Kids these days, and their damn music! The self-absorbed little shits actually dare stress their individuality over their commonality, complains Nathan DeWall, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky, who has analyzed the lyrics of almost three decades of chart toppers.
Hit songs in the 1980s were more likely to emphasize happy togetherness, like the racial harmony sought by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder in “Ebony and Ivory” and the group exuberance promoted by Kool & the Gang: “Let’s all celebrate and have a good time.” Diana Ross and Lionel Richie sang of “two hearts that beat as one,” and John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” emphasized the preciousness of “our life together.”
It’s interesting that all those artists are baby boomers, a generation about which the exact same claims of self-centeredness and vanity were made ad infinitum.
Unfortunately but predictably, GenY’ers were then found wanting, too.
And so it goes.
There is, it appears, a whole cottage industry dedicated to helping us realize that in real life, young people don’t actually behave like the über-virtuous offspring of Doris Day and Mr. Rogers. In case you need to be reminded of the vanity of youth, Christopher Lasch (The Culture of Narcissism) made a mint of it in the seventies; Sam Vaknin (Malignant Self-love) provided the nineties’ sequel; and now we have Nathan DeWall and Jean M. Twenge carrying on the proud tradition.
None of this is intended as a defense of narcissism. It just seems to me that the never-ending hand-wringing over self-centered adolescents (not to mention that infernal racket they listen to) is not just an epic and slightly embarrassing yawner; it is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit that social scientists will have you sample. I had my fill long ago.
Rogier is a Dutch-born, New-England-dwelling multi-media maven (OK, a writer and photographer) whose dead-tree publishing credits include the New York Times, Wired, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Reason.