Nov 15, 2011

By Max Warren

In his weekly blog series The Last Generation—really more of a highly flirtatious conversation, littered with innuendo—Max Warren discusses matters of general interest to our generation, frequently quotes things, and spills out the addled contents of a deviant mind.

Hello, Gainesville.

My name is Max Warren. As a former Gator (class of ’10 and, of course, an English major) currently self-exiled to the frigid north at Harvard Law, I’ll be your guide—or a whimsical psychopomp, perhaps — on this blog journey we’re about to begin. This blog will update weekly, so I implore you to keep coming back because, if you don’t, I may actually have to go and study law.

So, why title this thing of ours The Last Generation? Well, I assume most of you are passingly familiar with The Lost Generation, but for anyone who wants a refresher, I’ll try to break it down for you old-school without sounding like a 20th Century American Lit professor.

The phrase comes from something crazy old Gertrude “Rose is a rose is a rose” Stein said to Ernest Hemingway, describing his rough-and-tumble band of hard-drinking writers and artists in 1920s Paris. They lacked direction, in a very pressing sense, and pounded back the highballs and the absinthe to make up for it. They also gave us Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, Picasso’s oeuvre and lots more. They had lived through the horror of WWI. They bore witness to the birth of mechanized war — many firsthand. The world was changing fast around them and the old ideals of honor and bravery didn’t hold their place in this colder, more modern world. What good was a Washington or a Wellington in the face of machine gun fire? They were a generation who had spent years in trenches, waiting to be ordered over the top for a cause they barely understood. Alienation was the hallmark of the times.

And now to us, The Last Generation. I think we share more in common with those forebears than my brilliant play on the name. I think, in the same sense, we lack direction. The world is changing again, and doing it fast. And if we’re not going to be ordered out of the trenches, to be gunned down in No Man’s Land, then at the very least we live under threat as well—more metaphysical, perhaps, but just as unrelenting. The disconnect and the alienation within this colder, more modern world of ours, if not understood, if not used as a catalyst for renaissance, could destroy whatever potential we have to create beautiful things and build a better world.

I believe we occupy what will be a very special place in our cultural history. Those just a bit older than us still don’t understand how all of this new, world-shrinking technology works, and those just a bit younger than us don’t remember a time before it — a time when, in order to hang out with a friend you had to actually leave your house — a time, dare I say it, before Angry Birds. And so that makes us possibly the last chance—and it’s something to be hopeful about, rather than sad about. Because I think we have what it would take to rise to the occasion, if we play it right. And I think we’re the last chance, the last generation that can bring about an intellectual, creative renaissance before we’re all swallowed under. Après nous, le déluge!

There is, as I said, a danger, and it can be seen with the right kind of eyes. We risk losing both the interest in the world around us and the soul with which to make it better. Let me say, before I explain further, that it’s not technology that I’m against (as I compose a blog on my MacBook) and it’s not even technology that I intend to write about. But, I think that the way we use our newest toys is a symptom of this culture and worth considering.

The other day, I saw a seven-year-old girl texting in a way that I can only describe as aggressive—she played that smartphone like a virtuoso. Now please, tell me, who is a 7-year-old texting and–if you can answer that–what can she possibly be texting about? “Hey! Let’s play later!” Is that really worth a texting plan?

Or, more chillingly, there was this conversation I overheard between two girls outside of Library West during my last trip to the homeland.

Girl 1: Well, what do you think? How’re things going with him?

Girl 2: I’m not sure. I mean, I know his parents really like his ex but…you know…they were never Facebook official, so it doesn’t really count.

Honest to God, has it come to this? We all live plugged into our ear-buds and glued to our iPhones and some of that’s fine – the great wonders of technology and all that. But we’ve come to a point where it functions as a barrier between the outside world and ourselves — a time where a relationship obviously had no substance if it wasn’t Facebook official. I’ll bet any taker my first-edition This Side of Paradise that this 7-year-old will never, of her own volition, make a lasting piece of art, read a great book or contribute something of value to the human soul.

This is not a Call to Arms. This is not a neo-Luddite, Tyler Durden rant. And this is not boy-meets-girl and the rest is history, nor murder mystery, nor comeback story. It’s more like a flaming Viking ship, where we all have to get our jollies in before we die. Or maybe it’s a lone voice, echoing on an empty battlefield, with just one bullet in the gun. Maybe it’s me typing on my computer. Whatever. In this first entry, anyway, I just wanted to extend a greeting to all you wonderful readers out there and lay out the barest of bones regarding what the hell I intend to talk about.

