Thursday, February 28, 2008

The "quarterlife" Experiment

I believe it was Kierkegaard or Dick Van Patten who said, "If you label me, you negate me."

It's always interesting to hear what people with an outside perspective have of "my generation." If you're going by the Gens then I guess we're Gen Y, which in a nutshell seems to say we're a lot more about selling out and better at using computers than Gen X. Some social critics and advertisers peg us as the "internet generation," a tech reared bunch of cyborgs whose birth coincided with that of the personal computer and came of age in wilds of the information revolution, whose daily lives consist of nothing but social networking and iPods. If you ask Mr. Lee we're all a bunch of underachieving slouches whose access to unprecedented advantages and opportunities give us an undeserved sense of entitlement. According to Pepsi we just want to drink Pepsi over Coke.

I can't tell you what we are but I can certainly tell you what we aren't. We aren't anything like the offensive stock caricatures of "quarterlife." I have to admit it fills me with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and even a little bit of pride that our generation (and apparently nearly every other generation) either saw through the show's phoniness or was indifferent enough to have it bomb historically.

When I first saw a quick ad for it a few weeks back I was quite suspicious. When I looked it up and the more I read about it, I became down right angry. Here was a show claiming to be this insightful, truthful, look at the lives of people like me whose set up and premise was so contrived and disingenuous. It's a bunch of idealistic twentysomethings, living and loving in New York. It's a tired old concept that's been done to death through a broad spectrum of genres with varying quality (Friends, Time of Your Life, Rent, How I Met Your Mother). You can just picture all the scenes ahead of time. There'll be scenes of crying, group hugs, and TV14 casual hookups. There'll be a nearly all white cast (with some roles played by people in their 30s) all beautiful, all keeping it real in either unaffordably large loft apartments or bohemian hovels so modest that they'd be condemned in reality. Conversations will no doubt be padded with forced pop culture references, sardonic sarcasm, lame pretensions about their lives. Even the brief descriptions of some of the main characters on the wikipedia page sound like something out of central casting:
  • Dylan - "a self-proclaimed writer who works as an associate editor at a magazine called Attitude."
  • Lisa - "in acting school and works as a bartender. Lisa also reluctantly becomes a singer for a band despite her low self-confidence."
  • Jed - "next-door neighbor to the girls and a film maker fresh out of film school."
  • Eric - "old friend of Debra's who comes to visit her and then stays to pursue a relationship with Dylan. Eric is an environmental activist."
What really gets me is the show's ambition to be something important, like a statement on what it's like out there. Sitcoms with such a setup at least by virtue of their medium admit that things aren't really like that and something like a musical like Rent is so dramatized that it's obviously not trying to be a reflection of real life. "quarterlife" seems to filter out all the entertaining elements of those other types of shows and wrap what's left in a blanket of a corporate network's think tank view of genuineness. Even the title itself is contemptible; an uncapitalized, made up word intentionally contrived to be like it was typed in a text message or IM.

I would not have nearly as much vitriol for the show if it stayed in its nice little corner of the internet where it wouldn't be of any harm. However, putting it on a national, primetime stage and broadcasting this warped view of twentysomethings to the general public; that's when it crossed the line into a public menace. The only reason a show like this was even allowed on network television is the deluded, greedy mindset of network brass thinking that the key advertising demographics portrayed in the show would be duped by this and herded in. In that sense its an insult to the intelligence of every 18-40 television watcher. I hope the acute failure of this show gives a message to NBC that we although we are young we have been exposed to far more media than any graying baby boomer and we are pretty good at spotting a phony. The entertainment industry can manipulate people under 18 (Hannah Montana, High School Musical, etc.) and people over 50 (basically anything on CBS) but you can't expect to easily tame that mass in the middle (especially with weak shit like this).

For series creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, may this be your lesson in hubris. You both had great success with "thirtysomething" in the 80s, which is basically a prototype for this show down to the titling, because you guys were that age at the time and had considerable insight in the matter. Also it was a fresh new idea with a massive built in audience of millions of relatable baby boomers. You hit it again in the 90s with "My So-Called Life", which at least was a critical success. While the disconnect might have been even greater between creator and subject, it's fairly easy to appeal to confused, angst ridden, high schoolers. However, in the depths of your tragic confidence did you really think a bunch of fifty something guys could write a show about twenty somethings that would really resonate with them?

I wrote a while back about how nobody wants to watch a show about college kids (at least not involving hot co-ed sex) because we live uneventful, selfish, immoral, pointless existences. This doesn't appeal to adults because it's unrelatable and it doesn't appeal to college kids because we'd rather live our pointless lives than watch a bastardized version of it on TV. The same can be said here. One thing this generation has is a delayed development of maturity and independence. With things like the commercialization and fetishizing of our childhood nostolgia, later marriages, a hostile economy that's making a majority of college grads moving back home, most of us don't hit anything nearing adulthood until we're at least 30. Most of us aren't doing anything of particular difference with college outside of paying off our massive student loans and finding/starting work. If you're gonna portray this at least get your story straight and let us fucking, curse.

As a young man in the prime of his "quarterlife" living and going to school in the New York area, let this be a cautionary message to all future producers trying to capture a true cultural tableau of this generation: don't bother (or if you're going to, air it on Showtime).

1 comment:

  1. Dammit Victor-why do you always have to be right about everything? I'd rather not see a realistic depiction of our generation, mostly because it will scare employers into not hiring anyone under the age of 30. They'll see how selfish we are, but then realize that if hired, we would probably be better at their job than they ever could be. Maybe its just the unemployment talking, but how about something really drastic? I'm thinking "The OC" but set in a retirement home. Geriatric drama...yeah.