04 October 2009

Your Generation Don't Mean a Thing to Me

First, to see what set me off in the first place, you have to read this complete load of windbag excrement about "whether Douglas Adams is still RELEVANT" from an otherwise great newspaper, the Guardian:


That there is pretty much everything that's wrong with book criticism right there in one handy (albeit fanwanky) article.

Seriously, this "Jenny Turner" person may have been the author of some of the worst poetry in the universe that DNA was desperately trying to warn us about, based on the flatulent nonsense she's written here.

If you've ever been curious to see what a midlife crisis looks like when a woman has one, here it is. A long-winded (and hopelessly padded) overview of the book, along with a wildly unimaginative attempt to tie it to an England that never was in an effort to "date" it, then finally after 3,000 words we get to the heart of the crisis: "OMFG I love this book/radio play/TV series and I'll just **die** if my six-year-old child doesn't love it like I do!"

If I had been her editor, this article would have been 25 words long: "Gosh I really love HHGTTG after all these years. I wonder if the next generation will treasure it like I do? Am I getting old??"

It will come as a shock to Ms. Turner, but Douglas Adams didn't write the book so that it could be filtered through your mirror of whether you are relevant anymore. Get over yourself, girlfriend.

For a lot of people who came of age/awareness in the 80s, HHGTTG is their Lord of the Rings, an epic work that its audience believes only yields its deeper revelations and meanings to the elite intelligensia, YET somehow became a huge and ongoing mainstream hit.

Every generation seems to latch on to a work of literature (usually a series of books) that it uses to identify itself, a collective bid for immortality beyond its own time. For 60s college-age youth, it was LOTR, a fantastical voyage of the beauty of peace and the upheaval of war that became a metaphor of the turbulent times they were living in.

In the 80s, HHGTTG became the hallmark of the Cynical Generation, dancing to the decay of the empire and laughing at our own absurdity on the way to nuclear annihilation.

Then, somehow, we avoided our certain doom (long enough for another generation, anyway) and the new breed have latched on to Harry Potter as a reflection of the crazy world of "magical thinking" where "truthiness" rules the day and just saying bullshit makes it so (see "Bush Administration").

But OH NOES! The kids of today care more about those fucking "New Moon" pieces of shit than they do about our Sharkespeare, Douglas Adams!! Gandalf and Ford Prefect are giving way to sparkly vampires!! We don't approve or understand, and our egos and sense of self-importance are under attack! Send in the WAAAHmbulance, we got casualties!!

Guess what folks, WE'RE GETTING OLD AND THE NEW KIDS DON'T CARE. It's happened before. It'll happen again. HHGTTG's importance will fade and be replaced with a new Deepest Most Meaningful Book Evah that speaks to the times they are growing up in. Best you can hope for is that they have some appreciation for what's gone before them -- if you're lucky, and/or if Peter Jackson makes an awesome trilogy out of it.

Otherwise, its out with the old and in with the new and ever was that way and thank heavens for it. Our 50's/60s era parents didn't "get" Monty Python and HHGTTG, and we don't "get" white kids becoming "wiggas." That's what happens: we go from making history to being history. I know we don't want to think that we're past tense now, but get over it: it's happened. We all moved up a checkbox or two away from the "target" demographic. HHGTTG is just a funny book or a not-that-funny movie now. You'll never get your kids to really understand what was so magical about the Beatles, or scary about the Daleks, or revolutionary about New Wave. Ya had to be there.

I say this from a position of authority. I had a radio show in the 90s that was recycling the non-hits of the 80s I felt didn't get enough airplay, and now I've recycled that into a podcast! On the surface I look like the spokesmodel for our generation's plaintive cry "Don't You Forget About Me" -- but I don't live in the past, I just pay my respects to its corpse. There's plenty of new stuff to love, new adventures to have and new memories to make. When you stop doing that, you lock yourself into an era and then watch helplessly as it (and you) fade into obscurity.

It's still possible to be cool, or do cool stuff at any age, and in fact when you're "out of fashion" as those of us who hit our 20s in the 80s are, it's kind of liberating not to be out front anymore. Defining an era is hard work, and just like the 60s before us, we did some great stuff and lotsa deeply embarrassing stuff. We're now free to do any kind of other stuff, to appreciate more what's come before us and maybe even some of the things that are yet to come. We 80s kids can take pride in being "present at the creation" of all the great things that came out of our era -- the internet and the digital music revolution and cell phones and punk -- all things the kids of today just accept as granted and move on from (or build on from) there. Our layer of the topsoil is done, and is starting to move lower in the strata, above the pulped copies of "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" and all those disco records, but below the candybar cellphones and the boy bands and Myspace.

Today's kids need their own "firsts" and their own frontiers/barriers/fashions to explore/break/regret. They shouldn't be looking at our past, they should be looking at their future. So, Ms. Jenny Turner, what I'm saying here is that it just doesn't matter whether your kid likes HHGTTG. If your self-worth depends on making your children appreciate the same things you treasured, that's you having failed to develop your own personality. Sure, we're all moulded somewhat by the world we grew up in, but trying to trap your children there is denying them their own future. You're fast becoming what we used to call a fuddy-duddy. An old maid. A wet blanket. Buzz Killington.

The good news is that you were smart enough back then to pick out the really good stuff from the 80s (like HHGTTG) and make it a part of your child's early world. You can't stuff an appreciation of it all into him, but you shouldn't worry: it's a part of his mindset whether he likes it or not. The environment you created for your child will resonate over and over again as he goes through his own life, and it will rear its head throughout, usually at the oddest times. He'll hear something or see something and think to himself, "my mom used to love that" or "oh yeah, she was there back then" or (hopefully) "wow, things were really different back in those days." Best you can hope for is that he becomes a rebel fashion designer who boldly leads the charge to bring back the skinny tie (again).

So quit spazzing that Douglas Adams might not be taught as one of the Great Masters of Literature by the time this brat gets to high school. Nobody will ever appreciate the hallmarks of our time like we do, and that's the way it should be. As Frankie says, "Relax."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Charles. This is one of the finest essays of yours I've ever read. Congrats on a darned fine piece of writing!