Monday, August 20, 2012

A Fire Rises: Why Millennials Will Let Gotham Burn



“The global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero point.
It’s ‘four riders of the apocalypse’ are comprised by the ecological crisis, 
the consequence of the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself…
and the exploding growth of social divisions and exclusions”

Slavoj Zizek, Living in the End Times


================[=O=]=================

Warning: Synopsis & Spoiler

The Dark Knight Rises begins 10 years after the previous movie and a full decade since Batman began. Because of the "Dent Laws" passed in memory of the District Attorney that died in the Dark Knight, the city's police have been free to use extraordinary force to arrest the undesirables of the city, often with little or no chance for bail and an expedited trial process. Batman himself has been busy and now with his body in ruins because of the abuse of pushing it for so long, he is looking to retire. 

Then Bane arrives. Explosions begin and the city's bridges are destroyed, making it next to impossible for anyone to leave. Then Bane announces that he will detonate a nuclear device if the city does not submit to his demands, which are, to enter into a French Revolution-like anarchy. The city obliges, homes are burned and looted, and citizen after citizen are put to death in a farce trial (to match those that criminals had recently experienced). Then to commit to the French reference, the prison is stormed and the Dent-Law convicts are set free. 

In the mean time, Batman, aided by a police-comrade and a Catwoman-like thief, confronts Bane only to be defeated and sent to a prison deep in the ground, across the sea (a perfect hell/death metaphor). Batman does return, just before the bomb is to detonate, and defeats Bane. Unfortunately, the bomb will still go off, so Batman takes his new flying machine and goes on a suicide run with the nuclear device across the harbor, vanishing in a burst of light.

Subsequently, we find that Gotham constructs a memorial to Batman and Bruce Wayne's property is distributed to his friends and the poor. In a final scene, however, we discover Bruce Wayne is alive and living abroad in France, with Catwoman. Then we return to Gotham, to discover the name of the police officer which had been Batman's assistant throughout the event, Robin. Robin, aware of Batman's true identity, sneaks onto the Wayne property and the last image we receive is of Robin rising on a stone that emerges from under the water to be gifted by the cave with all of Batman's old weapons and armor.

================[=O=]=================


Who’s Afraid of the Big Black Bat?

“Does The Dark Knight’s extraordinary popularity not then point towards the fact that it touches a nerve in our idealogico-political constellation: 
the undesirability of truth?”
Slavoj Zizek, Living in the End Times

We didn’t ask to be born. We didn’t ask for your promises. We didn’t start the fire… But we take it nonetheless, not because of what you’ve said or what you’re now saying, but because we can and will do things that you won’t, like letting things collapse. We aren’t afraid of failure.

A recent article in the Huffington Post, by Ms. Emily Matchar entitled “How those spoiled millennials will make the workplace better for everyone” defends the hiring of the “generation Y” despite their panache for being “entitled:”
  • “Generation Y - loosely defined as those born between 1982 and 1999 -also known as millennials. Perhaps you know them by their other media-generated nicknames: teacup kids, for their supposed emotional fragility; boomerang kids, who always wind up back home; trophy kids - everyone’s a winner!; the Peter Pan generation, who’ll never grow up.” 
This characterization alone deserves attention, because Ms Matchar is not alone. CBS News , reported in 2008, in “ ‘The "Millennials" Are Coming:’
  • “They were raised by doting parents who told them they are special, played in little leagues with no winners or losers, or all winners. They are laden with trophies just for participating and they think your business-as-usual ethic is for the birds. And if you persist in the belief you can, take your job and shove it”
Likewise Meredith Bennett-Smith, in a '12 Huffington Post article, wrote
  • “They have been called the Millenials and Generation Y by some: the "Go-Nowhere Generation" and "Generation Why Bother" by others.”

To begin, I don’t know that we do behave as though we are “entitled,” but if we do, it is the fault of our founders. Those that made promises of what our lives and futures would look like, which they can no longer keep. Promises which they told us were our rights to receive. I do not think they lied, but are witnessing their own disastrous inability to make good on their word, they pass the bill (in so many ways) onto us.

