To create one thing: Rock and Roll, defined

From Keith Richards' autobiography, Life:

What you're looking for is where the sounds just melt into one another and you've got that beat behind it, and the rest of it just has to squirm and roll its way through. If you have it all separated, it's insipid. What you're looking for is power and force without volume -- an inner power. A way to bring together what everyone in that room is doing and make one sound. So it's not two guitars, piano, bass and drums, it's one thing, not five. You're there to create one thing.  


Why authenticity is bad politics, and bad for politics

(This post is an expansion of a column I wrote for the Ottawa Citizen.  I wrote this post because the limitations of a column length didn't allow me to properly address the various arguments made by Allan Gregg in his recent lecture on authenticity, to which this is mostly a reply. I still don't think I've adequately answered all of Gregg's arguments, but hopefully at least suggests the direction a proper reply might take).

 1. The Desire for Dave

The 1993 movie Dave is about a loveable everyman who happens to bear a remarkable similarity to the president, named Bill Mitchell. Dave is hired to impersonate the president at a public event for what he's told are security reasons, but it's really to serve as a stand-in while the president carries on an extramarital affair. Except the president has a stroke during the liaison and goes into a deep coma, so there is nothing for it but for Dave to continue to act as the president under the control of the president's chief of staff and director of comms. 

The President wasn't super popular and his wife hates him, and Dave's innocent enthusiasm is a fresh change from the cynical operator that Mitchell was. Mitchell's popularity starts to climb as President Dave visits a homeless shelter, takes on other feel-good projects, and generally acts as the anti-Mitchell. There's not need to explain the rest of the plot, the key point is this: "Dave" is the embodiment of one of the deepest desires in our culture for a leader who looks just like the current president, except he is selfless instead of calculating, innocent instead of cynical, and honest instead of deceitful. Bonus: it is even implied that Dave has a bigger penis than the actual president. 

Our culture is completely captivated by the desire for Dave, and it goes by the term "authenticity". 

2. Authenticity lost

The desire for Dave, or what we can call the search for authenticity, has been around for as long as there's been politics, which means it has probably been around forever. But over the last half decade or so, it has been elevated from a legitimate regulative ideal that serves as a check on some of the nastier tendencies of our political culture. It is now held up as the defining virtue of the political leader and the cure for all that ails the body politic. Authenticity, goes the argument, is both good politics (that is, a winning electoral strategy) and good for politics (that is, a way of regaining the trust of the public and its faith in the power of government to work for the common good). 

The American writer Joe Klein signposted the trend in his 2006 book Politics Lost, an essay about the decline of authenticity in presidential politics. Klein took his inspiration from what he called Harry Truman's "Turnip Day" speech at the Democratic convention in 1948 that confirmed his nomination for president. Coming on stage after midnight, speaking plainly, simply, and without notes, Truman challenged the "do-nothing Congress" to act upon those views they claim to endorse, and get back to work. Klein thinks we need more Turnip Day moments, more politicians like Truman. He argued that politicians need to "figure out new ways to engage and inspire us - or maybe just some simple old ways, like saying what they think as plainly as possible."

By the time the 2008 election rolled around, the authenticity meme had completely taken hold. For the most part, that election was framed as a battle between competing authenticities: Barack Obama's post-partisan and post-racial authenticity against John McCain's Straight Talk Express. Paired on the VP tickets were Joe Biden's "authentic" tendency to speak first and think later, up against Sarah Palin's moose-hunting mavericky small-town heartland authenticity. 

Four years later, the question of the supposed authenticity of  the various  Republican candidates for the nomination is once again a big issue - and it's something the candidates themselves seem happy to embrace. Here's John Huntsman in a recent NYT profile:

“I think what’s going to drive this election, really, are two things — authenticity and the economy,” Huntsman told me. “I think people have become so disillusioned by the professional nature of politics — the organizations around politicians, the way that politicians approach problem-solving, the way in which they go about their daily business. There has been very little in the way of authenticity in politics in recent years.”

My argument is that Huntsman has it wrong. The problem with politics today is not that there is not enough authenticity in our politics, it is it that there is far too much of it. The push for more authenticity fundamentally misunderstands the nature of mass politics, and contributes to the very problems it is supposed to solve.

