“I’m jealous of the dog: my mum loves it more than she loves me.”
Words I discovered on the back door of the toilet cubicle on the lower ground of the Carslaw building. It was pretty uncomfortable to have such an intimate, heartfelt message blaring at me while I was engaged in an activity equally as intimate. Even in the most private of settings, Generation Y can’t help but share its thoughts.
Facebook is often hit with the blame for raising up an army of exhibitionists, mercilessly launching a reign of pointless comments or dull narratives (for most of which “you had to be there”) over the home pages of users innocently trying to make a new friend. But if we’re letting Bert Newton off the hook for spawning an epicurean woman-basher, it doesn’t seem fair to pin the blame for an entire generation’s ego problem on the creators of Facebook. They were just smart enough to tap into and become filthy rich off the already rampant exhibitionism in our society.
For we are the children of the self-expression movement, whose parents celebrated our food-throwing tantrums, furniture finger painting and lack of cleanliness as evidence of creative genius. Similarly, the thrill of an audience was something we came to expect in tender infancy; I’d like to meet a female Gen Y-er who didn’t spend the greater part of their childhood stuffed into glittering bumble bee costumes at dancing concerts with about three layers of make-up more than should ever be seen on a pre-pubescent girl, and four rows of family members in the audience snapping pics.
Reality TV producers are another cunning breed thriving off Gen Y’s unique ability to project their own opinion onto anything that crosses their path. Don’t try and tell me that people are genuinely entertained by a middle-aged man fretting over the rise of his soufflé or an obese person struggling up a hill. If you’ve ever watched Master Chef with a real chef or Survivor with an experienced adventurer, you’ll know the primary reason any of us watch reality TV is to criticise the participants and talk about the better job that we would do if the producers were smart enough to pick us for the show (except for the watermelon launch episode of the Amazing Race: that’s just plain hilarious).
The paradox of our careers as self-promoters is that the universal pre-occupation with voicing our own opinion leaves very few to actually listen to those opinions. I wonder how many Facebook wall posts are motivated by a desire to give our own wall a bit of extra padding when the person is obliged to reply; how many Twitterers have “become a follower” because they are genuinely interested in what that person ate for lunch, not because they wish to increase their own pool of captive readers. I would like to thank Ellen Degeneres, the sound of whose voice never ceases to give me indigestion, for perfectly illustrating my point for me when she told the audience of her talk show, “I think people talk too much anyway. Sometimes people are talking to me and in my mind I'm just like "shut up, shut up, shut up...blah blah blah blah blaaaaah." Oh, the irony.
Just as Britain smiled politely at the German troops it ushered into the Sudetenland in 1938, Gen Y seems to have missed a clear warning about loving the sound of your own voice: K Rudd. Busy dazzling himself with streams of Chinese and uplifting self-talk about how it was Obama’s loss for rejecting the invite, he barely even noticed the grumbles of discontent around him, until one day even his own wing(wo)man had had enough. One day we might miss the friends we lost when we were too busy updating our statuses about the latest funny thing we said to our bus driver. But since this blog itself is probably a shining example of exhibitionism, most likely the only person I’m preaching to is myself.
Disclaimer: The term “exhibitionism” is used in this article to refer to unrestrained self-publicists. It is not intended to connate the medical term used to describe the psychological condition characterized by a compulsion to expose one’s genitals to an unsuspecting stranger - that important topic will be addressed in later blogs.
It would be pure torture for a Baby Boomer to have to choose a favourite from amongst their cherished collection of Gen Y criticisms. But the “commitment phobe” insult would definitely rate high on their "Most Relished" list. Disregarding the fact that the demographic condemning this Gen-Y character trait is more than likely responsible for its inception, since from the midst of our tender youth we watched them pioneer the loftiest divorce rate in the history of mankind, it may not be so far from the truth. With an average of fifteen career changes in a single lifetime, Gen Y-ers are the Tiger Woods’s of the job market; the average marriage age, for the declining portion that do decide to tie the knot, is increasing like Liberal voters in a GFC; having grown-up in a global village, as more and more of us pack-up and move our lives abroad, we are by far the most territorially promiscuous bunch around.
And yet, our generation has absolutely no problem publicly declaring undying love for a musical ensemble. If you’re after a laugh, all that’s required to watch your peers behave like jealous lovers is to mention that you were a U2 fan all the way back when Bono’s glasses were not blue-tinted, but orange; a Muse fan way before Stephanie Meyer’s vexatious attempt to pin the blame for her inspiration for Twilight on the band; a fan of The Middle East back when asking someone if they’d heard of them would generally provoke a response of, “Um, yeah...have you heard of Europe?” But don’t broach the topic if you’re in a hurry: such statements will only ever result in an impromptu round of lyric trivia backed-up by a bout of verbal roulette as you sound-off the occasions you saw them live. It’s the only way to determine which fan’s core is in fact the hardest. University bell curves won’t stop us sharing notes, and even the most violent game of badminton will end in a friendly handshake, but put an enchanting melody with a sweet soprano and Generation Y will transform into a pack of blood-thirsty competitors.
Apart from the occasional hysterical Britney fan appealing to the hearts of the YouTube world to leave the girl alone (honestly people, obviously she shaved her head cos she wanted less attention...of course she could’ve sold-out a 20 000 seat arena on sheer talent and a completely sound mind) this phenomenon is particularly apparent amongst the Indie crowds. Perhaps those of us who are still telling ourselves that the Indie movement is not mainstream are trying to bolster our own alternative image. Are we like the emos of the early naughties convinced they were a minority, sitting by the thousands on town hall steps to collectively reflect on their solitude, to empathise with each other about how no-one understands?
It could be that I’m just not comfortable thinking of myself as an angsty teenaged boy wearing eyeliner, but I’d like to believe that this inter-fan rivalry has more to do with genuine passion than image. It’s just a little glimpse of the dedication our generation is capable of in a world showcasing the dangers of commitment. When we’re moved by profound lyrics and the soft strum of a banjo, we can’t help but give our heart to a band. So naturally, when they take that offering and jump all over it on a stage in front of hundreds of thousands of people, it hurts like hell. When The Temper Trap left for the States, I think I understood how Jen felt watching Brad upgrade to Angelina. And when they announced a show on every continent, I finally got what it was like for her to see the new couple collecting their tribe of rainbow children. But as the saying goes, it’s better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.