Surely you can belong to more than one generation?

The Intellectual Dark Web of Generation X

LA is a very unusual city, almost everyone in the world partially lives there. We all grew up on it’s streets, gaping at the alluring illusions of Polanski’s Chinatown, the crushed Hollywood dreams of Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, thedummy dolls’ clinging nostalgia of Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, the desperate desperation of Altman’s The Player; the Coens’ paean to Bukowski’s LA in The Big Lebowski, the South Bay pulp of Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, Sean Baker’s LA shadows in Tangerine; Anderson’s pynchonesque LA of Inherent Vice, the LA noir of Hawk’s The Big Sleep, Curtis Hanson’s dreams versus reality LA Confidential, cruising the LA streets as a post modernist cowboy in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, the concrete O.K. Corral LA of John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood, marveling at Cameron’s strangely alluring LA cement waterways in Terminator 2:Judgment Day.

Bret Easton Ellis says that Sunset Boulevard is really gone, that it is no longer somewhere, now it is rather a corridor to elsewhere as it fades into the global generic style. In a recent edition of Eric Weinstein’s podcast The Portal, Eric asks Bret, Dark Laureate of Generation X to look out the window at LA and imagine a neutron bomb going off in 1970, the Divorce bomb. Reagan’s signing of no fault divorce in 1970, caused divorce to skyrocket in the 1970s. The parents disappeared and children of privilege wandered the streets. Both Eric and Bret agree in numbness as a feeling, Eric remembers driving the Ventura freeway, seeking a shitty party, listening to Tom Petty on the radio, feeling completely numb, completely alienated and completely home. Their generation of LA pushed out a lot of this nihilism to the world. Yikes. Growing up where I did, on a comparative Pluto, we spent the years California Dreamin’. Say, it isn’t so.

The two chaps reckon there was something about this period which was highly regional but it was been broadcast everywhere. Brett’s debut novel, Less Than Zero looked exaggerated to the outside world, but neither Bret nor Eric view it as exaggerated. Bret says he wanted it as real as possible, almost as reportage; the main character, Clay, simply describes what his friends’ say and do, in a flat minimal way, he never talks about himself. Usually teenagers in novels are always emotional, Bret wanted an anti-Catcher In The Rye. Clay is telling us what is coming down the track, whilst most readers think it is braggadocio. But Bret and Eric, as far as I can tell, are not decrying that nihilism, they are lamenting it, it may have been harsh but it at least it was real.

Is that why Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has struck such a chord?

The Sixties end spiritually after the murders on Cielo Drive, they give way to the 1970s and the golden age of serial killers, the cardboard cutout LA of Mindhunter and the odious specter of the midget Manson. The Sixties had a fusion of idealism and horror, in the Seventies, the idealism drops out but the horror keeps going. Eric says that he stayed away from LA for 37 years because he viewed it as the darkest, blackest, most seductive hellhole. Cripes. Is it the case that whatever is currently unraveling the American tapestry was visible earlier in LA? Eric refers to the Penelope Spheeris documentary — The Decline of Western Civilization– about the LA punk scene, the suggestion being that the existence of the bands — X, Black Flag, The Germs and Fear signaled the decline of western civilization.

Eric Weinstein is part of the Jedi raggle taggle of outliers who constitute the Intellectual Dark Web. Weinstein says the Intellectual Dark Web is an LA phenomenon and a Generation X phenomenon. In a article Stephen Johnson writes “Weinstein emerged as a prominent figure of the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW), a term he coined, half in jest, to describe a group of individuals from various fields who hold — or at least are inclined to explore — heterodox ideas, mainly through alternative media like YouTube. The members of the IDW don’t all share a political cause, but rather, Weinstein suggests, they share the personality trait of disagreeableness, or a willingness to stick to your beliefs even when it comes at a high cost.”

Generation X or Millennial or both?

Bret and Eric see Gen X as being invisible to Millennials and Boomers. Gen X is an in between generation that is not large enough to bring things into reality but is extremely robust. Before the Milk Carton Kids forced us all indoors, parents were never around. In my own childhood, from the age of eight we cycled to lakes five miles away to spend all day fishing and boating. We were free to think. Nowadays our parents would be locked up for neglect.

