by Rhian Sasseen on March 16, 2012
We are still only beginning to enter a new era. The last decade still functions as a sort of hangover, gloomy, of things past: 2012 is only now starting to define itself in such a way that today, when I watch television shows and movies from the late 90s and early 2000s, I am suddenly struck by how out-of-date all of the characters look and act.
Netflix’s Instant Watch feature is a boon to all college students, myself included. It is senior year and I now actively avoid most parties. One night of my weekend is granted to friends, but the other remains sacred, a time for me to pour a glass of wine and lounge freely in my room, totally alone save for my Netflix subscription. Last night was one of those nights, and I ended up spending a few hours watching the British cult comedy Spaced. Yes, it was quite enjoyable – but my God is turn-of-the-millennium man-boyhood beginning to look old-fashioned.
Tim Bisley, played by Simon Pegg, is a twentysomething comic book store staffer obsessed with the Star Wars franchise, video games, and his own failed attempts at comic book art. How familiar this is to all of us that consumed pop culture ten years ago! – I almost felt like I was watching the origin story of Seth Cohen, Judd Apatow’s career, and every other example of arrested development that have driven Anglo-American pop cultures in the last decade. The media has harped on about this trend, placing the blame anywhere from the ascent of feminism to the supposed death of feminism, so I won’t waste space enumerating my own half-baked theories but, suffice to say: it exists. That is, it exists in the mainstream; this is all wildly anecdotal, but as a twentysomething woman ten years after the birth of this phenomenon, I am beginning to notice an alternative masculinity crop up amongst my peers, themselves entering their twenties and beginning to, well, grow up.
I tend to use my Facebook feed as a barometer of popular opinion. If this is to be believed – and I don’t just have an exceptionally well-curated friends list (which, believe me, I don’t) – your average, vaguely “indie” (another millennium-born modifier) college male is ditching the man-boy nostalgia of childhood favorites to instead focus rather obsessively on the American political situation at hand. This makes sense: at the time this trend was nascent, the economic specter of the recession didn’t exist – it didn’t even seem conceivable. Furthermore, this trend more fully belonged to a generation slightly older than us, those who had been born in the eighties and could actually remember many of the items and facts presented in VH1′s I Love the… series. My peers were actual fourteen-year-old boys when The O.C. suddenly launched “geek culture” into the mainstream, not twenty-five-year-olds indulging in a little escapism to alleviate the soul-numbing quality of the Bush years and a post-9/11 America.
But times have changed. Admitting to a borderline-obsessive love of Star Wars (always Star Wars) just doesn’t seem particularly relevant when your peers have become politicized. No matter if the movement survives past spring or not, we now live in the age of Occupy, where the borders of adulthood have shifted alongside class lines. We want to grow up, is what I think whenever I read an article curious as to why no one of my generation is buying houses or landing nine-to-five jobs anymore. But economically, we can’t. Arrested development is no longer the choice it once was ten years ago; these days, in a cultural landscape dominated by the kind of corporate sponsorship that wants us to devolve to prepubescence and just buy another goddamn Transformers ticket already, the counter-culture thing to do is actually to embrace hallmarks of adulthood like voting and wondering about the stability of one’s future.
As a woman, I find this to be true on my side of the divide, as well – the conspicuous consumerism of a site like XO Jane just seems passe. And in a political climate in which our rights to abortion and birth control are coming under real threat daily, columns like Cat Marnell’s – where reckless unprotected sex and the use of Plan B as birth control are treated as impish, Manic Pixie Dream Girl delights – present an early-millennial girl-woman that is not simply outdated but dangerous.
I finished the first season of Spaced in one night. I liked it, and I’ll watch the second; I’m sure I’ll laugh. But I do not miss the days in which childish comic book aficionados ruled pop culture unequivocally. As fun as it is to watch Seth Cohen on the television screen, I imagine it would be downright infuriating to date him.