I’ve had some fun today trying to figure out what this somewhat enigmatic picture by Ryan McGinley
has to do with the article about “generation next” that it accompanies in today’s NYT Magazine. It looks like this fun trio is staying at the vertiginous Orlando Holiday Inn I stayed at last March, that was all in drab monochrome like this room. I can’t tell what the guy standing up is doing with his hands: extinguishing a roach? flicking a booger? picking a hangnail? Hmm. Very mysterious. And the couple on the bed—are they lovers or models? Is she hiding her face or picking sleep out of her eye? Are we supposed to assume that they’re waiting for hangnail man to jump in the sack with them? I guess we know they are from the privacy-indifferent generation because they haven’t bothered to close the curtain before they get down to whatever business we’re supposed to pretend they are contemplating. Feel free to offer your theories in the comments.
In the article itself, Ann Hulber scratches her chin and wonders about 18 to 25 year olds and their alleged struggle to escape from the shadow of their baby boomer parents. Citing poll data that shows them approving of gay marriage and disapproving of abortion more than their parents, she wonders if they are bringing into being some new pro-family political synthesis.
On one level, Gen Nexters sound impatient with a strident stalemate between entrenched judgments of behavior; after all, experience tells them that in the case of both abortion and gay rights, life is complicated and intransigence has only impeded useful social and political compromises. At the same time, Gen Nexters give every indication of being attentive to the moral issues at stake: they aren’t willing to ignore what is troubling about abortion and what is equally troubling about intolerant exclusion. A hardheadedness, but also a high-mindedness and softheartedness, seems to be at work.
And to risk what might be truly wishful thinking, maybe there are signs here that Gen Nexters are primed to do in the years ahead what their elders have so signally failed to manage: actually think beyond their own welfare to worry about — of all things — the next generation. For when you stop to consider it, at the core of Gen Nexters’ seemingly discordant views on these hot-button issues could be an insistence on giving priority to children’s interests. Take seriously the lives you could be creating: the Gen Next wariness of abortion sends that message. Don’t rule out for any kid who is born the advantage of being reared by two legally wedded parents: that is at least one way to read the endorsement of gay marriage.
Yes, this sounds like wishful thinking to me. I guess I’d be more convinced if this was actually one of their number offering this interpretation of their generation rather than a journalist speculating from the wings and trying to wish tepid political moderation into being. Hulber, though, explicitly tells us to ignore what they say about themselves—but if we do that, why interpret what they tell pollsters, which would certainly be as distorted as the way they choose to represent their generation? Their professed beliefs may be only so much sentimentality about the family, or a naive idealism about the cosntraints and choices adults face when they truly settle into raising a family or avoiding such a situation. Maybe they exhibit a stronger disapproval of abortion because they are better educated about sex or because presume the morning-after pill is available as an alternative. Who knows? Hulbert doesn’t any more than you or I do: she ends with a shrug: “However you end up sorting out the data, fun or crazy wouldn’t be how I would describe the Gen Next mix. Judged against the boomers’ own past or present, though, the outlook definitely looks unique.”