So there’s this Thought Catalog article that was published last week and I can’t quit reading it. It’s called Welcome To The Age Of Feelings and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that better sums up the way I and apparently a lot of other 20-somethings feel about the world (even though it was written by a 30-year old). I highly recommend reading it right around now-ish, because the rest of this post is going to be my poorly-executed response to it.
Something I’ve noted a few times but haven’t really ever articulated well before is the rise of the confessional, self-examining, personal narratives that have become quite popular with my generation. We share a lot more than what used to be considered proper conversation, things like our deepest hopes and fears, our worst experiences, embarrassing anecdotes, frustrations, escapism and nostalgia. The Older Generations like to label it as narcissism, but Leigh Alexander describes it like this:
…In the bellies of today’s recent grads lies an enormous void where something crucial is missing: The self. It’s no wonder the present wave of writers rebelliously prizes self-examination, the lavish indulgence of human experience, of clumsy sex, bad kisses, and — despite having no idea what grunge was — obsessive ownership of the 90s, the decade of the silly Nickelodeon childhood they should have had…
…Yet the massive, rapid proliferation of so-called “narcissism” online is attractive to audiences because it suggests we can distinguish ourselves above the online din by being ourselves, by being relatable, by having something to say. It’s a refreshing rebellion against the illusory idea of professionalism, of printed-out resumes and cover letters that our elders drilled into us to no avail. We’re still being warned to be careful about being inappropriate on Facebook, on our blogs and on Twitter because some imagined future employer might punish us. It’s like oh, man, please don’t take away these jobs you weren’t going to give us anyway…
…You can’t blame us for wanting a world where we can finally tell the truth, especially now that the internet has put so much of the truth at our fingertips…Injustice is everywhere and it’s gross. We have been handed the world and it looks awful…
OK I have to stop here before I quote the entire article, but it’s just so spot on that I had to share it in enormous block quotes. It’s a little embarrassing that I had such an epiphany from a blog post on the Internet and not from some highbrow novel, but hey, it’s 2012. And it sums up all my favorite things on the Internet, really. Everything I’ve loved to read, and related to so well, falls into the very category I mentioned above: confessional-style, personal narratives. Pretty much everything on Thought Catalog, the entire concept of FUCK! I’m In My Twenties, a handful of Hyperbole and a Half posts, several Cracked columnists, and even The Overnighter seems to be going in that direction (keep up the good work, Will!) I think it’s also what’s made Tumblr so popular.
Is it narcissistic over-sharing? Or a cathartic roundtable of storytelling, uniting a generation under the banner of “I Know That Feel Bro”?
Generation gaps are nothing new. Older generations have always looked down on the young’uns, and Millennial-bashing appears to be quite a popular pastime on talk radio shows, highbrow news magazines and other Vanguards of Old Media. So what if we bond over Nineties Nickelodeon ‘n’ Nintendo Nostalgia? It’s a childhood we all shared together. So what if we romanticize making stupid, foolish, rookie mistakes and having irresponsible adventures? It’s our way of saying it’s OK to screw up, as long as you’re yourself and honest about it, you can make your own way in life.
I’ve been thinking about it lately, and the people I admire most (whether I realized it at the time or not) have always been the ones who do their own thing and have their own voice. In school, it was the nerdy, yet passionate, kids who seemed to be the most well-rounded and aware of their strengths. Now, the people I admire are the ones who have found success by being themselves and not letting the cynical naysayers tell them what to do. Or, to put it in today’s language:
It’s easy to be snarky, jaded, cynical, and too cool for school. Those people suck. No, the real awesome people of the world are the ones who have a sense of wonder and optimism, the ones who are honest and earnest, passionate and compassionate, sentimental and sincere. None of these things are “cool.” Or are they? All of the successful creative people I think are the most awesome are the ones who tell the most personal stories. People like Lena Dunham (creator of HBO’s Girls), Conan O’Brien, Wes Anderson, Ryan O’Connel (Thought Catalog), Allie Brosh (Hyperbole and a Half), Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant), Emma Koenig (Fuck! I’m In My Twenties), Pendleton Ward (Adventure Time) and Ira Glass, who said this, which I also can’t stop watching:
I’ll leave you with a piece of an email I received four years ago(!) from Anthony Penta, our awesome RTF 318 TA, in response to my final film project of the year. I don’t think I quite got what he meant until pretty recently:
Finally, there is that certain magical quality which will transform even a technically flawed work into something beautiful — and that is the PERSONAL. If your work has something which is PERSONAL — some fragment or idea which is personal or important to you — it will cause your work to have an inner glow. You need a bit more of that. Your work so far has been very strong — very madcap, highly original, hilarious, amazing — but it needs a stronger personal touch, or a subject which seems deeper than it first appears.
So yeah. Deep stuff. But then again, I’ve never been the type to take myself too seriously. Have some nonsense to end your night. I know I can use some: