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Salad days: the gentrification of the self

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2015

Gen X was never supposed to get older. But a pair of recent essays by Tim Carmody and Choire Sicha show that the second third Greatest Generation is not immune to pivoting one’s emotional startup when midlife approaches. In The Iceman List, Carmody reevaluates 80s movie heroes and finds the more traditionally Reagan-esque characters might have had a point.

But today, in the 2010s, Top Gun is a treat. It’s as clean and shiny as a new dime. The cliches that later action films overloaded with world-building and backstory here present themselves unadorned, in all their purity. Cruise is just so charming, brimming with so much energy, it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t really know how to act yet. A bunch of Navy aviators singing Righteous Brothers in the bar looks like fun. Now that pilots, airmen, and aviators can serve in the US military openly without anyone asking who they sleep with, it’s super that Iceman and Slider might be gay. And guess what?

Maverick is kind of a jerk. Iceman is totally right about him. In fact, Iceman is right about almost everything. We didn’t notice this in the 1980s because everything about how the film is constructed tells us to sympathize with Maverick and hate Iceman’s guts.

My God, we’ve become Ed Rooney. We are eating it. (Well, Ferris was a dick.) Sicha started smoking as a teenager in the 80s but after quitting recently, desires to “make a senior citizen’s arrest” of his younger smoldering self, the Iceman to the Tom Cruise of his youth.

It’s like KonMari, except easy, because the only things you throw out are your cigarettes and your entire sense of self.

My friend Emily said she was happy for me, but wistful, too. The last smoker quitting seemed like another kind of gentrification. Now I’m gone, too, along with the gas stations and all the stores that aren’t 7-Eleven. But the emotional rent was just too high.

Quitting smoking is the khakis of existence. Quitting smoking is the Chipotle on St. Marks Place. I am totally not cool. I may as well be someone’s stupid Brooklyn dad. My hair is its natural color. Most days I’m just wearing whatever. I do yoga endlessly. What am I now?

I can feel this gentrification of the self coming in my life. As someone who watched TV and used the internet 23 hours out of every day for the past 30 years, I’m wary of how much screen time my kids get. All that TV in my youth probably wasn’t a good idea and the internet these days isn’t what it used to be, right? In a talk at XOXO last year, Hank Green said:

You have no obligation to your former self. He is dumber than you and doesn’t exist.

Ok! Pivot I will. Get off my lawn, younger self!

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