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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On nostalgia, and not taking young people's problems seriously

Okay.  So I know I'm a little bit late with this.  The article I'm about to hate on was published almost three weeks ago.  I feel politically incompetent. 

BUT I am getting around to it now, so... yeah.  To be fair, the beginning of May was a whirlwind of helping people move, starting a new job, massive amounts of spring cleaning, etc.  And then I fell into "OMG I don't have to do anything now!!1!1!!!!" laziness. 

Anyway.  No more excuses.  Time to tear this article to shreds. 

So.  The article.  I came across it when I was trying to figure out whether "The McGill Four" was, like, a legit nickname or whether people were confusing young MPs with a Celtic music quartet. 

The title suggests that the McGill Four (I will call them that, for all that it makes me think of a band of really awkward superheroes) "may well turn out to be fine politicians."  And so I thought it would be a positive article. 

Yeah.  Wrong?  I was wrong. 

This article is incredibly patronizing and even insulting to young people, particularly young people with an interest in politics.  Also young people who work.  Aaaaand I think that has covered pretty much everyone under the age of 25. 

It begins thusly: 

I spent my sixteenth birthday schlepping dirty dishes in the greasy spoon around the corner from my house. That was my first job. Two things about it stand out in my mind: the oily basement floor that pulled me onto my back, and the giant sign by the busboy station that read “The Customer is Always Right.”

I don’t envy the McGill Four their first real work experience. Serving 100 regular customers was daunting. They each have almost 100,000, getting crankier by the minute.

Well, you know, they probably have had previous work experience.  Given they are all 19 and up.  And, you know, have to pay tuition which costs LOTS OF MOULAH as my own bank account can attest.  My first job, when I was 17, was going into corner stores and gas stations and asking for cigarettes, just to see whether or not they would check for ID.  But that is neither here nor there. 

Much has been said about them, mostly by old people. Cleary, not one of the barely-twentysomethings expected to win. All were assigned their far-flung ridings by the NDP machine. Clearly, none of them really wanted to win either — that would have required cellphones, knocking on doors, attending debates. They wanted to finish their degrees, spend their summer flirting as golf caddies, travel to Las Vegas . . . .

I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of them burst into tears Monday night, and not from joy.

Umm.  First of all, the one who went to Las Vegas, Ruth Ellen Brosseau (about whom I have already posted) is not a member of the McGill Four.  She is a twenty-seven-year-old assistant manager and a single mother.  You think she doesn't know about hard work? 

Also.  What do you mean, none of them really wanted to win?  Again, Brosseau is the only one who actually didn't campaign.  And she isn't one of the McGill Four.  I mean, they are actively involved in their campus NDP organization!  Even if they didn't actually want to win, they wanted to experience campaigning so that they could run again and win at a later date when they were older.  And yes, they probably wanted to finish their degrees first. 

Also.  Nobody works as golf caddies.  What kind of dream world do you live in?  Summer jobs are things like data entry, and doing projects for profs, and giving tours at national historic sites.  University students actively seek summer jobs that are in their chosen field, or at least look good to future employers, because we are in a fucking terrible job market and everyone wants some competitive advantage and most places won't hire you full-time unless you already have two years' experience anyway. 

Okay.  /rant.  Continuing. 

Politics is the most grievous of sports. Talent, effort, passion be damned — the gold often goes to the least deserving contestant. If you think Michael Ignatieff’s ego is bruised, imagine Serge Cardin’s. The 13-year veteran Bloc MP of Sherbrooke lost his seat to 19-year-old Pierre-Luc Dusseault, who spent the first week of the campaign writing his first-year exams at the Université de Sherbrooke.

Okay, yes, that is hard.  Not like it hasn't happened before.  Remember 1993?  Moving on. 

What rankles most is not their lack of effort. We could all win the jackpot at some point, hypothetically. It’s their youth. They remind us of time’s unrepentant march forward and how wizened we’ve become.

Oh, quit your whining.  I feel that way every time I see a child prodigy and I'm the same age as the McGill Four.  These people are a thousand times more politically engaged than the average Canadian. 

I’m not that old yet. But I’ve already learned that some princes start as frogs. Their inauspicious beginnings don’t mean the McGill Four won’t make for brilliant politicians.

The way I see it, they have at least four things going for them.

First, they are young. Skin like sun-kissed peaches, corkboard joints, nothing but the horizon in view. Remember being young? I could stay up all night slamming beers and still make it to my 8:30 ancient English literature class. They appear to be blissfully free — no kids, no mortgages, no performance reviews. All their belongings could fit into a knapsack tomorrow, and off they’d go to Goose Bay or Prince Rupert to investigate whatever it is that needs doing up there. Some call this inexperience. At my work, they’re called interns, and they are the cheapest labour.

Ah, to be young!  Skin like an oil slick, pulling all-nighters to finish that final essay, cleaning up other people's vomit when they get too drunk!  Staying up all night slamming beers and then going to an 8:30 class sounds (a) stupid and (b) like something only an 18-year-old would ever try.  People do get pretty mature pretty fast when they have to live on their own and deal with all their own shitty mistakes, you know. 

Oh, the young.  They're so eternally blissfully free.  Look at them!  You know, no kids, no mortgage, no performance reviews since they probably don't have a job because of the terrible unemployment rate for youth, no extraneous money to worry about because everyone's mired in massive amounts of student debt and you have to pay your rent, your heat, your internet connection, and your monthly supply of ramen noodles no matter what. 

Yeah.  Fun times.  This past year I was audited, and I worked two part-time jobs while going to school full-time in order to pay my tuition and rent, I applied for grad school and for funding which is INCREDIBLY STRESSFUL, and I never fell behind in my school work.  Also, I DID, in fact, have performance reviews at one of my jobs.  That was the same job where one of my co-workers was being sexually harassed by our boss.  Oh, so blissfully free. 

