I spend a lot of time on public transport and, as any seasoned commuter will tell you, there is an art to enjoying yourself while getting from A to B; the most vital part of this is the ability to discretely listen to other people's conversations. Don't pretend you don't know what I mean. It's the ability pick up on a key word or phrase that sparks enough interest to keep you listening. For instance, if the phrase, "so after we found out we left the baby on the rollercoaster..." drifts over from the seat behind you, you continue listening in.
Don't be ashamed
We all do it.
One such incident happened to me recently. I was travelling by train when two young ladies, presumably in their mid-twenties, boarded at a rural station bound for Edinburgh. One of them was gesturing emphatically and was obviously rattled about something. Anyone who takes a route to Edinburgh late at night will know that this not out of the ordinary. However, what I overheard between changing podcasts really struck me.
"For Christ's sake, all he wants to do is play bloody Xbox and watch Netflix! Why can't he grow up and think about what I want too?"
In her, presumably Rose wine-fuelled, fury she had asked an excellent question. As generations of men go, the current crop of twenty-somethings is, undeniably, immature. Even if you are a Millennial man and are sure that this does not apply to you I wager that you will know several guys from among your friends to whom it does. Think about a reluctance to move away from home, to settle down, to get married, to have children, to commit to a career or to leave education and I'm pretty sure you won't have many mates left who aren't included. We are what the American sociologist Kathleen Shaputis called the "Peter Pan" generation; a group of guys who just don't want to grow up.
I don't think we ever had a chance.
If you go by the defining features of all the decades leading up to our formative years my point becomes clear. The Greatest Generation carried the rewards of winning WW2, their children shook the world with their message of love and liberation and Generation X were able to delight in having nothing expected from them other than cynical detachment.
When it came to Generation Y we had to scrabble for purpose in the cultural deadzone that was the 90's. No, my fellow 90's kids, don't start! Our decade, while being comfortable and prosperous, was as culturally important as Pitch Perfect or N-Sync. In the grand scheme of things, 90's culture means absolutely nothing, especially when compared to the four previous decades.
Today's twenty-something men grew up against a backdrop of cultural banality but some real role models could have aided us. It's just a shame that none did. Previous generations grew up with real role models, from popular culture to sport to politics. Vitally, they were real in the sense that they could be emulated if we were hardworking or lucky enough. If we consider the cultural touchstones that my generation of men grew up with - the possible role models were so outlandish and unrealistic that there was no way to emulate them.
While we could "learn" from episodes of the Power Rangers, Batman: The Animated Series, Thundercats or He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, there was no way to follow them in the same way as previous generations could attempt to follow their heroes. With no great struggle in the background like WW2 or the Cold War there was no common goal to aim for and thus no realistic masculine role models emerged. Even one of the biggest movies we had growing up, Toy Story, is essentially about the loss of traditional masculine aspirational figures. If you disagree then tell me why it featured a cowboy and an astronaut specifically.
Modern culture is also doing its best to keep us in the escapism to which we have become accustomed. One only has to look at the upcoming schedule for major blockbusters to see who is being catered for. We have just had the excellent but ultimately pure-nostalgia bait that was Jurassic World and the movies are gearing up to provide us with enough superhero flicks to keep most of us well into our "forties" when we are due to become, in pop-culture terms, obsolete. It doesn't look like the boyish, detachment-from-reality IV drip is to be taken away from us any time soon.
For the record, I do hear the sound of the world's smallest violin playing just for us. I do not expect sympathy to be forthcoming for twenty-something, middle-class, first world, white men. I fully acknowledge that anyone who isn't in that cross-section of the privilege Ven diagram would jump at the opportunity to have all of popular culture aimed exclusively at them, for their own wish-fulfilment. There's nothing I can do about it but I do acknowledge it.
Perhaps my generational comrades will grow up as the focus of popular culture moves from us to the next generation. Maybe we'll be given enough nostalgia IVs to sustain ourselves in perpetuity. Who knows? Either way, I suggest buying the vino in bulk and investing in a rail season ticket because the Netflix and Xbox obsession is going a source of grievance for some time to come.