By LRon Brooks
Driving around medium-size, rural red-state town I live in the other day, I received a text from my 16-year-old son’s mother, reminding me that I had to monitor the administration of the child’s acne-zapper pills. My eyes rolled to shake the very firmament.
He’s old enough to drive, he can mess-up and father a child, he’s legally eligible to have a say in which parent he wants to live with… and oh yeah, this same Cosmopolitan man-of-the-world can’t take his daily meds on his own, nor find his own bum without a Like, Subscribe and a team of digital St. Bernards.
It really boiled my nanny, pardon my French.
I started thinking something like, He’s too bloody lazy to even take his— and I kinda stopped right there and thought aloud, “Huh, he’s not wearing his retainer during the day, either.” These two minor-ish things, taken together with some other behaviors I’d previously written off as additional frustrating examples of laziness, now I think may instead paint an individual portrait of what “Hopelessness on a Generational Scale” looks like. What plays like laziness is actually how he is responding to the perceived helplessness of his plight. Thank God my bright, even-keeled kid is expressing that angst behaviorally only by cutting every corner in life that he possibly can—in every arena outside of self-directed screentime. Once he found out he was pretty good at this ‘gaming the system’ stuff, he went all-in and became a Grandmaster plenty pronto.
So… there he remains, a self-sentenced god/prisoner of his own protective, solitary Matrix®. Where healthy child-development practice goes to die.
I overheard him a while back now talking with an online friend/peer, saying, “Wellll, I think we have about 35 years left” the way our generation used to talk in fatalistic one-liners about the knowledge that a surly USSR could wake up any morning and decide to effectively erase the species from the planet. But for earlier generations of Americans, that ever-present threat of horror was more of a patina on our reality than a rinse-wash. It twisted and tainted the lens through which we viewed events happening in the headlines, but that’s all. Kids of all ages today are necessarily so connected that they’re experiencing the same level of existential dread as kids that—pre-Internet et al—most people didn’t used to have to face down until at least young adulthood. I have an aphorism that I think sums it up pretty succinctly. “This generation’s VietNam is their childhood.” Present-tense intended.
To flog the metaphor, they’re still only in the middle of their Tet Offensive. The road ahead is long and fraught with terrors that everybody senses the shape but not the form of, that we are certain we will be powerless to prevent.
Contrast that to the outlook pre-9/11 generations grew up with. It was so quaint! We all were told and just believed we would do at least as well as our parents had, and probably surpass their accomplishments and style of living. It wasn’t even like a big deal or anything. We were born in America; we got the best national Captain, and the future of our cushy lifestyle was in the bag. We could afford to tune out and turn on.
These poor kids today can’t afford to do anything but. They were born in the shadow of 9/11 and most of them haven’t seen a big win in their conscious lives. My side-gig as a family photographer brings me into contact with a broad social- and age-range of the citizenry amongst whom a capricious custody settlement has blessed me to dwell. I’ve been shooting some families so long that now I’m doing second-gen family shoots. And due to my proximity to these people throughout their growing up, a lot of the kids-come-adults continue to e-confide in me like they don’t to the average friend-of-their-parents in their lives. And the picture they paint is darker than dark.
One thing they all agree on is, if grown-ups and parents want an almost documentary-accurate idea of what our teenagers’ Zeitgeist is like, watch HBO’s “Euphoria.” And strap yourself in fellow oldsters, it’s gonna be a helluva bumpy ride.
The most alarming teen trend they’ve made me aware of—that nobody else in the press is covering yet—is the high school-to-OnlyFans pipeline. A whole generation of high school girls (out here, at any rate) are planning-out how they’re going to commoditize their sexuality online as soon as they hit 18, instead of waiting to watch the mail for letters from colleges. And the guys, the boyfriend class… the ones who don’t move away and go to college? The worst kind of empty-eyed, slack-jawed hangers-on and golddiggers. ‘Pimp’ implies too much responsibility to the women to describe these sorry excuses for young men. They’re the very spirit of apathy, given wan form and shallow substance.
Wrap your head around this one if you dare; we have a whole generation of kids walking around with cell phones full of self-produced and -disseminated child pornography. High schoolers trade x-rated selfies like we used to throw down matches when we played craps.
And why? Well for heaven’s sake, why not? Why not live every moment like it’s your last, when adherence to the old morality isn’t seen as a pathway to anything but certain social media ridicule in 2022? If they’ve only got a couple/few more decades left to play with, might as well play it reckless as hell.
They are gonna be young forever!
Even money doesn’t have the same old allure to the next gen. Crypto-currency has exposed and shone a spotlight on the basic phoniness of the whole currency system post-Gold Standard.
So... Sex? Strictly transactional. Money? Men will always be stupid with theirs. The outlook? Melting ice caps and wars and rumors of war; summer blockbusters moving from cinema screens to breaking news push-notices. The future? You’re kidding, right.
And God? Puh-lease. We didn’t grow up with fairy tales, we grew up with the Internet.
LRon Brooks is an author, irritant and disqualified competitive pickle-stacker living far from the home he loves.
LRon Brooks is an author, instigator and avid competitive pickle stacker.