Sunday, March 01, 2009

'This is what you guys have come up with?'

In the March 2 New Yorker, Ariel Levy turns in a massively entertaining portrait of a group of lesbian separatists of the 1960s and 70s, the "Van Dykes," so called because they all bought vans and went on the road, and because they all took "Van Dyke" as a last name. A now sixty-ish protagonist, whom the reporter calls "the last of the Van Dykes," reminds the reporter not once but twice that she is disappointed in her, the reporter's, generation and their version of what it means to be a lesbian.
"I don't want a wife," she told me. "I want sometbody that I can run around with, like Batman and Robin, you know? ... Your generation wants to fit in," she told me for the second time. "Gays in the military and gay marriage? This is what you guys have come up with?" There was no contempt in her voice; it was something else -- an almost incredulous maternal disappointment. "We didn't sit around looking at our phone or looking at our computer or looking at the television -- we didn't sit around looking at screens," she said. "We didn't wait for a screen to give us a signal to do something. We were off doing whatever we wanted."
That is the end of the article, but at the bottom of the column is printed in small type:
An audio interview with Ariel Levy
I haven't listened to it, but I get the palpable sense that after that scolding, the reporter -- born in 1974 -- will be only too happy to put in her two cents. That being said, she is a staff writer for the New Yorker -- it's not like she's some housewife with deferred dreams who hasn't done anything with her life.

But I do sympathize with the article's subject. Though I was much more one who, in the 1970s and 80s, did "sit around waiting for a screen to give a signal to do something" than I was a bold actor, I've shared the sense that the goals of generations X, Y and Z are somewhat paltry compared to the dreams of mine. We really did believe that by the time we reached our parents' age (i.e. now) we would see viable alternatives to capitalist institutions. Instead, we're splitting hairs over digital copyright issues, pretend "carbon offset credits," and even more ephemeral things like online identities and whether our airline frequent flier miles will ever be worth anything.

To sum up my generation's pitiful state, I offer this squib from another magazine, the back page of The Atlantic for March, where a columnist asks people to coin neologisms -- that's the whole conceit of the column. A reader writes in:
Often my wife and I will decide to watch a DVD, and then she will delay coming to sit down, thereby subjecting me to the repeat-loop sounds and visuals of the DVD's main menu. What the word or phrase for this interminable experience?" -- David K. Prince, Lansdowne, Pa.
I have only two words for you, Mr. Prince, the epitome of a man who "sits around waiting for a screen to give you the signal to do something": kill yourself. Preferably in the Grand Canyon, at Niagara Falls, or in some other way that your wife won't have to clean it up.

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