The Voice(s) of Our Generation(s)

By Peter Malamud Smith

Much has been written about Lena Dunham's $3.5 million book deal, restarting the kerfuffle about whether she's actually the voice of a generation, etc, etc. I say she's got a pretty good claim, but it's a competitive field, so let's take a look at everyone Google says has ever been awarded the title:

David Foster Wallace

Source: NPR, others
Major generational observations: "There's something particularly sad about [what it's like to live in America around the millennium]... It manifests itself as a kind of lostness. Whether it's unique to our generation I really don't know."
Legit?: I love DFW, so I'm going to say yes. Beyond even his all-too-prophetic subject matter, Wallace's prose captures the discursive thought patterns you get when you're trapped in a giant, overstimulating, corporate-communications echosphere. And we all are, so, voice of a generation right there.

Kurt Cobain

Source: The Independent, everyone
Major generational observations: "Here we are now, entertain us"
Legit?: Definitely. Enraged, passive-aggressive, ironically distanced, self-lacerating, self-pitying, and lost — that was '90s youth culture in a nutshell. Also, Cobain hated his generation and hated being called its voice — what could be more generationally appropriate than that?

Turn-of-the-century African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar

Major generational observations: "We wear the mask that grins and lies / It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes"
Legit?: Yes — memorably articulated the feelings of divided identity and psychic dissociation of an oppressed race.

Taylor Swift

Source: Her record label
Major generational observations: "Unique and different is the new generation of beautiful... You don't have to be like everybody else. In fact I don't think you should."
Legit?: Seems like a nice person. Arguably gets some VOAG points by virtue of representing the eternal teenager; we've all been infantilized so thoroughly that Swift may well be speaking for all of us with her aw-shucks girl-meets-boy dear-diary earnestness.

Michael Jackson

Source: Pepsi
Major generational observations: "You're a whole new generation / You're loving what you do / Put a Pepsi in the motion / The choice is up to you, heeey / You're the Pepsi generation / Guzzle down and taste the thrill of the day"
Legit?: Probably ended up being too weird to be the voice of a generation. My guess is that even Pepsi would agree.

Twenty-one-year-old aspiring media personality Chelsea Krost

Source: The New York Observer
Major generational observations: "I think our generation is the most different out of every generation."
Legit?: Well, maybe, in the sense that she's pretty fired up about the Chelsea Krost experience. "My expertise, is that I'm a chameleon. I could talk to Tyra Banks, Anderson [Cooper], Hoda [Kotb] on the Today show, but then I could be relating to the people where, literally, their feet are in their own feces in Africa, in the slums... Once people meet me, they realize that I can really be articulate in many facets of the world: entertainment, or philanthropy, or something practical, like cyberbullying or whatever. I really don't think there's anything I can't do." Media-savvy, achievement-focused, and highly self-regarding; that probably is the voice of this generation. Go, Chelsea!

NEXT: "I believe that children are our future..."


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