The Worst of Youth
Why do we fetishize and overpraise the young?
As I hurtle towards the big six-O, I find I have developed a total love-hate relationship with young people. Some days, j'adore them. At other times, when they're being completely and utterly precocious and annoying, it's all I can do to stop myself from going all King Herod and massacring the innocents.
What is it about all these emerging lifestyle gurus, teen real-estate machers, tween fashion entrepreneurs, and prepubescent bloggers that compels me to get all biblical on their asses? Simply put, the young folks of today are a bunch of insanely overachieving, materialistic, poorly educated, distraction-prone, conformist, mentally turgid losers, whose only discernable skill is the ability to sext pics of their genitals to one another. (I have finally figured out how to do this with my iPhone. You will be relieved to hear that our dog, Liberace, rather than my family jewels, is the chosen subject. I sincerely hope that my snaps of him are not being mistaken for images of my genitals. That would not be fair to the furry little lad.)
Despite all the horrifying indictments listed above, you young people have somehow managed to grab the spotlight and point it right at yourselves. Youth is the new global currency. Suri Cruise is the new Sumner Redstone.
This extreme privileging and overpraising of jeunesse is a new phenomenon. People think the 1960s was youth-obsessed. Not so. Back then it was all about being an adult, a suave, sexy grown-up with access to the finer things of life. We're talking Sean Connery, Simone Signoret, Lawrence Harvey, Yuri Gagarin, Maria Callas, and, of course, Joanne Worley. Back then, we teens lurked in the margins of society while chisel-jawed blokes with graying temples helped women with pointy knockers into their chinchilla stoles. That's why we were always complaining and banging tambourines. "Stop being so remote and soigné and grown-up! Put down that chinchilla stole and listen to the bangin' of our tambourines!" we would whine.
On May 24, my ability to contend with youngsters without lapsing into Herod mode was severely tested. There I was, at the Jacob Javits Center, surrounded by more than 2,000 graduating students from Fashion Institute of Technology, receiving (drum roll) a lifetime achievement award. This was indeed a cause for celebration, especially since I am not aware of having achieved anything particularly momentous, unless you count trussing up a life-size effigy of Margaret Thatcher in a rubber dominatrix outfit and plonking it in a Barneys window.
I had, needless to say, a perfectly gorgeous time. The warm, jolly FIT grads annihilated all my nasty preconceived notions. The truth is, my antipathy toward youth is entirely theoretical. Whenever I spend time in the company of anybody under the age of 25, I invariably come away feeling that the youngsters of today are astoundingly smart, creative, altruistic, and groovy. And I realize just how much we have in common. My own infantile ways find an easy match with their unformed sensibilities. I have much more in common with the Tavi generation, than I do with, for example, Diane Sawyer, Wolf Blitzer, Benjamin Netanyahu, or Mary Hart.
There was, however, one challenging moment: In my cap and gown I felt fabulously flowy and very Lawrence of Arabia. Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. "What's Linda Hunt doing in the men's room at the Javits Center, and why is she wearing her Law and Order judge's robe?" I almost shrieked.
Unsurprisingly, it wasn't long before the afterglow faded, and I returned to my curmudgeonly ways.
"Aren't you a bit young for a lifetime achievement award?" commented a colleague as I rode the elevator back to my office, clutching my award. "Good God, young man! I do believe you're right!" I responded, feeling a bit like Methuselah.
Back in the day, lifetime achievement awards were strictly for colostomy-bag totin' octogenarians. Not any more. The fetishizing and garlanding of youth has put the awards schedule into fast-forward. At 22, you win Most Important Fashion Designer in History. By the time you hit 58 (moi), people are giving you a standing ovation while wondering if you can still widdle on your own. And whose fault is that? You mark my words, those overachieving brats are to blame!
Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.(Photo by Roxanne Lowit.)
Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer.