The Wire and Cloverfield : Bad Weekend for 20-Somethings

The best part about being in my thirties is not being in my twenties. This means I get to rail against "young people," who are, as we all know, awful: shaggy-maned, smooth-featured puds who are still allowed to experiment with their sexuality and wear clothes that look grave-robbed from Flip Wilson. We all hate the young. And the faster they acquire and dominate new technologies, the harder we hate them. Still, I can't help but feel a little sorry for them, after last weekend. For three straight days, twentysomethings took a beating from the culture.

First there was Cloverfield, a herd-thinning exercise from the J.J. Abrams creature shop. It depicts a New York devoid of baldness and cellulite, where slim, impeccably tailored youngfolk make beaucoup bucks and party down in lofts spacious enough for a Biggest Loser season premiere. These young people are practically indistinguishable, so when an out-of-town monster shows up and starts killing them, it's difficult to care -- or even to tell who's dead and who's still running around yelling "Dude!" and "Oh my God!" The point of Cloverfield is how it's made, which is clever (if not always 100% credible): On the off chance you haven't heard, it's basically Godzilla shot on a video camera by a random, unfortunate bystander, a la 'The Blair Witch Project' (a movie I dimly recall from my own twentysomething days). But the real innovation here is Cloverfield's attitude towards its characters: It doesn't have one. They live, they scream, they run, they die, and along the way, they make a few calls. The movie quite clearly shares the monster's near-apathy towards these kids. It's punishment rained down on a disposable generation, a giant bootheel silencing a thousand faceless Nextel chirps. Ouch. I'd already begun to feel this new, ambient contempt for the young, watching Daniel Plainview (ferocious Daniel Day-Lewis) devour the fatally, fetally mismatched Eli Sunday (smooth little Paul Dano) in the final scene of There Will Be Blood. Cloverfield cinched it.

And then there's The Wire, where "twentysomething" is an epithet in David Simon's idealized Baltimore Sun newsroom. "Twentysomethings" are the talentless tadpoles, picked up on the cheap by fatuous bean counters as replacements for saintly, seasoned beat reporters. I've been at news organizations that have been downsized. I've even been among the young beneficiaries of media downsizing. And it is, indeed, an ugly culling process, where lives are disrupted and priceless institutional expertise is lost. But Simon, a former Baltimore Sun reporter who lived through rounds of downsizing and came away understandably angry, is taking it all out on the whippersnappers. His goat is Templeton, a Jayson Blair/Steve Glass in the shell, with no discernible talent for anything but prevarication and bootlicking. Again: Ouch. Young people are villains and fools in today's popular narratives. How'd that happen, just a half century since Rebel Without a Cause?

Twentysomethings, listen to me. This is a dangerous time. The economy's in the tank, and there's little hope of your pulling off a Web 3.0. You're not going to be internet millionaires. You're not going to be greeted with flowers and sweets at Sundance. (Where are the new youth auteurs? And sorry, kids, man cannot live on Mumblecore alone!) You're the mySpace generation, but listen to me: Your space is shrinking. They've put you online to get you out of the way. Watch out, twentysomethings: You're ceding meatspace to the oldsters. And we don't like you. People wonder, what was that Cloverfield monster, anyway? Where did it come from? It came from the other side of 30, kids. It's still very much alive. And it's hungry. It can and will drink your milkshake.