On the Millennial Pledge

Sorting through a pile of LPs the other day I came across the first album by 60s American pop-music Frankensteins The Monkees. I threw it on the turntable. I’d heard most of the songs before, but something that hadn’t struck me before in the self-titled theme to their TV program struck me this time around-what I suppose could be called the hippie minstrel element. Every lyric is saying “we’re young but we’re not threatening and especially not political.”

Particularly striking is this stanza:

We’re just tryin’ to be friendly
Come and watch us sing and play
We’re the young generation
And we’ve got something to say

What is striking here is of course not the pedestrian lyrics themselves but the suggested elision. It’s claimed there’s something they have to say then nothing of any consequence is said. Their political neutrality, the pledge of allegiance to the standards and practices of the TV station, is referred to through the subtle employment of the word “restless” earlier in the song.

We don’t have time to get restless
There’s always something new

They’re not the “angry young man”. They’re not angry at all, and especially not at you. Like the rest of the things in the television set, they desperately want you to like them. The extent to which they actually represented the youth culture of the 1960s is negligible beyond the fact that some of them wore jeans. Still, the Monkees as a commercial product existed in the time period along with many other examples of hippie minstrel and must have done so for a reason. The misreading came from somewhere.

The archetypes we see in these hippie or beatnik minstrel artifacts are given to the internal contradiction of any sort of caricature-the thing is shown as not being dangerous for fear that it is in fact dangerous; nervous reassurances by the older folks making the commercial culture that the young people aren’t to be taken seriously but also the need to pump their heads full of stereotyped “moderate” declawed versions of themselves or “dangerous threatening” versions as seen in various motorcycle movies. That this would seem to mirror the similar dichotomy of the “black friend”/”angry black man” cliches from the mass culture of the same time period doesn’t suggest anything besides a narrow common origin of the two phenomena: the aging generation, disproportionately in the positions of power, who get to control what go through the big megaphones that define what cultural products we end up getting bombarded with.

The younger generation scares the older generation until the process repeats. This makes sense. The younger generation are actually there to take your jobs. No matter what you do, we will end up replacing you.

An LA Times columnist went viral this week. His name is Chris Erskine and the column in question is a piece of writing so monumentally bad it inspires. But first, who is Chris Erskine?

The strained smile, the creepy mustache, the blue glowing light presumably leading to the afterlife behind his back. It’s hard to imagine this man was ever less than 50 years old. What look was aspired to here? My mind searches for a specific person on whom Erskine could’ve modeled himself. But all that comes up when I brainstorm is the Jungian archetype of middle aged white irrelevance.

A quick look through his earlier columns confirms that middle aged irrelevance is his brand, and that the “Millennial Pledge” for which he’s taken so much flack is in fact the pinnacle of strivings. His writing is a combination of lazy sentimentality and cliches mangled or otherwise. Like most humor writing in newspapers. There’s nothing exceptional whatsoever about it. On the subject of parenting, Erskine drops lines like:

“Just give them a ton of love — the best bubble wrap.

And let them chase the moon.”

No self-respecting writer would let their name be attached to lines like that. Certainly not on a weekly basis. And that’s the point. Erskine might be the voice of his generation.

What is interesting in this whole thing is that Erskine has pulled off the trick of becoming momentarily relevant for being the hyperreal summoning of all that is mediocre and irrelevant. The incoherence of his suggested things millennials pledge to do points to the fact that there is no single monolithic “millennial” identity.

The overwhelmingly favored tone of the viral is the exceptional mediocre. In the face of a lack of large unified targets to attack, the person who can come to embody an abstract strain of something hated will pull in the attention and hate clicks. Erskine, by virtue of his socks-with-sandals obliviousness, is a troll par excellence. The LA Times gets traffic, and I’m sure Erskine isn’t losing any sleep over this.

