ARNOLD ON… A MAD WORLD

About a year ago, I posted on Facebook about Sunny Delight. We’ll come back to that.

Okay, before this gets going, this one could get personal, pseudo-philosophical and or autobiographical. It’s social commentary time and we’re in for a rambling one today folks so, if you’re not up for that, save this one for later. For those of you who are still here, let’s start with the fact that I’ve been doing some thinking over the last couple of months. I’ve tried to find something to write an article but nothing really got my juices flowing as it were. Oh, I did my bit for The Force Awakens and I still plan to do a massive love-in for Life is Strange when I can figure out the words, but my approximation of review content will have to wait. It’s thinkpiece time. Before we begin let’s get a few facts on the table.

I am a white, middle-class, heterosexual man from South East England. I was born in 1991.

You now have the cultural context for wherever this goes. See, I recently was watching a video series where the phrases “Boomer”, “Generation X” and “Millennial” got tossed around a lot. For those not in the know, these are the monikers given to the generations of folks born 1945-1964, 1965-1984 and 1985-2004 respectively, putting me fairly squarely in the Millennial camp. This doesn’t sit quite right with me however. I mean, I’m definitely not Generation X or what is apparently termed iGeneration for those who’ve come after me, the digital natives who’ve grown up in the age of smartphones and broadband, but me a Millennial? Millennials are supposed to be optimistic, narcissistic powerhouses of entrepreneurship and industry, forward thinking and liberal. That’s not me, and I’m from the demographic that these studies tend to target – that is to say white, middle class males. I think that these categories, expertly sourced from a five-minute session on Wikipedia, are a little too broad. Of course, I’m doing my usual trick of being way too under informed to talk with any authority, but what the hell, this is my thinkpiece and I’ll be strident if I want to.

So, instead of these large 20 year gaps, I’ve always thought of generations as much smaller segments of the population. For example, when I was at the top end of secondary school at the turn of 2010 I looked down to kids six or seven years younger than me and didn’t understand them. As far as I was, and still am concerned, that’s the generational gap below me. They’re the digital natives for whom social media, smartphones and reliable, paid-monthly internet have always been there. If you can’t do an impression of a dial-up tone, you’re not of my generation, kid. If a Nokia 3310 wasn’t, and still to some extent is, the height of cutting-edge mobile phone technology then same again. On the other side, I see the generation above me as not that much older. For example, I only know Nirvana were a huge, momentous shift in music because I’m told they were, though by my calculation that was something experienced by the tail-end of Generation X. For most of the Nineties I was far more interested in the imaginary world inside my own head, although I arguably still am, than I was with anything going on in the real world.

To me, my generation is the one defined by Tony Blair and New Labour, if you’ll forgive the British focus. I’ll try to explain and be somewhat more general in a bit. Quickly a rough and ready primer for those of you who aren’t versed in British politics, traditionally the two major parties of the 20th century in the UK were Labour and the Conservatives, henceforth referred to as Tory or Tories, with Labour on the economic left and the Tories on the economic right (honestly, I still have no idea if either party has, does or ever will embody social left and right). Throughout the 1980s arch-Tory Margaret Thatcher sat as prime minister and was succeeded by the underwhelming John Major. However, by this point, as I understand it, Labour was still considered a bit of a joke, especially in the boom years of the 1990s (see Dot Com bubble for further reading) and so a new political force rose. Tony Blair and his cohort reformed Labour into New Labour, which in hindsight can be approximated as the Tory party with a party hat and tooter to make it seem friendlier, thus engendering the steady slide of the British political centre towards the right. But I’m not here to discuss whether or not New Labour and Blair was a good or bad thing for Britain – I was seven when he took office and I really ought to do some proper research before tackling a topic like that. The reason I bring this up is because Blair is now politically synonymous with one major occurrence: Iraq. Blair’s right-hand man and successor Gordon Brown is also now politically synonymous with one major occurrence: the financial crash and recession of 2008/9.

The overall point here is that I believe my generation – so now I’m talking about people born, let’s say, 1988 to maybe 1995 – grew up alongside a steady slide downwards from an economic boom and general optimism to political cynicism and economic recession. It’s this generation that has started to walk out of university and find that the promised land of yuppies and money is either a total let down or, in many cases, completely fictional. I touched on this in an article I wrote about horror films. In it, my ultimate conclusion is that the horror of my generation isn’t the overwhelming zombie hordes of the consumer mad Millennials, it’s the unsettling dread and creeping insignificance of man found in cosmic horror, as exemplified by the works of HP Lovecraft. There’s a picture I’ve seen floating around Facebook of things only 1990s kids would understand. Mostly it’s silly things such as Pokémon and Tamagotchis, but the crux of the joke is the line where it says: “Being trapped between a generation who believe that hard work could make your dreams happen and the technologically savvy generation with the knowledge to study in new fields and make the best of the times”.

