Reading Tad Friend's New Yorker piece about protesting Berkeley students on the plane yesterday, I got to wondering: Why do college kids staging demonstrations piss me off so much these days? Am I stodgy and old, or is Revolution dead?
Not that the kids in that mid-California enclave aren't fighting for something good. The entirety of their state has turned out its pockets and little foreclosed-upon moths have flown out and that is a bad thing, especially for a big budget-sucking public university system like U.C., which may soon be finally vanquished by the raging ghost of Ronald Reagan. (Communists and homosexuals beware!)
Staff cuts and faculty hiring freezes and tuition increases are all things worth getting upset about, especially at such a prestigious but wildly mismanaged university, but I just can't help finding the tactics and the attitude so irksome, so stubbornly pop-political and self-concerened. Friend writes about a group of building occupiers on Berkeley's campus who felt a little disappointed, a little cheated even, that they weren't arrested. They wanted the outrage and the belligerence and the fighting. So they could get a louder point across? Yes, probably. But also, maybe, so they could have war stories and battle scars, so they could feel the selfish swell of having done something monumental and risky and public. "Weren't you one of those kids," awed anti-Zionist freshmen will whisper to these now wizened and graying seniors. "Yeah, you know" they'll say, propping a ratty black utility soldier boot up on the dumpster dived coffee table. "It just needed to be done."
It's cruel and not a little presumptuous of me to assume that these intellectual elites—these silly children thundering about things they can't, by virtue of their age, really understand—are in it for personal gain, but I still do. I still felt that nagging itch while reading the New Yorker article, and I felt it (probably more strongly) while looking at those NYU twerps who took over a school building a while back for vague reasons, issuing dopey demands, chief among them "We demand to not get in trouble for this." I just don't sense anything genuine and worthy about these modern day movementarians, they seem so ridiculous and petulant and annoying. That can't be a fair assessment, can it?
I read Natasha Vargas-Cooper's "End of the 00s" post on The Awl—about how the baby boomers have ruined everything—and felt compelled to comment about how all the nostalgia for the change-making of the '60s (which college kids played a large part in) has ruined ideas of American protesting forever, because they supposedly perfected it back then, and thereby ossified it for everyone else. And maybe my feelings of "Oh, brother" about these futurekids (class of 2014? wtf?) are a product of that. Why even bother trying, right? Cynicism and blogs and stuff have totally made earnest intellectual rebellion a joke. I mean, who do these kids think they are, Abbie Hoffman??
Or maybe my problem is with the cause. Budget issues and staff firings (for money, not for race or creed or sex malfunction) are sort of dry. And yet these kids are locking themselves in buildings and throwing things at riot police and acting as if The Whole World Is Watching. That's just dumb. At least it seems, knee-jerkingly, dumb to me. The stakes are just so low compared to the noise.
Why are college student protesters so annoying these days? (Were they always annoying, no matter what generation?) Seriously, I'm asking. I know I should feel good about youthful idealism and bright naive hopes that total overhaul is possible, but I don't. Someone please articulate why this is—or better yet explain to me why it isn't—so I can stop feeling like such a right-drifting old 26-year-old.