Erskine’s name may as well be Kenneth Goldsmith. Or Thomas Friedman. The mediocrity industry rolls on…

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13 comments

  1. This is the antidote to the apolitical Monkeys.

  2. This is really spot on and I hate to make my first comment to this wonderful blog a nitpick, but you can hardly call the Monkees apolitical, right? Their first single, “Last Train to Clarksville”, is clearly about the Vietnam War.

    1. Oh weird I never thought about Last Train to Clarksville being about Vietnam. The one in the back of my head I was hedging my bets against was Pleasant Valley Sunday. I kinda figured Last Train to Clarksville was in the tradition of songs like Letter to Maria or Midnight Train to Georgia where it’s narrative of lovers parting at a transportation hub. Was there a military base in Clarksville?

    2. Ok, found this on wikipedia. It’s another example of the political aspect coming through despite censorship:

      “Hart said of writing the song: “We were just looking for a name that sounded good. There’s a little town in northern Arizona I used to go through in the summer on the way to Oak Creek Canyon called Clarksdale. We were throwing out names, and when we got to Clarksdale, we thought Clarksville sounded even better. We didn’t know it at the time, [but] there is an Army base near the town of Clarksville, Tennessee — which would have fit the bill fine for the story line. We couldn’t be too direct with The Monkees. We couldn’t really make a protest song out of it — we kind of snuck it in.”

  3. Yeah, lemme track down a copy.

  4. Fascinating. Methinks the college kids of the 6os and (me) 70s were squelched by Kent State in 1969. The college rebels and war protesters all of a sudden had to fear their own government. Those people, my peers, grew silver-haired and became their own parents, but worse, even more materialistic than their parents ever were. They got government and corporate jobs, spent the best years of their lives in debt and saving for retirement, and now they find all the assets have been plundered by the war mongers and other GoverCorp thieves. Not only that, they have strained relationships with their own children, because they trusted FDR to take care of them with Social Security, and LBJ to take care of them with Medicare. Haha. The jokes on you, my bretheren and sisteren. You people (my “cohort”) need to start getting useful, or the Xers and millenials are going to decide you’re not worth the life support system.

    Geezers, are you listening? 1952

    1. I’d include the Cointelpro infiltration/dismemberment of SDS with Kent State in my own appraisal. Also trusting in Social Security/Medicare isn’t in itself a bad thing but you have to be willing to fight for it. The fight went out of those guys pretty damn quick.

      1. Also the Hard Hat Riot a few days after Kent State (which Nixon praised).

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_Hat_Riot

        The ruling class was already able to recruit enough brownshirts in New York to drive an anti-war protest off the streets, New York not the Jim Crow South.

      2. I don’t believe FDR had the right to promise future generations’ income. Of course early recipients fell for it, but it was a Ponzi scheme, as we are seeing now. If payroll taxes had been optional, people could have opted out of these programs and might have planned differently.

        Why should someone who has paid payroll taxes all her life have to “fight” to get it back? Better to allow younger folks to opt out now, before they are so heavily invested they have to “fight” for an even smaller supply. If you recall this little-known fact, Dr. Obama allowed the temporary payroll tax reduction to expire while the media was looking the other way, talking about taxing the rich, blah, blah.

  5. First off, you still have a turntable?? I am jealous, I never ever should have been sucked into ousting the so-called “old” for the so-called “new” and gotten rid of all my albums. Anyway, that aside (and no, I am not still bitter, haha), as a pre-teen growing up immersed in hippie culture, the Monkeys were the voice for my age demographic speaking back to the mainstream notion that hippies (our parents and their peers) were lazy, dirty and untrustworthy. We had Monkeys posters on our bedroom walls. They weren’t in the same league as, say, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, which the adults preferred.

    1. Oh my god, politically I agree with CSN on certain things but musically…blechhhh. And I love Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds. But for some reason together they sound like everything wrong and flaccid about the folk revival that wasn’t named Peter, Paul or Mary. (Except “Helpless” which is a great recording.)

      1. This might have been my favorite song as a teenager.

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