Genre-ation Gap?

mitchell gwtw“Make up your mind to this. If you are different, you are isolated, not only from people of your own age but from those of your parents’ generation and from your children’s generation too. They’ll never understand you and they’ll be shocked no matter what you do. But your grandparents would probably be proud of you and say: ‘There’s a chip off the old block,’ and your grandchildren will sigh enviously and say: ‘What an old rip Grandma must have been!’ and they’ll try to be like you.” – Mitchell, M. (1936, 1964). Gone With the Wind. New York: Scribner.

Like Scarlett O’Hara, I never really fit into my own generation (but for different reasons). I was too much of a bookworm to make friends easily with the kids with whom I attended school (although I wasn’t the kind of child to be a teacher’s pet, either). In addition, I was born just a bit over halfway into the Baby Boom, which meant I was slightly too young to be a Flower Child. I saw that behavior happening, but it was mainly on the nightly news: the timing of my advent being a half-generation off disqualified me from admission to the hallowed halls of Hippie-dom.

Moreover, I liked to hang out with the old folks – or, at least, to eavesdrop on them, especially when my parents entertained relatives from the city. My mother put us to bed in the early evening (she installed room-darkening window shades for that purpose). I was rarely tired enough to go to sleep right away (the nightly hot bath had the effect of waking me up, rather than relaxing me), so I spent many an hour out of bed, crouched in the dark beside the streak of light that issued between the bedroom door and its jamb, listening to the adults in the adjacent dining room. Everything I heard went over my head, but I’d eavesdrop until I got cold, which made me sleepy enough to stagger back to bed.

I watched whatever animated stuff aired on TV, and it made no difference to me that Elmer Fudd was bald and Mr. Magoo was a retiree who looked like Gramma’s brother-in-law. A lot of the sitcoms of my day featured character actors who were definitely middle-aged. The motion pictures I watched on TV dated from the 1920s through the 1960s: it didn’t bother me to see Cary Grant’s hair change from ebony to silver.

I read whatever fiction I could get my hands on, no matter how old the characters were, or when or where they lived. Many of these books bore my mother’s name on a bookplate, or Gramma’s signature on the flyleaf, but I didn’t give a flying fig about that. The library books which I borrowed on my own card included biographies of Gary Cooper and Clark Gable, who were already dead.

castle in connemara clothesline attached

Tower house castle, Co. Galway. ©2009 by Christine Plouvier. All Rights Reserved.

When I grew up, I left home at age 17; enlisted in the Navy and served as a spy; birthed and raised four children in a modified-earth-mother sort of style, dragging them from pillar-to-post while I pursued an entrepreneurial career as a globetrotting childbirth educator and doula; and dropped into and out of universities around the world for nearly 40 years, as I slowly earned three degrees. Then, I started writing novels. My last adventure took place when I was past 50, and was already walking with a cane: two weeks alone in Ireland, researching Irish Firebrands. If my health problems hadn’t ganged up on me, I’d still be traveling.

the snow that shut down ireland 20-12-2009

The snow that shut down Ireland, seen from the window of my B&B, 20 Dec. 2009. ©2009 by Christine Plouvier. All Rights Reserved.

And yet, a person who is a little more than thirty years my junior recently expressed to me the opinion that most adults who are under age 30 would be unlikely to read Irish Firebrands. “If [they] picked it up and saw that it was about people of [their] mother’s age, [they’d] put it back on the shelf.” (This person teaches undergraduates at a major Midwestern university, and had read my book two years ago, not long after it was first published.)

Are my kids the only Millennials who’ve seen the motion picture Robin and Marian? Do the rest of my “peer group” live such boring lives that it’s inconceivable for middle-aged fictional characters to have adventures, fall in love, have sex? Does the “New Adult” reading demographic really regard older people in such a stereotypical manner? Are young folks really that old-fashioned? After all, didn’t the saying, “Don’t trust anyone who’s over 30,” go out of style when the Baby Boomers who coined it began to turn that much-maligned age? Do other people really stick to reading about their “own kind” of fictional characters?

Or am I just too naïve to be let out on the street without a minder?

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11 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Literature, Novels, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing

11 responses to “Genre-ation Gap?

  1. Good questions. Wish I had answers, but I think you’re onto something.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In cultures that encourage extended childhood, adolescent self-absorption that persists into one’s early twenties may be a factor. Persons who’ve become accustomed to prolonged navel-gazing may have difficulty perceiving what’s beyond the top edge of their own umbilicus.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I know this. When you reach a certain age, you are dismissed. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, or what you did to get where you are, now you’re in the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Do you remember the movie “When Harry Met Sally…”?
    In a scene when Sally was about 32, the thought of turning forty horrified her.
    For people in the “New Adult” age group, fifty-something is someone like their parents and parents’ friends… Younger people can look up to their parents, but frankly, how many twenty-something have ever considered their parents’ friends’ company entertaining or even interesting?
    Yet, if someone older is Sean Connery in Indiana Jones, or Alec Guiness in Star Wars, they will steal the limelight regardless of their age.
    A different example – for a woman to succeed in business world (career-wise), she can’t be as good as men are, but must be much better.
    In all, I think that for a fifty-something to be able to attract attention, it’s not enough to fall in love and do what younger people do. She or he must have unusual charisma or be remarkable in some other way.
    How to do that is a million dollar question.

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    • “How many twenty-something have ever considered their parents’ friends’ company entertaining or even interesting?”

      How many have ever thought to try getting to know their parents’ friends, to make a qualified judgement in that respect?

      It certainly doesn’t help to eradicate ageism when hair coloring takes up so much shelf space in Wal-Mart, and septuagenarian celebrities have had their faces lifted so high, they have to walk on tip-toe.

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  4. I think there are periods in our lives where everyone is self-absorbed. It seems to me just a process of growing up.

    Are modern folks a bit too much in this direction? Probably. You’d think there would be a wealth of interactions and an open-mindedness to the new with such unprecedented information access, but we’re at a cusp between old ways and new ways. A lot of people are still riding that cusp: hungry for new information but still reactionary to different notions.

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  5. I don’t tend to read much Young Adult fiction, but I certainly read books with older protagonists. In fact, one of my favorite characters in ‘Water for Elephants’ is the protagonist as an old man. So much wit.

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  6. Well, you raise a few good questions, Christine… I believe I’m closer to “old” than “young” though I don’t feel like it. However, I just had a couple of people my mother’s age read one of my books, and they “didn’t get it.” However, I also had a few people closer to my daughter’s age read the same book, and they not only “got it”, they loved it. I think the older crown forgot what it was like to have the feelings of the young woman I described in my main character. As far as Irish Firebrands, I would take what your reader said with a grain of salt. It’s an exciting story told well. Period. That being said, as I’ve listened to it, I tend to forget their ages until someone brings them up. Keep doing what you’re doing! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I know this is an older post. Just want to say, your reader is way off IMHO. I know Millenials who read all kinds of stories and I think their generation is pretty open. There is a bit of an issue with context in some stories, but that’s true for anybody reading about people of a different generation! Younger people do seem to feel misrepresented/underrepresented and want to read about “their” experiences, but the self-absorption thing is a stereotype. They just want to be heard and understood, like anyone else.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The remark by that reader was puzzling, given my own lack of ageism, when I was young. But I suspect that public-school social experimentation that has focused so much on the “peer group” has served to condition many young people who’ve been subjected to it to believe that self-absorption and ageism are supposed to be the “normal” way for them to behave and relate to others.

      Liked by 1 person

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