However, for simplicity’s sake we’ll be looking at 3 factors in this post that exhibit what effects youth culture: Fashion, Music, and Ideology. Since most Generation Y’ers came of age in the 00s, that’s the decade I will be comparing to the 90s and the 80s.
The argument that Generation Y is just not as good as Generation X is one that I’ve debated for a good amount of time. Gen X has drawbacks, notably among a percentage of the 40-somethings that share the Boomers’ utter disregard for political sanity, but the Me Generation had something nearly approaching originality. Generation Y is by comparison a bland, reheated leftover, the difference between eating paste and chowing down on a brownie.
If I said I thought the styles of the1980s and the 1990s were tasteless compared to today, I would only be partly lying. Sure, I owned the platform sneakers--everyone did--and you pretty much had no choice but to wear mom-jeans because that was what they sold most of the time. The pocket chains remain en vogue today; also, I’m pretty sure the beanie hat ain’t going anywhere. And girl, you know I had jelly shoes.
The 00’s brought us a slew of WTF-ery with basically the philosophy that defines Generation Y: the less taste, the better. The scatter-brained, more-is-better attitude was marketed like so many ridiculously expensive sweatsuits (why would you buy a sweatsuit that you can’t really sweat in?) and Generation Y lapped it right up. Why? Because it was there. Because it was soooo edgy. How do we know it’s edgy? Because we were told it was!
Generation Y is pretty notable for blindly following trends (though every generation can say this). In addition, Generation Y closely associates the purchase of a trendy (and probably expensive) look with, or in many cases replacing, organic satisfaction. In essence, the message that if you just get the perfect pair of shoes, make yourself up just right, lose the right amount of weight, wear all the right clothes, get perfect cosmetic surgery, or wear the precise perfume/cologne advertised, everything in your life will suddenly fall together like a perfect game of Tetris©...well, that message is blaring loud and clear. Buy all the right things and you’ll become a fey, marvelous creature, envied by all, romantically tragic, and therefore marvelously appealing.
As stated on Love Your Style.com:
One escape for a sick soul is materialism, in buying nice clothes and houses and so on, in becoming enviable in your loneliness. [source]
Sure, the message of “Love yourself the way you are” is loud and proud, but often gets misconstrued. The person eating their way to obesity will shout down their detractors with the justifying battle cry of “I love myself the way I am! Don’t judge me,” while the person who spends spends spends on hair dye, a monumental amount of piercings, funky clothing and god knows what else will also shout down their detractors with the same battle cry, yet neither of these examples are openly facing the world as themselves. That is, one is hiding behind massive amounts of food, and the other is also remaking themselves in a new form. In either case, it could be argued that neither new shape is the “real person,” ergo neither of these examples are genuinely accepting of themselves.
This is not to say that all people of a generous build are self-medicating with food. Some are merely endomorphs no matter what. Nor are all people who coat themselves with dye and lacquer attempting to chisel a new persona out of an original that they are unhappy with.
Another side of the “remake yourself in this ideal” is the pro-ana and pro-mia subcultures, composed of young women (and an increasing number of young men) who have forums, LJ communities, etc, to network and enable each other. They also use the “Don’t judge me” battle cry, though in this case it might be the wail of the suicidal. The lure of proclaiming that one loves themselves “just the way they are” runs contrary to nearly everything that’s trendy in Generation Y. Why? Because it’s fashionable.
Eating disorders are by no means new, but they’ve skyrocketed in this generation. Appearance is considered important to the point of obsession. More important is the pursuit of “perfection.” And what is perfection? Why, whatever they tell us it is.
In the fashion world of Generation Y, the follower instinct is strongly at work. Fashion has ingrained itself into what I can only describe as a philosophy, stressing the importance of looking sleek and perfect at all times (according to the approved trends, of course). Essentially, Generation Y places more weight on packaging than content.
