For the hippies, the emotion was love: love-ins, free love, the Summer of Love, all you need is love. The social form was utopia, understood in collective terms: the commune, the music festival, the liberation movement.And what of these kids today? Are we going to call them the "hipsters?" Deresiewicz prefers "millennials." He diagnoses the emotion as niceness, which doesn't seem hip at all. (Not that hippies were hip.) Is niceness an emotion? Deresiewicz toys with "post-emotional," then comes up with "the affect of the salesman." And that's not very nice at all. What "social form" do these little jerks get? Deresiewicz assigns them: small business.
The beatniks aimed at ecstasy, embodied as a social form in individual transcendence. Theirs was a culture of jazz, with its spontaneity; of marijuana, arresting time and flooding the soul with pleasure (this was before the substance became the background drug of every youth culture); of flight, on the road, to the West; of the quest for the perfect moment.
The punks were all about rage, their social program nihilistic anarchy. “Get pissed,” Johnny Rotten sang. “Destroy.” Hip-hop, punk’s younger brother, was all about rage and nihilism, too, at least until it turned to a vision of individual aggrandizement.
As for the slackers of the late ’80s and early ’90s (Generation X, grunge music, the fiction of David Foster Wallace), their affect ran to apathy and angst, a sense of aimlessness and pointlessness. Whatever. That they had no social vision was precisely what their social vision was: a defensive withdrawal from all commitment as inherently phony.
Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur. (Think of Steve Jobs, our new deity.) Autonomy, adventure, imagination: entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan.See how that goes with "the affect of the salesman"?
Today’s polite, pleasant personality is, above all, a commercial personality. It is the salesman’s smile and hearty handshake, because the customer is always right and you should always keep the customer happy. If you want to get ahead, said Benjamin Franklin, the original business guru, make yourself pleasing to others.This is not meant as a compliment. Deresiewicz is not a fan of "the bland, inoffensive, smile-and-a-shoeshine personality — the stay-positive, other-directed, I’ll-be-whoever-you-want-me-to-be personality — that everybody has today."
ADDED: I like Deresiewicz's writing style and he has a lot of nice observations, but something's obviously missing — something expressed by the "these kids today" tag I just added. In every generation, there's a mix of conventional and rebellious type individuals. The millennials he describes sound very similar to the people beatniks, hippies, and slackers rebelled against. There are rebels among the millennial generation too. Look at all the protests these days! Look at all the young people who are looking to the government to deal with the joblessness. How cheerfully entrepreneurial are they?