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Living up to Optimus Prime's example

July 9, 2007 — By Dr. Pete

Note: This entry contains virtually no spoilers for The Transformers movie. It also contains virtually no relevance to any of the usual topics of this blog. Please forgive my digressions.

Later this month, I celebrate my 37th birthday. I'll save you the math: I was born in 1970, and as such, spent all of my teen years squarely in the 80s. It also means that I've been tagged, for better or worse, as a "Gen X'er". The 80s have had an inescapable effect on my worldview. For example, they allowed me to love the recent Transformers movie, despite it being a long Chevy commercial, much as I loved the original cartoon, despite it being a weekly ad for Hasbro.

After the movie, I found myself reflecting on just how much 80s pop culture has affected me and my circle of friends, especially as we move through our thirties and the inevitable crises that brings. The media we grew up on, especially cartoons like the Tranformers, was permeated with epic notions of good and evil. Of course, this cartoon world was grossly oversimplified and was designed primarily to sell action figures, but that's not to say that the message was completely without merit. Sure, we wanted the bad guys in our collections, but we still aspired to be the good guys.

Years later, after surviving the other extremes of the 80s (excess, status seeking and the "Me generation"), we Gen X'ers have developed a peculiar blend of idealism and pessimism. We strive to be the good guys, but are acutely aware that the path to Hell is paved with good intentions. Unfortunately, this awareness has trapped us in a sort of paralysis. Nothing we ever do can be as epically good as the oversimplified drama we were brought up on, and at the same time we're painfully aware of the temptations that turn good intentions bad. In the end, nothing we set out to achieve ever seems quite noble enough.

Unfortunately, this paralysis often gets mistaken for apathy by other generations. The real tragedy is that many of the Gen X'ers I know are smart, creative, well-intentioned people. At the end of the day, maybe the example set by our childhood heroes is just too high; they had the luxury of living in a cartoon world.