My late grandfather used to like telling us stories of growing up in the Great Depression. The entire Brooklyn neighborhood, he recalled, was struggling to get by. What food there was had to be stretched for the family. The Christmas season promised, at most, a single, modest gift.
He wasn’t romanticizing those times, nor was he particularly emphasizing how much better my siblings and cousins and I had it in our youth. He was only describing how things had been. You can’t say the same for Americans who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, who have created a whole genre of memes glorifying their childhoods without seatbelts or bike helmets.
On the surface, these posts are purely amused by the standards of child “safety” some 50 years ago, and expressing relief at having “survived” the gauntlet of dangers that hands-off parents never worried about. But there’s also a vein of criticism running through such content — an inkling that Boomers and Gen X-ers are tougher than millennials and zoomers for having been raised under these conditions. It’s almost like they’re saying we can’t afford houses because we weren’t exposed to lead paint in our youth. And, as in ubiquitous criticisms of “participation trophies,” the older generations also (accidentally) impugn their own “soft” parenting style.
Granted, these aren’t quite as bad as Minions memes declaring that “All Lives Matter.” At least there is genuine nostalgia attached to these sepia-toned photos and you-had-to-be-there memories. But to brag that you had a practically feral, unsupervised adolescence that, between the second-hand smoke and undiagnosed concussions, probably caused a fair degree of brain damage — huh? Okay. I guess ’90s kids missed out on the magic of that shitty era.
Maybe there’s a more charitable read. With millennials becoming the first age cohort in American history to have it worse than their parents, it could be that our elders are saying: Hey, we’re on top of the world now, but you wouldn’t believe what we had to live through to get here, and you enjoyed a comparatively nice ride until the crushing realities of adulthood set in. Sorry for the decline of civilization and all that; be happy you were fed nutritious meals and didn’t get belt-whipped as a kid. Everyone could stand to be grateful for some of their experience. Right?
Ugh, fuck it. I’m just going to pretend that decades don’t exist. Beats getting old, I’m sure.