Sunday, 1 November 2015

Leave it the X-ers

Yesterday I stumbled (more or less) on 'Heavy Lifting - Grow Up, Get a Job, Start a Family, and Other Manly Advice', a recently published book by Cam Edwards and Jim Geraghty. With a title like that and a cover graphically designed like that it was sure to catch my attention. Could it be true? A 2015 book seriously talking about 'manly advice about starting a family'? Turns out it actually is. The authors are  the host of a NRA U.S. radio show and a National Review journalist, two self described 'conservatives' and 'gun nuts'. As a European, I generally look at this kind of literary exploits with condescendence, but I found myself so interested by the book and its informal style that I finished it all in one evening. The premise of the - uhm- essay is that the latest generation of 20 and 30 year olds are more and more procrastinating living independently and starting their own families.  It's of course the Millennials, while the US duo belongs to the current 40something generation, the X-ers. This is actually a bit funny. One defining book of Generation X was the short story collection of the same name by Douglas Coupland: in that book the same themes were applied (from a completely different perspective) to the generation of 20somethings of a quarter of a century ago - who now seems to have fully reached middle age producing the first laudatores temporis acti. The same accusations moved by Edwards and Geraghty were moved to their generation 20  years ago - much more so in Europe where the phenomenon of the so-called 'failure to launch' has apparead earlier and more virulently.

The advice given is - in William Shatner's immortal one liner - basically to get a life - get out  of your parent's basement and start living. The same message that nearly thirty years ago was aimed, albeit facetiously, to (a portion of) the same demographic as the authors, in a SNL sketch which became relatively famous even here in Italy where I live.

Does it mean that the book's content is futile ranting? Well, probably not, after all. For the intendend audience, it is probably very sound advice. I am definitely not a white american in his twenties, but here in Florence I sometimes meet some college students spending a semester - and they could probably benefit somehow from reading the book, all they seem to care about is binge drinking and tapping on their smartphones after all. In a way it is amazing that somebody seems to think (and rightly so, the book is currently #1 in an category) there is a market for a book humorously teaching about how and when to start finding a job, how to ask a girl out, how to be a dad  and even - uh - how to drink the right way with one's buddies. Most of the book cultural references are TV shows, videogames, a few commercials. There are references to a few books, and movies and documentaris, some of which I didn't know about, but they are the minority. This is, alas, symptomatic. The advice, I mean, it is well intended, it is probably necessary and useful, but the very fact that we - we Americans and Europeans, I'd love to see a "localization" of the the book - are at this point in our respective societies it's not only ironic and embarassing. It's all the way alarming: not to mention the fact that, at the cost of risking the R-accusation, what I've been talking about is very true from a white point of view. There is not much of an extended adolescence  for the young legal and illegal immigrants from Asia and Africa, both here and in the US.

One funny fact. The authors end every chapter with a reference to Ward Cleaver, one character from Leave it to Beaver. I vaguely knew what Leave to Beaver is, but I had to look Ward Cleaver on Wikipedia. It seems that the show was actually broadcast even in Italy in the sixties, but I have no memory of it, I knew of its existance from references found in other media. It's one of the thing I'll never understand about the american mind: yes, in a superhero kind of way, Ward Cleaver can be somehow interesting, but the basic problem with a figure like that is that people like Ward do not really exist in real life. It takes a suspension of disbelief to react positively to Ward Cleaver that Europeans probably don't have anymore, at least since the late Roman Republic, anyway.

What I find interesting, on the contrary, is that it is also a reaction to the counter-culture of the Baby Boomer generation, the Me-generation which probably started to ruin it all, again on both sides of the Atlantic. Edwards and Geraghty don't say it, but it somehow obvious.

As they say in the interview linked above, and in the book, it as heteronormative essay. Wow. And they even have to excuse themselves for that somehow. Well, well done (the heteronormative thing, not the excues). Let me reproduce part of a note from page 130, on that matter:

But please refrain from whining that a book about parenting and manhood written by two straight guys doesn’t spend enough time discussing the gay perspective. Based on data from the 2013 CDC National Health Interview Survey, 96.6 percent of American adults identified as straight, 1.6 percent identified as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent identified as bisexual. The remaining 1.1% of adults identified as ‘‘something else,’’ stated ‘‘I don’t know the answer,’’ or refused to provide an answer.
For some reason, Americans walk around believing that gays make up a very large minority in this country. Gallup found in 2015 that “the American public estimates on average that 23% of Americans are gay or lesbian.” The mean estimate from respondents ages eighteen to twenty-nine was 28 percent.

1.1% - that's one fifth to one tenth of the figure usually babbled about in mainstream radio or TV shows, even here in Italy. There is something to learn even from two conservatives american journalists, an ilk which is badly considered even by european rightwingers, usually.

Speaking of conservativism, I do not think that in this case, government is the main cause of the problem. The root of problem, and the authors implicitly admit it throughout the book, is mainly economical. It is our capitalistic system who has produced a situation where one is discouraged to start a family both from a social and economic perspective. If actual income has decreased and at the same time the actual costs of starting life on one's own have skyrocketed it is an economic problem. There is an american Greater Generation conservative pundit which somehow saw it all many years ago, but in that respect wasn't, unsurprisingly, not very considered. I'm talking about Pat Buchanna and his living wage proposals. Remember, Cal and Jim?

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