While A.O. Scott’s Gen X Has a Midlife Crisis, Millennials Will Be Watching, Laughing, Waiting


You might say that most pieces in the New York Times are, at least on some level, about generational conflict. Sometimes it’s a struggle between two generations, and it’s about defining the state of our world. Other times, it’s an internal struggle: Where are we going? Where have we been? How will we be remembered? That’s the navel-gazey shit and it’s usually for getting the Boomers all teary-eyed and nostalgic, as if that wasn’t their default state already.

In the Times this weekend, there are two explicitly generational articles, but they skew a tad younger. The first is by film critic A.O. Scott for Week in Review, entitled “Gen X Has a Midlife Crisis.” The second, “Tell-All Generation Learns to Keep Things Offline,” is currently the Most E-Mailed story, ironically.

Both touch on issues facing Times reader types as the Reality Bites crowd gets gray and freaks out, looking in the mirror just long enough for the iGeneration to sneak in and usurp their spot as the vainest and most self-obsessed. It’s about who’s doing the noticing and who’s getting noticed, but it’s important to remember that tastemakers, too, get old and die. Or just shoved aside.

“We were stuck between meanings. Or we were the last dribbles of something. The fall of the Soviet Union, this was, the death of analog. The beginning of aggressively marketed nachos.”

Scott begins his piece with a quote from Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask, which, as Scott notes later, has sold around 7,000 copies so far, but has seemingly proven relatable in a frightening way for people of a certain age. Scott’s other texts are Noah Baumbach’s new film starring Ben Stiller, Greenberg, and Hot Tub Time Machine, a middling slapstick comedy that Scott calls “the story of my life.” Funny People, too.

The writer, like the characters in his topical art of choice, is scared of growing up, especially while identifying as part of a generation who “never gave up adolescence in the first place.” Scott mourns his characters’ “intimation of lost possibilities,” the “squandered ambition, the professional road not taken.” A bit rich coming from a Times writer. But, sure, it’s about art.

Somehow, the piece is passably endearing, despite its most embarrassing meta-moments, where the writer (somewhat limply) flexes a specialty of his cohort — a sort of ironic awareness:

I see you rolling your eyes. That’s right, you: the one in the fake-vintage rock ‘n’ roll T-shirt and thick-framed glasses reading this on an iPhone at the sidelines of your daughter’s soccer game. But you know exactly what I’m talking about, pal. (And by the way: stop trying to be a hip alterna-sports dad. Just cheer, for God’s sake.)

But I get it I think; it’s tough to be post-Boomer.

As for Millennials, the post-Gen Xers? Gen Y, right? We’re stuck between meanings, too. Or we’re the first dribbles of something. The fall of the Twin Towers, this was, the adolescence of digital. The beginning of Facebook as the e-KGB. Or something!

We grew up online, says the Times, initially thinking that we could share everything from our “favorite pizza to most frequent sexual partners.” But we’re getting older, reassessing: “people in their 20s exert more control over their digital reputations than older adults, more vigorously deleting unwanted posts and limiting information about themselves.” In other words, we’re naturals.

It’s not in your New York Times, but Millennials are also getting impatient. And the difference between these two pieces mentioned above — both ostensibly about generations — illustrates why. On one hand, we get sentimental hand-wringing from our elders. Nice to read, but how many more existential crises are we going to respectfully sit through before we and our art are worthy, too? And not viewed from above, either.

The Gen Y piece, a front page story, is merely anthropological: “What are kids like?” We’re used to reading this, but it does get stale. We know, we know — our struggle for mastery of our personal brands and new tools is fascinating to watch. But at a certain point, Scott and his friends are just in our way — as thinkers, artists and so on. And if you just keep getting lost in your own reflection, plucking those gray hairs as they sprout, or staring at your shoes, eventually we’re just going to push you on your face.

I don’t think Breaking Upwards is really going to cut it, but still: We’ve got next. Hurry up.