If you walk around Manhattan regularly – which I do – you often spot various slogans, tags, messages, mottos, and even public awareness campaign catch-phrases scrawled and plastered on telephone poles, walls, and displayed in windows. Several of these posted things recently caught my attention because they seemed to capture how a lot of young Americans currently look at the world as well as behave.
Just the other day, for example, written on the wall in a subway was: “feed the poor, eat the rich.” This, of course, seems to describe rather well the current appetite of twenty somethings, who have come to crave: socialism (so long as this does not impact corporations they need such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple), large governmental agencies to be their guardian angels (so long as the NSA and TSA and NYPD aren’t too big and have no real power to stop terrorism or crime), massive welfare programs (so long as their checks don’t get smaller in the process), sprawling universal healthcare (so long as their premiums don’t go up), ‘free’ education (but at the same time, they want to make sure someone pays adjuncts and teachers a lot of money), and they also crave to be rich themselves but presumably not pre-masticated and spit into the mouths of the poor. Indeed, all of this cake-and-eat-it-too-ness is to be at the expense (or death?) of a mysterious one-percent who ostensibly have in their bank accounts enough money to save every Tiny Tim out there. What’s scary about all this to me is that this graffiti-Marxism isn’t just in the urban areas, I hear the same kind of cravings from all my younger friends in the suburbs and hillsides the nation over. They want the rich to give to Caesar what is theirs and for Caesar to give it back to them in a variety of forms.
Another sign I saw on the Upper East Side (and if you go there often, which I do to visit friends and do some work, you will have seen it too), is “Become your dream.” The trite phrase is signed by a man who calls himself de la Vega. The slogan, usually accompanied by a fish or something like that, reputedly is meant to inspire the zombies that work in offices. Without question the phrase is pitch perfect for the Psychobabble Age in which we live. While the sentiment, I guess, is somewhat laudable (who isn’t glad someone like Michael Jordan or Adele became his or her dream), it cannot be denied that one major problem in our era is that few are becoming what they are good at and too many are following their “inner signals.” Our youth have been taught to have zero or little appreciation for what they actually excel at, or conversely, to acknowledge that what they love they may also be horrid at. I have many friends, whom I don’t have the heart to tell (and maybe I am an unfit friend for it), that what they love to do with their time – writing, or painting, or singing, or entrepreneurial – is clearly a waste of their lives, they are no good. But I suppose, to even point this out would fall, not on deaf ears, but on ears that couldn’t pick up what I said as their inner drummer is banging away, encouraged by Wayne Dyer and Tony Robbins types, so loudly they can’t hear anything at all. This generation of younglings are one-hundred percent sure that because ‘God gave them’ a desire to start a company or create some type of art, that this desire naturally comes with the necessary tools to achieve success. I’m telling you, they really do believe this. I cede that “Become what you can, live your dream in the part time” isn’t as catchy or inspiring, yet it may be more of a prophylactic against ruined life.
Finally, when walking on the Lower East Side the other day, I espied the sign “kidult” – a portmanteau of kid and adult. (This may be a slogan or an artist – I’m not certain.) Kidult is a perfect summation of what I was writing of above: a kidult comes into existence when – again a twenty-something – wishes for all major things in their life to be done by others so he or she can follow their dream. Kidult are the ones – this applies to many of my friends – who live on welfare and are starting businesses and trying to be artists. They are the ones who want total freedom and also others to pay for their bills for health and learning. They are the ones who feel totally knowledgeable about politics by catching highlights of the Daily Show – very much a kidult show. They are the one’s Nancy Pelosi was speaking of when she said, something to the effect of that losing the 40-hour work (people would not have to work as long to pay for healthcare was the reasoning) would allow kidults to “pursue [their] happiness … follow [their] passion.” That’s true, life was paradisaical when I could ‘follow my bliss’ building tree forts while my parents were working, and oh sure, without question, the nation would have more Picassos, Mozarts, and Shakespeares if only healthcare was affordable. (Oddly, or maybe not, de la Vega – a somewhat anonymous person – I spotted at Occupy Wall Street a few years back. I guess the only reason he doesn’t make a lot of money as an artist is because taxes are too low on the rich). Kidults are really the result of the selfish 1960s, and the slogan “Never trust anyone over thirty” is now “don’t ever really become thirty.” Kidults, it seems, have learned to stay true to this new maxim by continuing to live at home with their parents past the age that they will never reach.
So are these the ‘signs’ of our times? It surely seems as much. We have a nation of a bunch of young people who blame the rich for their mediocre circumstances, who believe they are destined for greatness (and ironically wealth), and who at once want freedom along with a deputy-guardian – sort of like teenagers well beyond the teenage years. Fittingly, just yesterday I saw another sign in Midtown that read, “R.I.P America.”