Thursday, 11 July 2013

"Girls" and Postwar Prosperity

Recently, there has been a lot of bandying about of the concept that the "American Dream" is dead. The intersection of growing income disparity and reduced educational opportunities, coupled with crippling student debt no longer allows someone in the lower 5th of income distribution to rise to its upper echelons. Social mobility seems to be on the decline as it is harder and harder for the 21st century "little guy" to work his way up the ladder. This is even more starkly noticeable juxtaposed with the age of Postwar Prosperity, pegged between 1945-73.

 Now all thoughts and opinions on socio-economics and capitalism aside, and certainly assuring all those concerned that I do not profess to be any sort of expert on the economy, let's focus for a moment on this time period. More specifically, l'd like to examine another important contributing factor to the successful upward mobility of the American middle-class, before globalization really began to take effect and certainly before the prime of the internet era. In this follow up to my previous blog post, I will briefly discuss work ethic, and how it relates to the generation of the iPhone.

Being careful not to lose ourselves in the heady fragrance that is Golden Age Nostalgia, let's harken back to a different time. I have often caught myself marvelling at the single mindedness of the American middle-class following the Second World War. Many veterans returning home immediately looked for ways to keep busy and stay busy, building businesses and driving the economy forward. People were content with spending 12-14 hr days doing backbreaking work, all in the name of the "American Dream" and for the financial stability of their family. Once you found a career, you rode it all the way to retirement, regardless of how dull or stimulating it was. They found fulfilment in their occupations and in the steady daily grind of their jobs. Procrastination must have still been prevalent in many young recent graduates, though it seemed as though a premium was placed on finishing school and getting straight to work.

Of course, those people still exist today and in fact can be found all across the world. I do not doubt the work ethic of the present day middle-class. Instead, a prime example of what I refer to can be found in on the HBO show Girls, which I will admit I have followed very closely, though perhaps without the somewhat religious fervor that is attached to it. Girls tracks a group of  twenty-somethings as they trek through the wilderness of living as relatively unemployed recent graduates in New York City. This is a territory I am quite familiar with, though I tend to be fully clothed more often than Lena Dunham is. Decidedly so. But I digress...

One of the salient traits found in each character on the show is that they all expect things to come easily to them. Hannah whines to her parents to support her indefinitely. Marnie wants a boyfriend she spurned to come running back to her, while Jessa demands a free pass for her erratic and destructive behaviour. Even the successful one of the bunch, Charlie, falls ass-first into prosperity by developing a wildly popular iPhone app. My point here is not to criticize the TV show, but instead to allow it be the commentary it is on my generation.

We who have touch-phones and constantly accessible 3 or 4G service expect things to happen quickly, experiencing maximum outcome for minimum effort. If a video doesn't load, we click the play button over and over again until it does. When Wi-Fi conks out or is unavailable, we throw up our hands in frustration. We want things fast, we want them now and we don't want to work for them. Therefore the shock of graduation and the threat of growing up becomes even more pronounced. Why should we be inspired to pull our own weight or make overarching sacrifices of personal comforts when we are conditioned not to have to in our every day lives? Instead of travelling to visit someone we can text them. Instead of renting a book from the library we can pull up an article in 3 seconds. Instant fame seems to effortlessly find You-Tubers. Sometimes, it seems as though what is more important than finding a solid job or working hard for our goals is perpetuating an image on Instagram. It's certainly easier.

 Perhaps one of the reasons that American social mobility falters today is because our work ethic is not up to standard. It only takes one look at Japan or China to see our shortcomings in that area. They share the same single-minded drive that those middle-class Americans did during the age of Postwar Prosperity. For before  cellphones were a staple in everyone's hands, what did people do? They worked. Towards something, for someone. They struggled. They strove. They built the United States of America into the country that it is. As part of the next generation responsible for this economy, we  must take example from the working middle-class of the 1940's-70's.

In fact, it is their attitude that is in direct correlation with one of the reasons why I love New York. There's a saying that it will still cost you $40 just to stay at home all day in Manhattan. It's an expensive, fast-paced city and if you don't work hard you will not keep up. Especially in the entertainment business, you have to put procrastination aside and pound the pavement. However, the only way that we can do that, is if we really retrain ourselves not to yearn for what is easy. Instead, we have to search for the challenge and embrace what is uncomfortable. I'm proud to say that I pumped out this blog in a single 90 minute sitting, after turing my phone off and closing all forms of social media. We are all capable of reaching our goals, but only if we alter our mindset, turning away from the comfortable and looking instead to the earnest development of a strong work ethic. It is a long road to true diligence but it is certainly one worth travelling.

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