Noreen Malone, in writing for New York Magazine, has a wonderful image in describing the post-recession world our generation finds ourselves in:
“A majority of Americans say, for the first time ever, that this generation will not be better off than its parents. And so we find ourselves living among the scattered ashes and spilled red wine and broken glass from a party we watched in our pajamas, peering down the stairs at the grown-ups. This is not a morning after we are prepared for “¦ “
She paints a picture that is bleak: young people without stable or high-salaried jobs, no disposable incomes, no safety nets. It is a feeling also captured in the Occupy Wall Street-related Tumblr We Are the 99%, where there are posts like this: “Went to college for my last two years of high school and worked my ass off to graduate college at the age of 18 with TWO degrees. Graduated into a flooded market and never got a single call back or interview. Work at a shitty job living paycheck to paycheck, and usually have to borrow money for food.” There is a loaded implication in these statements. “It shouldn’t be like this.” This isn’t fair. It isn’t just.
No, it’s not just. And yet this is what life is like for just about everyone else in the world.
In writing her “post-party hangover” metaphor, Noreen’s intention was, “Doesn’t that suck? We missed the party.” But the thing is, it’s not that we’re unlucky to have missed the golden era. It’s that our parents were lucky to have been there for it. Perhaps lucky isn’t the right word. They were lucky they had the opportunity to blow all their cash and mindlessly fuck things up like they did.
Which is why I say to every young person today, do not, do not, do not look nostalgically to your childhood or the lives of your older cousins or your parents. Because the “good times” were just the cream off a rotting, souring bun. While your parents were partying it up, someone was footing the bill. Guess who? The rest of the world.
You shifted your factories to Asia and other developing countries. You paid them shitty wages. You were happy to make use of their lax environmental and labor laws. You mined their natural resources. You dumped your waste there.
Yes, in some cases this helped grow their local economies. But have you seen these countries? You trashed the living hell out of them. The air is polluted, the rivers are polluted, the earth is polluted. You blasted away silent mountains that had, until now, seemed so eternal, so much bigger than our own short lives. You sucked the gushing, powerful rivers dry until they were nothing but barren dust. You poisoned their earth and water supply and made the people sick. You made a devil’s trade and took from them fish, animals, trees, soil, sand, minerals. Name it and you probably took it. Then you returned it to them as hazardous waste. But what did it matter? You didn’t have to live there.
You were too busy living on buyers’ high. Life was good. Going offshore meant you were making a shit load more money without having to do (or live in) any of the dirty work. And the goods were so cheap so you could buy sooooo much more stuff. Just about every person in the States had more stuff than any generation EVER before it.
But a system is never static, and the sands are always, elliptically, shifting. Suddenly that world in which life was getting better and better for all Americans, was only getting better and better for some Americans. That some has been getting smaller and smaller. Now, young people of today, too many of you have found yourself outside of the some. But think of this. You just joined the rest of the world.
America, your Disneyland is dissolving like sugar in the rain. But it was never going to last. What’s tomorrow going to look like?
I don’t want Occupy Wall Street to present a list of demands, or develop a cohesive strategy. That wouldn’t just defeat the purpose, it would totally annihilate it. Because we don’t even know how to think outside this sticky, sweet dream world yet ““ it’s all we’ve ever known. Any list of demands hastily proposed would only reflect existing structures, the same structures that we need to think beyond.
Occupy Wall Street is about a reawakening. We’re addicts, and first we need to stand up and say, “We have a problem.”
And we need everyone standing up and saying, “Yes, we have a problem.” It’s about having a space to be able to say out loud, “wait, you thought this was bad too? Thank god!” Occupy Wall Street is about all those little, niggling, troubling thoughts that you’d been harboring when you saw how much the system you were living in was fucking over you, your nearest and dearest, those in the neighborhood over, or those in other countries mired in problems stemming from exploiting the developing world. It’s about choosing not to read stats about global warming and overconsumption and simply going, “Well the system’s too big, nothing can be done.”
Yes, we’re nursing one hell of a hangover, but the clear, morning sun is peeking through the windows because it’s a new day. Occupy Wall Street is calling on us to foster a new environment where new ideas can be born. In the years to come, maybe our best and brightest won’t work on Wall Street or become multi-national execs fueled only by the reckless pursuit of profit (and there will be less of you who will laugh so cynically at such a statement). They will think differently, and make different choices. They will come up with new ways for us to live. And then, one day, we will discover the sands have shifted again.
8 replies on “Hey, America? Life Sucks. Welcome to the Real World.”
If you’re solvent enough to survive in half the way you want (crappy job, crappy apartment, but you can still go to a bar on Saturday night and have fun), I think the real effect of the economic shit is that lots of us are going to end up not getting married or having kids until way later on (when we’re homeowners…or at least are able to feel fairly sure that we’re not going to get that magical windfall so it’s time to stop waiting on it).Â Which is fine.Â Who wants to mimic the marriage culture of the past 50 years anyway?Â This is where we get into the extension of hookup culture though, which I’m ambivalent about.Â Lots of people I know are in their mid- to late-20s, and still living at home while they’re in school or working to save up money.Â That makes it hard to have a full adult relationship, and as a result, I know a lot of grown adults who’ve never been in real relationships.
