Sunday, November 8, 2015

Generation gap (the writers)

I'm trying to see things from the broader perspective, but really it comes down to being rubbed the wrong way by certain writers/artists and feeling that at least part (perhaps a large part) of this comes from being on the wrong side of the generational gap.

In general, I can read older works of fiction and while bemoaning the state of women (practically chattel if you go back far enough, or if you are reading Egyptian authors such as Naguib Mafouz).  Where I really struggle is with female writers from the early 20th Century writing about sometimes sudden and almost always badly-matched marriages of the lead female characters to much older men.  This is rarely seen in U.S. fiction, but seemed to be a big staple in British and European literature.  In some cases, this simply caused deeper problems down the road (Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina, Harriet from Taylor's A Game of Hide and Seek, etc.).  With Elizabeth Bowen, we sometimes see the characters knowing better but still getting into bad marriages for reasons that are not always that clear to the leading ladies (primal fears of becoming spinsters most likely), but then the action ends before we see the inevitable disappointments that stem from such marriages.  This marrying much older men was never quite as much of a staple of U.S. fiction, though there are still plenty of women who marry for money not for love.

What I am getting at is that, while this is fairly alien to my own experience, I can still understand what is driving these novels and generally enjoy them.  But the newest generation of artists seems unbelievably shallow and uninteresting.  Nearly all of them are about children who have been cocooned and are not really capable of running their own lives.  They also are pretty entitled, given how they are not as special as they think they are.  Obviously I am projecting a lot here, but I just find contemporary work that focuses on Millennials to be really annoying, particularly as it seems to be coming from people who are high enough in the social strata that it is more about their emotional neediness and not really about the fact that their job prospects are so bad that they are still living with their parents.  At any rate, anything that Lena Dunham touches is completely horrid, as far as I am concerned.  One of the few movies that I have given up on is Tiny Furniture, and I had suppressed the fact that she was the writer, director and star of it.

Another terrible Millennial writer is Amy Herzog.  (I've read two of her plays and am so glad I didn't pay to see them; I will steer far away from her work.)  It is hard to put into words just what I hate about her characters and her plays (aside from the absolute snobbery of ending a play with an entire scene in untranslated French -- or having one senior character constantly say "whaddayacallit" almost as a verbal tick while waiting for her mental synapses to start firing again) but they seem populated by unrooted characters that are shallow and act in ways that I find unbelievable.  They seem to be characters that have been raised by TV and computer screens and have no idea how people really behave (or should behave, which means not blocking doors and escalators while texting).  I guess there are all types in the world, but I don't want to interact with any of the characters that Amy Herzog dreams up (or steals from her family).  I mostly blame the generation gap for that horrid quasi-play All Our Happy Days are Stupid by Sheila Heti.

I can just sort of understand writers and playwrights that (to me) seem to straddle Gen X and Gen Y, which is where I would put David Lindsay-Abaire and Sarah Ruhl (though it turns out David is my age, so the tail end of Gen X).  Ruhl's characters are shallow to some extent, though I think the biggest knock against her by theatre types is that she writes these elaborate stage directions which are impossible to put on stage.  Thus she is almost a novelist, writing for that tiny fraction of people who read plays, rather than a playwright. She is also a bit of a dilettante in terms of grabbing interesting myths and legends to add weight to her scripts (Eurydice and even Dead Man's Cell Phone to some extent).  I don't mind the borrowing and the mash-up that much, though I do agree there is not always that much actual depth to her scripts.  Still I enjoyed Eurydice and may go see it again some day.  We just saw Lindsay-Abaire's Wonder of the World, and it was quite manic (so that was a big plus over some of the Gen Y scripts where people just sit around talking and texting).  There was a weird mash-up of pop culture references (Marilyn Monroe, the Newlywed Game, Costco and of course Barbie) and a sense that most of the characters really didn't know what to do with their lives to find happiness.  I think my favorite characters were the odd couple that were hired as detectives (they reminded me just a bit of the twin detectives Thomson and Thompson from Tintin).

As I think more about it, Gen X authors have more than their share of annoying tendencies as well (the mote in one's one eye and all that...).  Aside from narcissism (basically a problem of all artists), there is a general snarkiness and cynicism that does get old fast.  And while we aren't quite as nostalgic for the 80s the way the Boomers are about the 60s, there does seem to be a complete lack of originality in Hollywood now that Gen X is nominally in charge (nothing but sequels and remakes and reboots).  I still can't get over how they ruined the Muppets in the terrible reboot that crawled onto the telly this season.  I wasn't about to let the kids watch it, and apparently most people felt the same.

I'm not really sure there is that much of a point to this rambling half-rant other than to say one's enjoyment of a particular piece of art or artist is inevitably bound up in one's likes, dislikes and prejudices, which follow to some extent from one's generation* and in particular from the popular culture one absorbed growing up.  I am resigning myself to not liking or caring much about work by the newest generation of artists, based on my experiences to date, though I am sure there will always be some exceptions, particularly if said artist reaches back to older, more classic references.  There is actually a character (Nina) in Christopher Durang's Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike who embodies the Gen Y'er who finds her contemporaries vapid.  One might even look at the character played by Kristen Stewart in the film Clouds of Sils Maria as a person who wishes she was born earlier, as she feels somewhat out of place in her own time.  (I sometimes feel this -- that I probably would have been better off being 15-20 years older than I actually am, so that I would not have to deal with the extreme economic uncertainty that is facing today's young adults.)  I think I've meandered enough for now.  I would provide a link to Wonder of the World, which was enjoyable, but last night was the last night of the run, so if you didn't pick up on it from this post and put it in your calendar, you missed your window of opportunity.  Sorry about that.

* As well as one's social class (as Pierre Bourdieu explains at length in Distinction), though class is somewhat less important in setting one's tastes in North America, as it is more culturally homogenized here than in Europe.

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