andrewtsks asked: So what specifically was your beef with that New Yorker article about spoiled children?
(This is the one we’re talking about.)
My most immediate objection to is that it’s a fluffy pre-recession trend piece written in post-recession times. “Contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world” tuts author Elizabeth Kolbert, ignoring that 1 in 5 American children lives under the poverty line. When I think about problems facing American children, I’m more worried about entire families living on the street because of an inadequate welfare system, not that the offspring of a New Yorker writer are lousy at doing their chores.
Beyond that, it’s an effort in astoundingly sloppy writing and thinking. It’s an argument composed of anecdotes about Beanie Babies and torn ligaments Gladwelled together with some anthropological studies to give the piece a sheen of scienceyness. Kolbert approvingly talks about the “responsibility” possessed by machete-wielding three-year-olds in an Amazonian tribe that survives on subsistence farming — and ignores that America is a hell of a lot better off for not being a society of subsistence farmers. There’s a story about an American woman who moved to France and suddenly noticed that she had a shit of a daughter. The woman, Kolbert approvingly reports, blamed her nation instead of her child and set about essentializing from the foreign culture into which she’d moved a style of parenting, as if her engagements with a limited set of Parisians were an apt representation of an entire country of 65 million people. There are also dreary attempts to hit trend piece bingo by mentioning Judd Apatow and “helicopter parents.” Then one woman complains that her twenty-something son is unemployed, concluding that “one of the reasons is the lousy economy. Another is parents like her.” Guess which the article decides to spend the next few paragraphs discussing!
Finally, Kolbert’s terribly confused about exactly who it is she’s talking about. Is the problem with “middle-class” parents or the sort of people purchasing “Burberry Baby and other forms of kiddie ‘couture’”? (The two are not the same!) Is the generation afflicted by this malaise the six year old Americans who lack the independence of their Amazonian counterparts, or is it the 24 year olds, defined, apparently, by a desire to “stay out late, sleep until noon, and wander around in [their] boxers.” If it’s all the same generation, why is she telling us a story apparently twenty years old? Many 24 year olds have six year old kids of their own. Are they the spoiled children or the spoilers? The Amazonian tribe is discussed approvingly for teaching children skills that will be useful in their adult lives, yet part of Kolbert’s laundry list of complaints with contemporary youth is that they have computers and cell phones. Do you know what I use at work every single day of my adult life?
Essentially, this reads as a particularly poorly pieced together passive-aggressive whinge by a writer who’s pissed off that her kids are brats, and has decided to externalize her failure. At a time when so many Americans — especially children — have too little, not too much, this is an obnoxious effort in bourgeois narcissism. People all over the world spend their lives trying to provide their children with more. Elizabeth Kolbert spends four pages complaining that she doesn’t have to.