3. Politics Unplugged

Like most bad ideas that come North from the United States, the authenticity craze has reached Canada in a somewhat bleached form. It doesn't dominate our political discourse the way it does in the US, but in late November, Allan Gregg -- a man with one of the most interesting CVs in Canadian public life -- delivered a lecture to the Public Policy Forum called "On Authenticity: How the Truth can Restore Faith in Politics and Government." Gregg's claim is that there is a profound disconnect between what we want from our politicians, and what we are getting. Our leaders' most systematic failure, Gregg says, is that "they have not picked up on the electorate's craving for authenticity nor adjusted their behaviour to conform to this new reality."

Gregg even has his own Turnip Day homily to explain just what he's getting at. He tells a story about the night he went to see a folk-rock band in a club in Manhattan when the guitar player's electric pickup broke. Instead of stopping the show to fix the guitar, the band unplugged their instruments, moved closer to one another, and performed an intimate number, with the two singers at one point singing directly to one another in stunning harmony. Says Gregg: "As the last chord was struck, the room literally exploded with rapturous cheering, hooting."

Gregg thinks there's a lesson in this for our politicians. What they need to do, he suggests, is unplug from the way they've always done things and try to reconnect with the electorate. They must drop the prefab talking points designed to "conceal meaning." They need to stop claiming to be the only island of virtue in a sea of knaves. They should cancel all political advertising, and talk straight to the people, saying what they mean and meaning what they say.

How would the electorate respond to a politician who took this approach? Extremely well, Gregg believes. As evidence, he cites a poll showing that three quarters of Canadians would vote for a politician who promised to be truthful 100 per cent of the time, regardless of their party affiliation. "Speaking the truth," he concludes, "is not bad politics." Even better, such an approach would be good politics, and good for politics. "For government to have the  capacity and legitimacy to make the kind of decisions necessary to deal with situations that go seriously wrong, requires trust, " he says in his concluding remarks. And he thinks authenticity is the means to that end. 

4. Is authenticity good politics?

Allan Gregg gives two examples to support his thesis that the public will respond to authenticity: The election last year of the socially progressive Muslim Naheed Nenshi as mayor of Calgary, and the election in fall 2010 of Rob Ford -- "a leather-lunged, no necked know-nothing" -- to a landslide victory as mayor of Toronto. Here's how Gregg parses these victories:

The evidence suggests that Ford and Nenshi’s very uniqueness -- and that they were not afraid to hide their uniqueness -- made them seem more authentic and believable – basically, the message these politicians sent the electorate was ... “what you see if what you get”. In Rob Ford’s instance, his very crudeness and unrefined nature made him seem “real” and signalled he was not trying to  hide anything from voters. The fact that their candidacies horrified traditional power brokers also  worked in their favour – basically, if the defenders of the status quo were afraid of them, Nenshi  and Ford must be “for the people”.  

One initial problem with this is that, in the case of Toronto at least, Gregg is ignoring the recent history of the city's politics. Rob Ford is far from the first crude, loudmouthed rightwinger to win a landslide victory as mayor -- Mel Lastman did it twice, in 1997 and 2000. So perhaps this has more to do with the city's post-amalgamation demographic than it does with any strong public craving for "authenticity". At any rate, Gregg's thesis has hardly been convincingly established. 

A more serious problem with Gregg's analysis is that he never actually defines what he means by authenticity. He opens his talk with Polonius' famous "to thine own self be true" line from Hamlet, but he does not seem to grasp the lesson of that passage. Throughout the talk, Gregg insists on treating "authenticity" as a synonym for "truth" or perhaps "honesty". But as Lionel Trilling explains in his book Sincerity and Authenticity, the significance of Polonius and the way we have internalised his message to Laertes is that authenticity has nothing to do with the truth. More precisely, it is about being true to your (idealised) sense of self, not to any external objective facts. 

It is hard to overstate the importance of this. The shift from objective facts to self-actualization marks the shift from reason to the emotions as the foundation of knowledge. The hero of a culture of authenticity is not Descartes, or Bacon, or even Hume, but Oprah Winfrey. 

It is this fundamental confusion over just what it is he's talking about that leads Gregg to confuse populism with authenticity. It's an extremely common mistake, but it's the sort of mistake that leads him to suggest that Rob Ford is a paragon of authenticity. Ford may in fact be acting "true to himself", in that he doesn't seem inclined to do the usual things we expect of politicians such as hide their antideluvian bigotry or show respect for their entire constituency.  But given that Ford is also one of the least honest, and least transparent politicians to appear on the Candian scene in decades, it isn't clear how his brand of authenticity-as-rube-populism is good for anyone, or anything. 

