I have a love/hate relationship with these slice-of-lifestyle pieces like “The New Victorians” by Lizzy Ratner. I’m the kind of person who, upon visiting new cities, immediately begins making up grand stories about where I’d go and who’d I know and what color my kitchen walls would be there (always green), so I love articles that detail the social mores, if you will, of a particular group of young people in a particular place. But where the hate side of this comes in is when these articles purport to be representative of some sort of broad cultural-generational trend indicative of shifting priorities and values, or some such nonsense. Which is why I was rather immediately annoyed reading Ratner’s piece (in the New York Observer) earlier this week.
The whole gist of the piece is that a group of 20- and 30-something today — the “New Victorians” — are rebelling against the perceived slacker culture of both the baby boomers and 90s-Gen-X-ers by being ultra-motivated ultra-professional ultra-monogamous baby-having Williams-and-Sonoma-shopping urban bourgeoisie. It’s BoBos in Paradise (a book I loathe to admit I read and enjoyed) for the non-boomer set. And it has all the makings of a perfect Faux-Trend piece.
Backlash against some element of the 60s (baby boomers, feminists, drugs, sex, Jethro Tull)?
Complete white-washing of recent history?
Check, check, check. Yep. Looks like we have a Faux-Trend piece on our hands here, folks.
Of course, I think the New York Observer is kind of known for these sorts of faux-trend pieces. Julian noted the phenomenon a few months ago:
Via Laure, the New York Observer profiles the Manhattan blog scene. My first thought: “Oh, how funny. This sounds, mutatis mutandis, pretty much like my circle of friends. Just substitute DCist for Gothamist, Townhouse or Black Cat for The Magician, and so on.” My second thought: “Wait, this sounds like everyone’s circle of friends. Why is this remotely interesting? It’s about bloggers, but it could be med students, Redskins fans, brokers, whatever.” But the Observer seems to have made its stock-in-trade the mystification of the completely ordinary. What’s your per-word, guys? I can do five of these a week. We can start with my earthshattering 4,000 word expose of some dudes who are all lawyers and frequently eat lunch together.
So back to “The New Victorians.” This is probably so obvious it doesn’t need to be discussed, even, but humor me here a minute. See, I’m 25, and I have friends who are ultra-motivated and professional and friends who are more drifter types. I have friends who are married, friends who have kids, and friends who are blissfully single or dating and not planning on getting hitched anytime soon (or ever). I bet if you’re younger than me, you know people who have a Path® that involves college graduation, marriage by 24 and kids by 26, and I bet you know people who want to travel across the country in a VW van because they can, man. And if you’re older than me, I bet you knew people when you were 25 who already owned a house in a precious subdivision, and I bet you knew people who were still smoked pot in their parents’ basements. People “grow up” at different times, and people make different lifestyle choices.
The fact that some people in relatively the same age range and geographic locale have made some of the same lifestyle choices is not exactly shocking. And it does not make it a trend.
Of course, I’ve left out the most important question to ask when dealing with a suspected Faux-Trend piece: does it reinforce traditional/conservative values about gender/sex/marriage/children/etc. or hint that everyone would be happier leading extremely normative lives?
This is a big one in a lot, though not all, Faux-Trend pieces ( See: the opt-out myth, the death of feminism, or “Hip-publicans” ). It can take two forms: 1) Hysteria over what kids these days are up to or what effect some thing will have on today’s youth, their hymens, or their marriageability, or 2) the My-god! Isn’t-returning-to-conservative and traditional-values-so-revoluationary?!? angle.
Bonus points if you can throw in a Sex and the City reference; extra bonus points if you can convince women they’re going to die alone if they don’t marry ready-set-now; extra extra bonus if you can again blame the boomers while doing so.
So let’s see how New Victorians fares:
“There is definitely this return to tradition,” said a 27-year-old Upper West Sider named Olivia.
“Maybe this is also fallout from the sort of these boomer ideas about what sexual freedom is,” (Christine) suggested.
In this case, the reaction isn’t against specific syphilitic laxity and moral decay, but is rather a vague fear of too much sex … and the attendant nightmare of becoming—pardon the phrase—an aging spinster, lurching around New York sloshing cosmos and wearing age-inappropriate Capri pants, as in the TV version of Sex and the City and its many spinoffs.
“Don’t people in New York always talk about how it’s hard to find men?” Christine asked rhetorically. She has already received a lifetime’s worth of warnings from elder “singletons”—that overly chirpy, Brit-inflected term. Time and again she has been lectured on the scarcity of men, the sorrows of solitude, and the Clomid-chomping horror of post-35 pregnancy attempts. In fact, just a few months ago, Christine was out with friends when a pair of slightly older women launched into a jeremiad of dating and despair, imploring her to hold tight to her boyfriend, lest she wind up single and, gasp, 30-something, just like them. “It’s like I was being terrorized by these older women who were like, ‘Don’t let him go, there’s nobody out there!’” she recalled with an alarmed laugh. “I was really scared.”
Check, with extra extra bonus points.