Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Generational Shift - Exhibit A // Enter the Pro-Business Millenials (aka Generation Sell)

Maryland Juice recently noted evidence of potentially big political shifts on the horizon, and we speculated that many of these changes were being driven by generational differences. It seems everyday a new voice speaks out with a different angle on this thesis, so I decided to highlight three interesting pieces on this topic. Here are excerpts from Exhibit A:
Generation Sell (read full article)

Previous youth cultures — beatniks, hippies, punks, slackers — could be characterized by two related things: the emotion or affect they valorized and the social form they envisioned....

So what’s the affect of today’s youth culture? Not just the hipsters, but the Millennial Generation as a whole, people born between the late ’70s and the mid-’90s, more or less — of whom the hipsters are a lot more representative than most of them care to admit. The thing that strikes me most about them is how nice they are: polite, pleasant, moderate, earnest, friendly.

The millennial affect is the affect of the salesman.... Here’s what I see around me, in the city and the culture: food carts, 20-somethings selling wallets made from recycled plastic bags, boutique pickle companies, techie start-ups, Kickstarter, urban-farming supply stores and bottled water that wants to save the planet....

Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration — music, food, good works, what have you — is expressed in those terms.

Call it Generation Sell.

Bands are still bands, but now they’re little businesses, as well: self-produced, self-published, self-managed. When I hear from young people who want to get off the careerist treadmill and do something meaningful, they talk, most often, about opening a restaurant. Nonprofits are still hip, but students don’t dream about joining one, they dream about starting one. In any case, what’s really hip is social entrepreneurship — companies that try to make money responsibly, then give it all away.

It’s striking. Forty years ago, even 20 years ago, a young person’s first thought, or even second or third thought, was certainly not to start a business. That was selling out — an idea that has rather tellingly disappeared from our vocabulary....

The small business is the idealized social form of our time. Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur. (Think of Steve Jobs, our new deity.) Autonomy, adventure, imagination: entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan.

AND that, I think, is the real meaning of the Millennial affect — which is, like the entrepreneurial ideal, essentially everyone’s now. Today’s polite, pleasant personality is, above all, a commercial personality. It is the salesman’s smile and hearty handshake, because the customer is always right and you should always keep the customer happy....

The self today is an entrepreneurial self, a self that’s packaged to be sold.

That may in turn be why the hipster has proved to be so durable. The heyday of the hippies lasted for all of about two years. The punks and slackers held the stage for little more than half a decade each. That’s the nature of rebellion: it needs to keep on happening. The punks rejected the mainstream, but they also rejected the previous rejection, hippiedom itself — which, by the late ’70s, was something that old people (i.e. 28-year-olds) were into. But hipsters, who’ve been around for 15 years or so, appear to have become a durable part of our cultural configuration....

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