Updates & miscellaneous musings!

Monday, December 27, 2004

Why I'm smarter than "Correspondent Steve Kroft"

Gene was watching 60 Minutes tonight and they did an abysmaltacular story on us "echo-boomers"--the children of baby boomers. It was clear that they had nothing meaningful to talk about (even by 60 Minutes Standards) so they decided to fill up the time with gross generalizations and a minimum of actual reporting (even by 60 Minutes standards).

The segment begins--"And whether you call them 'echo boomers,' 'Generation Y' or 'millenials,' they already make up nearly one-third of the U.S. population, and already spend $170 billion a year of their own and their parents' money. Almost none of it is spent on boring things like mortgages and medication. And the world is falling all over itself trying sell them things. What brands do they love? Sony, Patagonia, Gap, Gillette, Aveda."

Now, being a "Millenial" myself, I may not be as smart as the folks at 60 Minutes, but I can't help but notice three huge problems already--

a) Buzzwords--does calling 12-20 year olds "echo boomers" really help you understand anything?
b) Fear-mongering--Oh no! Generation Y controls the money! $170 billion of it! They're like the Jews of the 21st century!
c) horrible horrible logic--we have most of th emoney, and apparently spend it all on 5 companies. I can't tell you what Patagonia and Aveda make offhand (I want to say backpacks and shampoo respectively, but I don't really know or care), so I doubt that's true. And if it were, wouldn't those companies be insanely wealthy? I mean, I'm sure they're doing just fine, but if Sony's making something like $34 billion a year (1/5 of that teenager money for the number one of the five companies we're devoted to), shouldn't Kodak and Nikon have closed up shop by now?

The show then stops to remind everyone that we grew up with, "500-channel TV...cell phones, music downloads, and Instant Messaging [sic] on the Internet."

This is followed by a non-sequitir clip of two college age "echo boomers" saying that their generation is too rigidly managed.

Dr. Mel Levine, a professor at the University of North Carolina, is one of the best-known pediatricians in the country. He says it's had as much to do with shaping this generation as technology.

"They have been heavily programmed. The kids who have had soccer Monday, Kung Fu Tuesday, religious classes Wednesday, clarinet lessons Thursday. Whose whole lives have really been based on what some adult tells them to do," says Levine.

"This is a generation that has long aimed to please. They've wanted to please their parents, their friends, their teachers, their college admissions officers."

It's a generation in which rules seem to have replaced rebellion, convention is winning out over individualism, and values are very traditional.

The whole "rigidly-managed" time thing is a stereotype which the show dosn't bother trying to support (though there probably is some truth to it. But the next assertion is puzzling--we want to please others. Is that more true of us than children a decade ago? 60 Minutes isn't concerned with providing any kind of evidence, but the answer seems to be an unequivical yes.
The last statement is both literally senseless--how can values be changing in a way that makes them "more traditional"?--and staggeringly insulting. These people refuse to look at us as individuals, yet then complain we lack individuality.

But wait! Our lack of individuality isn't a bad thing. Because we're, "worrying less about leadership than follower-ship," we're also more obedient!

And you can already see some results. Violent crime among teenagers is down 60 to 70 percent. The use of tobacco and alcohol are at all-time lows. So is teen pregnancy.
That doesn't sound so bad. But the next statment is key--
Five out of 10 echo boomers say they trust the government, and virtually all of them trust mom and dad.

Our one good point is that we trust, not just our parents, but the government. That's an interesting (and, like all of them on 60 minutes) unsupported statistic, and one I find particularly hard to believe. According to The Boston Globe, "Senator John Kerry won the under-30 [vote] with 54 percent of the vote to President Bush's 44 percent. The Democrats lost every other age group" (emphasis mine).
If we trust the government more than anyone else, why are we the ones who least support the current government? Do they just mean we have inordinate fate in democracy, or think Congress is really awesome, or what?

The do, more or less correctly, note that we're comparitively media-savvy.
They are the most sophisticated generation ever when it comes to media. They create their own Web sites, make their own CDs and DVDs, and are cynical of packaged messages. They take their cues from each other.

