We haven’t been through war, but we’ve been through trauma. We may not have gone through the Great Depression, but we’ve lived (and are living) through a recession. We may not have sat in trenches or seen men blown up by grenades and mine fields, but we’ve seen death, and plenty of despair.
It was Gertrude Stein who coined the term and Ernest Hemingway who made it famous through some of his most notable works, defining an entire generation under the idealized and romantic title of the “Lost Generation.”
According to PBS, the phrase signifies a disillusioned postwar generation characterized by lost values, lost belief in the idea of human progress and a mood of futility and despair, which results in hedonism.
It was a term meant to convey a mass exodus from the norm, a flagrant disregard for mediocrity and simple American values.
It was for all of those who didn’t know their purpose, and refused to define it with some menial job in some menial office. It was for all those who were hurt, lost and utterly confused. It was for the young and disillusioned who just wanted to find meaning in their rapidly encroaching adulthood.
The years immediately following the Great Depression and World War I brought a need for change. Social, political and aesthetic conventions were contested and artists flocked to cities where they could protest the barriers set up by their parents and create new forms of art, along with new ideas of living.
Out of this disillusionment, some of the greatest pieces of literature were born, introducing writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck to the American landscape.
It was a time of massive uproar and social change that would come to redefine the way young people of the 20s and 30s lived and would forever be encapsulated.
While our generation may not have been through the Great War, we’ve seen war. We’ve witnessed plenty of unjust killings, violent acts of murder and countless reasons to refuse to believe in God. We’ve seen bombs explode in planes, buildings and prisoners taken at whim.
We’ve known enemies, allies and those pretending to care. We’ve watch families fall apart, children starve and the irrevocable notion that nothing is sacred.
We’ve watched men in suits destroy the livelihood of the masses. We’ve seen giant corporations steal, cheat and bring down the prosperity of their own country.
And we refuse to be part of it anymore. We’re a generation of revolutionaries, artists and the disillusioned. We’ve protested the norm and created conventions of our own.
We’ve turned our backs on the cubicles and the suits, creating our own jobs and purpose. We’ve rebelled against the masses and defied our parents.
We’ve fled the country, finding refuge under the romantic sun of Europe and South America. We’ve brought culture and style back from our travels and refused to settle in one place.
And while we may be lost, we are most definitely closer to finding ourselves than any other generation.
We’re A Generation Of Wanderers
According to Samuel Hynes, author of “A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture,” the idea of being “Lost” does not mean vanished, but disoriented, wandering, directionless — a recognition that there were great feelings of confusion and aimlessness among the war’s survivors in the early post-war years.
In Hemingway’s novels “The Sun Also Rises” and “A Moveable Feast,” he alludes to his characters as part of the “Lost Generation,” all of them expatriates living in France and traveling aimlessly throughout Europe, trying to find meaning.
Whether it be love, success or purpose, they are never settled, always disoriented and always leaving.
More than any generation, our generation is closest to emulating the life of the nomads. We are travelers, explorer and wanderers. We take up years in Tibet, traveling through the South Pacific. We take three months off to travel South America and climb the mountains of Peru.
We study abroad only to find out that we’d like to live in Madrid and Paris, desperately trying to find a way to make our lives fit this romantic, idealized version of life.
We are restless and spontaneous. We have no patience for conformity and mediocrity. We’ve imagined lives of adventure and excitement and refuse to settle for suburbs and the nine-to-five. We want to see the country in which we were born and travel those we have yet to know.
We Want Simple Luxuries Back
Whether it’s indulging in drugs, cigarettes or alcohol, we’re a generation that’s not afraid to bask in the indulgences of life.
We’ve come not only to normalize drug use, but to use it as a bonding tool. Pills, booze and weed are as normal and condoned as the tonics and morphine in the roaring 20s.
We just want to sit in cafés and smoke cigarettes. We want to drink wine during the day and go to bullfights under the hot, Spanish sun.
We want to eat well and dress well, basking in the simple luxuries that Americans have seemed to forget about. We want to spend weeks traveling the coast and meet new friends at every stop.
We want a life that’s not about the money, but the experiences. Dollar bills won’t define us, but the memories we make with them will. We don’t need expensive apartments and big cars. We don’t want the beach houses and yachts.
We want the freedom to leave when we want, be whoever we want and the peace of mind of knowing that we will not die in vain. We want the simple pleasures in the life, not the superficial ones.
We’re Artists And Revolutionaries… Graffiti Artists And Coders
While our generation may not be defined by a great shift in American literature, it’s defined by a great shift in American business culture. Startups, and the corporate culture attached to them, are as progressive and revolutionary as the painters, writers and poets flocking to Greenwich Village and Paris in the 20s.
Only now we have coders, graphic designers and bloggers. We have Silicon Valley and Tumblr. We’ve refused to follow the treacherous, soul-sucking demise of the nine-to-five and have created something for ourselves… an alternative to the doomed fate of board meetings and uncomfortable shoes.
The British Library explained the phenomenon of the Lost Generation as “radical developments in the visual and performing arts mirrored in the Continental literature of the time.
It was into this vibrant, inspiring foment of idea and innovation that the self-imposed exiles of America’s ‘Lost Generation’ flung themselves.”
While we may not have created classic literature yet, we’ve created art in another capacity. Startups are as creative and risky as the careers of artists, and have opened up another opportunity for us to grow and expand our creative freedom.
They are as fleeting and turbulent as the secluded life of the poet and as rewarding and endearing as the novelist. They’ve created something new, something artistic in a portal that was previously deemed for business.
We’ve brought the Internet to life, sharing films, art and stories on a space that’s similar to that of the cafés that the painters, poets and writers used to converge and discuss the fate of their previously doomed generation.
We’ve brought art to technology and community to the web. We’ve shared our stories and our philosophies, inciting mass movements through the use of keyboards and Facebook.
We’ve changed the political landscape of countries through the technological initiatives of our peers. We are, indeed, revolutionaries.
Photo Courtesy: Tumblr