TCS Daily


The Kids Are More Than Alright

By Ilya Shapiro - March 9, 2006 12:00 AM

OXFORD, UK — Sometime between the "Baywatch" theme song and "The Pretenders' 500 Miles" I realized that this was not the rave club of my youth. These happy fresh-scrubbed faces were not what I remembered of the time I misspent in Toronto's after-darks and Princeton's eating club basements, Vienna's ex-pat bars and London's public houses.

Youth, peh, I'm only 28. I feel like I haven't changed that much since I was 16, maybe read a few books and learned a little bit (but only a little) about how to talk to girls. So why is it whenever I'm around the "younger generation" — kids in college now, or maybe even all those born in the 1980s — that it's like I'm visiting some foreign land. Not foreign in the sense that I don't understand what's going on, but in the sense that my experiences at 18, 21, 24, whatever, were quite unlike these.

And the fact is that I like this foreign (Gen Y) place more than my own (tail end of Gen X) native soil.

I remember music in the 1990s; it was all grungy and angry and alienated — recall Alanis Morisette's "Ironic" (which didn't actually refer to anything ironic: rain on your wedding day? That sucks but irony it ain't.). Now it really is ironic, and often dystopian (think Postal Service or the Decembrists), but always peppy and lyrical (think the soundtrack to the best movie of 2005 The Wedding Crashers).

I remember clothing in the 1990s — or maybe I don't because I didn't learn to dress till a girlfriend taught me in grad school — and it seemed like the decadent last stitches of ill-fitting cloth before the tech boom changed everything. Now it might be silly ("popping" the collar on polo shirts; Ugg(ly) boots), but we're striking a balance between tradition and individuality.

Yes, as far as youth culture is concerned, this decade (do we call it the 2000s, or does that refer to the whole century/millennium?) has just got it going on. And I think it has to do with the 20-year cycles of cultural trends: we are living an updated, new-and-improved version of the best decade in human history, the 1980s!

Alex P. Keaton is back with a vengeance, but this time he has some cool, some nonchalance, to go with the ambition and self-discipline. He has a sense of purpose beyond going to Wall Street and voting Republican. He's less manic, more sure of himself in a world that is less sure of itself.

We've all seen the same statistics popping up in increasingly incredulous articles: teenage pregnancy and drug use have long been in decline; the median age for first experiences with sex and alcohol is climbing; church attendance is up; juvenile delinquency is down. What in the name of Haley Joel Osment is going on?

Well, it seems that this successor cohort to the "Children of the 80s" (a more accurate descriptor than lumping us with people who are already in their 40s) simply sees less of a need to rebel against society. Life is pretty darn good when you've grown up during the most prosperous time in the most prosperous country ever.

At the same time, 9/11 served as a formative experience that focused Gen Yers in a way that those of us whose high school and college years were spent in the aimlessness of the "end of history" after the end of the Cold War. I see it in the changes that have taken place at my alma maters and, more importantly, I see it in the attitudes and worldviews of those who would have been my peers but for accidents of birth. On this, David Brooks now seems like an amusing Cassandra: the Organization Kids have not turned out to be robotic goody two-shoes, but are nice and decent and hip — and, of course, meritocratic — forces for economic and cultural progress.

While much too broad a topic for one column, the difference that just a few years make — in particular, these past few years have made — on youth culture is striking. And if you're wondering where the dividing line is, just compare the text- and instant-message habits of those currently over and under 25 and you'll find it. (Technology, while not the main story here, certainly aids and abets it.)

In any event, why is it that I've taken such an interest in Gen Y and spend lots of time observing and dancing and drinking at early-twenty-something hangouts (instead of say, writing briefs or, ahem, book proposals)? Nostalgia for "the best years of my life" may have something to do with it but also, just like Purple America is where two appealing brands of politics and culture converge, the spot where generations overlap can be pretty sweet.

Ilya Shapiro is a Washington lawyer whose last "Dispatch from Purple America" arrived from "the other" Washington.

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17 Comments

When Teen Pregnancy Going Down is a Problem.
First, when there aren't as many teenagers around to create the statistics

Second, when to many kids are so self absorbed they'd prefer autoeroticism fueled by proliferate computer images-to actually engaging another human being and trying to please that person, even if the relationship is one of those transient teenage relationships we think its unique and everlasting (until somebody pulls the dump lever).

Third, when kids are convince homosexual behavior and non-intercourse behaviors aren't sex, because they don't entail the risk of pregnancy. Statistics are emerging that more kids, especially girls are engaging in "alternate" behaviors - and at an earlier age.

There's something wrong when we postpone the economic capacity to form marriages and families so long...its killing us-where's the left to decry the significant and distinct populations if for no other reason than "biodiversity".