5. Authenticity is in the eye of the beholder

You see what I did there, in that last passage? I took someone that some people might hail as refreshingly authentic, and turned his purported virtues into vices. That is, I just wrote an anti-Rob Ford attack ad. And the reason I could get so personal against Ford is thanks to the jargon of authenticity.

Whatever else it may be, a claim to be authentic is a claim about your character, and if you choose to rest your appeal entirely on who you are -- your sincerity, your honesty, your truthfulness -- then you open yourself up to personal attacks. And why should it be otherwise? When it comes to the politics of authenticity, character assassination becomes a legitimate -- if not completely obligatory -- gambit. That is why, despite what supporters of authentic politics like to argue, the focus on authenticity may end up exacerbating the deeply partisan and negative campaigning that voters claim to find so off-putting. 

It is important to keep in mind that no one goes into public life with the intention of speaking in sound bites, breaking their promises, and demonizing their opponents. So why do they do it? For the most part, it is because they are soon confronted with the challenge of trying to communicate to millions of people under the continuous and hostile gaze of a political opposition and media that will rip them apart at the slightest misstep.The result is, inevitably, a political culture that is almost completely devoid of spontaneity or intimacy.   

What this points to is perhaps the biggest problem with Gregg's thesis, which is the very concept of "politics unplugged." The metaphor of the political sphere as something like a small Manhattan club gets it exactly wrong. National politics is more like an outdoor rock festival with two or three stages, where radically different groups of fans are mixed together to see radically different bands. Pure volume is the only means of survival in such a scenario, and any group that tried to "connect" with the audience by going unplugged would get steamrolled.

But so what? The desire for something else -- for Dave, for Turnip Day, for Politics Unplugged -- is often held up as the stance of noble idealism. It is not. What the pining for authenticity amounts to is just the desire to take the politics out of politics. If this is idealism it is of a very immature sort - there's a reason why Dave is a whimsical Hollywood comedy, not a documentary.

It's an idealism that encourages voter apathy (because "they are all liars", or because "no one speaks to my interests") and obscures this essential truth: We live in an enormous country of 33 million people with any number of deeply incommensurable conceptions of the good.

Canada is not a quaint little village, and the fact that our politicians frequently feel the need to pander to the masses, to change their minds, to break promises, and generally to do what is politically expedient and not govern according to their own idiosyncratic notion of the truth -- this is not a flaw in our system. It is its best feature. 



Go Out and Explore

I spent the holidays reading books about the golden age of Antarctic exploration. At some point I'd like to try to write something substantial about it -- especially the psychology of exploration. I think it differs in noteworthy ways from the psychology of warfare (Apsley Cherry-Garrard makes an interesting comment at one point about how he'd much rather be surrounded by explorers than trench-men), and it strikes me that a great deal of the recent literature on happiness could benefit from a serious reading of Scott's and Shackleton's journals. 

But in the meantime, I just finished Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World, and I want to let his closing sentences marinate for a while:

And I tell you, if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore. If you are a brave man you will do nothing; if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery. Some will tell you that you are mad, and nearly all will say "What is the use?" For we are a nation of shopkeepers, and no shopkeeper will look at research which does not promise him a financial return within a year. And so you will sledge nearly alone, but those with whom you will sledge will not be shopkeepers: that is worth a good deal. If you march your Winter Journeys you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin's egg. 


Art is what you can get away with*

An example of Michel Luc Bellemare's "supra impasto" technique. Photo courtesy Ottawa Citizen.


My colleague Zev Singer has a feature in this week's Observer about an Ottawa artist named Michel Luc Bellemare who has spent the past few years pulling off a fascinating artistic grift: He's fudged his resume, claiming have "his work in the National Gallery; acquisitions by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Museum of Civilization; a PhD from Carleton University; stories written about his groundbreaking work in the Globe and Mail, the New York Times and USA Today."

None of it is true, but that hasn't stopped Bellemare from using these purported credentials to get media attention and space in local galleries.

As Zev points out, this is an old trick, and Bellemare is hardly the first artist to use calculated misrepresentation as a way of not only advancing his career, but also making a meta-statement about the nature of art. But unlike, say, Warhol, whose deceptions were designed as comments on the superficiality of art and the shallowness of fame, Bellemare can't seem to decide whether he's making an artistic statement, or just trying to get people to pay attention to his paintings.

In the end, the question is whether Bellemare's work is any good. He uses what he calls a “supra impasto” technique to create a “highly textured surface, globs upon globs of colour.” And while Bellemare "considers it work of the highest level," curator Diana Nemiroff is not so sure:

“Yes, there is a slight possibility that we’re unable to see the genius in his work,” Nemiroff said. “Historically, there have been artists who’ve been overlooked. Today, when the art world is global and constantly searching for the next new thing, it seems less likely that a new van Gogh, for instance, would see his paintings go unsold.”

