Pondering over the cultural trope of the midlife crisis
For every generation after the boomers, there's no midlife crisis, because life is just one long extended crisis.
Really interesting topic! “A collection of CD’s that signal your non-compliance”- brilliant!
We were born in late 1961, the tail end of the baby boom but increasingly lumped in with the next generation as maybe it should be. We graduated college into a recession with mortgage rates in the double digits, it wasn’t the best of times. Countercultural then was choosing to marry at 21 and start a family immediately with three children under four by 25. Homeschooling was counter cultural. We’ve lived out of step with society ever since, which is partially choice and planning and partially social ineptitude such that society wouldn’t have us on a silver platter.
The midlife crisis you address is really just another bit of evidence that boomers always believe they are the hero of the tale, the center of the universe. It is an entire generation with few exceptions of narcissists and that was before social media. They were catered to from their cradles and the entire world was remade according to their lights. The midlife crisis was their realizing that they didn’t get a chance to do it all over again, it was the first time they heard “no”, maybe from their bodies, their bosses, or their families. That we have so many corpses steering ships of state is a testament to their unwillingness to let go, the lack of statesmen a testament to their refusal to train replacements. They cling to life because they have no faith in an afterlife, their kingdom is very much of this world.
They are the first generation to have left their children and grandchildren worse off., not just financially but spiritually and morally as well. They communicated nothing of value. How much worse off we are seeing every day.
Twenty years ago I heard an interview with a young , aspiring corporate professional woman (20/30something?) in the days when I still listened to Radio 4.
In a segment about women in the workplace and after much emotion laden discussion talking past each other, she told the interviewer in plaintive tones she wanted nothing more from life than “…a small house with a small garden in a small town with a train station”. The statement and her voice were heavy with regret and longing for things unstated too.
By way of answer she was treated to a harangue by the woman interviewer about the opportunities afforded by the activism and sacrifices made by other women on her behalf that had ‘freed’ her and all women from such narrow confines.
For me as a male Boomer it was a real wake-up call. I knew at that moment we had all got it seriously, very seriously wrong.
An interesting part of the male psyche is he will either wither away or purposefully sabotage his life if he is too comfortable. Comfort means there is no conflict to persevere through, or goal to attain. Sitting too much in this state will lead to the dull drones you witness in many middle-aged men. The only way out is to create artificial adversities in the form of some task he designates he needs to accomplish, even if it doesn't affect his station in life, or wreck the comforts he currently has.
I for one welcome the fact that, as you write, "the time for such indulgence is over and real life and struggle are finally re-entering the story of modernity". There is a sweet and profound joy, I dare even say happiness, to be found in our kind of dissidence. The phenomenon of the midlife-crisis conclusively showed that that joy was not to be had in whatever it was that the boomers were doing.
The grand arc of life as seen through several generations brilliantly summarised in the post WW2 narrative! As a young man of the 90's myself and my friends saw "Falling Down" as more of a dark comedy than the horror it really shows. I watched it again recently and shortly after, the story broke of an ordinary American in Panama shooting dead two deadbeat Greta Thunberg types blocking the road. How many Wlliam "D-Fens" Fosters are walking around today, reaching the end of their tether?
I was thinking that the disappearance of the “mid life crisis” was due to it affecting men, particularly white western men. And as a group, such men aren’t allowed to have problems that might garner public attention or sympathy? In contrast, across the anglosphere there is now a pervasive therapeutic state which attends to (and also confirms/nurtures) all forms of anxieties for everyone, except men. Instead for those wishing to raise issues that burden men such as the - far more serious - problem of male suicide, well that is a fast track to being ridiculed by polite society. So no wonder the concern about mid life crisis as been relegated to history just like Jack Nicholson’s mid life crisis films (The Passenger is worth a watch).
Very very interesting, thank you as always.
You've reminded me of a pub conversation I was having recently about the idea of the "teenage rebellion", it was something we were all supposed to have gone through but none of our group felt like they did. I started wondering how/when it was manufactured in to existence, surely post-War? I can't imagine kids growing up in little villages looking after the farm or family business with their parents went through it before then, must've been some kind of way of drawing kids to the big cities to work or something? I'm not well read enough about these things. Hmmm
Dante had a mid life crisis:
“The poem begins on the night of Maundy Thursday on March 24 (or April 7), 1300, shortly before the dawn of Good Friday. The narrator, Dante himself, is 35 years old, and thus "midway in the journey of our life" (Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita) – half of the biblical lifespan of 70 (Psalm 89:10, Vulgate; Psalm 90:10, KJV). The poet finds himself lost in a dark wood (selva oscura), astray from the "straight way" (diritta via, also translatable as "right way") of salvation.”
I think you nailed the difference, Morgoth. The crisis exists only because those were men that owned everything and they found it meant little in taking the next step. But we, in the current age, see what the downgrade meant and it brings into sharp contrast how much "better" that was. Great article, sir, as always!
Stefan Molyneux used to call it the "no life crisis," which I thought was an accurate term. Maybe absence of an adversary feels like the absence of life.
The mid life crisis definitely seems to have faded from online discourse but I can assure you it is alive and well. My ex wife went through the most stereotypical midlife crisis that I have ever seen and we are squarely in the middle of Generation X. I wouldn't think it was a real thing if I hadn't seen it myself.
Our kids were young st the time: 4 and 6. We both had stable jobs and owned a home. Within six months she quit her job, went back to school, quit school, moved to another state, moved back, sold her car and bought an impractical little red car, had an affair, etc. It lasted years and completely broke our family. She came out of it on the other side as a completely different person, one that had essentially nothing in common with me even though we'd known each other for half of our lives.
This article is a cool dissection of it though. I've never considered it being a Boomer thing but it actually makes total sense. It's such a selfish, destructive, and inexplicably childish thing to do that it seems appropriate that the worst generation in history would come to define it.
Interesting, I find myself (1998 birth) no longer yearning for what my predecessors had but holding it in complete contempt (this being post war to now).
I'm reading (and listening to) 'Generations' (1991) by William Strauss and Neil Howe at the moment so this essay is a timely companion piece to their theory of recurring generational cycles. An inexhaustible topic for research and discussion.
A brilliant insight. It's so sad that the boomers, on the cusp of realising that everything they believed in was fake, reacted with such shallow and selfish indulgences as sports cars and extra marital affairs. Never once did it occur to them that these things helped nothing and often caused more hurt and suffering to those around them. And so they just continued the fatuousness and pointlessness of their existence.
The term may be disappearing and becoming something not worth discussing in the modern era where the concerns of white, middle aged men are irrelevant to many people, but I think the concept is still there, and still very real.
I went to see the band Teenage Fanclub recently and I’d estimate 95% of the audience were white balding men aged 40+ (myself included). What I always find interesting at these events is the little flashes of conversation you hear around you as you move around the venue which in this case included…
- Someone moaning that it was a seated show who couldn’t believe it wouldn’t be a wild crowd like back in the day.
- Someone glad it was seated as they aren’t up to standing anymore but wishing that wasn’t the case.
- People talking about the classic albums (but not the latest one) and dissatisfaction that one member has now left which means some of the oldies that he sang won’t be played.
- A group of guys behind me who spent the entire time reminiscing about their school days.
- 2 divorced blokes bitching about their exes and how modern online dating just isn’t the same.
In summary I think just about everyone there was attracted to the event as a flashback to their youth, but were also coming to terms with the fact those glory days are now over. Culturally the mid-life crisis may be gone for the reasons you highlight, but I think the core issue will always be part of life, and I wonder if it just manifests itself in different ways these days, and potentially much darker ways such as depression and suicide.