Friday, May 12, 2006

Vanity Fair Youth Essay Contest - I didn't win

The Years of Living Dangerously

When speaking in sweeping generalizations about a general contemporary mindset, there is no better blanket term to have as a starting point than Zeitgeist. Commonly defined as “the spirit of the time,” it is much more than just that. The German zeit translates as “time” or “age,” and the geist as “spirit.” Geist’s translation as “spirit” also implies an otherworldly quality. And when speaking of a generation’s ideology, it is in accord with Jungian archetypical relationships. So do we, as a generation, possess a binding consciousness? And, if so, there is but one simple question – what are we thinking about?

Buddhism claims that all human beings have an unnatural attachment to the future and the past and that everyone needs to do their best to focus on the present. Siddharta Guatama must be rolling over in his - well - reincarnated form, because my generation is particularly awful at living in the now. We mismanage our zeit: our minds are completely focused on what just happened and what is going to happen, not what is happening. When we don’t want to think about it anymore, that’s when we get completely fucked up. It runs the gamut. Rich, white college kids with trust funds are thinking about what area of investment banking they want to get into and poor, black high-school dropouts are thinking about how to make their next dollar. One is thinking about how he could’ve done better in his squash tournament and the other is pissed about his last game of Cee-lo1. To escape time, white boy’s gonna rail some remis2 and aspiring 50 Cent is gonna drink a forty3 (I prefer the latter).

This is not to say that the only way our generation escapes is through drugs and alcohol, but we are quite proficient in our usage. Religion, partisan politics, sex, and money are all vices when abused and are all part of our modern day escapism. We, as a generation, are utterly confused. And when we are confused we escape. Take the last election, for example. I so wanted Bush out of office that I wrote some articles for my college newspaper that were, in retrospect, not considerate of the other side. The College Republicans brought Anne Coulter to campus, a person who defeats her own arguments by being so unabashedly malicious towards people who don’t think like her. Both sides are guilty of escaping the moment by not listening. Truth be told, anyone who really championed either of the douchebags4 running last time was really just mad at the other side or was/is a deuchebag, too. As for those caught between the political tug-of-war, there is a growing majority that checks “apathetic” under the “political views” section of The Facebook5.

But can you blame the confusion and the escapism? Washington is walking a fine line between offing the “evil-doers” and being them. Religion is literally fucking us all in the asses. Corporations are buying corporations which are buying corporations which are making us buy more crap. The Orwellian “they” are killing our goddamn geist and those who try to be spirited and motivated end up feeling impotent in the end. So why care? Why go up against the powers that be? Why not just go get shitfaced6? Why not “hook-up” with everybody in sight (side note: thank you Tom Wolfe for confirming long time suspicions that it is difficult to write from the first person as a twenty year-old female college student when you’re a seventy-four year-old man (who must spend a lot of money on dry-cleaning))? Shame on you all – you Geistbusters of America.

Certainly, the blame does not rest solely on the shoulders of the giants. But, as we saw with the recent Katrina events, there is something to be said for looking to the top for answers and working our way on down. My “blame game” follows a Bush-Blanco-Nagin three-tiered approach as well: First of all, we have to look at the bureaucratic branch. These aforementioned deuchebags are the ones who, as of recently, rob from the poor to give to the rich. Secondly, we have to look at what I like to call the great celeb mindfuck. US Weekly weakens; it’s cliché to say, but the women of this country have been completely robbed of their self worth and the men are paying ten bucks to watch their future governors splatter alien brains.

The third level is the most important. I think there’s an age old adage that goes something like, “If your friends and family are fucked up chances are you will be, too.” I have to qualify this, though. The religious right has been talking about “values” forever, but they don’t really know what true values are. Jesus really knew what he was talking about, but his message has been so perverted that we’ve got Pat Robertson ordering hits out on people. What I mean to say is if your parent(s) and friends are good people, if they like to help others out, if they like to smile and have a laugh, and if they love you, then chances are you’re going to be alright. If your parents are money-grubbing assholes then chances are you’re going to be a money-grubbing asshole, too. My parents are divorced and my dad’s gay, but they love me and are great people; I think I turned out alright. Take that “Christians.”

But, of course, there is the little talked about fourth tier. Surely we can’t blame/give total credit to others completely for who we are. We must be responsible, too. And, I don’t think we need to totally on the defensive, either. There are plenty of reasons to see good in my peers. I think we dealt well with the 9/11 catastrophe, we were the first to jump into cars to go down to New Orleans, and I know there’s an overriding sense of “we can do better than this” in how we see our parent’s generation.

There is reason to measure ourselves against what Brokaw and many others call “the greatest generation.” My grandfathers both grew up modestly, went to Europe, kicked some ass, and came back and made some children. And I think it’s great that that generation halted Hitler. However, it is worth noting that not everyone believes them to be the greatest. Howard Zinn, a bombardier in the War and historian afterwards writes, “I refuse to celebrate them as ‘the greatest generation’ because in doing so we are celebrating courage and sacrifice in the cause of war.”

The most important lesson we can learn from this generation praise is that they were not heralded until after the fact. And it rings true with us, too. We will not be complete until we are looked back upon and reflected upon. And what’s on our minds and who we are will not be fully realized for years to come. What’s most important, though, is that we are ourselves, that we are original, and that we have spirit. I don’t want our generation to be lumped into one; I don’t think we should have a binding consciousness. That’s so…boring. If we’re being held down by the powers that be, we have to fight against them, not stand idly. A lot of us have had it easy and a lot of us have had it hard, but it’s time now that we step out from the shadows and think for ourselves.

Tomorrow I’m moving from Colorado to New York City. A recent college grad, I know I have it easier than most, but I’m still scared. I have no place to live, yet. I don’t even have a place to stay. I have an editing internship, but no income aside from what I shamefully request from my parents. And so I offer a piece of advice to myself and to the youth of America: Let’s take some risks, do some great things, and, most importantly, stop and think. I began with German and so it’s only appropriate that I end that way and with Friedrich Nietzsche. He writes:

For – believe me – the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is – to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Live at war with your peers and yourselves! Be robbers and conquerors as long as you cannot be rulers and possessors, you seekers of knowledge! Soon the time will be past in which you had to be content living in forests like shy deer! Finally the search for knowledge will reach for its due; it will want to rule and possess, and you with it! (161)

Word is bond7.

Glossary of terms for old people:

1Cee-lo – a popular dice game usually involving betting

2Rail some remis – pull a Kate Moss

3A Forty – one forty-ounce bottle of malt liquor

4Douchebag(s) – anybody and everybody you voted for

5The Facebook –, an online directory connecting most major colleges

6Shitfaced – your son on a Saturday night (and usually Sunday morning)

7Word is bond – You are correct, sir


Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Zinn, Howard. “The Greatest Generation?” Progressive Magazine. Oct 2001.

1 comment:

Coriano said...

Word to ya motha.