Monday, August 2, 2010

The Dreadful Generation

I am dipping into a series on the blog called Patheos on the future of specific religions. The one on Catholicism is very interesting. I liked this longer version of the piece by a young screenwriter where she trashes the entire boomer generation--or the dreadful generation, as she calls us. A bit of a broad brush, but I think she is right that we (well, I'm slightly older but was politically and culturally a child of the Sixties) need to acknowledge and account for the immense damage we did--with sexual license, easy divorce, legitimizing single parenthood, abandoning marriage and hence fatherhood as a social role and responsibility, subordination of the needs of children to the freedoms of adults, etc., etc. (Just watched again Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, which lampoons the silly and irresponsible world of the Sixties. My 10 yo son thought it was hilarious!)

July 29, 2010
Turn, Turn, Turn
By Barbara R. Nicolosi

Natalie: I really don't want to say anything that's . . . anti-feminist. I mean, I really appreciate everything your generation did for me. . . . But sometimes, it feels that no matter how much success I have, it all won't matter until I have the right guy. (From Up in the Air, written and directed by Jason Reitman)

I admit, I felt a surge of unholy glee when I watched that scene unfold. Gen Xer, Jason Reitman's 2009 Oscar nominated film about the pointless and shallow lives of a couple of narcissistic Baby Boomers had many such gratifying take downs of the dreadful generation. Seeing the Boomers finally get their comeuppance is cream puffs of delight for folks my age and younger, whose mantra has gradually morphed from the resigned "Whatever," into the steely-eyed, "Don't trust anybody over fifty."

The entertainment industry is in the full throes of the changing of the generations, and suddenly enumerating the failures of the angry, grey-haired pathetic people is all the rage. I could go through a long list of recent movies and television programs that show this pattern, but I'll point to probably the most powerful of the recent offerings. Precious, another 2009 Oscar nominated film, was many things, including a devastating repudiation of the Boomers' beloved social welfare state. The villains of the piece, Precious' brutally selfish mother and her sexually abusive father, are creatures completely borne of the Great Society's failures. They are indigent, grasping, self-absorbed, ignorant, isolated and full of the age's disgusting self-righteous sense of entitlement. In short, they are the ultimate Boomer policy legacy -- the total fruit of a life of government handouts and public school education. There were times in the movie when I felt like I was sitting in the crowd listening to the ranting warnings at a Tea Party rally. Precious is the kind of bald-faced truth-telling about the Boomer's failed dogmas that just never used to get up on the screen.

Natalie: Would you stop condescending for one second? Or is that one of the principles of your bullshit philosophy?

Ryan: Bullshit philosophy?

Natalie: You've set up a way of life that basically makes it impossible for you to make human connections. . . . Jesus. I need to grow up? You're a twelve year old! (From Up in the Air, written and directed by Jason Reitman)

As cultural power brokers, the Boomers have stamped their downward spiral from stoned rebels to cynical whiners on many aspects of Hollywood's once great storytelling voice. Greedy for the power and control they have lusted for since they came of age, the Boomers created the factory model of blockbuster movies in which the pursuit of mega-dollars eliminated creative story choices again and again. They bequeath to an age desperately in need of hope and heroes, a storytelling industry that is shattered to its core in having forgotten how to weave a good tale. For decades Hollywood had the whole world sitting on its lap. The Boomer elites squandered that global audience in their one lifetime.

Films and television are beginning to reflect the visions of Generation Xers like Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Judd Apatow (Knocked Up), the fresh, young voices at Pixar (Up, The Incredibles), and other young artists who dare to buck the tired irony-cool cynicism that has shaped and stifled too much of the culture. Suddenly, after decades of being shut out, minimized, or mocked, film characters have room in their lives for optimism, and even something almost like faith. The Church, if it seeks to be relevant in the future, needs to welcome this development and encourage -- even patronize -- such talents.

Pope Benedict XVI, who has an artist's heart, seems to realize this; he recently met with artists to discuss the role of beauty in the health of the world. That is a start, but more is needed. The Boomers' exit from cultural influence creates a two-sided pastoral challenge for the 21st-century Church.

First is the effect on the gargantuan Boomer generation of a lifetime of listening to their own voices. The movies being created by and for the Boomers today are a very unentertaining mix of "Never regret! Life starts at 70!" and "Life is a cruel joke, ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'" Movies like It's Complicated showcase a bunch of grey hairs still acting badly, swallowing their shame and ignoring their appropriate role as the wise mentors of the younger generations. The Dorian Greyish dark echo of this kind of story are movies like There Will Be Blood and the chillingly titled No Country for Old Men, in which the characters' lives of narcissism and greed devolve into cynicism and brutality.

