As Oscar Quine explores the idea that today’s youth culture is quasi-robotic, creatively sparse, edging toward stagnation and clinging to a musty worldview in his think piece "how long before we are all robots?" Cody Ross argues that that is a bit of an overstretch.
The idea that we’re a blank, or rather a grey generation caught up in a cul-de-sac of regression, piggy-backing on a previous generation's ethos, "confused, uncertain, jittering, under-slept and herded like cattle," is all hype and hoopla.
Today’s youth culture is possessed with an ironclad, "f*#k you" zeal and techno-savvy zest that's gone global, gone viral, and is making an indelible mark. Whatever we dub this - 'Gen Now', 'Millennials' or the 'Net Generation', it’s clear that this kinetic cohort is acting on its convictions, venting its voice and spiking the punch bowl. The youthful avant-garde around the globe are raising their fists in the faces of rotten regimes, repressive conditions and outmoded aesthetics. Instead of rehashing old stories and fetishising a bygone ideal, today’s agitators are pushing their own propositions, confecting them to the tune of their own beats, the bristles of their brushes and the boldness of their beliefs. We’re not inhaling propaganda and swallowing mindless bromides, we’re Googling for truth, instigating via Instagram and banging down Big Bro's door with BBM. We are riskers and DIY-daredevils, incessantly doing-it-ourselves, but the difference being that our views on change can reach innumerable eyes in a single click.
Our generational voice is not represented by a clutch of old media iconoclasts, but by a larger generational consciousness that has infiltrated the globe and has been mobilsing on multiple fronts, as demonstrated by the Occupy and Anonymous movements, the fight for gay rights, the Arab Spring, environmental protection, women’s rights, race rights, net neutrality, WikiLeaks and so on.
As witnesses to countless real-time convulsions (9/11, the war on terror, the 'Great Recession', Fukushima, Egypt, Syria, etc.), Gen Now has taken matters into their own hands in active, often insurgent ways. We agitate for change using our own dissentious devices: through linguistic styles, whether they are articulated via punk, hip hop, electro, MTV, Vimeo or Twitter; through breakout business models and fresh new media; through transnational actors and stealthy algorithms; or through Molotov Cocktails in the streets of Kiev, Cairo and Buenos Aires.
Bellyachers say that Gen Now is merely taking baby steps and manifesting a mouldy worldview; they say that there’s no innovation at the center or on the fringes ("we're all too safe, sober, sharp as a knife on Modafinil and non-stop knackered."). We have fads and feelings, whims and wishes, miens and memes; there's a conspicuous absence of revolutionary fervor (“we used to make music to rebel to, to be angry to, to dance to. Now there’s nothing to offend, no real edges: it’s just music to be to.”). But something else is percolating in the underground. Youth culture is quaking, mutating and upturning the structure from within, incessantly destroying the old, incessantly nurturing the new. Here, there and everywhere creatives are taking some seriously inventive, totally kick-ass steps that are changing the game and upping the culture.
In the first decade and a half of the 21st century, newness and nextness reared its head in numerous intrepid guises. There are what might be called ‘new wave pluralists’ and digital doyens - creatives who make hybrid or teched out work with a multimedia bent, work not imbued with ire or nostalgia but a firm belief in the future, and the desire to meld their artistry with personal and virtual references (think Matthew Barney, Matthew Stone, Ai Weiwei, Trent Reznor, Jeanette Hayes and Chen Man). These creatives aren't grey area misfits, robots or post-anything. They're probing the zeitgeist and fusing it with modern techno-life. This links them to a number of visual virtuosos and like-minded disruptors (e.g., Ruth Hogben, Jia Zhangke, Gian Mazcour, Brittany Kubat, Niall Kenny), artist-entrepreneurs are trying to blend life, myth, allegory and spirituality with their craft - the very things that previous generations wanted to do.
Elsewhere, architects, musicians, designers and literati of all stripes are digging in deep. Ma Yansong, the precocious protégé of Zaha Hadid, fuses the virtual with the real, and makes seditious, swoon-inducing towers and topographies; interior designers Melissa Brasier and Sou Fujimoto fabricate and festoon interiors with alchemical craft and infernal energy; Simon Stephens, a British playwright, creates gritty, grunge-y dramas like Punk Rock and Wastwater that serve as secret passageways to the soul; Harmony Korine and Robert Rodríguez make irreverent, aggressive films with scatological riffs on contemporary life, told over a backbeat of sex, drugs and a big fuck you to traditional cinema. Eminem, A$AP Rocky, Jetta, MIA, Pussy Riot, Nicki Minaj and Angel Haze make (drug-addled) music that jangles your nerves, soothes your soul and rips into institutional authority; Iris Van Herpen, Nasir Mazhar, Bernhard Willhelm, Athor Throup, Shayne Oliver, etc. give us youthquake fashion that blends the real and ideal and merges the subterranean self with outward identity.
These are just some of Gen Now’s movers and shakers who are pioneering their own perennial style. They are sifting through diverse, often debased artistic currencies and movements, and coming up with revolutionary results. Their work is not shades of robotic grey but rich swirling densities, splendourous synergies and awesome next levelness.
Abstraction, spliced with youthful vim, avant-gardism, technology, DIY ideology, and whatever else, is gathering critical mass, giving today’s generation an authentic voice and bang up vision - one that is a very distant cry from glum grey.