Youngsters get a lot of bad press. This is largely due to the maddening tendency of oldsters, overrepresented in press, to adapt their lost youth into moral declaration. Fear of one’s dwindling attractiveness becomes “Millennials are Selfie-taking Narcissists Who Need to Cover Up!” Repressed disgust for one’s slavery to income becomes “Millennials don’t know the meaning of a hard day’s work!” I know very well that midlife is the mother of futile injunction, so it is with some reluctance I say “Millennials don’t know progressive politics from a GetUp! petition!” But, fuck me, most of them really don’t.
To be fair, my Generation X were not exactly keen scholars of the socioeconomic. A sharp suit and an even sharper tongue were sufficient to distract many of us from Paul Keating’s introduction of neoliberal economic policies and mandatory detention. It’s true that he was a hell of a lot funnier than popinjay Turnbull, whose reference in speech to Ancient Greece is so frequent, I am now using it as the basis for a drinking game. Still. PJK one-liners did not a social democracy make.
Say what you will about Boomers, but history will answer you curtly. May ’68. Stonewall. 91% approval to end constitutional discrimination. If, more than four decades later, we do vote in a referendum, we’re not going to see anything like this unanimity for indigenous recognition. We have become progressively less progressive since the blissful dawn of Boomer youth. We have also become progressively less progressively taxed. Wealth and income inequality has risen in the west for the last forty years and we Boomer-nots should remember that the real “crime” of our forebears is not that they are arseholes. They were simply the last generation to be served well by capitalism before it started gagging on its own contradictions. Don’t hate them because they got lucky. Hate them, if you must, for The Big Chill.
And hate millennials in the future for The Lenny Letter. Due to debut tomorrow, this newsletter devised by Lena Dunham looks set to document the popular false consciousness of a generation. And, before you get all “you are a horrible crinkly old lady who hates self-actualised women in fierce jumpsuits”, I really don’t. Dunham, for mine, is a gifted auteur whose Girls is a beautiful and uncompromised self-portrait. As a director, actor and screenwriter, the woman has already outdone the best of Woody Allen. As a progressive commentator for Her Generation, she can really shut the fuck up.
For her initial outing, the editor has interviewed Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton. Dunham has made no secret of her fondness for the candidate who called the courageous Edward Snowden a “terrorist”, and so it was no surprise to see the video preview surface. It’s not surprising but it is depressing all the same.
Hilary Clinton, who voted for the assault on Iraq, the Patriot Act and its reauthorisation, is as legitimately progressive as I am legitimately young. Now, of course, it’s fine for Dunham to hold economically centrist views and favour the criminalisation of flag burning or disapproving scrutiny for video games. If Dunham likes the idea of empowering the NSA, then she is at her celebrity liberty to endorse it. If Mrs Clinton’s long and profitable marriage to Goldman Sachs is not a problem for this Fierce Millennial, then may she acquire a Hilary 2016 tattoo on whatever skin she has remaining. Go for it, you young and fierce neoliberal.
What Today’s Youngsters may not do, though, is permit politics like these to stand in for progressivism. And this is much less a moral urging than it is a taxonomic one. You don’t have to be left-progressive by any means. But you do need to know the difference between shit and shinola.
In this era, organisations like GetUp! certainly smear this difference between polish and a turd. Progressivism is seen less as a fundamental restructuring of practice than it is the opportunity to be really, really nice. And a little bit fierce! Don’t get me wrong, I think Amy Schumer who, rather inevitably, cameos in tomorrow’s Clinton lovefest, is currently one of the best standups on the stage. I also think that she, like Dunham, has no business conflating gags about lady boners with public policy. And we have no real business mistaking the two.
I understand that the moment’s prevailing view is that “we all have a voice” and even if that voice is naïve, it deserves an airing. But, FFS, we’re talking about the US presidency, here. This is what the US President can do: (a) help gear the material lives of their constituents, many of which currently serve the wealth accumulation of a few and (b) determine a complex network of international relations. This is what the US president can’t do: turn off the sexism button so that young fierce millennials can bound about in fierce jumpsuits without fear of negative body image.
Seriously. You don’t treat the hegemon like a bad boyfriend. And if you give even half of an informed shit about the future of your nation and the world, you don’t elevate the question “are you a feminist?” to principal importance. This is not because feminism is not important. It is because “feminism” in the critically uncritical age of GetUp! has ceased to mean anything beyond, apparently, not hating one’s own vagina. I mean, this week, stump dumb fuckers have lined up to congratulate Peta Credlin, of all persons, for her “brave” role in advising on the worst policy in living memory. Was she unfairly maligned because she was a powerful woman? Probably. Is this kind of power, whatever its person, itself a problem? Fucking A.
Credlin can be a “feminist” in an era that now understands progressivism to be little more than the opportunity to make fierce personal choices in jumpsuits. That her “personal choices” also happened to be those that were inflicted upon millions of Australians is seen as incidental. You can call me a crinkly and horrible old X-er if you will, but I refuse to “celebrate” any person committed to unequal distribution of wealth. That such individual acts of power are seen, even if momentarily, as somehow separate from the powerlessness they inflict is inanity.
Girls is not inane. It is a marvellous portrayal of the thrilling torpor of youth. Dunham is able to demonstrate her artless ambivalence beautifully in a television drama but atrociously in her stupid ultra-softball interview with Clinton.
The culture is where Dunham belongs. She has no place in politics. To assume that there is a simple course between the idealised view of young, fierce feminist jumpsuits on subscription television and political policy is a critical failure of understanding.
It is not, of course, as though there is no link between the cultural and the social. But, to suppose that the “empowerment” that we see on Girls, via the purple presentations of GetUp! or in the self-absorbed feminist speechifying of Credlin is any kind of starting point for social change is to deserve the Hilary you will probably get.