And now, the Small Generation

June 03, 1994|By Rich Cohen

MEGAN has the use of 72 words. Of these 72 words, at least 10 are dedicated to colors, like red, blue, green, yellow and orange.

Though Megan can say orange, she cannot really distinguish that color from the color blue and sometimes, when looking at a clear summer sky, she points and says "orange." As far as orange juice goes, she likes it only when mixed with apple juice and calls both of these things "milk."

Megan, who recently turned 18 months, is part of a new generation, a group born after the Rodney King affair but before Rwanda, after Desert Storm but before "testilying," a generation that has known no president other than Bill Clinton and seems likely to call Hillary Clinton mother.

Even more than Generation X, that cynical group of 20-somethings currently featured on the cover of Newsweek, for whom divorce really is Vietnam, and even more than the kids still adrift in junior high cafeterias, a group that New York magazine recently dubbed Generation Y, kids like Megan McCartle (not her real name) seem lost and confused and just not very smart.

And though a proper tag has yet to be found, it somehow doesn't seem fitting to affix them with a letter, such as Z, since so few of them can spell even their own names.

To reflect what they suggest about this country's future and backward slide in the global standings, it seems best to call them by their distinguishing physical characteristic: The Small Generation.

Even more disturbing than the Small Generation's lack of motor skills are their recreational habits. This is a group that has turned away from traditional drugs, such as marijuana and heroine, drugs we know something about, in favor of exotic household substances. And we're not just talking about glue.

A few weeks ago, Megan was left alone in her playroom with a six-pack of Play-Doh. Twenty minutes later, when her parents returned, the blue and the red containers were empty, and Megan was bug-eyed.

And what about dreams? Each night, this young generation is haunted by cryptic messages. They talk about these nocturnal sojourns in only the vaguest of terms ("Flying, Mommy").

Still, they say just enough to piece together a rough pattern -- a pattern of distortion and fantasy.

In a recent dream, Megan was a dog. A dirty dog. A dog so dirty she went unrecognized by her owners, and was forced to wander the Earth alone.

Of course, this says a great deal about isolation, about loneliness, about loss.

But most telling was that moment when the dog had something to say, something important. She opened her dog mouth and out came a billion jelly beans.

Just how important is candy to this new generation?

The Small Generation shows real discomfort when presented with the American way of life.

Not only have they shunned traditional careers (almost none of them work), they have a sailor's disregard for hygiene. They pick their noses and soil their briefs and cry about it, expecting someone else to clean up the mess.

When presented with such issues, Megan turns away. She doesn't want to talk about it. She wants to talk about something else. Her mind wanders.

She sits there in her playroom, staring out a window. She is surrounded by Play-Doh empties, by Magic Markers with the smell all gone -- right up Megan's nose.

She's mad at Mommy, she loves Daddy. She's mad at Daddy, she loves Mommy. She is fickle and doesn't know why. She's an American woman and cannot read, and to her the basic tenets of mathematics are as veiled and mysterious as her own mind.

Why did you do it, Megan? Why did you pick up the cat by its tail? Why have you soiled yourself again, Megan? Why have you let America down?

How many bombs will it take until America learns humility, Megan? Why don't you talk back? Why don't you talk? Why did you eat all the Flintstones vitamins?

Why are you letting all the mommies and daddies and sports writers and sociologists and anchormen of this world down again, Megan? Why are you ignorant of geopolitical reality?

1% Megan, why are you so damn small?


Rich Cohen is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone.

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