I’m going to sign off now because I’m sure your attention span is starting to get depleted (I know mine is) but let me leave you with one little gem. This is brought to you courtesy of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary. (Film-based-on-the-book is in theaters now. Go see it.)

Like most of the others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that my instincts were right. I shared a vagrant optimism that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top.

At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles—a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other—that kept me going.

Words to consider, at the very least. And now I’m off. I invite any who have thoughts, criticisms or even compliments to utilize the comment section. Particularly vicious hate mail, offers to buy the writer a drink, or requests for specific topics can be sent to Max.Z.Warren@gmail.com.

Here’s looking at you, kids.

Check Out Other Local Stories:

Paper Cuts / 4.1.11
City Farmer: Fermenting Wild Mulberries
Paper Cuts / 9.12.11

Leave a Reply

17 Comments

  1. Henry Taksier says:

    Dear Max,

    You invited readers to utilize the comment section, so I figured I’d give it a try.

    After hearing about the topic of your blog from other Fine Print editors, I began reading with the assumption that I would hate this blog. I expected nothing more than pseudo-intellectual hipster trash. I thought I’d have to restrain myself from leaving a sarcastic, cynical, condescending, and possibly hateful comment (unprofessional of me, I know).

    Shockingly enough, I enjoyed your post. Welcome aboard, good sir, and I look forward to reading more.

    My only objection applies to the seven-year-old girl who you say will “never… contribute something of value to the human soul.” That sentence comes off as a bit pretentious, judgmental, and holier-than-thou. Also… your use of the phrase “human soul.” Really?

    That’s just one sentence, though. I hope my constructive criticism doesn’t offend you.

  2. Max says:

    Not a bit. Thanks for the compliments–I meant human soul to read more like a Jungian collective unconscious sort of idea, but clearly it did not.

  3. Michael McDouglas says:

    Worded like a well played game of chess.

    My guess is you may have been drinking while writing.

  4. Brenton says:

    “Facebook Official” relationships are valuable in that they show that you have nothing to hide. I wouldn’t be offended if someone I dated didn’t have a Facebook account at all, but ignoring a relationship request basically makes you feel like they don’t want people to know about your relationship.

    I’m not saying perfectly good relationships aren’t Facebook Official. But if not, why not?

    Are they embarrassed to tell their friends or family? Do they not want to be linked to everyone you know? Are they in a relationship with someone else? I simply see more viable malicious answers than non-malicious ones.

    Regardless of what the implications of the phenomenon are, Facebook Official relationships are the standard of the sort among our generation. And, like any standard, those not conforming to the norm are liable to answer the question: why?

  5. Max says:

    Michael: Many thanks. I was then and am now.
    Brenton: The issue is that we shouldn’t have reached such an anemic place as a culture that we need to sit back and ponder why someone doesn’t want to be Facebook Official. The fact that it is the standard–and that deviating from it requires some kind of justification–is the problem.

  6. Anne says:

    It’s not about “accepting” or “not accepting” the relationship request. It’s about not sending one in the first place. I think people put way to much of their private lives on Facebook than they should. It usually comes back to bite them in the ass anyway and creates Facebook drama.

    Not to say that the fact you’re in a relationship should be private – because I do agree that you shouldn’t be ashamed of who you’re dating – but having a button to click to show a status of a relationship is just asking for attention from others.

    Your real friends and family should know whether your in a relationship or not without it saying so on Facebook.

    I’m just waiting for there to be a “pregnant” status next.

  7. Lydia Fiser says:

    Don’t all these comments prove your point, Max?

  8. Heathe says:

    I really enjoyed this. I’m not this cynical, on most days, but I could definitely identify with the idea that the next generation can seem like a wasteland, where individuality goes to die.

    I always wonder if this is how previous generations viewed us. The answer in my head is usually a loud and resounding yes.

    Inevitably though I find that there is one in a few of this and the next generation that gives me hope, that individuality and thoughtful humanity might be alive in the future.

