i finally took a look at Adam Sternbergh's article on "grups" in the New York Metro (Up with Grups), who theorizes that the latest generation of adults (read: mostly white, college-eduated, in professional careers) doesn't want to grow up. instead, they insist on wearing distressed designer jeans and the converse they wore in high school, while listening to the latest indie hits on their iPods. Sternbergh contends that "grups" (from a star trek episode about a planet run by children who never grow up) are eliding the "generation gap," hanging on to youthfulness, listening to the same music and wearing the same styles as the younger generation -- including their own children.
but Sternbergh seems to be raising alarm without considering the broader cultural context of youth and consumerism. pop culture overall has become increasingly difficult to distinguish from youth culture -- most popular music, movies, and websites are all the domain of the under 30. images of youthfulness drive advertising, and business itself was revolutionized in the sixties by the youth counterculture, which emphasized individuality, originality, novelty and creativity (according to Thomas Frank). i've often wondered if the esteem placed on being young would ultimately rob many of us from enjoying our adulthood -- but perhaps, as Sternbergh ultimately concludes, adulthood itself will take on new meanings and possibilities.
underlying Sternbergh's concerns about grups, however, lurk insidious cultural ideas about the value and meaning of maturity. he doesn't come out and say it, but really the article is questioning whether nor not GenXers are turning into immature adults who groom their kids to listen to whatever's hip this week, and who won't settle down and accept adult responsibilities. they don't want to become middle managers, accept 9-5 hours, or wear suits like their own parents did. some of these notions regarding maturity, however, reflect a strange adherence to certain cultural relativisms. i understand that suits signify a particular competence and masculine maturity -- but even the modern suit is more streamlined than its Victorian (and earlier) predecessors. norms do change, especially given both the accelerated rate of consumption in our society, and an economy that depends on new trends and fashions to spur ongoing acquisition.
if anything, Sternbergh's "grups" embody the height of late modern consumerism, and the shift from meaningful work to meaningful leisure. grups find meaning through leisure activities -- their passion for music, fashion, even surfing. it's leisure that drives consumption -- new cds, new tech gadgets and appliances, new clothes. so i don't find it surprising that grups, like many people, want to have kids, nor that they're raising their kids according to their values, which emphasize leisure and consumption. these trends Sternbergh identifies may indicate broader social changes regarding the value of work, leisure, consumerism and youthfulness, but if so, they reflect the ongoing development of late capitalism, as transformed by the cultural movements of the last century.