By Wil Forbis
August 1st, 2007
So I turned 36 recently. My feelings at arriving at this turning point -- of being closer to my 40s than my 20s, and according to some, entering middle age -- were surprisingly positive. In a certain sense, I feel like I've got the best of both worlds. I still carry a certain youthful exuberance and via genetics or good luck show little sign of aging (aside from my graying mane which I hide with some Just for Men.) And, while holding onto my youthful appearance, I've managed to grab onto a few of the advantages of aging, namely, a fatter paycheck, increased confidence, and dare I say it, even a little wisdom.
But it hasn't all been coming up Forbis. For while now, there's been a quiet voice of dread making itself heard. A core element of my being as changed. But it's only been recently that I was able to identify the source.
I am no longer a part of the coveted 18 to 34 advertising demographic.
The ramifications of this realization are earth shattering. Because what I am experiencing is a loss of power -- like a battle hardened super villain who discovers the destruction of his power crystals and screams, "No! My power crystals are the source of my power!!!" If you are an adult in the modern era, being within the 18 to 34 range is the source of your power.
But it's a strange power, a quiet power. A power you don't realize you have until you see it slipping away. When you realize the "hip" commercials for Coca-Cola and dating services are no longer aimed at you. When you realize that the Foo Fighters consider the fact that you purchased their album more of a liability than a benefit. When you realize the current "it" girl would probably call you sir.
People hate the label of "consumer," but let's be honest, it's kind of flattering to be one. When you're 18 and in charge of your own wallet, in the eyes of the corporations and the media, you're the belle of the ball. They focus all their attention on you, offering advertisements showing aggrandized versions of yourself to tempt you to drink from their cup. Rolling Stone magazine tells you you are the "now generation," the one that's going to make a difference merely by virtue of your age. You are hip, cutting edge and in control.
Movies? They whore themselves as summer blockbusters, fanning their skirts and cooing for your attention. Music? Whether you like it or not, the music of the day, carefully formulated by pop impresarios decades older than you to dominate your market, will henceforth be known as your music. TV networks? Magazines? Deodorants? Automobiles? Brands of coffee? They all plead for your attention in an attempt to capture a lifetime of brand loyalty.
The 18-34 age bracket is when a generation defines itself. Those who were 20 in 1968 will always be known as hippies, regardless of how geriatric or conservative they get. Being 25 in 1985 will always be synonymous with "Family Ties," mall culture and Michael Jackson's "Thriller." My generation will always carry the weight of slacker cynicism and Kurt Cobain's suicide. It doesn't matter if you loathed these things when they were happening, they are part of who you are.
Then it starts to wane. The cool magazines aren't interested in you, but in a new generation of moppets--wide-eyed, fresh faced and eager to spend their allowance. Soon the depression hits; the realization that you are no longer wanted. It's like looking into the eyes of a lover who used to adore you, and now sees your flaws. (Time to get out of that relationship!) You quietly move to the back of the bus and watch as your cultural IQ fades. You no longer know who the latest actors are, who the biggest bands are. You start to understand how your grandfather, in the spring of 1989, could be genuinely unaware of Guns-n-Roses.
And with that comes a certain freedom. Not caring is the great emancipator. After all, why did you go see all those (mostly) shitty bands and movies in your youth? Because you wanted to be part of your cultural moment, your generation's conversation. As much as mass culture had to slavishly devote itself to your ever-changing whims and demands, you needed to follow mass culture to appear cool. When you're suddenly told that you're not wanted anymore, it's a monkey off your back. When you no longer pay attention to pop media and style and fashion, you have a whole lot more free time, and more importantly, free brain power. (I really wish I could free up whatever slot in my brain is being used to contain any awareness of Dane Cook.)
It's never absolute of course. You're still dimly interested in youth culture. A good pop song still catches your ear. Everyone enjoys an occasional summer blockbuster. But after you leave the 18-34 demo, you no longer carry the burden of defining your generation. For better or worse, that's already been done.