Talkin’ ‘Bout Mah Generation (or Die Yuppie Die)

Greg Sheridan, Foreign affairs editor for The Australian, starts a eulogy with "What can you say about a man who tells the door-to-door Greenpeace activist ‘I can’t stay and chat, I am barbecueing a whale on my wood-chip barbecue out the back.’"

He goes on to reference Tom Brokaw, and his book ‘‘The Greatest Generation’.  Brokaw found the WWII generation to be "astonishingly straight, decent and steadfast."

Robert Putnam, in his oft-quoted work ‘Bowling Alone’ concludes that there is a generational difference in terms of a zeitgeist feeling of belonging to society.  His conclusion is based on analyses of the US National Survey over the last forty years.  He claims that the generation that came back from the war had very high levels of social commitment.  They felt it was important to build their local communities as a result of what they had fought for and won. They all were in church on a Sunday morning.  They all belonged to Jaycees, Rotary, lodges, country clubs, PTAs, political parties, unions and a plethora of other community organisations.  They bowled together in workplace leagues.

The next generation, the baby boomers, not so much.  They belong to churches less often.  They  belong to political parties less often. If they belong to something it tends to be a non-attendance lobby group like the National Rifle Association, for example.  If they bowl, then they go down to the bowling alley and practice their bowling alone.

And in Gen-X/ Gen-Y, the game-boy/ x-box/ nintendo generation, such ideas are almost completely absent. They can belong to facebook and myspace and never turn up to any event unless they feel like it.

Of course, in most of the West, the boomers are the generation who grew up without a war and without a depression.  The first generation to do so.  The ‘me’ generation.  We all know the litany.  And after the excesses of the eighties and the nineties, the verdict on the yuppies is pretty much in.

Brett Easton-Ellis, to name but one, savagely lampooned the superficial, cashed-up, valueless, amoral, disconnected yuppie and his associated identity issues.  In the opening scene of one of his movies he had Patrick Bateman saying to the mirror, "I am not really there."

Now that yuppies are running organisations.  I wonder if we can draw a direct link between ‘character’ (or lack thereof) and the modern corporate landscape of hostile take-overs, leveraged buy-outs, greed, collapse and general internecine strife and politics?

One view is that, at the top end it has always been so.  In order to be a CEO you need to be ambitious, dominant, and with a big ego, (it’s not an easy job).  You don’t necessarily need a strong concern for others.  And it is not a generational effect.

At least yuppies are fairly easily identified, and their behaviour quite predictable.  Michael Dell (CEO of Dell Corp.) once said that if you are talking about a deal with someone and he or she orders a double caramel skinny macchiato with a twist of lemon and a sprinkling of cinnamon, then you should walk away from the table fast, because any partnership with that person is going to be a world of pain.  I tend to prefer Choysa in a chipped Railways mug, myself.

Of course I myself am of the yuppie generation.  Having had quite enough of all the talk of heli-skiiing, ocean-going yachts and imported wines in my early years, I went off to save the world.  A sadder and a wiser man these days, I find that I still fit the yuppie mould.  I don’t belong to community organisations, I have a small circle of friends, and I spend rather too much time talking about interest rates and house prices.  Are some yuppies good yuppies?  Or is the only good yuppie a dead yuppie?  Are sociopaths a subset of the yuppie-set or are yuppies a subset of sociopaths?  And in which direction does the causality flow? 

Perhaps there is a continuum between Mother Theresa and Patrick Bateman, with Bill Gates somewhere in the middle?  Where do you fall?

Provocative enough to draw comment? Join the discussion here.

Brett Easton Ellis Video about Yuppies

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