I wonder if the fact that for the children of the first world there are truly less and less boogeymen to fear, that they need to create terror and trauma in order to move forward with their lives. This younger generation, for the most part, does not have to deal with war (that is an entirely voluntary situation), famine, disease, or lack of true opportunity. Now of course, they have huge college bills and the notion, brought about by a convoluted sense of self-esteem, that they are drowning in despair if they don’t have a viral post or video to their name. But in truth, they are the most educated, healthiest, and freest generation of human beings to ever roam planet Earth.
In the megahit The Matrix, the main character, Neo, is told the history of the “matrix.” The protagonists discuss the fact that the ruling machines had to create a dystopian like reality for the humans being used as batteries, or they would keep waking up. Humans it seems, need a challenge in order to accept any form of reality. So the extrapolated question that we are seeing with this generation, is whether they have been given enough of a challenge in life so as to deal with their reality. And no, the question isn’t are we really living in the Matrix ourselves?
Afterall, the lack of true challenge would explain this younger generations obsession with dystopian futures. Ones in which the teenagers are the heroes and everyone else is terribly, horribly flawed except those pure-souled-adolescents. Yes, there have always been teenagers as heroes books. But we are talking about the difference between Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, Judy Blume books, The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew series, and The Hunger Games, Divergent,and The Maze Runner.
In the past, these stories centered on situations of real life, that the main characters had to overcome. These themes revolved around survival of farming families, the Civil War, maybe some ridiculous mysteries in the community, or the angst and issues of growing up. Life, in and of itself, was enough of a challenge for past generations. To learn to function and develop into complete adults was a sufficient goal for anyone.
But what does today’s first world youth have to deal with? Too much homework? Too many standardized tests? Questioning the number of vaccinations that will keep them from dying young? The angst and unfairness of college applications? Or the intrusion of the world through Google? Maybe deciding whether to eat GMO, organic, or go on the Paleo-vegan-lactose free diet, is just too overwhelming of a problem, that for so many of them they are unable to cope? (Yes, I am being specious.)
Perhaps they are anxiety driven because the greatest challenge for our millennials is finding enough internships to get them that job that will enable them to afford all the gadgets they think they need in their lives. No soldier is dragging them from their home. No government is considering them unfit for life (OK in some European countries there is the problem of euthanasia, but that is an issue for another day). No ruling elite is banishing them into a zero sum game of survival. So the question is what is it that will keep their attention? What will keep them from waking up and disrupting the Matrix? Pretending that these challenges still exist and that it is their generation that will stand and deliver freedom, glory and true utopia, maybe their way of handling too much of a good thing.
Yes, every generation thinks it will create a world that is better than what came before. And yes, every older generation looks askance at its youth…just ask Socrates…
The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.
But honestly, the trajectory of the world is that it really is getting better. Science is solving some of the worst issues and tragedies that we deal with as human beings. So perhaps to feel relevant, this generation needs to create a world without a future. A world where the science, that is creating a better and more equal world today, is actually the enemy that destroys everything that is good and descent in the world as we know it. Truly, these young people really need a challenge.
Growing up, we, the older generation, had enough problems. So we created worlds where humanity had reached beyond its limits and came out just fine. Yes, we had Star Trek and Star Wars. A utopian Earth and the search for justice in a far off galaxy. There was only good in the future, or a mysterious force that could be used for positive reasons if only humans weren’t so fallible. True we also had vampires and werewolves, but again, more of the Christian inspired punishment for evil sins kind of mashup, rather than the present science has screwed everything up Resident Evil, human created plague duel to the death, or the underworld fight of two otherworldly apocalyptic species genre combined with a love story, ala Twilight, perspective. Alright, alright, not sure which is really the mentally healthier arc in the longrun.
We didn’t think of vampires as cute and cuddly, or werewolves as hunky boyfriends, in them olden day. We knew that immortals simply didn’t’ mix with humanbeings…or so the Bible told us. We didn’t think that every government official was an evil scientist out to destroy the world so they could control it… Well maybe we did and that is why so many of us joined the anti-war, and conservation movements.
We waited and watched for a nuclear missile from our cold war enemy. Many of us knew we were the subject of terroristic hate. Alot of us were fighting for the civil rights we were denied. Entire classes of society were demanding an equal share in the future. So no we didn’t need to create real-life vampires or werewolves. We had all too human monsters to fight with in real life.
In reality, on the other hand, maybe though alot really hasn’t changed in the first world, if a person takes a long hard look. So many of the issues we faced growing up are still out there. You don’t have to experience a third world genocidal war, or the terror of the Bataclan to see horror. It is right in our own backyard if we look hard enough. We don’t live in an Eden. We live in a human made society. Replete with questions, issues, and challenges. But maybe too many don’t want to look. Maybe it is easier to pretend these problems simply don’t exist, and escape into a future where these concerns end up so reductio ad absurdum, that ignoring the realities of today’s challenges doesn’t seem so cowardly.
Afterall, first world human society will never get to the point where we let teenagers fight to the death for glory…….and our teenage girls won’t run away from home to marry the human equivalent of Satan’s vampires…..