Imagine the special kind of hell that it must be for a Yale graduate to have to live in Greenpoint of all places. Now imagine that it gets worse. Not only does this Ivy League-educated youth have to live in Brooklyn, but he or she has to buy clothes at thrift shops. You’ve just imagined a person who has failed at life, right? Or maybe not? Because maybe you don’t necessarily equate living in Brooklyn and not having a huge amount of money to spend on clothes with failure?
Well, clearly you lack the insight into the generation of Americans who are about to graduate from college that David Brooks—New York Times Op-Ed columnist and visiting professor at Yale—has in abundance. Or, rather, it’s not really Brooks’s insight. It is that of his student, Victoria Buhler, who he quotes liberally throughout his most recent column because, I don’t know, Brooks couldn’t come up with anything worthwhile to write by himself this week? I mean, that’s never stopped him before, but still, that must be the reason. Why else would he allow these solipsistic ramblings about what it means to be “at least a segment of her age cohort” stand in for any larger concept of what it means to be a young adult about to embark on a path of independence? Maybe because he admits that he hasn’t really “been perceptive enough to give a good answer” about young, college-educated people himself. So, he selected one of his current students to do it for him. Interesting move.
So, what does Buhler have to say about her generation? Buhler thinks that, unlike all of the lucky kids who got to grow up under the wise guidance of Ronald Reagan and his flawless presidency, kids like her grew up under George W. Bush and, as a result of his failures, “emerged from the experience both dismissive of foreign intervention as a tool of statecraft as well as wary of the moral language used to justify it.” Which, you know, many of us who grew up under the presidencies of Reagan and George H.W. Bush and Clinton weren’t exactly in favor of foreign intervention in the case of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It didn’t take us ten years and tens of thousands of deaths to realize that foreign intervention is not always a good thing.
What other once credible institutions (like, I guess, the US military?) have been discredited for the generation that Buhler has dubbed the “Cynic Kids”? Which, try saying “Cynic Kids” out loud. It’s impossible not to blend those two words together. Impossible, and kind of fun, actually. But so anyway, “Cynic Kids” also distrust financial institutions because of the recession: “The capitalist system, with its promise of positive-sum gains for all, appeared brutal and unpredictable.” So, basically, all these “Cynic Kids” are just realizing what anyone who has ever taken any kind of history or political science class has ever discovered? That preemptive wars are immoral and that capitalism is “brutal”? Cool. A little late to the game, but whatever.
At this point, it might be easy to dismiss Buhler as a student who is just trying to suck up to the dude who coined the horrific term “Bobo” (bohemian bourgeois), by coming up with “Cynic Kids” and writing in his pseudo-speaks-for-a-generation style, but then she just flat out reveals her specific kind of privilege and disgust with people who actually have tried to affect change. Buhler writes that the Occupy movement “launched more traffic jams than legislation.” And, Brooks adds, “The Arab Spring seemed like a popular awakening but has not fulfilled its promise.” Now, Buhler’s point is ridiculous because of the simple fact that the Occupy movement has also launched many more mini-movements (including the ongoing and very effective Occupy Sandy organization) than traffic jams and that just because something isn’t immediately effective legislatively, that does not mean that it isn’t making a difference. But besides being ridiculous it really speaks to what Buhler expects out of the world, which is the opportunity, in the form of money, that people who have gone to Yale have always been able to take for granted. Suddenly, that kind of opportunity is not guaranteed and its absence has made Buhler depressed and, I guess, cynical.
Brooks notes that Buhler is dismayed at her future prospects because, “Immediate postgrad life, Buhler writes, will probably bear a depressing resemblance to Hannah Horvath’s world on ‘Girls.’ The hit song ‘Thrift Shop’ by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis ‘is less a fashion statement, more a looming financial reality.’” How horrible! Struggling financially and having to live in Greenpoint is just so depressing, isn’t it? How fucking terrible. I mean that. How fucking terrible that a student at Yale can reference Macklemore in a paper and have it be called “dazzling” in a Times editorial that ends with Brooks positing what’s up next for America’s “cool kids” (which is to be “wonksters”, apparently) and reassuring us, his dear readers, that “yes, [he] gave her an A.” Of course he did.
But beyond the main takeaway from this Op-Ed, which is that grade inflation is a real thing, I’m really troubled by the fact that it is acceptable to say that it’s “depressing” to live in what is still, especially by national standards, a very expensive place to get an apartment, and that shopping in thrift stores is something to be derided. Following on the heels of the excellent Times piece by Annie Lowrey on the financial uncertainties that millennials face, this editorial was a slap in the face. The privilege implicit in being able to condescend to the people who don’t live the life of the 1 percent is completely insulting to the millions of young people who did everything “right,” but are too busy trying to figure out how to get a job to spend time coming up with generational tags like “Cynic Kids.” I mean, seriously. “Cynic Kids”? Wasn’t the Times Opinion page just exhorting us to give up on irony and cynicism? I’m so confused. I just don’t know what to believe in anymore.
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