God bless you, New York Times Sunday Magazine. God bless you each and every one!
This is an obituary for the generation gap. It is a story about 40-year-old men and women who look, talk, act, and dress like people who are 22 years old.The article is actually mostly pro-Grup, and the parts that weren't don't apply to me, so I feel very good about myself right now. All this time people thought I was just a lazy, ambition-free Peter Pan (without the glass eye), and it turns out I'm just really, really smart and cool.
Or take Michael Rauch, the creator of the recently canceled CBS show Love Monkey, which chronicled the life of a late-thirties single A&R guy in New York who frets openly about being a “suit” while working at the plucky indie label he joined after leaving his evil corporate record company, because for him, it was all about the music. Isn’t a guy like that—late thirties, still single, still bar-hopping, still chasing the latest hot rock band, his whole life, in fact, still defined by the word still—kind of, I don’t know, pathetic? “If this show existed ten years ago, the answer would be yes,” says Rauch. “But now, absolutely not. Now it’s less the exception than the rule. Especially in New York.” Rauch himself is 38. “I spoke to an undergrad class at NYU recently. And it was terrifying how much we had in common. I’m looking at these kids who look about 12, and we’re all going to the same movies and watching the same TV shows and listening to the same music. I don’t know if it’s scarier for them or scarier for me.”
During the dot-com boom, businesses not only allowed people to come to work in clothes they might usually wear to clean out the attic but encouraged this as a celebration of youthful vivacity and an upheaval of the fusty corporate order. Suits were thought to be the provenance of, well, suits. The dot-com bubble burst, but the aesthetic remained, as part of the ongoing rock star–ification of America. Three-day stubble and shredded jeans are the now-familiar symbols of the most desirable kind of affluence and freedom.
If the boomer’s icon of success was an empire-building maverick magnate like Ted Turner, the Grup’s model would be Spike Jonze, the 36-year-old Jackass-producing, skateboarding, awesome-indie-movie-directing free agent. Remember, the Grup of today is the slacker from 1990 who, fresh out of college, ran smack into the recession and maybe fiddled around with a riot-grrl band, then got a job at 25 for a Web-development company where she wore jeans to work and played Ping-Pong and stayed late and covered her desk in rare Japanese action figures. Now that woman is 35, a VP at a viral-marketing firm, still dressing down because everyone knows that the youth market is where it’s at, yet is scared to death she’s going to ossify into the same kind of corporate stooge she swore she’d never become. For a Grup, success isn’t about how many employees you have but how much freedom you have to walk, or boogie-board, away.
What’s with the Grups and passion? It’s all anyone wants to talk about. Passionate parents, passionate workers, passionate listeners to the new album by Wolf Parade. Even Rogan lights up when he talks about touring Japanese textile factories to find the perfect denim for his jeans. And I start to realize: Under the skin of the iPods and the $400 ripped jeans, this is the spine of the Grup ethos: passion, and the fear of losing it.
Which brings me back to my father: the one who wore suits, not jeans; the one who, when he was my age, already had four kids; the one who logged a lifetime at exactly the kind of middle-management jobs that no one wakes up excited about going to in the morning, and who then found himself sandbagged by the late-eighties recession, laid off in what must have felt like the worst kind of double whammy. All the adult trade-offs he’d made turned out to be a brutal bait-and-switch. Is it any wonder that the Grups have looked at that brand of adulthood and said, “No thanks, you can keep your carrot and your stick.” Especially once we saw just how easily that stick can be turned around to whap your ass as you’re ushered out the door, suit and all. Just how easily a bona fide, by-the-book adult can be made to wonder where it all went wrong, and why you ever bothered to grow up in the first place.