Youth gleams. Gleaming light suggests energy, and energy suggest possibility, from daring accomplishments to sweet transgressions.
Youth shines beauty. Beauty reminds us of romance and sex, which is really just another way of telling us that it’s better to feel connected to others than it is to be hunkered down over a spreadsheet. It’s better to feel alive than halfway dead.
Youth smiles opportunity, sings promise, dances life. It swaggers confidence even as it gets a collective pass for its inexperience. Youth soars above the nonsense of those people who’ve given it up for more boorish, established alternatives.
Get over it. You’re not going to be young forever, so you’d better figure out something honorable to do with your life after youth fades.
Contemporary creative culture has a youth problem, and not because of anything bad that young people have done. In the coveted 18–34 year old demographic, marketers and other creatives are constantly expressing that life happens only when you’re unwrinkled, unencumbered, and unmarried. Hollywood, that strange cultural bellwether about big-picture cultural anxieties and desires, captured this phenomenon with the unintentionally satiric sci-fi movie PASSENGERS. More a twenty-something fantasy than a smart adventure story, the trailer alone echoes a phony youth culture that’s more aspirational and delirious than it is artful and authentic. In the trailer, two beautiful young people are trapped in an immense, gleaming spacecraft, all chrome and soft lighting. First they’re manipulated into sleek evening wear and hang out at a sexy bar without any need to schedule an Uber home. Then they face plot-driven excuses for them to get dunked in floating water tanks while wearing clingy clothes. They smooch in their space ship. Then they get to use their fledgling romance as an amplifier to uncover a mystery, which is really just a Rube Goldberg machine for reiterating the most vital motivation behind everyone who’s young: we can change the outcome of fate because the world does not yet know what extraordinary things we can do.
It’s adolescent, phony, and supremely calculated by studio moguls who green lighted the picture based on market data. The goal is for easy, easy, easy audience consumption, considering that audiences are inured to investing much brain power after they’ve invested fifteen dollars for a theater seat. I don’t blame the talented actors or creatives involved. I blame the marketing machine that crafted the whole whirligig in the first place.
The movie is really just an aching joint in a larger body. The overarching disease is a cultural trend we’ve all pursued, and it’s here we enter an old debate: does the market attract the customer or do customers compel the market to give people what they want? Between the horns of this bull we find reality. Sometimes it’s one thing, sometimes the other, but the point here is that both sides of the conversation are in dialogue.
Youth culture matters because it’s the eternal future. It’s always optimistic, and it’s always compelling. Fleeting youth is the thing we all want, even if we’re pleased to be finally old enough to feel a little more stable. But objects of our obsession inevitably cannot describe every aspect of life. Youth culture demands attention and respect and even golden light, but a world of ideas asks us to have a broader view. Even as we respect and sanctify youth, we must not forget that there is more complexity to the world, and the world demands our creative, lifelong commitment across all ages to make it a better place.