Let's launch the opening party of this blog with a theme resonant with its... title. Let's praise the youth and the members of the new generation. For they are the ones to prove that the world’s not going to end but will be made anew in the hands of the untainted, the joyful and the mighty. The evidence is right there: a pinch of their magical enthusiasm, stylish nonchalance and inventive levity is worth much more than mountains of rusty aphorisms puked by those carved-from-the-inside.
I was born in 1981. I remember watching on the white screen American space shuttles taking off from Cape Canaveral – the Turkish TV, a state monopoly back in those days, used to air the launches live, a nice gesture from a dedicated U.S. ally. I remember the wall-like faces of the members of the Soviet administration – the politbureau? - the panic during the First Gulf War over Saddam's threats of chemical attack and my family reinforcing our windows with tape. I distinctly remember the first days of the internet – we used to check into cafés to access grimoires and were simply unaware of its vast potential for “adult entertainment”.
I was born in 1981 and I don’t have to make a great effort to be sent back in a time machine when listening to Turkish electro pop sweethearts Kitschcraft’s homage to my generation. However I do think that they have sugar-coated the facts a bit. (“We could be the flowers on the sea. Waking up the next big century"). We have been special, sure, a special brand of test subjects: a “transitional” generation expected to perform well under rapid and drastic transformation (and over-conditioning) while having neither the solid foundations that defined the identity of the previous generations, nor the adaptability and pragmatism of the ones to come.
However, the tests we have gone through were more than a matter of zeitgeist. First of all, we have been too used to be blamed for the mistakes and the confusion of an entire collection of past generations. In the eyes of our parents, we could never grow “aware” enough, due to that materialist/individualist dictum of the age. We were the "Özal generation", - named after the Turkish president who was a member of the global neo-liberal clique along with Reagan and Thatcher and who, just like them, set the unholy forces of capitalism free to run amok. While his opening up the country to unfiltered influences of the West brought with it the loosening of the post-military takeover straightjacket, the redefining the culture of entrepreneurship and simply added colour to the otherwise monochrome social life of the country, he had been continuously bashed by the Social Democrats (our parents) for the sneaking in of that vicious “culture of corruption”.
And still our ordeal was not a matter of zeitgeist. It was deeply related to our search for meaning, our search for self, on a spiritual level and it often involved dilemmas. On one hand, we had been told that we were made apolitical and self-absorbed, unable to grow altruistic sensitivities; on the other hand, whenever we dared to rally under banners of various colours - red, black, red and white - our parents told us to mind our own business and to seek to change the world only after achieving success. Only after pangs of adulthood we woke up to the bitter fact that the confusion was not entirely ours, we had inherited it from our parents. However, to be able to see the greater picture, we had to wait for the arrival of the new generation.
They came. But long before I made intimate acquaintances from that club (the post-89 generation) I already had sketched a hypothesis illustrating the transformation over the years. I could argue that, with the passing of generations, the mediocrity eroded and extremes got highlighted. While many members of my father’s generation had familiarity with the everyday vocabulary of French, could play an instrument, knew the proper etiquette to adapt at certain occasions and had surface knowledge about global politics; only a few of them had the means and ardour to become severely obsessed with a certain area of knowledge or practice and to pursue that path to the bitter end. They were too occupied with the demands of reality and “decent” doses of anything had to be enough for them. But in the realm of their descendants, the gap between the gifted (or the obsessed) and the idle (the totally uninterested) is wide as hell. Without any statistical evidence, I am urged to claim that everything is more black and white with regards to this present generation – they are either geniuses or candidates for the flock of it-boys and it-girls to come.
A rainy Antalya afternoon in the last days of 2011 provided an amount of evidence to my hypothesis. That day, I took refuge in my favourite pub in the Old City. Smoking under a clementine tree in the unattended garden, I saw two girls and a boy sitting at the nearest table and eavesdropped on their conversation. They were talking about their upcoming short film, how to shoot it and what to make out of it once finished. One of them, a girl, approached me to ask if I got a lighter and when I kindly inquired about the details of their short film, invited me to their table.
First surprise came with their age. I was expecting to hear that they were at least older than 18,. But no, they were high-school students, of only 16-17 years of age, studying at the school where I spent the most formational four years of my life. Then, what was the reason for their trying to shoot a short film? It was for the taste of it. Bora, the guy, has already been offered a place –and scholarship - in the film department of one of Istanbul's finest universities. He was deeply knowledgeable on what’s going on with the “new” Turkish cinema as well as with the Continental “auteurs”. He was determined to study dramaturgy and to become a screenplay author and was totally uninterested in trying his chances in an acting program (he had the looks, what a great deal of TV producers are looking for; and possibly the skills to make a good start) with the hope of making it into cinema.
Elif, 16, was also in love with theatre and film, but she was also smart enough to pursue a diploma in a discipline, like Philosophy or Psychology, that can help her to establish a solid intellectual foundation. Her rants about Amsterdam, stinking parts of Turkish culture and the high school environment she was trapped in were all beyond what one would expect from a girl of her age. Just like her self-esteem which had nothing to do with recklessness.
When pressed for an advice about universities, I had no option but being honest. I told them not to invest any trust in any provincial university and to have a firm determination to be a part of the high-profile few, BoÄŸaziçi, Bilkent, ODTÜ or Bilgi, if they do not have the opportunity to pursue their dreams in a European or American university.
Considering my peers at the film school could hardly find, even after six years, a “story” to shoot (meaning a rude but slightly dramatized joke, a piece of pornography or a Borges story should be the same in their eyes); it was certain that these kids had both the “gift” and the means to actualize what they are after. But what struck me with relief was more than that: They were free of the melancholia that enslaved my generation. While we, the 1981 generation, made friends with the black bile, they, the new ones, seem to be getting along well with Mars, Venus and Pluto. They had no interest in the tricky business of role-playing, constant self-evaluation, complex guilt issues or unresolved emotional burdens. They seem to be willing to embark on a quest not for their own entrails but for what's out there in the sky. Yes, this also can indicate a chief vice of them: over-valuation of the intellect. But I have to recall that while my generation seemed to value the strength of emotions, we ended up valuing security more than anything else.
So, while it’s not easy to acknowledge that the forthcoming generation won’t have the means to make sense of the time one spends waiting for a vinyl to arrive from its supplier overseas, or of a civil defence manual instructing what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, it is wonderful to behold the slow but sure eroding of the melancholic and the bitterly self-defeating spirit of Turkey and its being replaced by a glowing slice of lust for life. This is Iggy Pop and Madonna over Marcel Proust and Dostoyevsky and I am incredibly happy to see the times are-a-changing.