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Contemporary Youth and the Postmodern Adventure - page 6 / 16





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describes the current generation as “the only one born this century to grow up personifying (to others) not the advance, but the decline of their society's greatness" (Holtz 1995: 7). Once seen as a birthright of American children to inherit a better future, it is now a rite of passage to grow up in a age of decline. Indeed, various statistics add up to a grim picture of decay that shapes the cynicism and pessimism of many post-boomers and contemporary youth. From cradle to the seminar room, their lives have been far more difficult and troubled than past generations. Childhood poverty rates, family divorces, living and education costs, taxes, violence and incarceration rates, teen pregnancy, mental illness, drug rates, obesity, cigarette smoking, and suicide rates are way up, as school performance, job prospects, median weekly earnings, unemployment benefits, and prospects of future home ownership rates are down.8

By the time the boomers' children reached puberty, optimism had thus given way to pessimism, boom to bust, opportunity to crisis, and they were "lost" in the shuffle. For many, youth was artificially prolonged as even college graduates could not get good jobs, or lost their jobs after the dot.com bust or the disasters of the post-Enron corporate collapse and catastrophe of Bushonomics. Many young people have been forced to go back to live with their parents and a second adolescence, as the perks of adulthood become ever more difficult to achieve.

Yet for Holtz and others of the post-boomer generation, the situation is not entirely negative. He prefers to call contemporary youth, much too optimistically, the "free generation" because "with the breakdown of many gender-based traditions and racial stereotypes, we enjoy a much broader range of lifestyle and career choices than any generation that preceded us" (1995: 3). But he also realizes that this generation is "free" of any social, cultural, or political defining generational experience that provides a common collective identity.

Indeed, in many ways, the current generation of youth is living in an especially depressing political environment. Where the boomers had the idealism of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam war, the counterculture, solidarity with groups involved in liberation struggles, and dreams of social revolution, their children had Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis, the Iran-Contra affair, CIA wars in Central America, S&L scandals, cynical conservativism, dreary materialism, anxious narcissism, and the paranoia of additional terrorist attacks and the promise of a cycle of Terror Wars. Boomers watched Neil Armstrong plant a flag on the moon; post-boomers and contemporary youth witnessed the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle explosions. Boomers faced the threat of bullies in the schoolyard, post-boomers pass by metal detectors and security guards on their way into school and facing shootings such as in the Columbine massacre. Where the boomers enjoyed Woodstock and the utopia of free love, their children had Woodstock II and then the simulacra of Woodstock III, a soulless, commodified parody of the original orchestrated by MTV, as well as "safe sex" necessitated by the specter of AIDS in a world where Eros and Thanatos are increasingly fused.

Perhaps most crucially, while boomers enjoyed the luxury of well-funded government services, contemporary youth in the United States must now live with the consequences of the 1996 welfare reform bill, which began the process of making deep cuts in funding for women, children, and education. Of course, there are gains and advantages shared by the current generation and generational experience varies according to class, gender, race, region, and


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