There was a major stir in the comic book world recently when it was announced that (MAJOR SPOILERS ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE) Captain America… yes, that Captain America. Steve Rogers, the 98 pound weakling who became the embodiment of everything good and just in the American Dream… was actually a secret agent for a fascist group the entire time.
No, I’m not kidding. They actually did this.
Understandably, this lead to the internet losing its mind over what is generally considered to be a stupid, stupid idea. And the internet responded as only the internet could, by mocking this incredibly stupid idea to exploit one of the purest symbols of Justice in the history of comics for a cheap headline:
It was a cynical move at a cheesy “shocking swerve,” and it shows a deeper, more nihilistic attitude toward someone like Captain America. One of these internet edits in particular caught my eye and got my brain going:
Now normally, you might think this is a humorous thing for Superman to say, but it hit me like a thunderbolt: oh God, this is what happens to superheroes when Generation X is given the creative reigns. I was immediately reminded of this immortal exchange from Gen X’er Zack Snyder’s recent Superman “re-imagining,” Man of Steel:
Jonathan Kent: You have to keep this side of yourself a secret.
Clark Kent: What was I supposed to do? Let them die?
Jonathan Kent: Maybe…
Our hero, ladies and gentlemen. And now the parody has come full circle and it is now reality, just like Donald Trump, Ow My Balls and other things Mike Judge warned us about. Now, this drastic turn for Superman was met with just as much, if not more scorn as the one for Captain America, which is cause to give one hope that maybe not all the people currently moving into positions of administration as the Baby Boomers finally retire are cynical, nihilistic monsters… but a lot of them are. It’s what Gen X was all about.
I’d like to examine something called the Pleasure Principle. It’s been used by Epicurus, Freud, and Jeremy Bentham, and it’s a psychological line of thinking where everyone acts for their own pleasure. Much like Pa Kent’s utilitarianism or Ayn Rand’s objectivism. The idea goes, and quite simply so, that people like to do things that make them feel good.
Easy enough… but why does Gen X want to be cynical? That doesn’t make them feel good… does it?
Remember the core of my theories on generational sociology: every generation wants to be completely unlike the one that came before it. It’s the reason hardworking Americans gave birth to flappers, who then gave birth to more hardworking Nazi-punchers, who then gave birth to fanciful flower-sniffing hippies, who then gave birth to angsty, disaffected Grunge kids, who then gave birth to the sunny idealism of Millennials. To Gen X’ers, being morose and pissing on everyone else’s metaphorical Cheerios is what gives them pleasure: they’re not going to be like the losers that came before them, who pursued peace & love that quickly morphed into stocks & bonds. In fact, it’s the bizarre about-face pulled by the Baby Boomers in the post-Watergate era that gave Generation X its most important ethos.
If Mom & Dad started as hippies and ended as day traders, what can we do to rebel? Absolutely nothing.
Ergo, the “Slacker” ethos that gave us Ethan Hawke’s turn in the X’er classic Reality Bites that grates on the nerves of generations both before and after. As Vice put it:
If the Gen X cultural expression of the 1990s taught us anything, it is that not giving a fuck is the only truly meaningful personal act. Don’t get me wrong: not giving a fuck is always cool, but it isn’t a political statement, and there’s nothing constructive about it. Stop believing there ever was. Ethan Hawke’s character in Reality Bites is not an outsider hero. He’s just a privileged white dude living in the best decade this part of the world has ever seen.
And now these guys are deciding what to do with such bastions of altruism and gumption like Superman and Captain America? It’s no surprise to see Cap go Nazi and Supes go Randian, because in the eyes of their current creators, believing in anything just makes you a tool of the system, man. The true heroes do whatever makes them feel good whenever, and they don’t care about the rest of the world. I mean, we’re all just going to grow old and die some day, so why worry about anything? Nothing can ever change or get better, really, when you, like, look at it, and stuff. Just get yours and make sure you have a good time doing it. This is more or less the entire climax of the über-popular zombie survival game The Last of Us, also created by Gen X’ers.
We get it, Generation X. You didn’t have something sexy like Civil Rights to march for and your early 90s recession was soooo lame, not like the 2007 one that sent the Millennials out behind the woodshed. If you wanted to actually fight a good fight, it would have taken effort and required you to get out of your cushy split-level in the suburbs, and that’s just what the man wants you to do, or something. It’s this same sort of idea that was parodied to a ridiculous extent by the Lonely Island a few years ago:
It’s telling that using such stupid narrative devices as “What if Captain America were secretly evil?” and “What if Superman didn’t save people?” are ultimately lazy. It’s the slackers who are beginning to be in charge, and they’ve learned just enough to satisfy their nihilistic hedonism while making sure whatever idealism is left in the creative economy is beaten out of us and replaced with yet more dark, dreary dystopias with ambiguous anti-heroes, and scowls stretching off to the horizon.
However, all is not lost for Gen X: there are some bright spots here and there, like the creative power couple of Craig McCracken (born 1971) and Lauren Faust (born 1974). While the rest of Gen X is focused on making everything so gritty, depressing and mopey that it makes your soul hurt, McCracken and Faust have helmed many colorful, entertaining and award-winning animated shows that espouse happy characters doing good things and being overall nice people. It’s a very un-Gen X sentiment, but it’s something that has certainly caught on with the Millennial Feel the Bern crowd and the neon day-glo optimism of the younger set. So yes, for every 400 Zack Snyders there might be one Craig McCracken, and we should think ourselves very fortunate to have them. If it weren’t for that occasional spark of altriusm from Gen X, the entire world might be falling into a quagmire of self-absorbed special snowflakes, all too eager to show the world how much they care about not caring.
As for me? I’ll watch pastel-colored marshmallow ponies with my toddler before I try to watch Man of Steel again. At least the ponies understand the good guys are supposed to help people.