    It really made me think a lot about my own exploits. Perhaps I should be getting out more, and relying, less on the magic little folk who deliver my message via invisible internet tubes. So in that way, it was really moving.

    Now I’m off to grab a slice of life.
    Thanks for the great read!

  9. Dixie Maddox says:

    I could have sworn I’ve read this before. It’s good. I mean, it’s got this hinge point of American Exceptionalism, where the author is romanticizing a past that one can’t possibly understand, and trying to make a broad analogy for generational unrest. The scope of ennui and the arrogance of youth knows no limits, something that a lot of the Lost Generation authors grew to realize painfully. I think focusing on the lives they destroyed instead of the myths they built would probably be a little bit more realistic.

    It’s a good starting point, but really, all generations are the same. Fuck, there was a time when a sonnet was the god damn poesy equivalent of Punk Rock, edgy, dangerous, against convention. But as a whole, nothing changes except the setting. A lot of perceived metaphysical threats are by in part a direct result of the effects of post-modernism on society. But, if you want to get “a rose is a rose is a rose” World War 1, this is not. WW1 was unbridled, real physical suffering. We’re talking millions dead in one blood battle, cannot equate to suburban bummers, entitlement, and disappointments. If anything has changed since the Lost Generation, it’s that we value human life more than ever. Any Military History major could easily tell you about the changes in doctrine and practice.

    You’ve got some potential here for a future articles, but there’s a lot of fear mongering. It’s the “radio” cry all over again. “Radio’s gonna kill books I tell ya! And corrupt the youth!” The youth were corrupted when they were born. Nothing could corrupt them further than breathing the same air we adults breathe. I would enjoy an entry just focusing on how Gatsby and the actual economy of the Jazz Age does in fact mirror a portion of our own.

    Because, economy, well shit, numbers always happen again and again, in startlingly similar patterns. That would be sweet. I like this over all, at least someone else out there is trying to inform some folks of valid fears, but please, ease down on the visceral “child texting=generation broken” I’d be a little bit more worried about the prevalence of “School shootings becoming common place, societal decay, broken window theory becoming reality” things that are a little bit more visceral. Either way, keep it up. And good luck in Law School.

    The Rum Diary was terrible by the way. Johnny Depp should be ashamed for drowning the memory of Hunter S. Thompson in the muck of Hollywood cash cow cinema.

  10. Henry Taksier says:

    Dixie Maddox: That is a great comment. While I also enjoyed this post over-all, there was something about it that bothered me, and you’ve summed it up perfectly.

    I think the main problems faced by our generation – stuff we should really sweat over – are things like global warming, pollution, overpopulation, worldwide hunger, and authoritarian oppression of all forms. Then there’s the task of striking just the right balance between free markets, government control, and the external cost of unrestrained capitalism. Oh, and there’s also the task of preventing a third world war, whether it’s over resources, ideology, or some combination of the two.

    The fact that we’re getting existentially tied to the Internet, cell phones, and social networking just strikes me as the dawn of a new era with its own advantages and disadvantages.

    You can use Facebook to waste your life, but you can also use it to spread revolutionary ideas more efficiently. If anything, this is a positive trend, because the means of controlling mass communication is now in the hands of a wider group of people (as opposed to television and radio).

    Our REAL collective problems are tangible, not existential… for now, at least. And technology is here to help us, not to hold us back.

  11. Max says:

    You both raise good points on issues that should be discussed and discussed at length–those issues just don’t happen to be of nearly as much interest to me as these existential ones.

    The Rum Diary was okay. It was nowhere near as good as the book. It definitely WASN’T a cash-cow, nor, from the very niche advertising, can I surmise it was intended to be. It was largely financed by Depp himself, as a tribute to his friend. A flawed tribute, sure–cutting out Yeoman was a weird choice–but I think, wherever he is, Hunter took a break from throwing empty bottles at Nixon to nod his approval. If nothing else, it might inspire one or two people who otherwise wouldn’t have to pick up the book. And for that reason I think any fan of Hunter’s is obligated to go pay his 7.50 and see it.

  12. Jon Tietz says:

    Good read. I thought it was insightful but… I never really got a moral out of the story. I guess for what it is–a commentary on the existential (is there a term for the 21st century individualistic prose?)–it works.

    Also, found a typo:

    what can she possible be texting about?