Here's a link to Zev's story, and a gallery of Bellemare's work.

* Thanks to Andrew Coyne for the title.



The McDonald's cheeseburger (story) that won't die 

In the olden days, parents would tell stories of cannibalistic witches or pedophilic wolves in order to frighten their children into behaving. In our food-obsessed times, we torment them with tales of frankenfoods, meals from the undead: Cola drinks that will dissolve molars overnight; Chewing gum that will sit undigested for decades in your stomach; Twinkies that will be around when the Sun goes supernova.


Then there's the McDonald's cheeseburger, which is the Friday the 13th of fast-food frighteners: It simply won't die. According to popular legend, McDonald's cheeseburgers don't rot, go mouldy, or otherwise modulate through the usual stages of organic decay. And the reason, it is said, is that the McDonald's cheeseburger is not Real Food. Instead, it is a cheeseburger-shaped agglomeration of salts, preservatives, and other additives which are not of this earth, and not suitable for human consumption. 


The story has been around for ages. Morgan Spurlock used the undead hamburger as a prop in his 2004 movie SuperSize Me. In 2008, Karen Hanrahan blogged about how she uses a 14-year-old hamburger as a device for frightening parents away from fast food, and Artist Sally Davies photographed one every day for six months or so. And now, a Windsor, Ontario  nutritionist named Melanie Hesketh is getting attention for -- surprise -- using a non-decomposing McDonald's cheeseburger as a fright wig with which to terrify her kids:


Mould, maggots, fungi, bacteria — all have avoided the tempting meal that sits in plain view.
“Obviously it makes me wonder why we choose to eat food like this when even bacteria won’t eat it,” said Ms. Hesketh.
The meat patty has shrunk a bit, but it still looks edible and, with a faint but lingering greasy, leathery odour, she said it “still smells slightly like a burger . . . it hasn’t changed much.”


The article, by Windsor Star reporter Doug Schmidt, goes on to speculate about the salt content of the burger being the source of its longevity, and quotes at some length a chiropractor named Michelle Prince -- because chiropractors are well-known for their scientific judgment. “I think most people who see this are swayed,” said Ms. Prince. 


Well that settles it then, doesn't it?


Not quite. Last year, J. Kenji López-Alt -- the editor of the food website Serious Eats -- decided to actually test the whole cheeseburgers-last-forever-because-they-aren't-real hypthothesis, by looking at how home-made burgers of similar dimensions fared under similar conditions:


Well, well, well. Turns out that not only did the regular McDonald's burgers not rot, but the home-ground burgers did not rot either. Samples one through five had shrunk a bit (especially the beef patties), but they showed no signs of decomposition. What does this mean? It means that there's nothing that strange about a McDonald's burger not rotting. Any burger of the same shape will act the same way. The real question is, why?


Indeed, why? To find out, I'll leave you, dear reader, to do what Spurlock, Hanrahan, Davies, Hesketh, Prince, and Doug Schmidt did not do, and that is to read to the end of the piece. The answer might surprise you. But I promise, it's nothing to be frightened of.  

The Agony of Authenticity, or the impossibility of gift-giving

This is pretty much self-explanatory:

Part of the anxiety of gift-giving in New York at this moment in history arises from the fact that you can’t merely buy a gift; you must supply a narrative, and the narrative must be in some sense homespun, which then positions you in tasteful opposition to the vulgar excesses of the 1 percent. Fulfilling this obligation ultimately demands that you go to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, no matter the inconvenience, because Williamsburg has made the greatest strides in creating a retail experience that feels like Iowa circa 1950.

That's from Ginia Bellafante, the world's foremost po-faced chronicler of conspicuous authenticity. 


Jay-Z, Adbusters, and the selling of rebellion

Mogul (Jay-Z Occupies Occupy Wall Street), by Daniel Edwards

When it comes to profiting off anti-capitalist sentiment, it is hard to see what distinguishes the Blackspot sneaker from Jay-Z’s “Occupy All Streets” T-shirt. For that matter, it is hard to see what distinguishes either of these from other successful businesses that arose out of a desire to “do capitalism differently,” from The Gap and Starbucks to the Body Shop and Whole Foods...

That's from my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen...