We will take it, nonetheless, but what is doubly interesting, is that according to Ms. Matchar, we are expected to: “Work is done for less and less reward. Wages have been stagnant for years, benefits shorn, opportunities for advancement blocked. While the richest Americans get richer, middle-class workers are left to do more with less. Because jobs are scarce and we’re used to a hierarchical workforce, we accept things the way they are...Into this sorry situation strolls the self-esteem generation, printer-fresh diplomas in hand.…Will they adapt? They won’t. Ever. Instead, through their sense of entitlement and inflated self-esteem, they’ll make the modern workplace adapt”

In the following post I will explore these “entitlements” to demonstrate not how the Millennial’s prospects are grim, but how our embodiment of failure comes to us as projection of terror and despair by generations which witness their successes fail. Then I will demonstrate how our attitude which you cannot understand, is exactly what keeps us from jumping ship while our elders are ramming it into the iceberg after melting iceberg.

We will do it all, while examining the recent Batman film; a story about a home at war with terrorists, a failing economy, an energy crises, increased international and nuclear threats, as well as plagued by a siege mentality (“Get away! There isn’t much left, and we need it! Go try and find a future somewhere else”), and ready to be handed off to a younger generation by those who are ready to retire with a sexy younger girlfriend (who may or may not wear a cat-suit at night).  Ms. Matchar, writing on behalf of these Batmen writes with hope that “we should thank them for it. Because the modern workplace frankly stinks, and the changes wrought by Gen Y will be good for everybody.” Well, go ahead

Batman, Robin’s got this—but first, we will have to let Gotham burn.


================[=O=]=================
================[=O=]=================


Wards of the State

“Come Mothers and Fathers from across the land, 
and don’t criticize what you don’t understand…
Your old road is rapidly aging, 
please get off of the new one, if you can’t lend a hand” 
Bob Dylan, the Times They Are A-Changing

With the presidential elections over the past year, we have been hearing criticism that over generations we have effectively become wards of the state, dependent on hand outs we can no longer provide on a local, personal level. In its place, some want business to provide for us. What interests me in this, is that on both sides we see a tacit acceptance that the “nuclear family” (in many respects) has dissolved & the question has become: what to do with the orphans?

Between Batman and Robin, we see the Ward of Big Business & the Ward of the State. In the Dark Knight Rises, they come at the threat to Gotham from cross interest groups. Batman embodies the independently wealthy swooping in, trying to save the day with overwhelming force and the developments of new technology. Robin however starts off as a policeman, working as part of a team with the crooks and thugs (as we are led to regard the police of Gotham), attempting to save the day with unions of the faithful and moral superiority.

With the introduction of Bane, the good-times of Gotham’s business and state efforts are suddenly shattered and the city literally begins to crumble, devouring itself in a bloody mix of anarchism and revolutionary socialism (representing the extreme dreams/ nightmares of the right and left respectively). The question, or rather the tension, rises: what do we do when Daddy Business and Mommy Government can’t look after the kids?

Our answer when the city crumbles seems to be: us. When the parents are fighting, the kids band together or else look after ourselves. We may have lack of respect for institutions, but we have been given little reason to respect them given how quickly we are being eliminated:
  • Every 10 year-person that keeps his job, seals us out.
  • Every 20-year person that loses his job, takes an entry level one.
  • Every exec. cutting hours sees that we can’t get enough pay, if hired.
In this respect, Ms. Matchar is working off of good information when she cites Lindsey Pollak, saying that what the Millennials ask for is nothing more elaborate than the needs that all workers want, “they’re the first ones to leave when they don’t get it.”  This is because, while we fight for jobs, but we don’t expect to get them or keep them. We are opportunists. We are surviving, and we have loyalty to those that stick by us (which is largely not our employers).

We know how to share (easy as a ‘click’ for us) and how make do with owning less. We are skilled scavengers, ask most of us when we last paid for music. Companies are going under, staff is liquidated, and often because they are trying to solve new problems by outdated means; the execs don’t care so long as they make money. They burn down the house to collect the insurance. You can’t convince us to stay in burning houses. We aren’t afraid of the streets, we can’t be.

