My take on 2008 points to one person as the overwhelming favorite for the coveted and third annual Ginandtacos.com Cocksucker of the Year Award. I should point out in advance that Joe Lieberman, the 2007 CotY, is ineligible. Like the Heisman Trophy, I feel like the CotY should be spread around and not handed to the same candidate repeatedly. Let's be honest, I could give it to Lieberman every year and it'd be hard to criticize the choice.
I regret giving Holy Joe the award in 2007 because he was practically begging for this year, but fortunately these twelve months offered a cornucopia of candidates whose exploits match his toe-to-toe. In fact, there are so many "winners" this year that I will give out second- and third-place trophies to the finalists who just missed the gold medal. I'll concoct some sort of prize if anyone guesses the top three candidates.
Every generation feels that a gulf exists between its parents and eventually its children. We usually boil it down to ideology, political worldview, and superficial symbols of intergenerational conflict – the stern, flat-topped WWII veteran looking on in bewilderment as his hippie kids roll around in the mud to Janis Joplin. For those of us in "Generation X" the conflict with our Baby Boomer parents becomes increasingly obvious as we start having children of our own and the Grandparents transition into the role of Grandkid Spoilers. Simply put, our generation gap is defined by significant differences in how important we consider the American sacrament of buying shit.
As you are all aware, I am obsessed with the cultural phenomenon of the Cold War. I watch propaganda films of that era moreso than is healthy but with great interest. They never fail to amaze me, and the overwhelming sense is one of wonder that the Baby Boomers aren't more fucked up than they are. The grade-school propaganda of that era was a grotesque mixture of fatalism (pray hard, kids, the bombs will fall any minute!), paranoia, and consumption-worship which inevitably concluded with the same moral lesson: We are better than Them. If you need proof, why, just look at your right to vote for the indistinguishable political parties of the era (Stevenson or Eisenhower – a rainbow of choices!). And look at how many kinds of toothpaste are available.
This is why I think the crunchy granola, environmentally sensitive anti-consumerist leanings of many of my generation so baffle our predecesors. They see recreational shopping as a patriotic duty because it reinforces our superiority; it's the difference between America and lesser nations. Being chastised for throwing out 10 plastic water bottles every day or for driving a 13mpg SUV makes them feel weak and defeated because waste and overconsumption are our birthright; re-using one's trash or driving little cars with tin-can engines is what the people of backward, un-free nations do. Our ability to waste gas is proof of the superiority of our ideology, that the bounty of capitalism is so great that we needn't even think about efficiency. We have to spend $5000 on Christmas gifts not only because that's how we prove we love one another; we have to do it because that's how we know we won the War. That's what makes us different than the Communists, who are so evil that we must forever be emphasizing our differences.
One of the most accessible collections of Cold War ephemera, a Netflixable DVD called The Atomic Cafe, features a video which argues in favor of building the hydrogen bomb to preserve our way of life from Communist aggression – and our way of life is demonstrated at the supermarket. A montage of images show the splendor of the supermarket (to think, Communists have to wait in line for bread!), a Banquet frozen TV dinner, and…a can of Reddi-Wip dispensing its contents onto a slice of pie. When we are defending America, we are defending its status as the capitalist land-of-plenty.
I will never tire of the image or its implications: America is great because we have such ready access (see what I did there?) to cheap aerosol cans of faux-dairy products. What, you think the commies can just have whipped topping whenever they want, mister? Of course not. But our forefathers died so that you can. Recycling and public transit and eating fresh organic foods (processed frozen fare being a fruit of jet age American technology) are a big "fuck you" to everything they died for.
Those of us born in the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond did not grow up with Duck and Cover, the imminent threat of nuclear annhilation, and the idea that Communism was a threat to our way of life. We saw Communist nations for what they were: backward, pitiable places far less of a threat to us than America was to them. Oh, and the Bad Guys in all of our shitty action films. No one in the 1980s, the children of a few paranoid dead-enders aside, grew up thinking that the Russians were going to come and take Our Way of Life from us. The contradictions in the rhetoric made no sense to us – the Russians supposedly couldn't feed themselves or make a car that worked, and yet somehow they were a threat?
This is my best effort at explaining why our parents think strip malls are fuckin' awesome and we are more likely to see them as eyesores. This is why they think we're weird and stuck-up because we tell them how inefficient the suburban lifestyle is or that we don't eat McDonald's or processed sugar. The Russians would kill for a Big Mac! Where do we get off refusing to eat one? The real gap between our generations is more complex than a one-sentence explanation allows, but as we start raising our own families it will be increasingly difficult to make Granny and Gramps understand that their grandkids will not be raised to understand the American Way of Life as profligate consumption and excess.