TOTTENHAM CORNER

TOTTENHAM CORNER

The V Generation at Vons

It doesn’t seem long ago that the sight of a young white face in this supermarket was a rare thing, but now the place is swarming with them. They look like the death of youth culture: mopey advertisements for their own redundancy, they sport an awkward array of incongruous, styleless hybrids; the sartorial leftovers of previous generations strewn together. The V Generation—as English critic Paul Morley dubbed them—as in Vintage. They all look different but they all end up looking the same.

The lines were long. I was obliged to eavesdrop upon the vacuous prattle of a young couple behind me as they amused themselves by squabbling ironically in a deliberate parody of a conventional Middle-American couple arguing; but despite their unusual (for Middle America) appearances there was nothing to separate them from any “normal” couple. They have jobs (in the entertainment industry, as quickly became apparent from their shamelessly loud conversation), they cohabit, they go to the supermarket together on Sunday nights. The male “half” of this annoying pair was scruffily attired in shorts and moccasins and succeeded in making himself appear much uglier and poorer than he actually was. Their conversation, liberally strewn with “likes” and other desecrations of the English language, could not easily be tolerated by an ear of any refinement.

To my right, in the next line over, which extended into the cleaning products aisle, stood two vertically challenged young men, modeling the new clean-cut uniform. They both sported deep-cut V-neck sweatshirts (or whatever they are), impractically tight pants, and neatly trimmed facial hair. Neither of them wore socks: an unfortunate trend that seems to be catching on among the smart/sloppy set. Is this supposed to make them look European? Or is it meant to suggest that by being uninhibited enough to go sockless that they’re wild in the sack? As well as being aesthetically displeasing, it looks uncomfortable: the tenderness of the foot must chafe against the roughness of the shoe.

There was no escape. I was forced to gaze upon the thick neck and porcine profile of the sullen, shaven-headed youth in front of me. His dress sense—shorts and a T-shirt—showed no sign of having developed since the state of infancy. He carried only a small bottle of ketchup, the label of which he studied intently, as if it contained some sacred runic text (but at least he was reading) throughout the interminable wait. When he finally reached the check-out counter the admirably sweet-tempered clerk remarked, “you must really like ketchup.” But he didn’t crack a smile. From what I’ve observed—and endured— the “hipster” sense of humor doesn’t seem to extend much further than their own comical appearances. Humor seems to confuse them. But then, they are a bit of a joke themselves.

Who are all these people? Where did they come from? They’re horrible. And they’re proliferating at an alarming rate. Back in the 1990s, which now seem like the dark ages, their spawning grounds were such boho-friendly cities as Portland and San Francisco. They used to hate LA and everything they thought it stood for. Now they’ve taken over here too. They can be found wherever commerce and bohemia converge, which these days is almost everywhere. As long as they’ve got five bars on their cell phone, they don’t have a worry in the world. One can’t entirely blame them. All the major cultural changes were rung in before they were born. But unlike earlier generations, who made something out of seemingly nothing, it’s all laid out for this lot; their every whim can instantly be gratified—on the internet with its various quick fixes and in the real world of gentrified neighborhoods and generic youth zones. There’s nothing to rebel against. How can you rebel against surfeit? Only by depriving yourself. And who’s going to do that? In being given everything, they haven’t been left with much. In which respect, they are deserving of the keenest, most tender sympathy.

I could go on, but I am beginning to choke on my own bile—delicious as it is.

The older one gets, naturally, the more young people there are, and the more annoying they are, especially if one’s own position in life hasn’t changed significantly. But it is probably folly to imagine that young people nowadays are any more idiotic than they have ever been. Such thinking, despite its obvious temptations, is far too convenient a trap for an old-timer to fall into. These days, in virtual, viral and vital reality, it is all too easy to satisfy the siren call of irritation. But I won’t be shopping at Vons on a Sunday night again in a hurry.