Sunday, September 05, 2004

This article really enrages me. I've just read this complete pile of patronising crap from The Age in their Agenda section - you know, the one reserved for identifying zeitgeisty demographic trends like "bisexuality is the new lesbianism" or "people who have babies young" or "journalists who move to the beach and are soooo much less stressed" or "old women are sexy too" or other such crap that I usually end up having to write about for work.

Anyway, what's pissing me off right now is an article with the standfirst: "To generation Y, the world is an uncertain place - and for many of them, that's not such a bad thing." Here's how it defines Generation Y:
"a new wave ... aged 13 to 28, that is reshaping business and rewriting the book of cool. They are unsentimental and category-averse, a mind-set that means much of business is now working on an old paradigm. Social analyst David Chalke says gen-Y's focus is not on "being business-savvy", but on "being stimulated". This not only makes them a marketer's nightmare, but unmoved by ideas such as loyalty to a company."

I get so annoyed at stories purporting to lump people together in some amorphous 'generation' - haven't we all rehearsed these arguments that such categories are often constructed by marketers to sell us stuff? The supreme irony, of course, is that "generation Y" is defined by its suspicion of the very categorisation that gives it its existence. A lesser but infinitely more irritating irony is that this article sets out with fatuous certainty to describe the 'trademark' uncertainty of what it flippantly calls "Y-Gen".

The article itself is a grotesque hotchpotch of generalisations about what this "generation Y" is all about, based variously on statistical studies, interviews with 'representative' twentysomethings and half-hearted gestures towards ideas they might 'subscribe' to. Here are some of the passages that made me particularly angry.
"Like the edgy New York rockers The Strokes that he played loud in his office to kick-start the morning, Verginis is changing the rules."

The article then goes on to say:
"Like the DJ-driven music now so popular, [Generation Y] sample rather than settle. Nick Verginis may not wear the skinny ties and heroin mullets of The Strokes. But just as they ditched deodorised dadrock, he dumped the safe route to security."

Minkblowing! I don't know where to start criticising - perhaps the assertion that the Strokes are "changing the rules" or ditching "deodorised dadrock" - indeed, in an aside I would say that the Strokes and their ilk are precisely a throwback to R&B-influenced 1960s bourgeois-boy garage bands like The Who or the Yardbirds. Then there's the unexplained conflation of this ditching of dadrock with the "DJ-driven music" sampling that the kids of today are listening to.
"But he does not need to stage a demo to let you know about it. That is the thing about this new breed. They are low key and high resolution. They not only read books that parody propaganda, they find their own ways to locate authenticity."

And then - by now my mink is saying "No more blowing - ah canna tek it cap'n!" - the article says "it would be a mistake, however, to think of Nick Verginis as a rebel or an aberration." Oh my god - what are you saying? Are there more of these Strokes-listening, corporate-law-rejecting young 'uns out there?

There's genuine dismay in the article's description of the hapless Vanessa Richards:
"With a Merton Hall and Melbourne University education, she is articulate and employable. But rather than grab a real job, she is working in a shoe shop while she weighs her options. It could be going overseas, writing or studying. At 23, there is no hurry."

What? All that money on education, and no "real" job? Or, how about Sarah Austin:
"In her post-Ally McBeal world, nothing is taken at face value. Austin, who is studying at Melbourne University's School of Creative Arts, says she and her friends have been empowered by the language of critique. This is the post-modern tool that sets certainty aside by showing there is no objectivity. Instead of taking something like a TV show on its own terms, its innards are unravelled to see how it attains meaning. This can be fun as well as revealing."

Postmodernism for fun and revelation! Or perhaps Post-Ally-McBealism, whatever the fuck that is? But hang on - where do they get their wacky ideas? Maybe Nick Verginis, that dude who threw away a perfectly good law career to listen to some newfangled rock and/or roll, can tell us:
"It is hard to go through an arts degree, he says, without coming across a post-modern thinker, such as Jacques Derrida, who attacks the logic of identity. This is like attacking the edifice of boomer thought. ... Verginis is not bothered. Post-modern thinkers such as Derrida and Edward Said, the Palestinian writer who revealed the bias in Western notions of an "Orient", speak to him of uncertainty, and that is what he sees all around him. According to Bernard Salt, it is the way the future is heading for us all, which makes Y-gen's sampling style spot on."

It makes me realise how valuable an academic background is for a journalist. Even though I would never describe myself as an academic heavyweight, and even though journalism doesn't have the same logics as academia, when I write feature articles for these kind of weekend supplements I try to make my writing as measured and self-reflexive as possible. And I try to use interviews and other source material, not as "proof" that what I'm saying's true, but as texts to be read; as starting points for analysing cultural phenomena.

Of course there is no shortage of weird spazzos ready to tell me that I'm a shithouse journalist, but I tell you what - I can't help but feel that if Peter Ellingsen and Johanna Walden's work is the general standard of feature writing in Australian newspapers - no wonder The Age and SMH are full of fucking syndicated pieces from the New Yorker and The Observer! Also, I'm feeling pugnacious about my writing abilities right now because my gay footballers article is going to be included in a book called The Best Australian Sports Writing 2004, which is coming out (pardon my pun!) in October. It's published by the same people who do the Quarterly Essay.

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