Collective Pessimism: Is It Any Wonder Our Generation’s Glasses are Always Half Empty?

With our 24 hour news networks of doom and gloom, and our culture’s constant push to sell out we should be happy there is anything left in our glass at all. A look at reclaiming what is ours.

‘Watch, Prepare, Reassure.’ These words from the Guardian’s editorial section stay with me, ruthlessly lingering like a bad aftertaste. The headline, which relates to the new outbreak of Swine flu, fazes me for a sum total of about 3 minutes and 40 seconds. Before long, the news has settled into the drudgery of modern existence and I am able to move on with my day. I turn off my monitor, jump into the shower and wolf down my breakfast before getting ready to leave my apartment, and by my apartment, I mean my parent’s apartment of course. I walk past the buzzing throngs of people as they rush to the underground and I huddle with them in the corner of the carriage, cuddling up against my leather man bag. Together, we collectively pour out onto the busy city center street, pushing and shoving mercilessly until we reach our final destination point.

It isn’t until I approach the shiny glass tower where I used to work that I remember that I don’t have a job anymore. I know what you’re thinking; I must be a victim of the current economic crisis. But alas, I am not. After, a few months of slogging my life away, I decided that I would leave with a modicum of dignity. I was single and didn’t have kids. This decision was easy. I threw in the towel, packed my bags and moved in with the two elders who brought me into the world. Here, I could pursue my passions and breath easy that if all else failed there would be comfort food at arm’s length and the reassuring consolation of an E! True Hollywood Story, if I needed it.

It didn’t take long before I realized that my move back into the patriarchal estate would most likely be indefinite. 250 speculative applications for employment, 10 interviews, a year of graduate school, coupled with professional training and I am only an inch closer to fulfilling what has now started to feel like a Disney fantasy. Corporate bigwigs might complain about the pay cuts to their six-figure bonuses, but none of this compares to the insurmountable desperation that has overcome those individuals trying to forge a career in the realm of the Arts, Media or Entertainment. The frugal financial climate has encouraged a new politics of thrift, deeming such indulgences as secondary at best. Whether you graduated from Film or Journalism school in the last year, the odds are that you are scrounging about haplessly, in an attempt to push your earning bracket into the lower end of the five-figure range.

All the while, new graduate programs pop out of the woodworks on a regular basis, promising US a chance to pursue our TRUE passion and offering up the KEY to unlocking our talent. With these refrains in mind, we suddenly forget about the time when our parents re-mortgaged their house to pay for our undergraduate education and before you know it, we are hanging out at our local banks asking for a high interest loan, before we have even had a chance to start making payments on our federal IOU’S.

This news isn’t groundbreaking. The likes of Suze Orman, Dr Phil, Oprah and believe it or not Britain’s much loathed, Jeremy Kyle are just some of the high profile commentators telling young people to GET REAL. But with all of the conflicting messages, how are we to avoid getting swept up in all of this madness? With the overflow of contradictory messages in the public sphere, it is almost easier to sit back and wait for the apocalypse to come and brush us off our feet.

Our generation is ensnared in a web created by snooty cohorts who are instilling doubt and unease in the demographic that is supposed to rise up and rule the world. How then should we go about dealing with this situation? The first stepping-stone is to stop being afraid, as hard as that may seem. Don’t fret, now is not the time to pander to the will of an academic institution or a global corporation or commentator. Instead, we should start to reclaim our niche on all of the platforms that our media will allow us access to.

From now on, if we have ideas, we should start acting on them. Put your social networking to good use and place a call to like-minded people. If, it’s a theatre company, an art project or a movie you want to set up, then there are bound to be limitless enthusiasts just like you who are ready and waiting.

In reality, nothing is as difficult as it first seems. To set up a theatre company for example all one needs is a website (for publicity), a work of non-copyrighted material and a room to rehearse in. Some beasts are undoubtedly tougher to crack than others, certainly when it comes to the likes of the mainstream movie world. By all means, I am not suggesting that we will all become the next Robert Rodriguez wunderkind, but if we start creating content that we know appeals to our demographic, undeniably success will follow. But the problem does not end there. Ultimately, when one is lucky enough to feel that sparkly tinge that comes with victory, the temptation will be to sell out to larger organizations.

The issue here is that these righteous brutes are concerned with just one thing, and that is maintaining the status quo. In a sense by selling out, we begin to perpetuate the vicious cycle, where behemoths swallow and exploit their younger competitors, leaving other ‘new-starts’ unable to function in a marketplace that is still ruled by a bunch of old timers. By succumbing to the overwhelming will of the green dollar sign, one virtually undoes all of the benefit that he or she has achieved at making the marketplace more egalitarian.

If one is to sit and consider the most successful writers, filmmakers and artists today–how many of these are in fact under the age of 30? I am sure there are some, but some serious head scratching and web searches haven’t yielded any results. Why is this the case? Are young people’s stories not worth being told? Are our narratives so uncomplicated that no one else wants to engage with them? Undeniably, the rise of Facebook (which was created by young technologist Mark Zuckerberg) dispels this myth completely. Its unparalleled success, fueled largely (initially anyway) by a younger crowd suggests that we are more eager than ever to engage with the storylines and experiences that bind us together.

What am I preaching you ask? Basically, it is for the generation of young professionals and creatives to exercise a degree of communality in their cultural practices. At the moment, the only genuine communal experience that our age group is occupied with is the notion of shared pessimism. Perhaps it is time for us to start kicking up a fuss, rejecting mainstream representation and reclaiming our media and art as our own?

All of this was triggered recently, whilst sulking. At that point, I was reminded of a pivotal moment from my childhood. I was eight or nine years old and I was screaming inexplicably to the lyrics of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ after the death of Kurt Cobain was announced. I did not understand back then what any of the words meant, but I remember that the whole world at the time seemed to be screaming along with me–crying out for change. After that day, something turned inside of me. A little boy grew into a man who would soon be found reading Sylvia Plath, JD Salinger and Susana Kaysen. He would listen to Patti Smith, Bob Dylan and Sonic Youth. He would sit behind the schoolyard with rustic looking issues of ‘Rolling Stone’ in the one hand and a copy of Ginsberg’s Howl in the other. I grew to become the man that I am today (creative, open, free) because my peers at the time wanted to share all of the elements of their collective experience. It was a very different world from the fear driven one of today.

Perhaps now is the time to let go of the headlines, to bypass our terror alert levels and the cautious words of The World Health Organization, in favor of adopting an individual sense of freedom. After all, we owe to it each other. After none, we deserve it.

Omar is a writer and film curator based in between Glasgow & Liverpool, UK. He is also a Contributing Editor to Primer Magazine. Please visit: www.everythingok.co.uk, for more information.

  • Jack, London

    Brilliant piece. Very thought provoking!