“You guys are so cynical.”
It was her go-to line whenever one of us claimed that we couldn’t relate to symbolism in literature or whenever we laughed at the words “English Degree.” And that was fine. It was a game, I thought, pretending to have the bleak outlook of Cormac McCarthy while being a 17 year-old with few experiences outside of SAT prep.
Yes, it was perfectly fine. My AP Lit teacher was playing the game too, I thought. She was obviously in on it. There was no way she actually believed that we were cynical, and there was no way I actually was cynical.
Eventually, I graduated high school. People stopped treating me as a kid, and instead adopted that gilded, condescending tone afforded only to the youngest of young adults. My friends enjoyed the same respect, and we were reminded by pedantic professors and “informative” flyers that we were “now adults.”
We all looked at each other and realized it at the same time. The words of our prophet, as it were, were written on the college walls.
We were so cynical.
What’s worse was, we weren’t actually cynical because of horrible life experiences or legitimately insightful thoughts about the world. No, we instead joined our generation in the superficial cynicism inspired by Temple Run 2, Cocoa Puffs and TMZ.
As children of the Information Age, we were raised at an interesting time. At the century’s turn was a world of possibility, one where six year-olds were told that they could become anybody as long as they tried to be, well, somebody.
But as knowledge filled the gaps that imagination created for us, our generation realized that practicality was the most brutal part of growing up. We had to settle with the goal of avoiding becoming, well, nobody. Claiming to be “the best” was negated by the introduction of someone younger and more intelligent.
Yes, there are visionaries that rise above the rest, but again, practicality brings us back down. For every Elon Musk, there are two million underachieving software engineers.
The truth is, our pessimism is nothing concrete. It’s just the result of being promised the Earth and finding that we’re only entitled to a few castles each.
Unfortunately, the cynicism of our generation is uncomfortably real, and it’s unlikely that a change in this social trend will happen soon.
Forty years ago, Bernstein and Woodward were lauded for their efforts, and today, Snowden has been branded an enemy of the state.
Forty years ago, our heroes were the morally perfect Superman and Spiderman, and today, Tony Soprano and Walter White dominate the media.
Forty years ago, our presidents talked about the enduring value of the American Dream, and today, all that they can hope to promise is change.
Mistrust of authority and a general dissatisfaction with the workings of the world aren’t ideas that just presented themselves to us once we turned 18. Rather, we have been taught to be dissatisfied and encouraged to want more than we can have.
I’m not advocating apathy, and I’m certainly not defending cynicism itself. However, whether it’s truly reasonable or not, the cynicism that plagues us rests not with us, but with the low-culture, high-information world that we call home.