On Monday night, Jon Stewart hosted Paul Taylor, the writer of a new book that compares our generation (“millenials”) to his (the “baby boomers”).
The mere word “millenials” sends shivers down my spine; it represents the blatant, almost laughable attempt to label each generation as well as define them. And from the looks of his interview on The Daily Show, Paul Taylor’s book is packed with this type of rhetoric.
When Jon Stewart asks Taylor to explain, in finite terms, who these millenials are, he said, “They’re born after 1980, so the oldest of them is actually in his or her early 30s,” seeming to invent these boundaries in an attempt to tidy up our society. He went on, “And they actually haven’t crossed a lot of what we would call traditional milestones of adulthood.” Already, we should stop to reflect; for, what constitutes “traditional life milestones” if not the generations that came before us? Already he’s implying a deficiency in our generation simply because we haven’t achieved the same “milestones” our parents have. “For instance,” he said, “today, 20-somethings, only one quarter of them are married; their parents generation, more than half were married. So why aren’t they married?” The answer he gave? Because we’re not as financially stable.
What about shifts in societal standards? In gender norms? What about the simple fact that we now live much longer than we once did? Jon touches on this fallacy embedded deep within Taylor’s argument when he countered, “20 years, though, seems like an incredibly broad spectrum to make any kind of larger inferences about a generation especially now when the speed of technology changes so quickly and mutates so quickly.”
There’s something to be said about this whole blatant attempt — at anything, really. Whether it’s to define millenials or to portray the typical woes of 20-something-year-olds’ relationships. Girls, for instance (and a show I love), is starting to become an overt attempt at conveying its deeper message. Whereas Amy Poehler’s new show Broad City, which is farcical through and through, asks us to suspend disbelief, and feels a lot fresher while still conveying a similar message.
In the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, Alice Munro wrote an essay entitled “What is Real?” In it, she explains the singular importance of fiction, which we can’t get from any other art form: its ability to convey something genuinely, by evoking the precise feelings and nuances — a technique that sheds light on reality more than any form of nonfiction could. It’s re-working reality in such a way that’s more loyal to and indicative of our true feelings. Munro even argues that fiction is therapeutic because it often forces us to confront truths in ways we aren’t accustomed.
While both Girls and Broad City are technically fictional, Broad City, in all of its farcical madness — especially when compared to the stark realism of Girls — feels much closer to fiction in nature. Like Broad City‘s knack for using ludicrous scenarios to tap into sometimes deeper stuff, Jamaica Kincaid is able to best express her feelings in her story “Girl” indirectly. The punctuation in “Girl” is abrupt, and the sentences jump at you like quick jabs: “this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard.” And her intention here isn’t to evade her readers; rather it’s to evoke, through an incoherent narrative, all the emotions and feelings that traditional sentences can’t. Put differently, it feels worlds away from Shoshanna’s frank line to Jessa in the most recent episode of Girls: “You look like a junky.”
As more people try to define our generation (and the ones to follow), conspicuous portrayals of it begin to feel trite. Broad City is a breath of fresh air that we need; we’re starving for some excitement, fantasy, and a world where “anything can happen.” Because this opens up the boundaries — it opens up the narrative to make the impossible possible — and allows for more. More of what? We’ll have to wait and see.