This brings us to a fundamental misconception with Ms Matchar’s description of the Millennials as entitled is her understanding of the relationship between our parenting and our development: “Since the cradle, these privileged kids have been offered autonomy, control and choices… encouraged to show their creativity and to take their extracurricular interests seriously. Raised by parents who wanted to be friends with their kids, they’re used to seeing their elders as peers rather than authority figures. When they want something, they’re not afraid to say so.” The problem with this description is not that it is wholly inaccurate, but that it functions off of a fraction of the facts. Entitlement may have been the plan of how our generation was raised, but its execution and context changed the results; such that we hold even less closely to mom & dad.

The United States over the last couple decades has gone through a crisis of “family,” with divorce rates now in the majority over “in-tact” partnerships. At the same time, we see an increase of women going for career and educational advancement instead of “settling down and starting a family.” Likewise more Gays and Lesbians are feeling free to come out, while remaining barred from marriage or adoption.  In the wake of these changes, the Millennial Generation is also the first Generation without a certain kind of “traditional” family and without great hope for its resurgence.

As a result, our lack of fear or sense of self-entitlement may come from a sense that we don’t have to worry about being marriage or parent material (at least not most of us or not for a while yet), so the concerns of settling into a stable job, getting a savings going, and finding a house (or moving out of our parent’s house) is not a concern.  This is then not really a feeling of “entitlement” but of dispossession. As orphans of the nuclear household, we see little reason to try to revive the “family-business”. We are less unilaterally interested in self-perpetuating institutions, we are ready to let many of them burn out.


================[=O=]=================
================[=O=]=================


A City Under Siege

“In order to apply a norm it is necessary to suspend its application, 
to produce an exception.” 
Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception

America is a country that feels perpetually under siege. Whether it is the Communists, the Terrorists, the Immigrants, the Exported Jobs, we have been told to fear the increasingly porous borders and globalization.

In this respect, America qua Gotham, are incredibly Medieval. The Knight was not only the protector at home, he was the one that went out of the safety of the walled-borders.  In that way, we was also a potential traitor. Like the mouth, the anus, genitals, etc, we are often very protective of our points crossing and of the things that cross in and out of them. Being a Knight, in this respect, is a Dark, dirty job. We want him to do our dirty work so we can stay clean, to be fearless so we can be afraid, to get hurt so we can stay safe--and Millennials are getting enlisted to serve as the outcasts and saviors by going where others won’t.

Evidence: The country remains afraid of myriad threats & enemies it perceives around the world.
  • It may criticize the ballooning military, but we don’t take serious measures to reduce it. And here too we have a generation gap. While many youth are opposed to our foreign wars, we nonetheless make up two thirds of its combatants. 
  • Besides the Border, Professionally, everyone is hunkering down. 
  • I can’t go to a conferences without there being a handful of panels about how Academia is under-siege and with voices continuing warnings that young scholars to go elsewhere.
  • I have looked and my fellow Millenials experience that statistic that the Washington Post offers, that 53% of us are out of work or underpaid. 
  • My friends in journalism, publishing, and yes, law, finance, and medicine are being told by all their mentors to look for work elsewhere because the field is over-saturated. 
  • Nearly every colleague of mine that went into teaching at public schools has since been eliminated from their position because of cut backs. 
  • Tech-jobs, supposed to be our generations golden ticket, are exported.
All over professionals are pulling up the draw-bridge, ridiculing millennials, left on the outside to scrape a living wherever we can, by moving back in with parents or drifting from job to job.

Those that are free to be naysayers and secret supporters are older and younger generations that stay safely behind our borders. Go ahead, call us entitled; we’ll stand by the friends that have died in your war, those that have come back with metal shards in their body, those that are out of work or growing deeper in debt. We understand fear, we understand what you are afraid of, we just don’t have the luxury to let it stop us (and you really don’t want us to). Those of you looking forward to a social security check, national security, and continued service industries are banking that we make it.

