On “The Beach”, Weyes Blood and The Selfish Generation

Today I watched the movie “The Beach” for the first time and it is not very good.

Leonardo DiCaprio is not at all as cute as you’d like him to be, and Guillaume Canet is exactly as cute as you’d like him to be but he’s not in it that much. 

I’d read the book when I was in middle-school and I remember liking it. So in a quest to see what differed between the original and the adaptation I came across an article in The Guardian called “Alex Garland’s cult novel The Beach, 20 years on”.

The article discusses how “The Beach” is a book about “characters damaged by where they have come from, looking for release – or correction, or illumination – in strange new corners of the world and finding only disaffection, ugliness, self-absorption and ego. Finding only the things they have brought with them.” 

The article also punches up these apt and well-phrased summations of the novel with a few easy jabs at Millennials. I assume because it’s The Guardian and another sarcastic sentence about selfie-sticks will always be welcomed with open arms by their readership. 

And while I believe the article’s main point is that the same strain of narcissism present in 90’s twenty-somethings can still true of todays’ youth, the tone does imply a sense of “sure we had some bad apples but kids these days…” that irks me. 

I am irked. 

And it’s because the idea that Millennials are narcissistic is every middle-aged bloggers favourite headline. It’s because this criticism is lazy and ugly and largely accepted to be true. And it’s a lie.

Under the article someone named Jonathan Clarence left this comment:

Travelling today is different, exploring and finding yourself in remote places is different. Travel in yesteryear had no phone or internet connection to home or friends. You were on your own, expensive telephone calls home were a luxury seldom afforded, you found out who you were, just you, you made other travelling friends, you had to embrace and be involved with local culture, you considered yourself a diplomat for your country. You did more had more experiences that enriched your character, self reliance and so on..I spent two years travelling and working, it changed me totally on every level. Travelling today is different, you’re not on your own. Days of watching sunsets so beautiful, odd knowing that nobody where you came from would ever see what you had seen, the solitude, beautiful solitude. Returning home was alien and it took years to to become part of my home country culture again. Alex Garland’s book is amazing and well written; however it was a last gasp of what travelling was…..it was adventure of self discovery without the gadgets of the 21st century….it was…freedom…true freedom…at a young age…from your own culture…I don’t yearn for those days but my memory of photos in my mind are incredibly precious, and the people I met are still alive in me, although I have no contact with any of them…..Alex Garland’s was the last gasp, and an instruction to younger travellers. A valuable tool perhaps that hints on how to travel…I hope younger generations read it…

So first off, this guy is clearly the worst. I mean his use of ellipsis alone is grounds for complaint. But then to write a sentence like:

Days of watching sunsets so beautiful, odd knowing that nobody where you came from would ever see what you had seen, the solitude, beautiful solitude.”


And also this person clearly has missed what “The Beach” is even about, seeing as they recommend it as full of “hints on how to travel”. The book that is full of suicide, shark attacks and kalashnikov-toting cannabis farmers. The book about privileged, selfish travelers who worship their own shallow self-discovery no matter how destructive it is to the things around them.

To me it seems like this person has clearly missed that “The Beach” is about them.

But this is the most up-voted comment on that article so what do I know.

It’s almost like all “the backpacking, one‑upping, (mainly rich) young things” characters in “The Beach” grew up to become middle-aged Guardian readers who make jokes about selfie-sticks.

Today I also saw the music video for the Weyes Blood song “Generation Why” for the first time.

This is the first and only Weyes Blood song I’ve ever heard and I reacted to it more violently than I expected to.

To be fair I already had mixed feelings towards the artist as they’re named after one of my favourite novels but they spell it in a way that upsets me. Which I grant you is not even a little bit of a good reason to dislike a band.

But man oh man I really hate that spelling.

And as I should have gathered from the bloated pun of the song title, this was not the song to listen to with my ears still ringing from the dissent of my elders.

The song begins with the lines “Going to see end of days/ I’ve been hanging on my phone all day”. And the chorus spells out the word “YOLO” letter by letter to make the point that yes, you do only live once, because the world is ending.

The video also includes a shot of the singers’ face reflected in her black cell-phone screen (get it?) and footage of her dousing herself in gasoline. 

So it seems safe to assume this song is drawing a connection between signifiers of Millennial culture (cell-phones, YOLO) and the end of the world. And there’s precedent to discussing the new generation as the source of the end of the world. Each generation thinking the next is worse is certainly not new. It’s called being a curmudgeon.

This song is a curmudgeon.

The song posits that the idea of YOLO is true because of the environmental straits our world is in. A connection that I genuinely think is novel. But the song and video seem to muddle the point by criticizing Millenial culture as if it were the culture responsible for the climate crisis. 

Lyrically, and in the imagery of the video, the song implies that maybe if we weren’t so reliant on our phones the world wouldn’t be ending. Maybe if we weren’t so self-absorbed. Maybe if we weren’t Generation Me. And in doing so the songs ducks any deeper analysis of the concepts it conjures in favour of taking the road most traveled.

Much like the Guardian article, “Generation Why” opts to reheat and serve us every middle-aged bloggers favourite headline.

It opts for the bandwagon. It opts to be lazy.

I don’t think these media examples come from a heinous or destructive place. I believe they’re well-intentioned.

But I do think they can be harmful in that they commit the interpellative act of reinforcing an ideology by reproducing it. In this case the ideology that my generation is the Selfish Generation and that we have caused or are deserving of the difficulties we have inherited. 

This does not mean that I think social media, technology and other signifiers associated with Millennial culture are without fault. 

This does not mean that I think discussions of how those signifiers are potentially hazardous are useless or wasteful.

What this does mean is that commentary that reinforces the dominant ideology is rarely useful. It is rarely interesting and it is never revolutionary. And for all these reasons it is often applauded.

I believe these texts help spread a lie. A lie that I think most of my generation actively believes. Weyes Blood belongs to my generation and they certainly seem to believe it.

But like “The Beach” demonstrates, no generation is unworthy of criticism and no sins are unique to just one culture. And to misunderstand that makes our dialogues and our content, at best shallow, and at worst sounding as blind as Jonathan Clarence’s commenting sounds.

So don’t be lazy.

And for God’s sake, if you have Guillaume Canet in your movie don’t let that sucker leave the lens. 

from the desk of the arby’s witch.



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