2006, Allen & Unwin, ISBN: 9781741148459
It’s strange, this book was only published last year but already there is one major change in what my generation might consider a priority. There is absolutely no mention of Gen Y being conscious of climate change. It just shows what a wonderful thing a well-executed documentary can be. The effect of An Inconvenient Truth cannot be underestimated. Perhaps now my generation won’t be as optimistic about the future and only concerned about the next 2-3 years.
Apparently we don’t possess the pessimism of our older Gen X brothers and sisters, who saw that the Boomers were handed things like University education and home ownership on a platter. In a frightening way, Huntley observes, Gen Y are interested only in the here and now, instant consumer gratification. While the Xers were taught to love ‘the brand’ as teens, we were indoctrinated as babies. The corporate world saw an opening and they took it:
‘Through TV they had a captive audience of kiddy consumers whose time-pressured parents were guilty enough and wealthy enough to start giving into their offsprings’ newly created demands for the latest toy, video game and snack food’ (p. 144).
Where does this leave us as adults? Overloaded with choices, and with the pressures of our parents because of mistakes that they made. Apparently we are optimistic, yet utterly confused. ‘Generation Paradox’. Movies we grew up on fed us the message that someone will save the day.
I was quite startled by the optimism that Huntley found. Personally, my friends and I are cynical, adopting the opinions and attitudes of our favourite satirical cartoons. Huntley does mention that we deeply mistrust authority – the government, the church, and corporations. Many of us find ways to subvert consumerism. Marketers find us ‘fickle’ because while we have been constructed to believe that a brand name item will be better quality, we won’t necessarily stick to one brand for life. How can we when there is so much choice?
The biggest challenge we face (besides conquering global warming) is juggling affordability with lifestyle. If we want a good job, we need to go to the city, if we want a nice home, we must look in the suburbs or the regional areas. Our friendship groups are important to us, so we don’t all want to be separated. At the same time, we are leaving Uni with a massive debt and as soon as we start earning money we have to pay it off. On top of that we want to travel before we settle down, because we are part of a global community, (we have grown up with people in other countries the click of a button away). This too will cost money. Our Boomer parents are also going to eventually need looking after.
But apparently we don’t possess the ‘option paralysis’ (p. 170, quoting Douglas Coupland) of Gen X, often referred to as ‘slackers’. Many couldn’t make up their minds until they were 30 and ended up childless, alone and questioning. Apparently our optimism will drive us to find solutions. We are strong and hard-headed, because we have been told we must succeed.
This pressure to succeed also applies to our stance on body image. We have grown up with the media telling us to be thin and beautiful. The olds tell me this is nothing new, in the 60s and 70s it was Twiggy, in the 80s Cindy Crawford. But Yers are going to new levels – plastic surgery is becoming acceptable for teens and boys are feeling it too. In Australia a boy has to decide whether to be a ‘bloke’ or a ‘metro’ (how about ‘lad’ or ’emo’?). Many that Huntley interviewed though, said that while these pressures were prevalent in highschool, once they were out in the real world, people were more accepting. It was easier to be yourself. But it still depends on environment.
I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of Huntley’s book, but in a way of replying to her as a Gen Y representative, I am grateful for her research. I hope older generations can gain an insight into us. And I think popular media seriously needs to reconsider its audiences or it is going to lose us forever. This is not just a danger to them, but a danger to society if we are not absorbent to news and information. We are the future but we do not want to be dictated to. We can see through the ads that are supposedly aimed at us.
You can no longer market ‘cool’, we will see right through it. As one of Huntley’s interviewees notes – ‘We decide what’s cool.’