Fear of a white minority?
Americans are their own masters when it comes to religious-based morality. That's one of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. So I wonder, are you arguing for a federal government imposed moral system that legislates sexuality and pregnancy?

haha its great being a generation yer
since i was born in 88 i believe i just made the cut for the y generation. now despite the statistics, i can safely say my generation is in no hurry to settle down. we are the most ambitious generation in history. despite our moral lapses, more specifically in the area of sex and drugs and drinking, we still are driven to be the most successful and important people in the world. why does it matter if we engage in premarital intercourse and stuff.

"There's something wrong when we postpone the economic capacity to form marriages and families so long"

my gen believes its better to be happy than to be in a sucky relationship. so if the realationship sucks, we get rid of it. my generations economic capacity is going to carry this aging nation through baby boomer retirement. so let us do our thing.
chill out, dude

(im going to go out on a limb and say your about 51 years old)

typical liberal
assuming racism in everyone who disagrees with him.

assuming that everyone else wants a govt program to solve every problem, real and perceived.

a guarentee of lonliness
All relationships get sucky sometimes.
The best relationships are those that have survived the "sucky" times.

If you bail whenever things get tough, the only thing you will be, is lonely when you grow old.

good point
well i was refering to long term relationship suckyness. i meant to allude to the 1950 style marriage where socially it was unacceptable for divorce even though there was just cause.

Calling the kettle black
MarkTheGreat,

Superheater said, "its killing us-where's the left to decry the significant and distinct populations if for no other reason than "biodiversity"." So what distinct populations are threatened? What "biodiversity" is at risk?

And do I reall need to remind you of our conversation the other day?

Name: Rhampton
Subject: Basic Constitutional Law
Date/Time: 07 Mar 2006, 4:27 PM

The Constitutional even trumps local law, otherwise we'd still have White communities prohibting African-Americans from sitting at the lunch counter or attending college.

Name: MarkTheGreat
Subject: that was my point
Date/Time: 07 Mar 2006, 5:31 PM

The Supreme Court stopped using the US constitution a generation ago.

lets not get personal joanie
ouch low blow. dont worry about me joanie, ill be just fine.

Hampton's ignorance and arrogance on parade
Such ignorance. The constitution trumps all local laws. Why I wonder what the founding fathers would have thought about that since they did all in their power to insure that government would remain the servant of the people and the states. Unfortunately it was people of your ilk that subverted the Constitution through imperial courts and the fantasy of a living constitution. It is refreshing to catch you out in the open expressing your own thoughts rathing than doing your usual Charlie McCarthy act.

So much easier to demonstrate commissar Hampton's wish to dictate to everyone what to think and how to live. Anyone failing to obey Hamptons dictat is a racist, etc. We all tire of his projecting as his comments demonstarte his tolerance.

No I fear you'll be out of a job-I didn't specify a race
Rodney, you used to sign your name with a domain at LEAPFROG. Maybe you moved on-but last I looked they sell those things to KIDS. Or did they but you for misuse of company internet?

Now while I didn't specify a race, its clear you'd be quite happy without whitey. I don't give a rats behind what your skin color is- genocide is genocide-even if its at the end of social and tax policy. So, your a racist. I'd like to put Nation of Islam types in a room with the KKK, close the door and they can cleanse the world of a good deal of its misery, and apparently you belong in the same room.

I resent
Your use of the term "black" to indicate a condition of moral turpitude.

Is that all?
Fine, you resent the use of an idiom. Is that all?

Constitutional protection from Kingdoms
The right of speech or religion, for example, is not a "federal" right in the sense that it's valid only in U.S. territorial waters or Washington D.C. It's a Constitutionally protected right of EVERYONE regardless of state or local law. That's why we have the right to petition State and then Federal courts if we believe a local law to violate the Constitution.

To make local law, however, PREEMINENT AUTHORITY over the Constitution, would accede to every municipality dictatorial powers. Would you really want a country wherein elected town or city officials could declare and ENFORCE the prohibition of Conservative viewpoints in public speech? -- wherein a town or city could declare itself to be a Kingdom?

Crazy Talk
"Now while I didn't specify a race, its clear you'd be quite happy without whitey. I don't give a rats behind what your skin color is- genocide is genocide-even if its at the end of social and tax policy."

Now that's the FEAR I'm talking about!

You honestly, truly believe that the federal government is engaged in a genocide of whites through the use of social security and tax law, don't you?

Do you have any idea how crazy that sounds?

GenY has great potential
I was born in the 3rd year of GenX, and looking down from that lofty height I can only say that I have no desire to join in the almost universal lament about the next generation. GenX is called so because there is no easy handle for it; there's no unifying theme that captures such a hotch potch. GenY doesn't have an actual name...yet. I think they might get one sooner or later, and I am very glad that I'll hopefully live long enough to see them take the reins. It's going to be mighty interesting.
Incidentally I've been a Boy Scout leader for years and so have had lots to do with the next generation, and while I admittedly might only be exposed to the best sort of GenYers, they don't seem so very weird and unusual when measured against their peers.
Can't wait to see how they turn out.

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