I suppose then what I’ve been building up to this whole time is a sense of disillusionment and disappointment with the world that I think pervades a generation. I see hints of it here and there, even in people who cope with it a lot better than I do – most people. For me, it’s a peculiar sense of detachment, a feeling of being almost ephemeral. I can see the world that was and the world that will be, and I don’t really feel like I belong in either.

The world that was, quite frankly, offends my sensibilities born of the internet age and, seeing what has happened to the world after the financial crash and the continuingly worsening state of the world with ISIS, that arguably all started back with the atrocity that took place on Tuesday 11 September 2001 and the subsequent declaration of “The War on Terror” by George W. Bush. It’s a world that refuses to learn its lessons, that slowly but surely slips into a parody of itself. A world where Donald Trump is considered a serious candidate for the White House. A world where, even after the financial crash and the reduction of countries such as Spain and Greece to punch lines where they’re beggars and thieves, we still revere the stock market and big business as champions of the economy.

The world that will be is a world driven by technologies that scare me. When I was growing up, it was TV that was ruining the kids of the day. Now it’s social media. It’s a world where everyone has to be connected to something meaningless to matter. A world where every opinion can be cross-examined and judged by your peers, then subsequently ironed out. It’s a world of uncaring corporations and ineffective government. It’s a world where the big scale doesn’t seem to matter that much, just a status quo to be accepted. All because you can carve out your little niche online and wonder why the world isn’t a better place because everyone obviously shares all of your, completely correct, opinions. It’s a world of on-demand entertainment, where everything is available so we have to trust a computer to decide on what we want for us.

I suppose those two worlds are really one and the same, just viewed from different perspectives. And yes, neither is yesterday or tomorrow, but they’re really both today. So, I said at the start that I’ve been doing some thinking. It turns out I both lack the faith that things will get better and the faith that there is anything I can do about it. I am, as are we all, insignificant and meaningless – see the cosmic horror come back around? So how do we combat this? Well, the easiest answer is to just not look too closely at it and settle for what is. Honestly, that’s a perfectly good option, if you’ve got the fortitude. Another option is denial and to fight against what is, although down that path only madness lies. That or the slow steady corruption of your ideals and eventually slipping onto path A. I don’t like either of those and honestly writing this was just an exercise to see if I could find that magical third option. No, it didn’t work.

So, Sunny Delight. A year ago, I moved to Ipswich for an internship in software engineering. It was honestly a low point in my life following an, I’ll be honest, underwhelming year. Ultimately, I left because the whole situation made me pull sad faces every time I explained exactly what it was I did and who I worked for. It turned out I lack a certain respect for what I consider the absurdities of the modern age and adulthood has not helped me get over that. Being a part of said absurdities made that lack of respect apply to myself and thus Sunny Delight happened. As I recall it, there was a meeting in London and I had a train to catch and thus breakfast was to be a meal deal from the Tesco next door to my flat. As part of that meal deal, I procured a bottle of Sunny Delight. For the uninitiated, yes I realise I’ve said that a lot today, Sunny Delight was to my childhood what gobstoppers were to Ed, Edd ‘n’ Eddy. The ultimate goal and unrivalled sugary treat. It turns out, on the train from Ipswich to London that day in January 2015, that Sunny Delight was just a little bit shit. This sparked something of an existential crisis and a brief period of doubt in everything I had trusted to be good in the world culminating in Facebook post that was less the thought-provoking work I intended and more the pretentious waffling of the sort you are currently reading. A year later, I’m still trying to figure it out.

So, depending on how fast you read, I’ve wasted five to ten minutes of your life wittering on about how a white, middle-class twenty-something is dissatisfied with what life has to offer. Now, this is probably uninspiring and hardly new ground I know, at least until I publish it under the guise of the humourous but insightful Nearly Autobiographical Memoir of a Mostly Fictional Man, at which point I will ascend to hipster godhood and subsequently fall from grace when I sell it to Hollywood for a boatload of money, but won’t care because I have a boatload of money. Idle fantasies aside, hopefully something I’ve said will get your brain hole churning out thoughts about your own relationship with the status quo. I am genuinely curious as to any such thoughts so please do post them in the comments (I’m deputy editor now so I ought to point out things like that). It’s a curious one and I’m sure, at some point, every generation must have that moment where they look at the world and wonder what the hell is going on with it. Or maybe it’s just me externalising.

But, if nothing else, think on what I’ve tried to say because, to quote a Sorkin show, “the first step in solving any problem is recognising there is one”.

WORDS: JAMES ARNOLD

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