We're the least individual generation, yet we make our own entertainment instead of letting others make it for us? Alright...

A well-placed product on one of their pop idols, like Paris Hilton or Ashton Kutcher, can launch a brand of $40 T-shirts and trucker hats. But they also shop at vintage clothing shops.
...or not. Explaining the discrepancy here is simple--the Paris Hilton-lovers and the vintage clothing-shoppers are not the same people. But to acknowledge this obvious fact would be to admit that we're more "individualistic" than they suggested, and then they'd have to do research, and talk to lots of different kids, and that'd be hard.

After talking about car ads for awhile, they explain that not only do we control the money--we also control the media! Golly! We're like the Jews of the 21st century!
"Echo boomers have their own television network--the WB"
Do you watch the WB? Do you know anyone who watches The WB? No, you don't.
Considering how pervasive we are, you'd think our channel would be doing better.

They then describe how our sheltered lifestyle makes us ill-suited to the real world, explaining that we expect to be "heroes and heroines" and can't stand it when that's not the case.
"I talked to the CEO of a major corporation recently and I said, 'What characterizes your youngest employees nowadays?'" says Levine. "And he said, 'There's one major thing.' He said, 'They can't think long-range. Everything has to be immediate, like a video game. And they have a lot of trouble sort of doing things in a stepwise fashion, delaying gratification. Really reflecting as they go along.' I think that's new."

Levine calls the phenomenon visual motor ecstasy, where any cultural accoutrement that doesn't produce instant satisfaction is boring. As echo boomers grow up, they'll have to learn that life is not just a series of headlines and highlight reels.

First, the reason I generally don't play video games, is that (in my experience) they're not immediate at all--they're tedious and time-consuming with little reward for a lot of work. Wuthering Heights has about as much instant gratification as Halo 2.
Second, this statement is particularly hard to accept considering the success of the Harry Potter books with our age bracket. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 870 pages long. Regardless of content, you simply cannot read a 900-page book with out "reflecting as you go along."

The segment ends with--
"What would you call your generation?" Buckingham asked Scott, one of her focus group participants.

"Perfect," he says, laughing.

"Oh, Generation Y--will you ever learn? Well, you fucking better if you want to be a useful part of the work place. Except for the 'being a team player' part. Keep that up."

You know what? We're not perfect. I'm continually frustrated by the unreflective goofiness of people my age--and those are the ones I like!
That nobody's perfect goes without saying. That 80 million people can't all be imperfect in the same way should be just as obvious.

I find the suggestion that everyone my age is basically identical (and identically fucked up) personally offensive.
If you're going to talk about a specific trend, you're going to have to have to have some solid numbers to back you up.
If you're going to talk about a "generation" as a whole, you're going to have to do a lot more work than that.

Besides, are we substantially worse than past generations?
Not that ritalin-dependence and media obsession are good things, but the last generation was, as 60 Minutes sagely put it "self-absorbed [and] egocentric".
And do we really want to romanticize the generation before that? I'm sure the world was a much better place when blacks had separate water fountains, women couldn't work, and Japanese Americans got put into camps.

But there's a certain group of people who do want to idealize the WW2 and post-War generations**--people who are part of them. They write and buy books calling themselves "the greatest generation", praise themselves for raising awesomely hip kids and, more importantly, they watch 60 Minutes.
It's sad that pandering to misconceptions and fears about "the kids today" then cutting to Andy Rooney rambling about nothing** is what 60 Minutes considers respectable journalism.

You'd never see this garbage on Banana Slug News, believe you me!

*1922-1927 and 1928-1945 according to Wikipedia, assuming it isn't bullshit, which it is.
**Andy Rooney ranted about how college professors spend all their time "sitting on the sidelines in funny costumes" and "don’t work hard enough".
Therefore, they should form their own (completely non-democratic) branch of government where they can advise the president and congress how to act smartly.


Blogger genewc said...

Another fine mess!

3:01 PM  

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