Amelia Earhart, as you may know, lived in Toluca Lake. She was the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo. The first person to fly from Hawaii to the United States. She did so in an era lacking radar beacons, with primitive radio, before the F.A.A or the C.A.B. or any of the aviation support infrastructure pilots rely on today. It was a matter of pointing at a spot on the horizon and setting forth with a compass, a sextant and a watch and seeing it through, even after cloud cover no longer allowed one a view of the earthly landmarks below. Amelia disappeared over the South Pacific in 1937 attempting the first solo crossing. When they lost contact with her she was in search of a speck on the ocean called Howland Island, a fuel depot the size of Lake Balboa, a thousand miles from anything, obscured by a fog bank.
Los Angeles has done right by her memory with a nice statue and a library branch on Tujunga. I thought of her today while reading an essay in Vanity Fair by Bret Easton Ellis called ‘Generation Wuss’. The one-time infant terrible of my own Gen X, has taken to Twitter, naturally, to weigh in on the fragility and neediness of people today in their 20’s. Raised in a bubble of positive reinforcement by helicopter parents “…who end up smothering their kids, inducing a kind of inadequate preparation in how to deal with the hardships of life and the real way the world works: people won’t like you, that person may not love you back, kids are really cruel, work sucks, it’s hard to be good at something, life is made up of failure and disappointment, you’re not talented, people suffer, people grow old, people die. And Generation Wuss responds by collapsing into sentimentality and creating victim narratives”.
In fact, not twenty yards from Amelia, beneath the portico of the building which bears her name, a young woman was doing this:
When she was this age Amelia worked as a volunteer nurse during the Spanish Influenza of 1918. Fifty million people, mostly in what is now known as the First World, experienced death-by-diarrhea. In a single year. On Monday, you’d get a twinge of nausea, by Tuesday they’d mark your front door with chalk. Inside of a month, you may well have pooped your insides out and died of dehydration. Oddly, if affected mostly young adults. An environment which did not lend itself to self-pity or vanity. You live through that, contract the illness yourself and survive, you just might say: I’m getting in the cockpit. I don’t care if they laugh at me.
Perhaps it is the uncertainties of the new economic paradigm, but at no time are millenials not texting, tweeting or self-ing. They have plunged eagerly into an avatar life, where more waking hours are spent interacting with the world not as oneself, but as one’s on-line persona, or in Jungian terms, Shadow Self. If you’re a girl, your public face is not the face that greets you in the mirror, but the much-rehearsed, duck-lipped, side-angled selfie post on Instagram. The Girl who is Always Having Fun and Doing Things and Going Somewhere and Trying On Something New Today. If you’re a Boy (boyhood now being extended until 35) your public interactions with other young Boy-Men are conducted through game characters created by someone else. Your porn-to-real life sexual interaction ratio may easily run 100-1. That’s normal now.
To the degree which parents have banished failure, given every kid a ribbon and a hug, then failure is no longer a waystation in the building of a fulfilling life, but a lurking demon, like the Spanish Flu, waiting to take all, and from which all must take refuge in the accoutrements of social media. Narcissism becomes a rational defense mechanism. A mantlepiece upon which one can safely deposit a decade of ones life, along with a diploma, without shame.
As a corollary, cyber-bullying, the maligning of another’s on-line persona is now considered to be a terrible, terrible public crime. Like…cross-burning! It’s also presented in the media as a legitimate explantation for suicide.
Can such people navigate the course of their own lives without inflicting harm to the nation? How many little lord Chattertons can America absorb before the character of America as we have known it, is changed?
What will happen when it is their turn to run things? I don’t know. Let’s Ask Lena Dunham: