Last month, my generation (the current twentysomethings) received a new label, probably our most memorable categorical cultural condemnation so far: according to Bret Easton Ellis, we are ‘Generation Wuss.’ As the term suggests, Ellis, a notable exponent of Generation X, sees no cause for jealousy: “We had the luxury to be depressed and ironic and cool. Anxiety and neediness are the defining aspects of Generation Wuss.”
Going with “depressed, ironic and cool,” Ellis leaves out some of his own generation’s less celebratory adjectives; after all, Gen X were found to be detached, aimless, cynical – in short, if you weren’t a materialist American Psycho, you were probably a Slacker. Richard Linklater’s 1991 film comes closest to a perfect portrait of the oddities of a generation in doubt and rejection (if we leave aside the question of whether participating in such labelling makes sense at all, that is). Slacker is an imaginative Tour de force anthology of heterogeneous characters, loosely unified by their existential dispositions: they’re all highly educated, unemployed, unambitious (in the traditional sense at least), frustrated, radicals or historical revisionists, (faux-)intellectuals, full of ideas, short of actions, possessing all kinds of information channels but using them to air frustrations and to delve in obsessions, and - above all - they’re taking their freedom to not do much of anything.
Even Linklater’s style operates in the Gen X realm of detachment and cool, including all the meta- , irony and schizophrenia that comes with it: does it want to be a stylistic lo-fi grungy indie flick (grainy 16 & 8mm images, sloppy focus, casual long takes, the occasional visible boom mic), or a virtuoso series of impressive long tracking shots, great performances and clever transitions? And is it an absurdist comedy, or a defining portrait of a wandering generation? In praise or in irony? Like its subjects, Slacker wants to do bits of everything and nothing at the same time – a wonderful work of form meets content meets generational attitude.
So, reading Ellis’ essay, and thinking about Linklater’s film, it begged the question: what films define Generation Wuss?