Angst manifests in every generation; what youth do with it is up to them

Like everyone else, my parents were products of their generation.

Born between 1926 and 1945, theirs was the silent generation.

Loyal, disciplined conformists, with respect for authority, aptly describe this generation. They got their marching orders and soldiered on; theirs was not to question why.

Kurt Cobain of the band, Nirvana, born in 1967, was the standard bearer for Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980.

The documentary of his life, “Montage of Heck,” is currently available on HBO. Although the documentary is intimate and revelatory, it is also too long and a bit reaching.

However, it caused me to ponder why I am disappointed Cobain represented Generation X.

Generation X is the first generation of children from “broken families” on a large scale. This was also the time of latchkey children, a term that has gone out of fashion, as working mothers are ubiquitous now.

People were finding their way in a world that had turned upside down during the social earthquake of the ’60s.

Everything old was new again, thanks to the Boomers.

The Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, spawned the anti-Vietnam War protests; the Age of Aquarius; questioning authority; championing personal freedom; embracing the paradox of self-centeredness and a yearning for social equality for everyone.

In their youth, the Boomers were hedonists with a social purpose; the Xers were hedonists with a death wish.

This statement is too simplistic, as are all generalizations. But the nihilism of the Xers was expressed through drug addictions; commitment phobias; a worldview based on suspicion and low expectations.

Why did “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” turn into “ME, ME, ME, NOW, NOW, NOW?”

The Xers aimed to be served, rather than to serve. Cobain’s lyrics, “Here we are now, entertain us,” brilliantly illustrate this state of mind.

The “now” of these lyrics reveals the existential state of mind of this generation: the “now” was the place to be, the future was too dark to see.

Perhaps my disappointment is not with Cobain representing but with what he represented.

“Montage of Heck” shows how devastating Cobain’s parent’s divorce was for him. He was 9 at the time. His feelings of isolation led to artistic expression.

His feelings of abandonment led to delinquency. As a boy, he broke things because his pain manifested as anger. Although poignant, this is nothing new.

Cobain didn’t conquer despair but escaped it through heroin. He didn’t despair for all humankind but for himself. One hopes had Cobain not committed suicide, he would have evolved to replace rebellion with service, addiction with purpose, loneliness with love.

So I found myself wondering: Hasn’t everyone suffered on the scale Cobain suffered?

Haven’t all of us felt abandoned at some point in our lives?

Haven’t we all searched for the meaning of life and come up short at times?

Isn’t this a benchmark of teenagers? Of being human?

Isn’t so much of our young adulthood 1). wretched self-loathing on the inside and 2). an abundance of teen spirit on the outside?

So is it simply stylistic differences that set the generations apart? After all, angst crosses generations, cultures and national boundaries.

Surely the subjugated housewives, the closeted homosexuals, the scripted personas of the men, women and children that are determined by the time and place in which they are born create despair.

Wasn’t despair, ultimately, the legacy of Kurt Cobain?

Does the current crop of graduating Millennials, or Generation Y, born between 1981 and 2000, despair of their scheduled, high-performance lives? Instant gratification only scratches the surface of their expectations.

Surely this leads to disappointment, because life doesn’t usually deliver on time.

A recent survey revealed of teenagers asked if they were special in the 50s, only 12 percent thought so. Now, 87 percent think they are special. Does their “special” status make them more fragile than their predecessors?

They certainly require lots of praise.

This feeling of being special translates into a low dose of narcissism, to be sure. But it also fuels entrepreneurship and a sky’s-the-limit attitude.

Let’s cross our fingers the new crop of graduates will use their “specialness” for the public good. We can only hope this generation will emerge as leaders, releasing their Peter Pan fixation on childish things to embrace the responsibilities of adulthood.

Donna Steele, an Alabama native, moved to Hancock County in 2011. She lives in Greenfield.