Here's the deal. It is now 2001. Clinton's eight-year reign that began when I was way back in fifth grade is over, the human genome has been mapped, the first animal has been cloned and humans are now living in space full-time. But despite all of these newsworthy events, there are some changes that have been occurring over the last hundred years or so that are much more dubious and disconcerting.
Let's start where it all began.
Though it is feasible and some scholars may disagree, I argue that the twentieth century was the most important in human history. It was marked by global events that brought numerous "tribes" of humans together and truly made the egg-shaped chunk of matter we all live on (except for those handful of astronauts up in the International Space Station right now). Sure, there had always been war, but World War I and World War II forever changed the face of war. Sure, Christopher Columbus, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte and hundreds of other great leaders and adventurers have played integral roles in the development of human civilization, but none had ever taken center stage like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Albert Einstein or others in the twentieth-century have.
Things happen on a worldwide scale unprecedented in the past twelve thousand years since humankind's agricultural revolution. AIDS is a global epidemic. The President is the "leader of the free world." Inter-continental thermonuclear war threatens the future of all human civilization. World politics is more popular than domestic politics, and a popular motto is "change the world." The past 102 years (seeing as how we're now into the twenty-first century) were unlike any in the history of mankind. So now let's look at the changes that have occurred over the last four generations of American citizens. Dubbed the "Greatest Generation" by Tom Brokaw, the post-World War I Americans were born into a prospering, proud United States where triumph over the forces of evil in the Great War led to the Jazz Age of the 1920s.
Dancing, illegal drinking (prohibition anyone?) and of course jazz music were staples of this happy-go-lucky generation that F. Scott Fitzgerald portrayed so accurately in many of his stories. Yet when adulthood struck, so did the Great Depression, only to be followed by World War II where more men lost their lives, more bombs were dropped and more atrocities were witnessed than in any or all wars combined. But when the dust settled, and the soldiers returned home, it signaled the end of an era. Yes, it would be the last time the United States of America would be a proud and emotionally triumphant nation whose sole love for peace and prosperity would be epitomized in the Baby Boomers that followed nine months later. Because they had experienced the degradation of the Great Depression, the baby boomers' parents, now middle-aged veterans, living in suburbia, tried to give their children everything they could ever want or need.
The baby boomers, essentially spoiled, became young adults who rebelled against their "square" parents and in protest to the Vietnam War, attended colleges at record numbers, smoked marijuana, did LSD, attended Woodstock, ate up the Beatles and the Stones, and basically set the foundation for their children, Generation X to follow. Because of all the drug abuse and ultra-liberalism, the baby boomers never properly learned how to become responsible adults and when they gave birth to "Generation X" between 1965 and 1977, they lacked the proper parenting skills that are essential to raising mentally healthy, responsible and positive people.
Let's look at the infamous Generation X.
If you are between 18 and 22 years old, then you might have an older brother or sister who is part of this generation of slackers and unmotivated drug-addicted, seemingly hopeless, somewhat computer savvy 26-35-year-olds. They were the last remnants of American children who still enjoyed playing with action figures, dolls, Hot Wheels and perhaps the occasional Atari video game. They would go to the local arcade after school, ride their bikes around the neighborhood on Friday nights and perhaps go camping, fishing or have some make-believe adventure with a group of friends outdoors. Generation X grew up just before personal computers became essential staples of the American household. They grew up among Reaganism, hair bands, a burgeoning television channel known as MTV (when it only played videos) and "Star Wars."
Almost immediately, sociologists and the like labeled Generation X the generation that didn't give a damn. The first true generation that entered adolescence without the threat of a large-scale war, Generation X was utterly unmotivated. Just look at how many of them still live at home, seemingly unable for some mysterious socioeconomic reason to break out into the real world and enter true adulthood. But Generation X will go down in historians' books as tame compared to their predecessors, "Generation Y" or "Why?" The children of late baby-boomers and early Generation X'ers, Generation Y was immersed in cynicism and pessimism, music videos, erratic Hollywood blockbusters, sex, sex and more sex, from day one.
O.J. Simpson's trial, Clinton's scandals and recently the Presidential Election debacle all add to the aura of pessimism and pragmatism that has settled over Generation Y. They have come of age in front of "Beavis & Butthead," "South Park" and the reality shows of the late 1990s. Kids and young adults today are so far removed from young adults of a few generations ago that anthropologists might as well categorize them as another species. Whereas Generation X is categorized by their lack of effort or motivation, Generation Y is filled with a constant and unjustified anger. They are a violent generation. I can't help but think that the majority of young men out there, from ages 14 to 21 would not hurt a small animal if given the opportunity. The digital age has reared these children on electrons and hyper-kinetic ecliptic information accentuated by a media gone amuck and a country's values gone awry.
Visual stimuli are the only stimuli for Generation Y. They have no need for books or even music unless either can be found encoded in bytes to download and store on their desktops and laptops which serve as the babysitters, nannies, mothers, fathers and ministers of the new millennium. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the teenagers behind the Columbine Massacre and the UCSB student's murderous road-rage rampage that killed four people, are two perfect examples of how violently nihilistic Generation Y has become. I know it may be difficult to grasp, but these kinds of atrocities involving teenagers simply didn't happen a couple decades ago, at least not as frequently or in the same high-profile manner as they do today.
So how did this all happen? Where did it all go wrong? Well, one must study the history of the twenty-first century as I have merely touched upon here to even try to find a decipherable thesis behind this downfall of the generation gap. The best that can be done is simply to see where we have come from and hopefully gain a better understanding of where we are going. Not only as a people, not only as a country, but as individuals who must change for the better if the world is truly to become a better place in this new millennium.