It's everywhere, it seems. In my Fashion and Consumer Culture class, it comes up in discussions of social media use. In political discussions, it comes up when we talk about voting behavior. On Facebook, it takes the form of a steady stream of articles attacking Baby Boomers or Gen X or Millennials for their horrible attitudes or heinous deeds. Only the Greatest Generation seems exempt from criticism -- unless they voted for Donald Trump or send you an ugly sweater.
I have spent enough time studying these generational labels and stereotypes to find this generational warfare not only contrived, but as irritating as hell.
No generation is a monolith. We must consider two things. First, the ways in which "generation" intersects with race, gender, dis/ability, sexual orientation, class and other facets of identity.
Second, we should not ignore who creates, broadcasts, and uses these generational stereotypes, and for what purposes. They were marketing terms before they were identities. That is how consumer culture works. Once a stereotype permeates popular culture, it can be used by individuals to construct their own identities, or to "other" vast sections of the population. It can also be used not only to sell things, but to promote political agendas.
How is generational resentment any different from convincing people that Black people took your spot at the university, or that immigrants stole your job?
Last April, Indian superstar actor Shah Rukh Khan released a film called "Fan". It cost a pile of money to make, and didn't do too well at the box office. Reviews were mixed. People who expected another masala entertainer, or a passionate love story, or a fast-paced action movie (all of which Khan has done, and done spectacularly) were not sure what to make of this dark, even creepy story about a fan so obsessed with his superstar lookalike that he tries to destroy him. Haters in the comment sections called it a flop and declared that the fifty-year old actor was now a has been.
I saw "Fan" five times in two weeks. Twice by myself, then one time each with three different friends, all new to Hindi cinema. They were blown away by the story and by Khan's performance. Shah Rukh Khan plays both parts, aided by top-notch special effects and his own physical ability to embody a twenty-five-year-old's energy in his own battered but still very fit frame. There were even people who walked out of theaters singing the praises of "that guy who plays Gaurav", not realizing it was Khan.
A year later, "Fan" still fascinates me. I own it now, in fact. Shah Rukh Khan occasionally refers to it in interviews in a sad, self-deprecating way, as if it were his own personal Edsel. I hope he is kidding. I hope he knows that, box office be damned, it was a risk worth taking. “Fan” is that odd kid from high school that you can’t get out of your mind. And then you meet him thirty years later and he’s so interesting and so attractive that you kick yourself for not hanging out more with him when he was fifteen.
"Fan" may be underappreciated now, but it will be remembered among Shah Rukh Khan's very best works, and certainly as one of his most interesting.
From my 1976 Journal
From early September:
And here's the thing: the terror, the fear of being unprepared never completely went away. I still have stage fright before every class, even just a little bit. I still have the same dream the night before the first day of classes -- I am late for my flight and discover I left something at home, and go back to get it, making me even later.
So it's hard not to laugh at the inauspicious start to my "last first day": I realized after Jim dropped me off at the Bagel Place that I had left my office keys and ID at home. Since I need them to not only open my office door, but to access my classroom and ride the university shuttle, this was not good. Happily, my luck changed; I found a taxi quickly and was able -- for a price -- go home and get the keys and get back to campus before my first meeting.
I had debated whether or not to let my students in on the significance of this semester, but finally decided what the hell. I informed my 12:30 class that this was my last first day, and gave some special love to my 3:30 class -- my last first class ever. I wish I could say I savored the entire day, as planned, but the truth is that it was a good day, but I am glad it's over. Pneumonia takes the starch out of you, big time. I could not help but notice how easy and comfortable I felt, with only a little bit of first day adrenaline.
And no midnight cockroach massacre in the kitchen this time.