The Fur Trade in Canada

This press release makes me unreasonably happy:


YELLOWKNIFE (November 22, 2011) The GNWT is doubling the number of fur pelts trappers can claim under the Grubstake program, from 200 to 400 pelts per trapper. This enables the most productive trappers to receive additional start-up funding in the fall of 2012.

“The increase to the pelt threshold is in direct response to requests from our productive trappers,” said Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, David Ramsay. “Wild fur from the Northwest Territories is in demand from buyers around the world, and this increase will provide eligible trappers with funds to defray a portion of their start-up costs at the beginning of each trapping season. It will also stimulate increased production of wild fur.”

Under the Grubstake program, a payment of $5 per pelt of any fur-bearing species is paid to all trappers who ship at least 20 fur pelts to auction, now to a maximum of 400. This payment is in addition to the guaranteed advance and prime fur bonus that are paid to eligible trappers through the Genuine Mackenzie Valley Furs Program. Grubstake payments occur in the fall prior to the start of the new trapping season and are based on production from the previous year’s fur harvest. 

Trapping season in the NWT runs from October to June, the period when fur is most market-ready. Trappers who participate in the program must have General Hunting Licenses or be land-claim beneficiaries. Fur can be brought to the wildlife officers at local Department of Environment and Natural Resources offices to be entered into the program.

Through the Genuine Mackenzie Valley Furs Program, the Government of the Northwest Territories works in partnership with NWT harvesters and the fur industry to support and promote the traditional fur economy. In the 2010/11 fiscal year, the program invested $121,709 into the NWT trapping industry.


For more information, please contact:

Alayna Ward

Manager, Public Affairs and Communications

Industry, Tourism and Investment

Government of the Northwest Territories



David Frum: Running From Crazy

In a column a couple of months ago (entitled "Getting to Crazy") Paul Krugman noted that the Republican party had long since gone off the deep end, but "If you’re surprised, that means that you were part of the problem." The crack was almost certainly directed at his colleague David Brooks, who has spent the past few years acting as the press agent for Republican insanity, wrapping it in the thin intellectual cloth of pidgin behavioural economics.

Yet for a few years now, David Frum -- himself once one of the chief hatchet-men of true-believer Republicanism -- has been calling bullshit on what his former comrades have been up to. His final break with Republicanism is published in the latest issue of New York Magazine:

The Bush years cannot be repudiated, but the memory of them can be discarded to make way for a new and more radical ideology, assembled from bits of the old GOP platform that were once sublimated by the party elites but now roam the land freely: ultralibertarianism, crank monetary theories, populist fury, and paranoid visions of a Democratic Party controlled by ACORN and the New Black Panthers.

To sum up: By his own account, David Frum has been a loyal Republican since the Reagan years. Yet over the past half decade, the party has literally gone insane, embracing apocalyptic rhetoric and scorched-earth political tactics, while embracing all manner of lunatic-fringe views on everything from global warming to evolution to the president's place of birth. For his pains, Frum has lost his job, lost his friends, and been blacklisted from opportunities to appear conservative talk shows, panels, and so on.

And yet, for some reason, he ends on a note of optimism. Fixing the Republicans, he says, will be the "fight of a political lifetime. But a great political party is worth fighting for."

It isn't clear to me why Frum is still a Republican. At the beginning of his essay, he flags his ideological committments as rooted in "free markets, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and limited government."

Yet apart from the idee-fixe of low taxes, none of this is the exclusive purview of the Republicans. In fact, the last two - reasonable regulation and limited government -- are principles upon which the Republicans under Bush declared all-out war. So again, why is David Frum still a Republican?

It is credible that David Frum is running from crazy. But he hasn't, yet, run far enough.



Gary Shteyngart on the jewish deli of the past and the authenticity hoax

Gary Shteyngart visits a Toronto deli:

The authentic Jewish deli, according to Gary Shteyngart, should be "greasy," inspiring "both excitement and revulsion." Caplansky's Delicatessen, where he's sitting at a corner table, devouring a breakfast omelette with salami, tomato and tongue, "is very smooth 'cause it's new." But he's not complaining: "There's all that Chagalllike mythologization of the past. It wasn't a great past. There's a reason why we're not living there now."


The End of Authenticity

All of a sudden, the authentic is on the outs. The first intimations came last summer, when a major marketing magazine declared that authenticity has lost its cachet. Then USA Today ran a piece pointing out that if Starbucks can call its breakfast sandwich “artisanal,” and if Tostitos can say the same thing about its corn chips, then maybe artisanal is just a synonym for mass-produced. But the last hand-forged nail was driven into the reclaimed-wood coffin recently when the New York Times published a long feature under the title, “All that authenticity might be getting old”...

