Generations aren't as easy to sum up now as they once were. We don't live in a culture with three television stations, one newspaper and a theater that shows one movie. Subcultures multiply, and it is hard to sum up a coherent metanarrative for a generation. All of this is already known (and more on that below), so I won't belabor it.
But if I had to pick one figure that I might best use to explain my generation, and the zeitgeist in general, I think I would have a fair chance of explaining both of them with one figure: Brian Michael Bendis. The name may be more familiar here than it would elsewhere, but some might still need an explanation of who this man is. Brian Michael Bendis is the prolific and talented creator and writer of many comic books. He has worked on his own independent work, but probably had the largest impact on the general public by relaunching several Marvel titles, especially by reimagining Spider-Man in the Ultimate Spider-Man series. As a comic book creator, he is very creative and artistic, especially when dealing with recreating already established titles. But he is also not the nearest and dearest comic book creator to my heart: he doesn't have the wild imagination and deep philosophical bent of an Alan Moore, or even of a Grant Morrison. It might seem unusual for me to choose him as the pivotal figure of a generation, since even within the fairly limited scope of comic books, I have denied him a place on the first tier.
But there is something that he has done better than any other comics writer. His dialogue is both the most interesting and the most true-to-life dialogue that has been seen in mainstream comics, ever.. It is both highly realistic, and highly cinematic. To explain why this is so important, I have to deal with a little bit of Comic Book History 101. Traditionally, comics were for a large part kids' stuff, and editorial policy was that the level of writing, especially of dialogue, had to be kept so that it was manageable for children to read. Most dialogue was used in a heavy handed manner to move the plot along, and to explicitly state the character's motivations and attitudes. This could get heavy handed. One of the things that brought down the once-talented Chris Claremont was his insistence that every comic book he wrote had to include a wordy dialogue where the virtues of tolerance were argued over. What Brian Michael Bendis did was get rid of that: he wrote dialogue with the assumption that the reader already knew what was going on. Instead of having the characters restate in a stilted fashion their philosophical beliefs and personal desires, he assumed that the reader already knew much of that. His dialogue had to convey less, but in doing so it conveyed more. Instead of Spider-Man telling us that great power and great responsibility are linked, (which indeed is a good message, at least the first one hundred times), Brian Michael Bendis would use Spider-Man's dialogue to convey shades of information about how he felt about that. He would use it to convey the mixture of cynicism, exhaustion and a sense of duty that Spider-Man feels.
Which is all very good, but writing better comic book dialogue still seems to be a bit away from "the voice of a generation". But to me, there is no way to better explain how my generation, and people who participate in the saturation of information that we grew up with, feel. My generation is the generation that heard you twice the first time. Many large political debates still going on seem to be written by comic book writers trying to repeat the same material over and over again to eight year olds. Yes, we all know that without personal responsibility, society can not exist. Yes, we all know that man's greed can destroy our world. Yes, we all know that corporations exist legally for no other reason than to make a profit for their shareholders. There are many other things along these lines that can be asserted here, and since my point is that the reader is already well aware, I can omit them.
Which is why I think the style of dialogue and communication that Brian Michael Bendis has pioneered is truly the first thing I would use to describe our generation. It isn't cynicism that makes us not want to hear these old arguments hashed out and repeated backwards and forwards. It is boredom of having to read and hear the same thing again.
I don't wish to be too contemporary or political in what is a general statement about people's attitudes, but the recent debate about medical insurance and socialism is an example of something that bores me to tears and annoys me that people have not researched the background material. There are many people who would bluntly say that the government does not have the right to tax people to provide for others. We have heard that before. But what I am interested in hearing is why the government can not tax people to provide health care, whereas it can tax people to provide police service. Shouting "socialism" isn't a biased, misleading statement. It isn't disguised racism or classism or anything else like that. What it is is far worse: it is boring. And just to show that I am not being too one-sided, I grit my teeth just as much when I had to hear people grumble about "Greedy CEOs" as the cause of all economic problems. The facts and theories about how the economy works are all presented in Economics 101, or for that matter, through an hour of browsing on wikipedia. Having to hear cliches and factual errors repeated over and over is no longer acceptable, if it ever was.
If someone wishes to really communicate something new and different, they will leave aside repeating the most obvious words, and instead trust that their audience already has done their homework, and instead communicate real feelings, and real new ideas, in the shades of meaning that is present when they let themselves speak naturally.