Spoilers for Life

Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich

The “conceit,” or unifying thematic idea, behind Simon Rich’s Spoiled Brats is not simply “Millennials are spoiled” or “Millennials are silly,” as so many surface-skimming reviews and blurbs suggest. Rather, some stories in the collection, like a piece where aging parents are represented by prideful, over-the-hill chimpanzees, and one where they are oblivious, backward-looking ghosts in the modern world, poke fun and point a thoughtful eye towards the older generations as well. The object of exploration here is interaction and change: between generations, between individuals and groups, between the young and their changing ideas of themselves, between dreams and the pragmatic onslaught of maturity in the real world, between a person, culture, and life.

And the real “conceit” that Rich employs is a fun one: extreme, exaggerated what-if scenarios played for dry humor, like a teenager’s self-absorbed obsession with her shallow relationship during her study-abroad semester on Venus, where alien races are engaged in a fierce and genocidal battle. Or a rock band of young adults on the cusp of pursuing more practical life paths like law school and finance being visited by the literal Angel of Death at their big show (it’s not what you think).

All of these idea seeds are brought into intelligent, self-aware short stories that play as fun speculative shorts on their own – and most of them will make you laugh out loud in your pajamas, like it or not. Together, though, they create an extended allegory that speaks to the unique and yet universal experience of growing up – in your late 20s – in a world with mixed feeling about us Millennials: some justified, some not, some simple, some as complex as the strange places we inhabit.

I defended Millennials in a previous post on this blog in response to a viral article that I felt grossly over-simplified and pandered to generalizations that, in most of the individual cases I personally know, simply aren’t true. I also highlighted there that in addition to the broad brush-strokes of our joint negative traits, there are broad brush-strokes of positive traits: the level of supportiveness we exhibit towards each other, the earnest desire to make the world a better place through activism and choice, the eagerness with which we hold onto a drive for personal growth and cultivation.

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The Invention of Youth, or, Are You A Real Adult?

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It’s a commonly-taught aspect of history that kids-as-kids, helpless and cherish-able beings who should be provided a nurturing and protective lifestyle completely different from adults, didn’t exist before the modern era. A hundred years ago, grade-schoolers had to toil in the factory or the field and get their hands whacked off by machinery or be immolated cleaning out the chimney flue. Only recently has society started to think of childhood as a thing and books like the new All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior explore how we’re still trying to figure out and codify what childhood is (but this is not a book review about that book).

More recently, in my generation and maybe the one right before it (us Millennials and our big siblings the Gen-Xers), there has come an extension of young-adulthood into a nebulous grown-adolescence gray area of Twentysomethings.

The average age at which we get married and start having children is older than anyone before (almost 30 for those with college educations). The average age at which we leave home is older than anyone before (Millennials have the sad reason that old people destroyed our economy and left us no jobs; Gen-Xers were just disaffected and stoned). The expectation of immediately beginning a long-term career with one company and starting to climb the ladder like a corporate puppy is gone, because in the new market people change jobs every few years and no one is rewarded for staying in one place. Continue reading