Sep 29, 2014, 10:43AM

The Age of the Comedown

Bret Easton Ellis’ appraisal of Millennials as “Generation Wuss.”

Untitled.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Bret Easton Ellis’ elaboration on “Generation Wuss” in Vanity Fair—his name for the generation born from the late 1980s to the early 2000s—is pretty much spot-on, although at this point hardly unique. Millennials are over-sensitive, narcissistic, unrealistic and anxious. No mystery why: we grew up in the midst of an unprecedented end-of-the-century party in the Western World, when the money rolled right in and as he says, there were more jobs, and, “[Generation X] had the luxury to be depressed and ironic and cool.” The Internet hadn’t yet castrated the music, entertainment, and print industries, and there was a run of relative peace. The economy was booming and our Boomer parents over-compensated for their lack of love or means in their own childhoods by spoiling many of us rotten. Christmases and birthdays were mammon—the grossness and pointlessness of our materialism wasn’t even visible to me until our family friend Michael Gentile walked into the room my brother and I shared in New York in 2002 and remarked dryly, “Wow… you have a lot of… stuff.” I’ll never forget the shame I felt immediately, because he was right: I spent more hours with commercial objects and gadgets than I have with any person in my life. I’ve spent the majority of my waking life on a computer.

Gold stars for everyone, promises that you could be whatever you wanted when you grew up, and that you could have anything you wanted if you worked hard enough: it was incessant until 2008, when the grown-ups clammed up and couldn’t tell up from down, shirking responsibility for the economic catastrophe caused by Wall Street and a culture of consumption and commercialism that believed it was immortal and invincible. There are still no answers and no new models as the old ones die before our eyes.

Ellis’ critique and sympathy of the Millennial mindset is nuanced, considering that his boyfriend is 27. He says the biggest fight they ever had was over Tyler Clementi’s suicide, the Rutgers student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge four years ago this month after his roommate recorded him hooking up with another boy. The roommate tweeted about it and posted the video online. Ellis thinks this was a “pretty harmless freshman dorm-room prank,” which is insane, given how often he implores people within and outside of this article to keep things in context. Okay, first semester of freshman year, this kid—whose sexual orientation undoubtedly caused him an enormous amount of stress, anxiety, loneliness, and pain growing up in the aughts—is finally able to be sexually active and true to his biological imperative, but before he can catch his breath, he’s exposed and mocked by his own roommate for the whole school, and by proxy the world, to see. I’m amazed that Ellis maintains his position on this issue, because it’s clear to me that this is a severely damaging blow to the psyche and self-esteem, coupled with a new environment which, one month in, knows what you look like naked—it’s not an exaggeration to say that this would drive a person in Clementi’s position insane, and his suicide wasn’t really surprising.

What Ellis cannot comprehend is the unspoken certainty amongst people my age that the world will not make it to 2100. There is just absolutely no way—climate change, earthquakes, massive expulsions of methane, radioactive fallout, dramatic terrorist attacks—and the human experiment is nearing its end. It’s not pessimism, but it’s easy to forget that the Cuban Missile Crisis was only 52 years ago next month. That’s a blip of human history, and it only takes one loon, or a group of organized and legitimate loons and psychopaths in positions of power to orchestrate mass death or total annihilation. Let’s assume we all behave ourselves and refrain from blowing or mutating everything away: there’s a consensus in the scientific community that climate change is at too advanced a stage to stall, and its effects will be irreversible and make coastal cities uninhabitable very, very soon. Ellis is 50; he’s in the September of his years. He’ll most likely be fine, and he doesn’t have to worry about what the air in Los Angeles will be like in 2067. When pressed, Boomers blow it off as sophomoric fatalism and go on about the sanctity and durability of life. They can’t help it—that was their world, their narrative. We’re living in the Age of the Comedown, and very soon everyone will be feeling it worse than they could’ve ever imagined.

—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1992

  • Your " consensus in the scientific community that climate change is at too advanced a stage to stall, and its effects will be irreversible and make coastal cities uninhabitable very, very soon" is complete B.S. Nicky. First of all, few if any reputable scientists make that claim. Secondly, scientists by their very nature believe that humans can overcome most if not all future calamities. Humans are like roaches, fragile individually but almost impossible to eradicate as a species. Even paleontologists debate whether dinosaurs were around post Permian/Triassic extinction. If they could survive such an event, humans and their coastal cities will survive another 100 years. Gotta admit that Generation Wuss seems to apply.

    Responses to this comment
  • I started to worry about 15 years ago when I saw that manufacturing of hard goods had been replaced by manufacturing of documents. The natural world will probably survive for a while. As for the wusses, lack of jobs magnifies the problem.

    Responses to this comment
  • Nicky Smith seems to want to confirm everyone's impression that not only are Millenials lazy, self-important, ignorant of history, and constantly whining about the essential 'unfairness' of the world by providing a historically-obtuse argument that tries to claim that "End of the Worldism" is somehow 'more popular today than in the 1980s'. Because, you know, there was no such thing as *imminent nuclear war* back then, or AIDS decimating the population... or environmental concerns? No, there was no "Vanishing Ozone Layer" or "Acid Rain" either... ..the entire posture is the epitome of exaggerated ignorance. The reason Generation X doesnt give a shit about your complaints is because *we already lived through the same stuff*, and know that its all so much contrived navel-gazing bullshit. This is all looking past the more-scientific reality that a) the environment has been getting FAR BETTER for the last 30 years without anyone doing @#($*-all about it, and that the likelihood of Nuclear War is basically gone forever. Nicky Smith needs to quit pretending to be a 'writer' and get into their true calling as an Adult-Diaper Salesperson.

    Responses to this comment
  • Good piece Nicky but in defense of Generation X here, I have to tell you that back in "my day" as a young person in the 70s and 80s we worried about exactly the same things you guys worry about now. I did not think there would be a year 2000. I thought for sure there would be nuclear war, world starvation, and the world would be set afire by global warming already. That it hasn't happened yet shocks the hell out of me. But my parents, baby boomers born in the mid-40s worried about the same things in the 1960s. SAME THINGS. I encourage people to take the time to listen to old radio broadcasts from the 50s, 60s and 70s, you will find that the news media covers exactly the same things they cover now. I was listening to radio broadcasts caught on reel-to-reel of the old CBS Radio Mystery Theatre shows aired from 1974-81. The news broadcasts were nearly identical in topic, just different names/places. Terrorism, murders, rape, robbery, climate change, political corruption, education, the economy...it was all there. As it was for my parents too... It's all relative. My guess is millennials will see 2100 and the generation born after them will gripe about the same things we all did at the very same age.

    Responses to this comment
  • Last weekend as I drove my Boomer parents through coastal NJ I pointed out the vast dead-tree forest swamps and talked about climate change and they made fun of my "chicken little" concerns. As an Xer I agree with all your points and would add disease to the list. Great piece.

    Responses to this comment
  • Agree with you about fact every generation faces unique set of problems. But Christ, you're a nasty person. His article was well-written, no matter his opinions, and what the hell is up with the "Adult-Diaper Salesperson" weak insult?

    Responses to this comment

Register or Login to leave a comment