Sunday, August 20, 2017
Who Sculpts Your Identity? — Part III
Until last week, I soundly rejected questions, requests, urgent requests, and finally pleas to “do something” about my diminishing hearing.
I denied it.
I threatened to wait until an anally insertable hearing aid became available.
I finally submitted to testing by an audiologist last week.
I failed the test miserably.
I now sport a temporary, “trainer” hearing aid, on the left. Since the audiologist tuned it for me, I felt depressed for a day or two; the feeling still lingers.
Because, for me, hearing aids signify aging. Aging leads me to my next diatribe on the ways our identities are formed without our permission.
I begin with my own age group. I turned 61 last July.
(For your information, fellow Boomers, it was not nearly as bad as turning 60.)
All my life, I tended to be the one ahead for his age. My elders complimented me with phrases like,
You show a maturity beyond your years.
Wow, you’ve achieved so much for your age.
I remember taking the family on a trip to Death Valley when I had just turned 55. My two daughters got a kick out of advising me to order the senior special which, at Denny’s, is available when you’re 55.
I refused to order it.
I would not have ordered it if it was the only thing on the menu I desired.
When they began bugging me about hearing aids, I continually refused — despite the obvious need. On another family trip, while we were lined up exiting an airplane, I asked my eldest:
Did you just call me a fuckhead?
She had gently and kindly asked me,
Please pick up the bag from the bulkhead.
I was often asked why hearing aids troubled me so much when I had no problem with reading glasses.
Reading glasses make you look professorial.
Hearing aids make you look old.
How do hearing aids and aging relate to identity formation?
Because our aging process, our gradual passage through what Isaac Newton called “the arrow of time,” invites us into differing cultural subgroups. These sociocultural influences constitute what Lacan and Zizek call the big Other: Those nameless collections of social and cultural expectations shaping our perceptions of ourselves, and the way we’re perceived by others.
I return to aging in a minute, but first address several other chronologically-related stereotypes.
That youthful population, characterizing my daughters and son-in-law, is defined as the demographic cohort, also known as Generation Y, which followed Generation X. Demographers typically use the starting date of the early 1980s to describe the grouping.
Sometimes referred to as Echo Boomers, Millennials spawned from a major surge in birth rates in the 1980s and 1990s. Millennials are often the children of the Baby Boomers, or Boomers, in which I am a reluctant member.
Millennial characteristics vary by region, depending on social and economic conditions. However, they are generally characterized by an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies. In most parts of the world, their upbringing was marked by a more liberal approach to politics and economics.
Allegedly, the great recession of 2008 also had a major impact on Millennials. It caused historically high levels of unemployment among them, leading to speculation about possible long-term economic and social damage to the generation. In my experience, it also causes disruptions with parents who repeatedly ask Millennials to serve as volunteer technical advisers to them.
Less compassionately, millennials are considered somewhat spoiled and entitled. My youngest daughter says she feels pressured to treat herself like a “snowflake.”
My eldest compares and contrasts potluck meals in her generation and mine. She says,
You can always tell a potluck with millennials because dishes come with labels like gluten free, dairy-free, vegan or vegetarian.
When I used to go to potlucks, you’d take your chances.
If you left bloated, suffering acute anaphylactic shock, or dead, well…tough luck.
Several years ago, The Economist wrote an article about Millennials. The author interviewed several corporate managers who told stories of telling new, millennial employees of their start time of 8am. The recruits might respond:
Actually, I prefer to start work at 9am and stay later, if you don’t mind.
In the same story, the author describes how other managers felt dumbfounded when Millennial employees quit after several months or years, proclaiming,
This job is just not as personally fulfilling as I thought it would be.
What are you talking about?
Boomers like me suffer the same awful characterizations. We constitute the demographic cohort following the Silent Generation, with our starting birth years ranging from the early-to-mid 1940s and ending birth years ranging from the early-to-mid 1960s.
We Boomers allegedly rejected or redefined traditional values. In Europe and North America, Boomers are widely associated with privilege. Many, like me, grew up in a time of widespread government subsidies in post-war housing and education, and increasing affluence.
Indeed, we Boomers have been the wealthiest, most active, and most physically fit generation to date. Shocking to the millennials, we genuinely expected the world to improve with time.
(Not so much any more, thank you Mr. Trump).
As a result, we Boomers have been accused of being overly materialistic as evidenced by the lyrics of Madonna’s song, Living In A Material World:
Some boys kiss me
Some boys hug me
I think they’re ok
If they don’t give me proper credit
I just walk away
But they can’t see the light (that’s right)
‘Cause the boy with the cold hard cash
Is always Mister Right
And I am a material girl
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl
To my great delight, I learned, researching this post, that the phrase Generation Jones is sometimes used to describe those born roughly between 1954 and 1964 — like me.
I like it!
We Boomers can no longer pretend we are young. We can no longer use phrases like,
I’m jonesing for a vacation!
But of course we can. And, Millennials too can be whoever the hell they want to be.
As I reported in the first of these post on Who Sculpts Your Identity, I elaborated more upon the idea of the big Other. You can read that post here:
You cannot completely escape the big Other’s influence.
For example, when I’m in a coffee shop writing, who can blame a Millennial from looking at me, despite my spiky gray hair and skinny jeans, noticing my reading glasses and my left-sided hearing aid, and thinking,
There’s an old guy.
And what about when I look in the mirror?
I see a Boomer.
Like the aspiring Taoist I am, I strive to adapt to how “the way” has shifted. I adjust to my small amount of brown hair vanishing, to hair generally vanishing, to reading and hearing impairments and medications for blood pressure and more problemos to come.
I am who I am.
You are who you are.
But, meanwhile, what’s up with that little wire sticking out of my left ear?
Lacan, J. (1991). The seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XVII: The other side of psychoanalysis. 1969-1970. Trans. R. Grigg. New York: Norton.
Zizek, S. (1992). Enjoy your symptom! New York: Routledge.
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