Popular Culture and The Culture of
Attitudes toward personal debt have fundamentally influenced generational
identities in American society. For instance, personal sacrifice
and the importance of saving for an unexpected "rainy day"
have profoundly shaped the behavior of America's seniors. Ask grandma
about the Great Depression and you will probably endure a lecture
about shortsighted consumption and the loss of homes and farms.
Lesson plan, read SAVE! Mom and Dad, on the other hand, enjoyed
the post-World War Two prosperity of suburban colonials, Whirlpool
appliances, and Buick automobiles. If you ask, they will explain
that before DVD players, it was more fun at drive-in movie theaters.
Sure, they appreciated their parents' mantra--SAVE--but they preferred
the Keynesian notion of "spend your way out of a recession."
Imagine if Ben Franklin were alive today... Anyway, Boomers are
schizophrenic. Save--it's good, Spend--it's bad but it feels sooo
good. Ever wonder why the first Boomer President (remember Hilary's
husband?) made such a bid deal over balancing the federal budget?
Avoid debt and enjoy the surplus (savings)!
Now, what about the Boomers' kids (Generation X) and their little
sisters--the Y guys. Save for the Future? Yeah, like when I'm 25?
Balance the budget? Get real! This is the generation of debt. Exalting
in the bounties of the present and in denial over paying for the
the future. "Just Do It." Besides, everyone knows that
Social Security won't be around when X'ers relax in their "Golden
Years." The ozone layer, Get Real. Unlike seniors that refer
to debt as emblematic of the "Devil's Temptations" or
the social yardstick of personal failure, debt is an accepted feature
of the "Reality Bites" generation. Incredibly, X'ers think
nothing about starting a job or getting married with substantial
personal debts. Like, sacrifice is so "old school."
This experience is expressed frequently in the popular culture.
For example, Jon is a 23 year-old transvestite that performs in
a large Northeastern city. His parents would seriously freak if
they knew his preferred career path. Anyway, like so many of his
friends, Jon's on-stage persona reflects the common financial reality
of young twenty-somethings who are "maxed-out" on their
credit cards. One of the most dreaded phrases in their vocabulary
is the response of retail clerks who can not accept their purchase
requests: "VISA, declined." For X'ers, Visa is a generational
allegory of society's denial of their dreams and aspirations. For
Jon, this common predicament inspired his professional nom de guerre:
Ms. Visa de Cline. Charge on Jon.
Looking for LOVE? Charge It!
Yes, we know that sex can be purchased. Otherwise, why are there
so many "escort services" and "massage parlors"
in the Yellow Pages. In fact, what's the difference between a hooker
and an escort? The escort accepts Visa, MasterCard, AND American
Okay, this is a new millennium and gratuitous sex and one-night
stands are "out" and monogamous, mutually fulfilling relationships
are "in." So, how do you find Love, after exhausting the
dry cleaners' dating exchange or happy hour at the local fern bar?
Well, where else but the personal section of your local newspaper
or on-line singles sites. The rage is "cyber" dating with
computerized match-making, digitized photo exchanges, and Real Player
audio introductions. Ever notice that there are not many seniors
listed? That's because cash is not the currency for facilitating
a Love connection. Rather, as a frequent advertisement in the "Personals"
section of the Washington City Paper, explains "MONEY CAN'T
BUY YOU LOVE, But A Credit Card Can Get You Started." The point
is that credit cards are the most common means for "singles
seeking singles" to initiate potentially amorous liaisons through
impersonal telephone connections or e-mail communications. Like
the commodification of fun, "Love" begins with a charge
to Visa or MasterCard. After all, a computerized "blind date"
can't be worse than your last one, can it?
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