Friday, December 21, 2007

Cultural Divide: From Generation X to Y

There are many signs one can see that divides the pre-30 from post-30 generation in our culture. First, Generation X, those of us born primarily after the mid-1960s (until the early 1980s) grew up on television, but with newer high tech creations (like videos, mass distribution of music recording, as well as the first generation with home computers) and reside in a society in which expectations of future employment and wealth are lower than the World War Two and Baby Boomer generations. Second, the younger crowd, referred to as Generation Y (those born after the late '70s, early '80s), grew up not just with lowered expectations, and all of the technological gadgetry of before, but with newer innovations like digital recording and the internet.

How has the internet revolutionized our culture? Well, I am not sure to what degree the internet has revolutionized things (since revolutions are political), but it has certainly changed how we live. The biggest change I have noticed is the hyper-sexualization of our youth. It is estimated that over 40% of all internet activity involves pornography, which is a $13 billion a year industry. More disturbing, 20% of all pornography on the internet is child porn. When I was a kid, we had maybe Playboy or, on a bad day, the swim wear section of the Sears catalog (and if our fathers were not connoisseurs of porn, well, we were out of luck and relegated to masturbating to our memories of Phoebe Cates getting out of the swimming pool on Fast Times At Ridgemont High). Today, 90% of all 8-16 year olds have viewed pornography on the internet, which I might add contains images much more graphic than what was in some '80s teen comedy or magazine pose. Needless to say, these are very different times.

Interestingly, women are now more apt to like pornography than ever before. Over half feel it is OK to watch porn and nearly 30% of internet porn addicts are female. Predictably, porn has become more hardcore with time, to meet a public's insatiable demand for more nontraditional fetishes developed by the consumption of such material. The 2 Girls 1 Cup phenomenon this last year exemplifies this (one could only imagine what the Puritans or James Madison's reaction would have been).

Generation Y females, especially, have been socialized with an idealized pansexuality as the backdrop to their environment. This is not to pass judgment. That is not the point of this post. God knows, I remember back in the early '90s having to endure the critiques of the Baby Boombers (of all people!), lambasting my generation as "slackers" (ironically, many of these same negative stereotypes attributed first to the Baby Boomers, and passed down to Generation X, have now made their way to Generation Y). The purpose here is simply to notice the reality of a cultural shift in acceptance, even normalization, of a set of behaviors, acts, and mode of thought, which was not as prevalent before the 1990s. For those old enough to remember the Vanessa Williams-Ms. America controversy back in 1984, we have lived to witness a generation where such a thing is a non-issue (i.e., the trivial media's obsession with the foibles and exploits of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton). If the Vanessa Williams "controversy" were to happen today, undoubtedly the vast majority of people would support her being crowned Ms. America. Admittedly, I would be one of those people, so I am in some ways an admirer of this generation's ethos, which while tending to be more perverse (the bad) yet retains
a maturity in social acceptance (the good) from previous generations.

Still, there are some things that defy explanation. Enter the shocker. I should note that this wonderful advance was not around when I was in high school (we had to settle for the innocuously non-erotic devil horns, thanks to our metal head friends). Just the sight of the shocker, even used in a joking and educational manner, would likely elicit threats of limb separation from many a Gen. X female. Credit must be given to our Generation Y kids yet again. They have taken what should be an offensive hand gesture, denoting dual penetration, and made it their own. It is at times like this I am thankful that I do not have a teenager.

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