In the 80s, hair bands ruled almost all that was before them--and quite frankly, I worship at that altar. And yeah, Luke Goss drummed in a band with his brother, apparently hell-bent on setting a new standard for being part of the movement of MJ-style pop bands with singers that sound eerily like women. Fortunately, Goss has mostly seen the error of his ways and proceeded to give us a rather sexy Frankenstein Monster.
In the 90s, straight up dark rock held their own in the scene, with renowned and still-revered bands like moody, soul-baringly poignant, witty and highly-skilled Type O Negative, love-them-or-hate-them Nirvana, and grunge-soaked Soundgarden delivering a pure and glorious antidote to the sugary-sweet pop of both the current decade and the too-cute-for-words pop of the 80s. These groups, especially the first two, had an impressively large impact and occasionally overlooked influence in the music scene and pop culture from the very day they came to light.
Today, however...we have Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber, and a plethora of rap musicians who are mostly notable for their ability to sound like each other. And the key word in most of their music is not talent, but auto-tuning.
Enjoy Your Style.com notes:
Jihan Forbes, a contributor at Starpulse.com, stated that "Lady Gaga is in some ways a reincarnation of Elvis Presley: She takes cues from other truly forward-thinking and innovative artists of color, and repackages it so that white America can comfortably digest it." At Racialicious, a website on "the intersection of race and pop culture," one reader commented:
“To combat the lack of message in her music is really Gaga’s ultimate weapon: the way she panders to her fans, her “little monsters”. She includes them in on [sic] her charade in a way that no one does, overly praising them on Twitter while penning vague platitudes about living life to the fullest and never giving up. However strong and subversive she may appear in public, she plays coy and victimized to her fans who then feel it is their duty to love and defend her. It’s basic and people fall for it like hotcakes.” [source]
Lady Gaga beautifully exemplifies the Generation Y attitude in music: nothing new, nothing original, but extremely faddish. Essentially, it’s a stylized caricature of itself, a sort of black hole that compels the viewer with a strange fascination with how unbelievably dull and self-destructive it is. Why is this kind of music popular? It features synthesizer hooks and dull, throbbing beats that stick in the mind. The lyrics are pretty much empty shlock, with almost nothing penned to mean something personal. Britney Spears asks in her trademark little-girl nasal purr “If I said I want your body now, Would you hold it against me,” essentially taking a ridiculous pickup line that was sad and tired at first use and making it worse by putting it to music. Rihanna’s “S&M” fares no better, repeating what has been plastered on messenger icons and forum signatures for years: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, But chains and whips excite me.”
These are examples of songs and artists that are given radio play almost to the point of inducing madness, overlooking more talented artists that produce better quality songs. But the talented artists are often much less popular. Lady Gaga is showy and a palatable amount of outrageous; Sinead O’Connor lacks the willingness to make a (large) spectacle of herself and rarely flaunts her sexuality to market her music. Again, Generation Y is far more eager to plunk down cash on packaging than content.
Whether it’s protesting fur with the calculatedly hip PETA2 crowd, jeering conservatives based on (badly or un-researched) rumors, or trying to save the polar bears with the global warming groups, Generation Y launches itself at the always-on-sale self-righteousness inherent in all the rabid, frenzied buzzwords of the day that give the consumer a feeling of really knowing what’s going on in the world. The Generation Y’er who finds themselves sucked into yet another black hole of devout faith in pretty much anything, often blindly following their chosen leaders with the kind of devotion approaching or straight up fanatical. I would include links for this section, but it’s so damned depressing. Do your own googling.
Point is, Generation Y cares more for buzzwords and the sense that they’re “really doing something” than actually doing something. It’s easier to rant and rave about whomever the leaders have chosen as the enemy of the day than to do one’s own research. It’s easier to rant about the evils of capitalism while wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt that cost you $10 to $20. Again, packaging is preferred over content. Generation Y cares more about the appearance than anything else.
In short, you can tell a lot about any given group of people by what they produce. And the main thing my generation has produced is what looks like a compelling argument in favor of eugenics.