Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas to the Ambien Generation. We do not rest.

We used to be the Prozac Nation. I think that book was written by a girl who went to Brown with me. That's not really much of a shock considering everyone at Brown was on some sort of medication at the time, legal or otherwise. I suppose in another decade or so, we will annoy our children with tales of the "Wild 90's" as our parents did with their anecdotes of the apparently very muddy 60's. We did some lolling about in the mud at Woodstock 2, but for the most part I and my friends were more interested in putting on plastic clothes and clubbing until 10am. It was fun. Granted, that probably shaved about two years off my life with the lack of sleep and all, but I imagine the immense amount of aerobic exercise from the furious dancing has to counterbalance the damage somehow. We were beautiful, covered in glitter, and kinda sweaty.

But now we don't want to stay up all night and twirl glowsticks at 180 bpm; now we just want to sleep. We have the 90's are different than those of the 80's. The 80's were the years of the hippie come to Real Power. They decided they were going the leverage the world to make their fortunes. Tilt the very planet from its financial access with the force of will and Tony Robbins. Heal the Child Within was the battle cry, for he is the Center of the Universe, and he must be made whole before he inherits it all. Then they had their own children. These were the people who were called Generation X. My friends and I were some of these children, but a lot of us were also the children of the people who just missed the mark of the Summer of Love. But we all listened to R.E.M. or Bon Jovi or New Order or any combination thereof. We weren't all that optimistic, we did tend to be a little gloomy. Even our cinema reached for pathos unseen since the tortured performances of James Dean in the 50's. I think that generation - the one born just before the war - and ours shared the same fundamental crisis; the crisis of historically contextual meaninglessness. Those people born in the late 20's and 30's went off to war, and those born in the late 40's (the children of those soldiers and WACS) made a lot of noise about stopping other wars. So James Dean cried about how he was being torn apart, and in our multiplexes in the 80's Ferris and his friends had adventures based around the simple fact that our Hippie (now Yuppie) parents were so unengaged with us that running amok was beyond easy. The "twist n' shout" sequence in which Ferris' father doesn't even recognize his own son, the pied piper of Chicago, leading thousands of people in a singalong to a Beatles' song (not one of ours but theirs) stands as evidence of that generations particular solipsism.

But some of us weren't 16, 17, or even 20 when we went to see Ferris or Molly at the movies; some of us were 12. Or even a little younger. Those of us at the tail end of Generation X had a much different experience of it. Since "Power, Corruption and Lies" was already 5 years old when we got our hands on it, it already had the aura of nostalgia about it. When you are 14, 5 years is a huge chunk of time. My first Siouxise and The Banshees album was "Peephow", not "Hyaena". My experience of the band is affected consequently. Granted, I bought "Hyaena" later, but my Siouxsie really is the one in the Top Hat and the flapper bob, not the siren in the Egyptian eye make-up.

Then we went to work for the yuppies, and the older Gen X'ers. Along the way we sorta invented the social use of e-mail and then showed them how to use it. That was fun for a little while. Then we started forwarding each other meaningless electronic pieces of crap, most of which were tacky and dumb. It was as if the kids in remedial English had gotten a hold of the school paper. In a way, they had. How many times do you need to see "Two Girls, one Cup"? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say never. Not once. Yuck. I know it's faked, but still. Or stupid pictures of people being fat or whatever. Yes, let's send 'round that one of the morbidly obese naked guy with the beard siting at his computer, just one more time. Working for the older Gen X'ers leaves us feeling cold and weird, since they are cold and weird from their parents ignoring them. At our end of the X, we knew we weren't special, we got the joke. Most of us just want to have our lives and be left alone, preferably with an iphone because it is quite fun. We are overworked, sometimes underpaid, and utterly cut off from one another, except for facebook.

Facebook is an interesting thing. I would not be surprised if the largest group of people who are daily Facebook users is now not college kids, but people in their 30's. We've all run to it, and login to it while we wait at stoplights. Why? Because after years of being cut off from our childhood friends by moving around to where the jobs are, or at least to where the better restaurants are, we now can connect with people who knew us when lunch boxes were still made out of metal and could really cause some damage when you took a swing at someone with one. You remember, the ones that always smelled vaguely of sour milk. So now we delight in writing comments on the "walls" of people we haven't thought of in years. I don't think it's insincere in the slightest; and I've noticed conversations between people that I know hated each other passionately 20 years before. What causes this? I think only the real need to connect and reconnect. I think people long for the constant string of introductions that is day-to-day life now to end. How many new people do you need to meet in one lifetime? Just a century ago, most people never met anyone new, unless they were biologically produced on the spot, as it were. When I return home I am genuinely dismayed by seeing faces that I do not recognize, they seem unfazed by not knowing me. Why would they? They moved here from somewhere else. They are the real Gen X'ers, weaned off of Prozac so they can have kids.

But we do not take Prozac. Well, some of us do. But we do take something. We are the Ambien Generation. We listened to "Kid A" 10 years ago, an album apparently about a clone. I always thought that was the most brilliant comment on our particular generational sub-group ever: we are clones. Younger versions of other people. We no longer take Prozac, we take Ambien. We long for sleep, we are Generation A. This Christmastime, none of us dare hope for Sugarplums in our heads, since all the money just evaporated. We want to sleep dreamlessly and unbothered by the not-sugarplums of anxiety caused by this particular reality; we want a few hours of perfect peace, finally. So to avoid the not-sugarplums, we take a pill that lets us sleep that's closer to a coma than actual sleep. What will our children say about us in 20 years? Will their resentments be based not on being invisible to us but simply from their daily standing by the side of our beds, watching us sleep and anxious as to whether or not we will wake up this time? We move too much, both in terms of house and in terms of our day. Our minds are such mush from the ceaseless communication and flow of information that it can only cause - perhaps already has caused - the death of rest. To quote someone else: we have murdered sleep. We, as good clones, do not sleep, but merely simulate it with the help of a pill. We are Replicants trying not to dream of electronic sheep, Seven of Nine in her recharging in her alcove, Cylons endlessly duplicating themselves, Laptops "sleeping" until work starts again the next day.

We can track Santa now through NORAD. He's not real unless he's perceived electronically. There must be something in the iphone app store for that too.


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