I am also quite concerned that Catherine Porter thinks that all of my belongings could fit into a knapsack.  With all due respect, when you were a student, did you live in a box?  Because where I live, most students live in rented houses.  And they furnish those houses, with, you know, beds, desks, couches, kitchen tables, all that extraneous, non-knapsack stuff.  If you seriously think most students' shit could fit into a knapsack, I invite you to come watch a May 1st Moving Day in a student area of a university town.  Seriously.  EVERYONE HAS SO MUCH SHIT. 

And off I go to Goose Bay or Prince Rupert, except I don't, because um hello airfare, and also, if I don't work how the hell am I supposed to pay my rent and my tuition?  My tuition and my rent?  Whichever is more important, I don't know.  Probably tuition because when it really gets down to it the library is open 24 hours a day during some of the coldest parts of the year. 

And yes.  The cheapest labour.  Yes.  This is so. 

Second, they are young. They don’t know everything yet. They all seem to know that they don’t know everything yet — a big advantage over first-time middle age politicians, who feel they have to “hit the ground running,” which is code for faking it. They’re bound to ask questions and listen to answers. That is a trait we all miss in politicians. Experience brings wisdom, but it also often breeds contempt.

Umm... no one knows everything.  That is why we call it "life-long learning."  In fact, I think you know the most when you're a student/just graduated because you spend so many years INTENSIVELY LEARNING and then you later forget most of what you knew.  Also, they will ask questions and listen for answers partially because they are used to learning (as I just said) and also partially because they have to be honestly and legitimately interested in politics and governance to run for office at such a young age.  Think about it.  They're not old enough to run for office just because they feel like they ought to be in charge yet. 

Third, they are young. For many of them, this election was the first time they’d ever voted. There are a lot of young people in Canada. Let’s simply consider the 3 million 18- to 25-year-olds — they might like to be represented in Parliament, even modestly. As the new MP in Chambly-Borduas, Matthew Dubé, put it to The McGill Daily: “The whole point of democracy is to be representative. People don’t want to elect 308 lawyers.”

Yes.  As I mentioned in my post on Ruth Ellen Brosseau, I think that's why people voted for them in such large numbers. 

Maybe they’ll best Rick Mercer and inspire our youth to not only get off the couch to vote, but to run for office themselves. (Especially when it doesn’t require much more time off the couch.) My daughter learned that young princesses really have fairy tale weddings this past week. I’d like her to see young politicians slaying dragons.

Well, politicians don't actually slay dragons, they legislate that the dragons should be slayed, but ok.  And I do think that young people will feel better represented and potentially be more politically active because of that. 

Fourth, they are young, when the world still seems black and white and the noble causes are not dimmed by bills and midnight trips to the emergency ward, sick babe in panicked arms. Most of them were members of the McGill NDP club. They must be passionate about big causes like poverty and climate change. We’ll need their untarnished idealism to wrestle the heavy boom of a Conservative majority.

Again, slightly confused by this.  I get the "They are young, the world still seems black and white" bit, because I think sometimes young people do tend to see the world more monochromatically than older people.  SOMETIMES.  There are other people, like myself, who just finished getting a degree in not ever seeing anything in black and white.  It will take me a while to unthink that one.  Also I don't know why taking your children to the emergency room makes you less idealistic?  I mean, maybe if your idealism is threatening your child's life?  But if you're already in the NDP and so you already hold it as a very strong value that the government should be providing high-quality public healthcare, wouldn't taking your sick child to the emergency room reinforce that? Is this something that I won't understand unless I have children or is she making things up? 

I went to McGill University, too. After I graduated, I backpacked around South America of seven months, spending $5 a night to sleep in some unsavoury places and hiking up to the top of Machu Picchu.

These kids are in for an adventure of a whole different magnitude. Look at those faces. Not a wrinkle or grey hair in sight. At least, not yet.

Yeah, well I have just graduated from another major Canadian university!  And nobody I know is backpacking around South America!  Everybody is either going to grad school in the fall or frantically seeking work like maniacs while slowly sinking deeper and deeper into a depressive state!  It's not an adventure when you have to start worrying a year and a half before you're due to graduate about whether you'll be able to find a job after, considering the ickyness of the job market and the massive amount of your student debt.  It's not an adventure when the month directly preceding graduation is the single most stressful month in the history of our lives for the majority of university students. 

I'm sorry, but nostalgia PISSES ME OFF when people are getting all nostalgic about their supposed "golden youth" years.  (A) it wasn't actually as awesome as you seem to be remembering and (B) whether it was awesome or not conditions have changed now. 

When my parents went to university you could work over the summer and have enough for tuition, living expenses, and some extra money over the course of the school year.  Yeah, not so anymore.  Try working full-time throughout the summer--like, "you are not allowed vacation days EVER" full-time--and then two different part-time jobs through the school year.  SO MANY of my friends do that, or have done that.  There are the people whose parents pay for (at least part of) their education, and there are the people who have won massive scholarships, but for everyone else, I would say that the majority of people who work during the school year work at least two jobs. 

Anyway.  I'm sorry.  /rant for realz this time.  But baby boomers have to realize (and gen-Xers too to a certain extent) that life today for a young adult is not the same as it was 15, 20, 30 years ago.  Not only do we not have it as great as you seem to think we do, but we are also looking at this aging population, and we know that we are going to have to bear the tax burden, and we are going to have to deal with all of these social, political, and economic messes. 

It's a wonder more of us didn't run for office in the first place. 

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