Is that the difference? One had parents always around them the other did not, and the ones who had parents surrounding them are the more effected? In a Gen X childhood, there existed skulduggery no doubt, but it was far from Lord of The Flies or was it? Is the fact that we cannibalized one another early, standing to us now? We were bullied and we bullied, was that prepping us, was it getting the toxicity out? Or is there such a simple difference? Could not a millennial be partly X and an X be partly a millennial?

The Manson family haunted LA’s 1970s childhood. There was something lurking beneath, but where I come from, going inside was more dangerous than being on the streets. When the curtain was ripped apart, is was teachers, sport coaches, priests and fathers who were most dangerous to children. Was the going inside, being surrounded by adults all the time, simply a heuristic?

Embedded Growth Obligation Disease

Eric states that the heuristics that were deemed necessary to a functioning society have morphed into dogmas to keep the show going. One — Embedded Growth Obligation (EGO) disease — that we needed growth from every institution, has morphed the same institutions into giant Ponzi schemes. Since the early 1970s, Weinstein says, this phenomenon has occurred in virtually every field, and it’s helped produce institutions that are more concerned with growth and self-preservation than holding honest positions. The result is an altered incentive structure within institutions: Experts are rewarded for sustaining the institution, not necessarily for being honest or doing the best work in their field.

Asch & Milgram Negative

In Johnson’s article Weinstein suggests the kinds of people who can help straighten out our institutions are those who’d pass (or fail, rather) two psychological tests:

  • The Asch conformity tests:In the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch studied the effects of incorrect majority opinion on individuals. You’ve probably heard about it: One unwitting test subject is in a room with a handful of people, all of whom are in on the experiment. The experimenter shows the group a set of lines and asks them to say which ones are equal in length. The answer is instantly obvious. But all of the actors report the wrong answer, and, surprisingly, often the unwitting test subject does too, suggesting that most of us desperately want to conform to the group.
  • Milgram — In the 1960s, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiments on obedience to authority figures. A researcher would ask a participant, who was told he was assisting in an unrelated experiment, to administer electric shocks to another participant (who was actually in on the experiment) in another room. Those getting “shocked” would scream and plea for the experiment to stop. But the researchers would tell the participant to keep administering the shocks, saying things like, “The experiment requires that you continue,” even though, of course, they were free to stop at any point. The vast bulk don’t stop.

Bari Weiss in the New York Times describes the IDW thus — “Here are some things that you will hear when you sit down to dinner with the vanguard of the Intellectual Dark Web: There are fundamental biological differences between men and women. Free speech is under siege. Identity politics is a toxic ideology that is tearing American society apart. And we’re in a dangerous place if these ideas are considered ‘dark.’ Most simply, it is a collection of iconoclastic thinkers, academic renegades and media personalities who are having a rolling conversation — on podcasts, YouTube and Twitter, and in sold-out auditoriums — that sound unlike anything else happening, at least publicly, in the culture right now. Feeling largely locked out of legacy outlets, they are rapidly building their own mass media channels.There is no direct route into the Intellectual Dark Web. But the quickest path is to demonstrate that you aren’t afraid to confront your own tribe.”

Nowadays Art has to be a certain way, there are rules that you need to abide by. Bret believes his American Psycho would never be allowed to be published in mainstream American fiction. He sees it that Aesthetics no longer really matter, ideology has become the aesthetic, people want an affirmation, a lesson, and they want it to be explicit, ambiguity and metaphor is gone.

Gated Institutional Narrative

Eric believes that Individuals need to save Institutions. Individuals who are Asch Negative and Milgram Negative. Individuals who are used to being viewed as unsavory because of group norms. Gated Institutions create durable narratives about those that are frightening to them, those who refuse to go along. Consensus is achieved by plata o plomo incentives. The GIN (Gated Institutional Narrative) conjures phrases to create sides. Like the Heels and Baby-faces in wrestling performing Kayfabe, Eric believes that we pretend that institutions are not simulations, that they are not an organised structure of lies. And anything that steps outside that structure is branded Samizdat.

This fascinating discussion is stratified into Gen X and Millennial. I think we are all too nuanced, too complex, too changeable and too conflicted to be at ease with permanent titles — left, right, liberal, conservative, progressive, regressive, I was all of those things today. And perhaps you can appreciate a piece of art such as Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, without approving of every part of its content or everything its characters do or don’t do. And perhaps you can possess characteristics of two or more generations?