GenX’s midlife crisis in books and movies

JenX67 linked to this NY Times article titled — GenX Has a Midlife Crisis.

It’s actually a review of the new novel by Sam Lypsite, The Ask.  But it also references the Ben Stiller movie, Greenberg, and the John Cusack movie Hot Tub Time Machine.

I’ve read The Ask (well, most of  it; for some reason I couldn’t seem to finish it, not sure why,  I love Lypsite’s stuff) and seen Greenberg. I’ve yet to see Hot Tub but from what I’ve read/heard, like The Ask and Greenberg, there will be much for me to relate to.  How could I not? I’m 42 ,in the midst of divorce, and living with the rents…again. I got mid-life crisis coming out my ass, man!

As does Milo, the protagonist of The Ask:

Milo is in his early 40s, or so one surmises from his pop-cultural references and from the fact that the author, Sam Lipsyte, was born in 1968. He’s not a kid anymore: he’s a man of a certain age. And “The Ask” is, at least so far, the definitive literary treatment of a hugely important social phenomenon. Mr. Lipsyte, through the shambling, highly articulate and pathetic persona of Milo Burke, has announced the onset of the Generation X midlife crisis.

I feel as if I could insert my name for Milo’s and it would make complete sense. I was born in 67.

The articles references to Greenberg and Hot Tub are in comparison to The  Big Chill, the Boomers mid-life crisis movie, one which I can never decide if I like really because it can be so fucking irritating. The author states that Hot Tub is — not a better movie necessarily, but rather preferable.

The raunchy riffs and lowbrow gags of “Hot Tub” are vastly preferable to the navel-gazing sanctimony of “The Big Chill,” at least for my taste. But my taste may be suspect in this matter, since, give or take a few details, “Hot Tub Time Machine” is the story of my life.

No doubt that author’s going to hear about it for that one. Note the apologetic tone in which he presents his case, qualifying his preference, obviously anticipating the Boomer outrage at such a ludicrous notion.

The article makes a good point when it states: “How can a generation whose cultural trademark is a refusal to grow up have a midlife crisis?”

I can’t help feeling that I’ve plagued myself with this….GenX (male mainly I think) syndrome of refusing in many respects to grow up. Although I don’t believe it is an epidemic. I know too many people my age that are mature and responsible. I’m just not really one of them. I’ve always gone kicking and screaming into adulthood, I admit it. Why? Because from where I was sitting it just didn’t look all that great to me.

Th article goes on to point out that of course this midlife crisis thing is nothing new, it’s just that different generations went about it in different ways.

Members of the Greatest Generation and the one that came right after — the “Mad Men” guys, their wives and secretaries — settled down young into a world where the parameters of career and domesticity seemed fixed, and then proceeded, by the force of their own restlessness, to blow it all up.

This pattern repeated itself in the next decades, yielding variations on a story everyone seems to know. At a certain point, Dad buys a sports car, or starts a rock band, or has an affair or walks out on Mom or quits the law firm to make goat cheese. When this kind of thing happens to Mom, it’s not a crisis but an awakening. In any case, the driving impulse is to shake off the straitjacket of adulthood and find some way to feel young again.

And then goes on to ask the ironic (that’s right I used the word) question: “But what if you never gave up adolescence in the first place?”

How does a midlife crisis work exactly then? Well, that’s precisely what the characters in The Ask, Greenberg, and Hot Tub are portraying.

They all seem stuck in an earlier phase of life, which wasn’t so great to begin with: Milo’s dorm room bull sessions and sexual escapades; Roger’s rock ’n’ roll dreams; that crazy time at the ski lodge with snow, cocaine, sex and spandex as far as the eye could see.

And the resulting revelation is fairly brutal, as illustrated in The Ask:

“If I were the protagonist of a book or a movie,” Milo says to his onetime boss, “it would be hard to like me, to identify with me, to like me, right?” The response is devastating: “I would never read a book like that, Milo, and I can’t think of anyone who would. There’s no reason for it.”

It’s an assessment that is difficult to argue with when you consider the following:

A lot of people seem to feel that way about “Greenberg,” which has done modest business and inspired a great deal of ambivalence among audiences. “Funny People” was a big flop, and “Hot Tub Time Machine” has not done nearly as well as “The Hangover,” which offers up coarse humor and male immaturity without the slightest attempt at historical perspective. Since its publication in March, “The Ask” has sold around 7,000 copies. Disappointing? Of course. Our generation wouldn’t have it any other way.

Which I guess means I should got ahead and scrap my idea of my own GenX midlife crisis novel. Because who wants to read the crap, anyway. But  you know, just because most people don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. That’s like saying if you’re not popular in high school, you’re nobody…

Think about it….

….no you won’t.

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One response to “GenX’s midlife crisis in books and movies

  1. Oh, contrare I’ve thought about it a million times. Could be we’ve remained young at heart and just don’t need one. Or will have one when it’s appropriate. Hell, my wife wants to sue me so she can be a teenager again before gravity does it’s dirty work, so somebody’s carrying the torch. Why the hell grow up if you don’t have to? I don’t see what the problem is if my wife can afford it, unless it’s at my expense.

    Negative criticism that provides no real help is an outlet for envy so screw ’em.

    So goes my gibberish. So what’s worthwhile or even sane anymore? I’m locked into survival mode and have to test the potency of my own venom shortly.

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