On this, Ms. Matchar again strike ironic tones, from inside the tower, watching us run out of the gate: “we could continue to roll our eyes at Gen Y, accuse them of being spoiled and entitled and clueless little brats. We could wish that they’d get taken down a peg by the “school of hard knocks” and learn to accept that this is just the way things are. But if we’re smart, we’ll cheer them on. Be selfish, Gen Y! Be entitled! Demand what you want. Because we want it, too.”

Likewise, I have to insist, invest in us. You may not like our attitudes and methods, you may not like us, but if you’re only interested in your own well being, you need to see that we succeed, in our waywardness. Sieges are won by starving out the city or smoked out. Unless Knights have the ability to go out & come back, to boomerang, nothing of your generation will survive the fire.


================[=O=]=================
================[=O=]=================


The Once and Future Generation

“Save Yourself, I’ll Hold Them Back”
My Chemical Romance, Danger Days: the True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys

Too big to fail has become a motto revered and hated in today’s infrastructures. The great irony being, of course, they fail. In the Dark Knight Rises, we very much see our state of affairs embodied by Gotham, Bane, & Batman wherein the forces of Creation, Destruction, & Salvation (or Self, Other, & Exception) respectively brought to the limit at which each part fails.
  • Gotham's success, in terms of finance & security, calls Bane wrath. 
  • Likewise, the scale of Bane’s terror, which withholds nuclear obliteration to bring about greater spiritual desolation (here I mean spiritual to refer to a whole host of intangibles), provides the room by which Gotham is able to preserve itself. 
  • Finally, Batman has raised himself physically & symbolically to such a limit, godlike, king-like, Christ-like, that materially he is deteriorating & literarily he can go no further without becoming void or else transcendent—which is what happens: Batman dies, comes back for a time, then finally disappears across the sea, into the clouds, consumed by light—then like Arthur & Camelot or Jesus & the Apostles, the people are left alone. 
Ultimately the salvation of Batman is no final victory, but more like a stimulus package, to hold back one great catastrophe, while the over-stressed bulk of Gotham continues to literally burn.

That is why we need Robin—which is no guarantee that he will fulfill our dreams of him. Honestly, our fantasies will continue to resemble a kind of exaggerated or even regressive images of our old regime: a New Batman; a New Great(est) Generation. The “undesirable truth” which Zizek refers to, and to which I have been trying to stress, is that this is not coming. What may make the Millennials most adored and most hated is the new promise being made for us that we will be the death knell and the savior of the great society; and both will be fueled by the half-truth that we will fulfill those roles. The Millennials will let Gotham burn—and we will build a new city, constructed by the broken pieces of the past and for the broken challenges of the future.

So what might the Millennial Gotham look-like? No doubt, there will be some dreams fulfilled, giving credence to Ms. Matchar’s prophecies from the past that: “The American workplace has been transformed during economic upswings and downturns. The weekend was a product of labor union demands during the relative boom of the early 20th century. The Great Depression led to the New Deal’s Fair Labor Standards Act, which introduced the 40-hour work week and overtime pay to most Americans. But now, workplace change is coming from unadulterated, unorganized worker pushiness.” The bad-news, so to speak, is that the possibility of such new deals will come out of the loss of old deals. Our lack of loyalty to things which we currently hold as sacred is what will allow us to harvest them for resources to serve the ends which we do hold as important. You can dream that the King will return from Avalon, but the reality, for better and for worst, is that you will receive something utterly new and different.

What will come?--- We make no promises. We may have hope, but our search for it will be like looking through Pandora's box. As such, I finish with a few parting words in and on Pandora's Hope, by Bruno Latour, in 1999:"In this century, which fortunately is coming to a close, we seem to have exhausted the evils that emerged from the open box of the clumsy Pandora. Though it was her unrestrained curiosity that made the artificial maiden open the box, there is no reason to stop being curious about what is left inside. To retrieve the Hope that is lodged in there, at the bottom, we need a new and rather convoluted contrivance. I have had a go at it. Maybe we will succeed with the next attempt."


================[=O=]=================
================[=O=]=================
================[=O=]=================
================[=O=]=================

No comments:

Post a Comment