The absurdist

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Like dissident antipoliticians from the former Czechoslovakia, who used satire and absurdity to highlight the fact that in a postmodern consumer society the "line of complicity runs through each of us," this new American generation distrusts political grandstanding and even traditional forms of organized politics. Hence, the popularity of so-called no brow satires like South Park, The Colbert Report, and The Daily Show.

The political blackout is partly a reaction to the intoxicating polemics of the previous generations' culture war that eclipse most public discourse about the shifting boundaries of our social geography and economic life. As Vaclav Havel, former antipolitician later turned president of a democratic Czech Republic wrote, "Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world."

On the left, critics condemn the commodification of art and corporate America's co-option of the symbols from the former bohemian and newer alternative counterculture. "Hip is how business understands itself," writes Tom Frank suggesting that the emerging culture is just another aspect of capitalism. On the right, detractors echo analogous themes about the moral decay of society. David Brooks describes members of today's generation as "The Organization Kid," part of the "Future Workaholics of America, obsessively career conscious and deferent to any authority that will get them ahead." This new generation argues Brooks, "lacks defining concepts of character and virtue, for they have been reared in a country that has lost, in its frenetic seeking after happiness and success, the language of sin and character-building. "When I asked about moral questions," continues Brooks, "They often flee such talk and start discussing legislative questions...These young people are not part of an insurrection against inherited order. They are not even part of the conservative reaction against the insurrection. It's not that they reject one side of that culture war, or embrace the other. They've just moved on."

Yes, they have. Boomers are wired to view creativity as a choice between "selling out" or "sticking it to the man" and the quest for the great society as a dogmatic battle between the mediocrity of relativism and the virtue of absolutes. To use former bohemian terminology, today's generation does not have that hang up.

The result is a generational gap, largely unnoticed by boomers and their progeny alike. "They have relatively little generational consciousness," writes Brooks, "because this generation is for the most part not fighting to emancipate itself from the past." The suggestion is provocative considering that while "the baby boom included the largest U.S. birth cohort to date, the game generation will ultimately outdo the baby boom in size, in scope, and presumably in influence," notes John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade in their study of the game generation's influence on organizational values in business. "The total size of the game generation is already greater than the baby boom ever was," and the whole generation of gamers, "including X and Y and letters to be named later-simply approach the world differently than their predecessors."

The playwright Heiner Mueller once remarked that the potency of theater in his native East Germany was based on the absence of other ways of getting messages across to people. "As a result," Mueller says, "Theater here has taken over the function of other media in the West." While the never ending surface chatter of talking points and double speak on both the left and the right continue to erode the value of words, they also inflate the space between the lines.

Alexa O'Brien Alexa O'Brien researches and writes about national security and law enforcement. Her work has been published in The New York Times, VICE News, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Guardian (UK), The Daily Beast, NY Daily News, and featured on the BBC, PBS, NPR, Democracy Now!, and Public Radio International. She was shortlisted for the 2013 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in the United Kingdom and listed in The Verge 50. In 2016, she worked at The Constitution Project in Washington, D.C. as a staff researcher and writer on an independent commission studying Oklahoma's death penalty. She also provided research support to scholars of the first cost study conducted on that state's capital punishment system.
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