As an institution bent on saving souls, the Church's urgency with the fading Boomers must encourage them to face and take responsibility for the mistakes they have made. If they would be saved, the Boomer Generation must be guided into repentance for the way they self-righteously sacrificed all others as they fled from the simple heroism of adult human life. The rigid eradication of tradition, the gross materialism, the unbridled license, the embarrassing promiscuity -- all always accompanied by shrill distortion and denial -- have left our society disconnected, bloated, poorly educated, unable to trust and simmering in resentment. If the Boomers don't begin to admit to the rest of us where they went wrong, we all risk losing any of the positive achievements the generation has contributed to human history. I see many of my Millennial Generation students clamoring to set back the clock to a day before the Sixties, when there were grown-ups.

The Church's secondary, but equally urgent pastoral challenge, is with the younger generations. Do not think me flippant in suggesting that pastors and teachers of the faith must quickly provide substantive, moral reasons for GenXers not to euthanize the Boomers; I wish I were kidding, but I watch television, so I know that euthanasia is coming. The Entitled Generation will quickly morph into the Expensive Generation in the minds of the Millennials bent low under the weight of social programs that were strapped on their backs without their consent. It will be very easy to isolate the folks who are draining Medicare and Social Security and the health care system of most of the resources. History has a devastating way of being cyclical. It was the Boomers who made the case that they should end their marriages and abort their children for the God Expediency. Now, their children, stripped of any attachment to a moral framework, will eye the old grey hairs drooling in a corner in diapers -- but certainly still sneering -- and consider expedient "Death with Dignity" to be a sensible and pragmatic policy. The Church must use all media to reach these new cultural power brokers, and to penetrate the commanding subconscious voices of their parents; she must teach them that the breakdown of the Boomers will require patience, heroism, and long-suffering.

How can we help the younger generations break out of the resentment and emotional disconnect that has come from being the children of the Boomers? Decades of being abandoned, let down, and embarrassed has meant that we are engulfed in a new society that sneers at its own impulse to hope and dream. Survey most of the "adult" characters in today's popular entertainment for a scary cultural temperature. The parents in the global phenomenon Twilight, for example are immature, emotionally needy, and insecure. The "adults" in Harry Potter's world are mostly needy, clueless, and ultimately oppressive to the younger generation.

I suspect the only way to reach the Millennials and Gen Xers, from a spiritual standpoint, will be with a powerful, renewed ethic of the value of suffering and the urgent need for forgiveness. We need hero stories perhaps more urgently than any generation of humanity that has come before.

The Church needs to give serious, thoughtful, and weighty commitment to a whole-hearted engagement of the arts. Dostoevsky's notion, "Man will be saved by Beauty" is now a prophetic and frightening warning. Human society will either be saved by beauty or lost, as men cease to be men and become boorish beasts, scratching and burping like the bloated floating creatures in Pixar's Wall-E. Those young artists who are making films like Juno and Superbad write characters displaying good instincts under pressure, but possessing a bittersweet befuddlement that has them stumbling into the good choices, because their relativistic upbringing gave such little direction.

The Church needs to come alongside artists, to pray for them and form them so they can inspire us and our future. We need beauty -- in music, in story, in visual art, in oratory -- to frame a restored vision of human life and dignity.

It isn't going to happen by accident. Let the church get her own house in order, in the area of art and story. We will have to wage war against the egalitarian impulse that has trumped excellence so often in the Boomer's reign. We will have to fight against the legacy of sloth and greed that will keep us from mastery of craft and full investment in the beautiful.

As cultural drivers, the Boomers have done a tremendous amount of damage, but the Good News is that in the Divine Economy, it is never "too late."

Portions of this piece appeared in Nicolosi's essay "Save the Boomers, Save the World; Redeeming Culture," part of the Future of Catholicism forum.

Barbara Nicolosi is a screenwriter with an M.A. in Cinema from Northwestern University. She is the co-writer of the 2011 Lionsgate/MGM release Mary, Mother of the Christ, wrote Polosuasion for IMMI Pictures, and is currently writing Fatima, Miracle and Message for Origin Entertainment. She is an adjunct professor // cinema in the Seaver Graduate School at Pepperdine University and lectures on cinema and screenwriting at universities and conferences around the world.

Barbara was the Founding Director, and is now the Chair, Emeritus of the acclaimed Act One Program in Hollywood, CA. As such, she has been instrumental in launching hundreds of young people into Hollywood careers as writers, producers, and executives. Barbara has also worked in the industry as a Director of Project Development, a documentary researcher, a theater producer, and as a consultant on features and television shows including The Passion of the Christ, A Foreign Affair, and Saving Grace. She is the co-editor of the 2006 Baker Books release Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith and Culture, and blogs at Church of the Masses.

Retrieved July 30, 2010 from

No comments:

Post a Comment