Whatever you want to call it - recession, depression, major economic clusterf*ck - there are very few people anywhere that haven’t been affected, and not in a good way. I’ve been writing and selling novels for over two decades, just had my seventh novel out last year. It’s been increasing tough for mid-list writers for quite some time, and I sold my seventh novel for about a third of the advance as I earned on my very first – to add insult to injury, I was told by my agent that I’m actually one of the ‘lucky’ writers – I’m still selling books when so many of my fellow novelists, all talented and seasoned professionals, have seen their careers disintegrate into oblivion. But this year, pitching a new novel to my agent and editors has been far harder than ever before, and I’m wondering if I’ve now joined the ranks of these erstwhile colleagues.
My books have always been kinda dark. The current novel nearly completed is a black comedy about domestic violence. ‘Nobody wants dark books,’ my agent admonished me in our last conversation. ‘It’s not a good time for gloomy stories. People are struggling with their own lives, they don’t want to read about other people in the same sinking boat. Readers want to escape from their miserable existence right now – they want upbeat escapism and happy endings, they want fairytale historical romance, they want lightweight fluff to read on the beach – think you can write that?’
‘Guess this means the murder mystery with the Neo-Nazi serial killer paedophile as a pharmaceutical lobbyist anti-hero is out of the question.’
This insistence on promulgating the ‘feel-good’ factor despite the realities of life seems to be endemic. Catchy little upbeat messages on over a thousand billboards are popping up across the States, dubbed ‘Recession 101’, designed by Charles Robb, founder of Charchin Creative in Florida, on behalf of an anonymous East Coast ‘donor’ – although with Members of the Outdoor Advertising Agency of America donating the space, printing materials and labour needed for the campaign, what exactly the anonymous donor is paying for is unclear.
‘Interesting fact about recessions,’ says one billboard in Rhode Island. ‘They end.’
My, how profound. Most things do. Eventually. It’s that ‘eventually’ that is killing us. So these billboards better have a long shelf life, because Rhode Island’s 12.1 per cent unemployment rate in May tied with South Carolina for third-highest in the country, behind only Michigan and Oregon.
It’s also doubtful these cheery little Pollyanna proverbs are making that much of an impact. Gail Robnett, 53, from Exeter, said she did not know anyone unaffected by the recession. ‘You're not paying attention to stuff like that when you're trying to put groceries on the table.’
‘Bill Gates started Microsoft in a recession’, another billboard reminds us.
Which didn’t do much to cheer up 24-year-old Ryan Korsak, who works for a Providence software company. ‘I appreciate the sentiment,’ he said, ‘but I'm kind of not Bill Gates.’ Exactly. Not many of us are. Or have any hope of ever being – we’re not dreaming of becoming fabulously wealthy anymore; we’re just hoping to hang on to what little we have left.
‘Stop obsessing about the economy, you're scaring the children,’ says another big billboard.
‘That's the overriding concept of the thing,’ says Robb, the brainchild behind the ‘God Speaks’ billboards in 1999 that threatened, ‘Keep using my name in vain and I'll make rush hour longer’. As if it's all our fault for not being Christian enough rather than driving hundreds of thousands of SUVs and not being willing to adequately fund public transport. Yup, why take any personal responsibility when it’s so much easier to blame the ‘godless’.
And why should Americans expect any different? We’ve raised an entire Generation Y of selfish, manipulative, consumer-driven, arrogant children to respect nothing - not teachers, not parents, not crushing debt, not bosses, not global warming.
Kids enter university after a lifetime of ‘esteem passing’ unable to write a coherent sentence or spell in anything other than text – 'trophy' kids rewarded for participation rather than any accomplishment, shuttled through the educational system regardless of ability or effort because not passing the little darlings might hurt their self-esteem.
Oh, wait, Robb has a billboard for that – ‘Self worth is greater than net worth.’ Good thing, then, because we’ve produced a whole lot of people with nothing but self worth and no ability to produce any net worth, believing themselves ‘entitled’ to the world being handed to them on a silver platter.
It is changing, which is good for those of us teaching English at universities, as the smarter of these trophy kids realise real life ain't so kind, and that to compete for the diminishing number of available musical chairs they need real skills. Debbie Bougdanos of the renowned advertising firm Leo Burnett, in charge of recruiting for the creative department, has seen a multitude of portfolios crossing her desk. Many of these Entitlement Generation applicants think they are ready for and deserving of the best jobs at the highest salaries straight out of college, but she’s equally adamant that the most definitely are not. ‘If I sense any of that attitude that arrogance, that expectation, that entitlement, that is an immediate turnoff.’
In a tight job market, getting the most out of your work force is increasingly critical, which ironically enough is starting to benefit the aging Boomer generation as savvy employers are starting to hire older workers over the Generation Y’s. The stereotype of older workers is changing fast - ‘That they're more reliable, sick less often, and have a work ethic bar none? Is that what you mean?" said Stephanie FallCreek, president and CEO of Fairhill Partners.
‘Mature age staff not only bring valuable experience to the workplace but also are more flexible with working hours,’ says an optometrist who replaced two of her younger staff members with two mature women. ‘We find that mature aged staff often have a better work ethic and body of experience,’ says a café owner. ‘This translates into better service for our customers and a better team dynamic.’
‘Peek into the cockpit as you board your next commercial flight. Chances are you are putting your life in the hands of one of the 70,000 airline pilots that are over 50 years old,’ says Steve W. Martin.
Mark Bauerlein of Emory University has written a book, ‘The Dumbest Generation - How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future’, objectively assessing the data to identify that slice of the population that, compared to every other generation, has performed the worst on standardized exams, acquired the fewest educational degrees and been the least attracted to professional careers. Not young college kids in their twenties, much as all too many have exhibited an inherited sense of entitlement. Not those raising families and starting out in careers in their thirties, although too many are learning far too late the dangers of overstretched credit. Not us boomers with fond memories of Woodstock in our fifties and sixties.
It’s far too many of those in their mid-forties - the truly ‘lost’ generation that entered the workforce in the heady feeding frenzy days of Bonfire of the Vanities and embraced the pervasive ‘Me First, F*@k You’ attitude that in very large part contributed to the downfall of the American economy and have shown no shame in flaunting their unwarranted bonuses and flying private jets to Washington to demand government bail-outs in true arrogantly entitlement style. But back in Pollyanna’s billboard paradise, another billboard has been erected. ‘This will end long before those who caused it are paroled’… as if all that many who deserve to be bunking with Bernie Maddoff will ever see the inside of a courtroom never mind a jail cell.Stop obsessing about the economy, you're scaring the children??
I should bloody well hope so. I hope we’re scaring the holy crap out of the next generation of kids, because we will not survive one more generation of MFFY’s.
Cross-posted at Mouse Musings