Instances of Apology to the “Younger Generation”

One thing that’s striking me lately is the attitude of the older generation – Baby Boomers and even Gen Xers – towards the plight of the current young adult population. Take David Simon’s commencement speech to Georgetown, for example.

You did the work, you got the grades. Your parents are out there with you, prouder than hell. This is your day. And theirs. And who the hell is this lumpy white guy to come here and drip doom and despair all over the lawn in front of the Healy building? For the love of God, he’s sucking the life out of the big moment.

This is part of a trend, I think – there seems to be a handful of apologies from the old to the young being passed around. I keep expecting them to pull out a phrase like “the headlines these days”:

And every day, it seems, the headlines offer fresh examples of the greed and selfishness with which my generation has laid waste to its own possibilities.

I want to issue a sincere apology from the Baby Boomer generation to the younger generations. We have failed you profoundly. With a quick look at headlines, no one can escape the conclusion that some of you were raised without an ethical foundation.
– Pamela Wright on SpinSucks

We had contempt for our parents believing that “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It to Beaver” and “Superman” — with the show’s motto of “truth, justice, and the American way” — were good things for young people to be exposed to. So we replaced these shows with MTV’s mind-numbing parade of three-second images and sex-drenched shows for teenagers. Sorry.
– Dennis Prager on creators.com

There’s a lot of mention of MTV. One guy apologizes “for using sexual attractiveness as a substitute for all other forms of acting talent,” though his was not at all the first generation to do that, and some 25-year-old reply-apologizes for the types of music that he doesn’t like (including “3-chord pop rock songs,” which largely predate 25-year-olds).

This isn’t really much – I’m just thinking about the relationship between the older generations and the younger as time moves on. Is every era like this? Will we some day lament our failings to the younger generation, or is this just the new-ish self-deprecating-self-consciousness thing playing out in old age?

I have no good thoughts. It seems a little self-serving to use an apology to the younger generation to criticize the actions of your “generation” (ie, whoever was president while you were 30). David Simon’s commencement speech is pretty transparently anti-conservative:

Even during wartime, with our armies afield, we whine about paying taxes, though our tax rates are the lowest in modern American history. Meanwhile, though less prone to overt racism, we have nonetheless abandoned the precepts of upward mobility for all Americans, conceding the very idea of public education, of equality of opportunity. And as our society further stratifies, as the rich get richer and the poor become less and less necessary to our de-industrialized economy, we wage a war against our underclass under the guise of drug prohibition, turning America into the jailingest society on the face of the earth.

Whatever the intentions are, these apologies do little more than boast of the speaker’s political regrets, and are often just a “told-you-so” directed at whatever party happened to make a bad decision last, or just a frustrated “you suck” to the corruption in the political system in general. But do these things help? No. Did David Simon’s self-referential commencement speech give energy to the generation of students listening to it? Maybe in the last two sentences – he should’ve stretched these out and made the rest of it shorter:

But tomorrow’s task is to make this moment matter to your communities, to your country, to the world. And to make sure that at the end of your run, you leave that world better than you found it.

That’s what we need. We don’t need to be apologized to – we need to be inspired. We need unselfconscious enthusiasm, not snobbish jadedness. We need someone to tell us to pick ourselves up by whatever straps there are on our footwear, if the economy is going to be rebuilt. Well, actually, I’ve heard that we need the Euro to stay constant and fiscal policy reform, but the bootstrap advice is necessary too.

And as this is a quotey post, I leave you with the immutable words of Woody Allen:

More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

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