A few weeks ago The Millions posted an article “Ten Books to Read Now that HBO’s Girls is Back On.” The selections range from Jane Austen through to Sheila Heti. I read Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado based on the list’s recommendation, and now I am reading Mary McCarthy’s The Group. Dundy’s book came out in 1958 and McCarthy’s came out in 1963.
Dunham’s art seems to have touched upon something special. Her works are widely debated. Though she has many detractors, many have found that they can relate to Dunham. Dunham’s character in Girls says that she thinks she might be the voice of her generation.
Dunham may well be a voice of her generation. I certainly relate to her work, and it provides me with avenues to discuss the particulars of our generation. Reading the books recommended on the list has got me thinking about the roots of Millennial angst. Most of the writing on Millennials has asked, “what is different about this generation?” The question is useful for finding out why we are still living with our parents, putting of marriage and parenthood, and committing to a stable career. Less often is it asked, however, what the roots of millennial angst are.
Reading McCarthy and Dundy, it is clear that the indecisiveness of the Millennial generation did not begin with us. As Daniel Bell explained in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, the increased wealth afforded by industrial capitalism will turn people away from the profit motive. Bell’s thesis seems to explain Millenial angst fairly well, and these two books show the initial effects of the cultural contradictions.
Exploring the historical roots of this phenomenon helps to shed light on the problem. It delegitimizes the oldsters who poo-poo the laziness of our generation, by putting things into context. Finding a way to channel Millenial angst is central to the future strength of our economy and culture. Exploring the roots of this angst will help us to understand it better.