cheapens the new great thing once it's been found? If your choice is the former, quit bitching and get to work.

Posted by: catcells at January 5, 2009 7:41 PM

At least it's not long now till 2012. Hoorah for the end of the Age! Seriously though, the Me-Firsters did a good job to start with, but have just swung things too far. There's too much issue with 'human rights' when not appropriate, and not enough issue with human responsibilities when appropriate. Individual freedom is not always a good thing, since people can be selfish, greedy, and cruel.

Posted by: versidious at January 7, 2009 5:48 PM

What a load so to speak.If you fed up find a different way to live.I know that this site is a free form to glib about the character of the state, yet remember when intellectuals usually rant about nothing new to com around usually a new form of free expression comes to be to reflect the society. With the case of degrees becoming as common as monopoly money, oh well suck it up. Think about it after 75 we have had a generation free from being forced to go to war and know they hold the keys to media. The sixties probably weren't that great.If the sixties where the apex, then why are these bastards plugging "their great music" to sell beer ,insurance, and viagra. Do you ruly want are generation to hock nirvana or public enemy to sell codoms malt liquor or both. Get, out of yourself do habitat for humanity or peace corpsgo to a different culture soak it up like a biscuit, and then come back. Yes, are country goes into decline from time to time. Yet, remember we still have potenial to be upward and mobile. Also,the next couple years if not the next decade will put the greedy swine in their place.People will live within their means. As long as the constitution gets patchwork done on it and it still exist I am not worried. Also Viacom (Mtv Vh1 ETC.) IS NOT OUR CULTURE.

Posted by: jb at January 18, 2009 2:10 AM




 

 

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