That's from my latest column for The Ottawa Citizen.


Authenticity Watch: VHS 

From - where else -- the NYT.

Technological slumming -- check:

“You just don’t get the same feeling in a pristine print of a DVD,” Mr. Kinem said. “With VHS it’s like I’m experiencing an old grind-house movie theater. I would never watch them on a computer.”

Old-timey small-town slow-ism -- check, check, check:

“VHS represents a period when you could walk into a mom-and-pop video store, and what you could rent was limited to what was right in front of you,” Ms. Davis said. “There were these amazing illustrations on the big boxes, and no one had any idea what the movie was. You were taking a gamble. It’s the opposite of instant gratification.”

Nostalgia for manual labour -- check.

“VHS is cumbersome,” said Mr. Husney (who was creative director of Intervision before moving to Drafthouse). “You have to maintain it. It has to fit on a shelf. You may have to dust it off. But you also get to interact with a piece of art on a personal level.”

Thanks to Simon Cott.


The end of artisanal and the rise of paleo-cuisine

The paleo-cuisine shtick has been brewing for a while, but with organic discredited, local passé, and artisanal just another word for "mass produced", authenticity hunters are increasingly flocking to the pre-modern past.

Berlin's new restaurant, "Sauvage", advertises a 'Real Food Revolution - Paleolithic cuisine!'. Forget bread, sugar, butter -- just fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and herbs, with a bit of raw meat thrown in for fun. According to Sauvage's Boris Leite-Poç:

Many people think the Paleolithic diet is just some hipster trend, but it's a worldwide phenomenon, with an online community that spans the globe. The trend is probably strongest in the United States, where people who have had enough of the fast food way of life and generations of illness have taken it up.

 Right, it has nothing to do with some hipster trend and everything to do with health. The modern world, as everyone knows, poisons us from cradle to crave. That is why life expectency today is so short compared to pre-historic times. 

Carol Alt: "Raw saved my life"

Supermodel and hockey wife Carol Alt was in my office at the Ottawa Citizen today. She talked about how moving to a raw diet rescued her looks, skin, and hair and solved lots of other health issues.



The first cliche to do worse than its parents

Commiserating with a friend the other day, a young journalist just getting started in her career and worried about her prospects, she lamented that her generation, the millennials, was expected to be the first to do worse than their parents. Whatever we call them -- some are calling them "Generation Z" , while others are calling them Generation R, for Recession -- you don't have to look far for examples of this lament.

Here's a line from a 2011 issue of Unlimited Magazine: "There’s a lot of speculation that Generation Me, the Millenials, will be the first generation to do worse than their parents, because they’ve always been provided for. They don’t have anything driving them to do better."

A Joe Queenan column from a 2010 Wall Street Journal: "Economists theorize that this may be that very rarest of things: a generation that does not do as well financially as the generation that spawned it."

My friend Jason Kirby used it in 2009 for Maclean's. Here's Anya Kamenitz, discussing her 2007 book Generation Debt: "The whole premise of Generation Debt the book is, you know, what does it mean to be part of this generation, the first generation that's going to do worse than our parents did."

But maybe it isn't Millennials who are so cursed.  From a 1999 edition of the Atlantic: " In fact, Xers may well be the first generation whose lifetime earnings will be less than their parents'."

I knew I'd heard it somewhere before. "The first generation to do worse than their parents." It's a line from Douglas Coupland's Generation X, published in 1991. It was my bible; I used that line as an excuse for not getting a job the summer I graduated into the deepest recession in Canada in a decade. Unsurprisingly, Bill Clinton used the line when he announced his run for president in 1991: "I refuse to stand by and let our children become part of the first generation to do worse than their parents".

But hold the phone, Xers! Put down that copy of Trainspotting! You don't have a monopoly on intergenerational indignation. Here's a line from a 1980 Newsweek report on "An Economic Dream in Peril": 

"And no longer do Americans share the great expectations of generations past. For the first time, public-opinion polls show that the average U.S. citizen is not at all sure that his children's lot will be better than – or even as good as – his own."

But at least we can agree on one thing: Whoever is doing worse, the baby boomers made out like bandits. Since they drank everyone's milkshake in the sixties and seventies, every generation since has been doing crappier and crappier. Right? Surely we can get all Soylent Green on the people who gave us Freedom 55 and Zoomer magazine?

Maybe not. According to the March 2011 New York Times: "The baby boomers will be the first generation that will do worse in retirement than their parents."
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