  13. Max says:

    Jon: Excellent catch. With readers like you, who needs enemies? Also: there’s no moral to this–or any–story.

  14. Treux says:

    This is great, Max. I missed your voice and there it is, loud and clear and slightly drunk. I think where we differ is perhaps I am more optimistic than you are about our generation. We are surely inundated almost hourly with info, news, media, TWITTER, et al. Information overload yes, but I think it will be interesting to see how that shapes U.S. policy – domestic and international – in the future. We might not be able to concentrate on anything longer than a hot minute, but we are as a generation more compassionate, tolerant, aware and educated than those who have come before us. We might actually be the ones to start to figure out solutions to world hunger and climate change.

    I like the play on last / lost, and the internet here acts like a Christ (B.C. / A.D.) divider (though electricity is probably a better analogy). Either way, there was before and there is after and we are the Jews and Romans trying to figure out what to do with this guy. It is certainly a lot of pressure, though perhaps not quite as apocalyptic as you made it out to be (as one commenter wrote, “child texting=generation broken”).

    This is going to be a great column for many reasons, but perhaps the most important is your tone: you don’t really have any expectations, and as you worriedly ponder the fate of our future I can see you smiling as you write.

    Bravo!

  15. BCM says:

    @Brenton:
    I have to agree with Max here, and if anything your comment only further convinces me that he is correct. Why would it come down to “Will he or won’t he accept my relationship request?” The question ought to be asked in person. Unlike Anne, I do not think putting your information on Facebook is a cry for attention; many reasons exist to develop contacts via the internet, and what information one chooses to provide most likely serves his purposes; however, if one (as I did in undergrad) uses Facebook for purely entertainment purposes for example, why should she be judged for never becoming “Facebook Official” simply because she chose to be “married” to her gay best friend for four years? If you know me, you know my relationship status. If you want to know me, ask. But the fact that anyone would judge one’s self-confidence or pride in his spouse based on what he does or does not decide to publish on Facebook is particularly absurd to me, and gets to the core of what I believe Max is trying to articulate. Anyway, I’m rambling.

    @Dixie Maddox: Our generation has many merits, and yes, all generations have a fair share of flaws. Yes, global warming, international relations, reaching a capitalistic/socialistic equilibrium in government are all vital issues to be addressed. But ask yourself, when questions of equal or greater importance arose in the past, how were they solved? By seven-year-olds Tweeting or teenagers playing Halo (remember, “Ender’s Game” is fiction) once they grew into adulthood? No, but by those who took the time to study human nature and the surrounding world. The growing level of basic education in this world is wonderful, but it will not solve our problems. It is the individuals who take the extra steps, who become experts in their fields, who step away from Facebook and video games and Jersey Shore (though I am not condemning those who participate in such activities – only in those entirely absorbed in them), to increase their understanding. It is the individuals who choose a walk in the park instead of watch a TV show, read a classic novel or philosophical treatise over a game of Angry Birds once in awhile who will develop the depth of understanding necessary to create ideas and affect positive change in this world. I believe Max’s concerns are valid, and particularly poignant expressed in such stunning prose. Well done sir!

  16. Henry Taksier says:

    @Max

    This is directed at your original response to my comment.

    I agree that the existential problems we face are interesting and worth discussing. Hell, they’re a lot more fun to talk about than the tangible ones I listed. That’s why your blog is fun to read. I wasn’t suggesting that you should change your focus, if that’s what you thought I meant.

    I meant to say that I disagree with your diagnosis of what our existential problems actually are. I just don’t see why an increased reliance on digital technology – and having access to the entire world at our fingertips – is a bad thing, or something we should worry about.

    There’s no denying that #OccupyWallStreet and the revolution in Egypt were strengthened and accelerated by the use of social media. Previous forms of communication like television, print, and radio don’t even come close in their ability to empower education, freethinking, and mass resistance.

  17. Gus says:

    They had 65% And those of us in Southern California as Los Angeles is still part of the brain have been damaged.
    Cameron invited Suu Kyi to come to the European Union, so that all European economies, including Britain.
    A Bill which will limit the right of others to maintain their commitment to give them a home on arrival.
    Rather than full steam ahead, as Angela Merkel and her cohorts demand, the euro express has hit the buffers.
    Hague emphasised that Cameron was forced to adjust to harsh economic constraints,
    so is he.

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