That’s such a good point. I think it’s going to require those who want to have anything approaching a traditional family to do some refiguring of what elements of it are really important to them, and then to work to redefine it for ourselves. Who knows? Maybe some flexibility on the part of people who have to redefine what family means to them might lead to greater compassion for other families that don’t fit their original “traditional” definition, too.
I tend to agree with this notion. In fact, I feel like we have already begun to see that phenomenon–people in general are getting married later (if at all) and waiting to have kids.
Personally, in light of the State of Things, the husband and I have had to reassess and set more realistic goals, and that reassessment included pushing back our timeline for kids and our next house.
Of course, I suspect we’re not the only ones under pressure from our parents (who are just now retiring comfortably) to have kids and move on to Bigger and Better Things. That has been the biggest frustration: pointing out that we’re not bitching or lazy, but we really do need to wait awhile for these things to become financially sensible for us, even if that means waiting 10 years longer than they did.
I agree with the idea that the rampant consumers mentality of the US is a huge part of the problem.Back when Dubya’ was in office and there were the beginnings of talk about a recession, big W’s advice to the country was just to “buy more” to make sure our economy kept moving. I think you bring up one of the biggest failures of the “greatness” of America or even that ever so casually tossed around phrase of “the American dream”, which is, a country and most of its comforts that have been built up on the invisible backs of other people in this world, especially the global south. With the OWS advice, I think that’s incredibly important that we don’t detach ourselves from being part of a larger problem and when I hear phrases like “occupy the world”, I genuinely become uncomfortable because we do “occupy” most of the world now, whether through foreign policy, labor oversight, military occupation-etc. As big as this thing is, we have to take accountability for what it means to be comfortable off of someone else’s exploited existence.There are plenty of cases that the West has turned a blind eye to, which begs the question, whose life considered valuable?
The one thing I feel like might not have been examined in this piece is the fact that even with rampant American consumption, not everyone has had the “golden era” experience or been the benefactor of the spoils of easy consumption.To assume that all Americans have had the luxury of equally partying hard is to render entire swaths of folks invisible, the same folks that were the backbone of this country, how it was built, and how the economic system came to be. Yet, they were and still are discounted, oppressed and treated like dirt when it came to actually benefiting from their own labor. I think generally speaking, when you say Americans were living the buyers high-life, I say yes, because really, that’s what the majority of this country was doing. But it also doesn’t necessarily examine the serious problem of poverty and access to certain items in the country, which makes your point even more valid because here we are in the “supposed” best country in the world and we have 46.6 million documented people living in poverty (an individual making less than 12K or a family of four making less than 20K) while people feel the need to upgrade their plasma tv’s yearly. How ludicrous is that?
I dont know what the future looks like, but I know its complicated and that things are changing whether we want them to or not.
“With the OWS advice, I think that’s incredibly important that we don’t detach ourselves from being part of a larger problem and when I hear phrases like â€œoccupy the worldâ€, I genuinely become uncomfortable because we do â€œoccupyâ€ most of the world now, whether through foreign policy, labor oversight, military occupation-etc.
To assume that all Americans have had the luxury of equally partying hard is to renders entire swaths of folks invisible, the same folks that were the backbone of this country, how it was built, and how the economic system came to be. Yet, they were and still are discounted, oppressed and treated like dirt when it came to actually benefiting from their own labor.”
I became physically and intellectually uncomfortable as I read this, Coco, which means you probably hit the nail on the head and my internal sense of WASP privilege is battling hard against my intellect to prove you wrong.
And when the WASP privilege gets uppity, that means I need to shut up and think for awhile.
Its fine. Experience is the ultimate authority right? So when someone says something that contradicts your experience, we immediately think no! but this is how I lived! I struggle with it constantly.
The one thing I feel like might not have been examined in this piece is the fact that even with rampant American consumption, not everyone has had the â€œgolden eraâ€ experience or been the benefactor of the spoils of easy consumption.To assume that all Americans have had the luxury of equally partying hard is to render entire swaths of folks invisible, the same folks that were the backbone of this country, how it was built, and how the economic system came to be. Yet, they were and still are discounted, oppressed and treated like dirt when it came to actually benefiting from their own labor. I think generally speaking, when you say Americans were living the buyers high-life, I say yes, because really, that’s what the majority of this country was doing. But it also doesn’t necessarily examine the serious problem of poverty and access to certain items in the country, which makes your point even more valid because here we are in the â€œsupposedâ€ best country in the world and we have 46.6 million documented people living in poverty (an individual making less than 12K or a family of four making less than 20K) while people feel the need to upgrade their plasma tv’s yearly. How ludicrous is that?
Thank you for mentioning this. I got the same impression from this article. I agree with most of what the author’s is saying here but I feel that she is ignoring the poor and working class people in the country, many of whom are POC. Like you said, that makes a large amount of people invisible and marginalizes many communities who have struggled for years to get a little piece of the “American dream” only to get knocked back down again during the recession (depression). Doesn’t mean that Americans as a whole shouldn’t examine the impact of our consumerism on the world, but we should also pay attention to the impact at home as well on our most vulnerable groups.
This sort of catches me in my throat and makes me gasp.
I think that’s a good thing, though not comfortable.