Monday, August 8, 2011

Modern Cynicism Article

Here is an interesting, albiet dated, article on the cynicism that permeates our generation. Enjoy. TMF

Modern cynicism
It's a kinder, gentler brand of smart-ass that's circulating among the hipsters Legitimate rage, which fuels the nastiest cynics, is lacking today, by San Grewal

Unrelenting cynicism and apathy was the tone of the 1990s grunge scene. That language fit the Gen X stereotype and their frustration as they were unable to compete with boomers for social, cultural and economic dominance.
Many in that generation, convinced they were being denied their rightful opportunity, chose to bow out of the rat race early (the vast majority are now feverishly making up lost ground).
But when this generation of twentysomethings — coddled by the merchants of success, on the front line of technological advancement and the current global youth movement — use words like "whatever" and "who cares" it seems disingenuous.
If anything, this type of easily adopted cynicism simply provides an excuse to avoid any real commitment or emotional attachment to the very opportunities that await today's youth. So promising careers are akin to selling out, social change is the goal of flakists, meaningful relationships are for gag-me romantics, and creative expression is the domain of narcissistic artists.
There is no cause, identity, craft or relationship that is free from the scorn of the tragically cynical. Deep beliefs are replaced by easily disposable opinions. And the future is a place to fear — not look forward to.
But rest assured, with this generation, it's all just a put-on. Because when a twentysomething uses the language of skepticism, irony, sarcasm and cynicism, he or she may be afraid — but most aren't genuinely angry. They're just talking tough.
When sitting in movie theatres, flipping through the weekly downtown tabloids or browsing through the latest youth magazines dominating the racks — and especially when actually talking to a twentysomething in person — the language hits with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
Cynicism, sarcasm, irony, skepticism: "That's so lame." It pounds away relentlessly.
It's nothing new.
But it's unlike the generalizations that defined their angry Xer predecessors, who became cynical after never having a chance to be idealistic. And it's equally different from the cynicism of the boomers, who became that way after being coerced to forsake their idealism.
No, the current generation of twentysomethings uses cynicism like a foil, to hide the hope that lies beneath.
But if you're in your 20s and you can't speak the language — "Man, that so sucks" — or if you absentmindedly slip from the noncommittal tones of irony and cynicism, into an expression of how you might really feel — nostalgic, sentimental, hopeful, romantic — don't look to your peers for a reassuring gesture that says, "Man, I know how you feel."
After watching the film Garden State, an earnest attempt to portray this generation's coming of age experience, devoid, for the most part, of the cynicism that most twentysomething offerings hide behind, I wondered how it would be perceived by its intended audience.
The reviews, written mostly by thirty- and fortysomethings, said of the film by writer/director/lead actor Zach Braff of NBC's Scrubs fame: "So emotionally honest and is so well done that it's hard not to take to it."— Desert News Salt Lake City; "A quirky, at times terrifically sweet and well-acted coming of age tale." — Boston Herald; "... the emotions and longings Braff manages to tap into are deeply universal." — Los Angeles Daily News.
The reviews rung true. Though none pointed out how desperately, at times, Braff tried to mask his obviously "sweet," "emotionally honest" story behind the type of cynical dialogue more synonymous with movies such as Richard Linklater's Slacker and the recent surprise hit Napoleon Dynamite.
But it wasn't surprising to read one of the many cynical reviews posted online: "jedigerard" wrote, "Here are my 18 reasons why Garden State totally sucked." Among them, number two: "Natalie Portman- SHE WAS SO F---ING ANNOYING!!!!! Her voice, her crying. All of it sucked." And number five: "I didn't care about any of these people and their coming of age."
Reason number 17, however, betrayed "jedigerard's" flimsy cynicism, revealing that he actually wanted to care about "these people and their coming of age: "Just because you SAY a romance is supposed to work, doesn't mean that it works. Did anyone of you — even for a millisecond — buy that romance?"
It reads like the confused thoughts of a boy at a party who desperately wants to ask a girl out, then, after she leaves, retreats into the resigned, but soothing stance of cynicism to justify his fear: "Whatever."
One posting certainly doesn't underscore a generational habit of using skepticism and irony as a barrier to protect deep emotional expectations. But for every "jedigerard" there are millions of others who claim they don't care about anything overly sentimental while secretly searching for stories about romances that really could work.
When you read between the lines of this generation, the stinging tone of their cynicism can be stripped away like a protective veneer, a façade, revealing something much more honest, more hopeful.
For example, Liz Maverick's novel What A Girl Wants was praised by its twentysomething readership this year for presenting characters that, unlike the jaded thirtysomethings on Sex And The City, cherish the sentimental and romantic in their lives.
But perhaps the most telling use of irony to hide the romantic hope that many twentysomethings hold out for was writer/director Kevin Smith's 2001 film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which became a cult hit among its predominately male, university-age audience.
The chronically profane, burnt out Jay, a peripheral fixture in Smith's earlier films, is an antidote to the angry characters of Gen-X films such as Reality Bites. He embarks on a quest to defeat an evil Hollywood studio and get the girl of his dreams. Yes, even guys like Jay are closet romantics.
In a way it's easy to see why this may be the most romantic generation in decades. Advertised to and co-opted by the forces of consumerism all their lives, witnesses to the failed marriages of their parents' generation, it's no wonder they often use cynical language. Even the technologies that extend from them like appendages seem cold and sterile, inspiring distant and cynical exchanges.
But there's an important difference between those who use cynicism as an expression of genuine anger or disillusionment and those who use it to mask something completely different — fear of questions that don't come with easy answers.
The funny thing is, when this generation uses cynicism and irony it's almost always an opposite expression of how people really feel — hopeful, sentimental, romantic. 

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