Super Sad Youth Culture, Aging, and The Wisdom of Spy Novels

At great risk, I’ll admit that one of my favorite philosophers while I was in university was the French thinker Michel Foucault. Suffice it to say, I felt that his philosophy provided a framework for dismissing traditional expectations and ideas that I disapproved of. To some extent, I think ignoring the past is a natural mindset for an adolescent. Lately, I’ve found myself considering ways to incorporate tradition into how I live my life.

Am I in a minority?

Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story may be one of the most depressing books I read in 2010. It is depressing because it describes an American dystopia (think Brave New World meets Facebook), but it is not an abstract discussion. Rather, Super Sad True Love Story is first and foremost a satire of the world we live in, and perhaps Shteyngart’s primary target (Shteyngart is a satirist that has many targets) is our obsession with youth culture at the expense of all that has come before.

Do we still know how to mentally age?

I’ve recently begun reading John Le Carré’s classic spy novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and while age may not turn out to be the primary theme of the novel, I found myself struck by George Smiley’s consideration of retirement:

He would set up as a mild eccentric, discursive, withdrawn, but possessing one or two lovable habits such as muttering to himself while he bumbled along pavements. Out of date, perhaps, but who wasn’t these days? Out of date, but loyal to his own time. At a certain moment, after all, every man chooses: will he go forward, will he go back? There was nothing dishonorable in not being blown about by every little modern wind. Better to have worth, to entrench, to be an oak of one’s own generation.

Given the opening sentence, I think Le Carré intends this to be a dark reflection that Smiley should overcome. And while his vision of bumbling along the streets is pathetic, I am attracted to the idea of being an “oak of one’s own generation.”

Isn’t it strange to see so many women wearing low-rise jeans? Are we allowed to not join social networks? And Shteyngart probably wonders about this as well, considering that Eunice consistently updates her partners’ wardrobes so that these men look their age, a move that earns them more attractiveness points in their social networks.

Unfortunately, if the obsession with youth that Shteyngart highlights is true, we rarely stop to create a culture that is worth being loyal to, unless you’re a Justin Bieber fan. Then youth is totally where it’s at.

(In all honesty, I find it difficult to believe that even the youth are proud of the culture that they’ve been associated with for like sixty years.)

I said that I may be unique in this, but perhaps these thoughts are only what it means to be approaching thirty.

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4 Responses to “Super Sad Youth Culture, Aging, and The Wisdom of Spy Novels”

  1. Well written and insightful. Thanks.

  2. Very well written, and way off from the normal topics for you. Sadly… the vast majority of my reading for the last seven years has revolved around fetal echocardiography or parenting magazines. (Though I recently finished “the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo…) This type of content is clearly out of my league at this point.

    Clearly, I love incorporating tradition of the past into my world. I know you’ve visited my blog on that topic. I like to see old and new in a nice harmony. I am often referred to as “an old soul” in a young body and always have been…

    But, I love low rise jeans. If women are not wearing them, they should be. And, the popularity is probably more a nod towards the obesity spectrum than to modern fashion. Though slender cuties made them popular, those of us with that silly belly bulge find them far more comfortable.

    And unrelated- I had a patient today tell me they are naming their baby Dylan. Really, they heard it on a television show and feel in love with the name, but they are telling him he’s named after Bob so he feels cooler. Thought you might enjoy hearing that:)

    • Hi Mel,
      I didn’t realize that low-rise jeans were popular due to comfort. My wife and I were talking about them recently while she was buying sweaters with short sleeves — a ridiculous design, in my humble opinion — but she said they were all that was available as they were in fashion. She pointed out that she was stuck with low-rise jeans as well.

      Dylan — that’s great news. And that kid should feel cooler.

      My wife and I are both English teachers, so we read quite a lot, especially me. I haven’t read Dragon Tattoo yet, but we have it somewhere.

      As for the change of topic, I’d hoped that I’d led up to it naturally, but I guess I should have posted a couple more entries to bridge the gap before this one. I’m glad that you liked it, though.
      Ryan

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