What is it that draws me to something for mawkish reasons? Why do I regret actions without rational justification? What is it about something—something simple and concrete—that compels me to attach emotional value to it?
I know I am not alone. I find these experiences permeated throughout almost every aspect of the days between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. By no means are these the only times I come across these sorts of events and feelings. November to December serves as the climactic high point on the calendar. Traditions are born and broken. Or rather—for a pessimist like me, it is the breaking of those familiar traditions that evokes my maudlin, sentimental response.
And yet I wonder if I am a dying breed within my generation. Has Generation X subsumed itself so deeply into the cult of cynicism that we have eliminated any tolerance for sentimentality? We wear a peculiar perfume; the odor pervades us in a cloud of distrust of the integrity and professed motives of others—and even ourselves. We reek. We stink.
Nothing is sacred.
I have skipped ahead. Sentimental appreciation or regret stands some distance from sacred belief. They are not the same. It was unfair of me to claim to connect them as if they were. Perhaps what I mean to say is that escapism, instant gratification and celebrity have overshadowed simple emotional appreciation of thought, word or deed.
In contemporary society celebrity is epidemic. Maybe human beings have always been nosy people, and developments in communication have made it so much easier to be so much nosier about so many more people so much more of the time. I have very few answers as to why this is happening; I can say that I am observing it unfold.
I express regret over changes around me. A long-standing store goes out of business; a favorite bar catches fire. A friend files for divorce. (I did warn you I am a ‘glass half-empty’ sort of guy so my examples will likely be negative in nature.) I express my regret over these changes and am met by my peers with responses filled with cynicism.
Cynicism certainly has its place in human thought. And I hesitate to even step down this path for fear that my own sentimentality will prove my argument absurd. The Cynics were students of Socrates. These philosophers advocated the doctrine that virtue is the only good. The essence of virtue is self-control. To surrender self-control to any external influence is beneath human dignity. Stoicism borrowed heavily from this line of thought. Compare how this applies to contemporary cynic. A contemporary cynic takes the skeptical attitude towards social norms. Those social norms that serve more of a ritualistic purpose than a practical one are his favored targets. He questions the validity of a substantial proportion of popular beliefs, morality and wisdom. He frowns on the typical thought patterns of society. And he wants things to change—but deems change unlikely. He remains aware—but never involved—in social issues.
Marshall Field’s closes and Generation X rejoins that it never shopped there anyway. Rather than a wedding, Generation X decides to live together and enjoy the practical benefits without the ritualism of marriage. – And when a member of Generation X does get married, the betting pool goes up immediately: how long will it last? why will they split up? The only items of value are fame and possibly money. Power corrupted in our parents’ generation, if not earlier.
In October, 2002, the two major Chicago newspapers introduced tabloid editions of their papers to appeal to Generation X. As compared with the traditional editions, these tabloid editions emphasize pop culture and entertainment news; humorous rather than serious columns, flashy graphics and large pictures. They are maybe thirty pages in length. – I find these tabloids nearly indistinguishable from satire. The only difference being, I do not think the tabloids intend to satirize. It is an unhappy accident. – Or my own cynicism, turned on its head.
Celebrity. Celebrity has become the rubric of value. You are good insofar as you are famous. You are famous insofar as people recognize you. You are right insofar as you are famous. You are famous insofar as people talk about you. And if celebrity is the new social value; publicists are the new priests.
There is no room for sentiment. There is no room for altruism. – These concepts have been perverted by publicists, and twisted by at least one generation of cynics to be meaningless—or at least flagrantly un-cool. And un-cool is worse than meaningless.