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From Led Zeppelin to Breaking Bad: The Lamest Generation

Kids used to take big changes, but the crazy energy of youth seems to have subsided, says Elizabeth Wurtzel

Marcel ter Bekke

Did you know that Jay-Z is 44 years old? Mick Jagger is a great-grandfather and the Rolling Stones are still touring. Everyone who said they were going to die before they got old did so at age 27 and the rest have doggedly and pathetically and triumphantly persevered. So nothing about age and the way it advances should surprise me.

Rap sold its criminality–literally its rap sheets–and when that did not work because it just was not true, it sold that it sold: P. Diddy made living in the Hamptons and having his Black & White Party more hip-hop than the penitentiary. Hanging out with Martha Stewart was truly gangsta–and she really did do time.

All of which is to say you would think that yelling into a microphone would be a young man's art form, but not at all. Nor is anything else any longer.

As the series finale of the bruisingly good Breaking Bad arrives, I am stunningly aware that, except for Girls, everything important on TV centers on characters my age, or sometimes older. Because my first book came out when I was 26, sometimes people think I am still about that age, but I am 46, and wondering what it’s like to be 26. Instead I watch Mad Men, as do people half my age and twice it, and what I am really learning about is my parents.

Like college kids, I watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, which is my idea of broadcast journalism, even though both of them are older than me.

A country that hates Congress more than offshore oil spills, and with good reason, loves to watch the House majority whip played by Kevin Spacey go at it on House of Cards—and loves to watch his archly beautiful wife have hot flashes at the refrigerator door: Counting the eye-shadow on her steely blues, Robin Wright wears at least fifty shades of gray in an imperial capital that is Stepford white, but there is nothing dull about her monochrome, or the way she makes blondeness look fierce.

To the extent that I am interested in anything on one of the three old-fashioned networks, it is The Good Wife, because I love that Julianna Margulies went to work as an associate at a corporate litigation firm at age 40–I did that! As far as I’m concerned, that show is reality TV, what with the presence of the philandering political husband, and all the rest.

I know that people in their twenties wearing khaki pants and polo shirts are doing very well with tech startups in places with names like Menlo Park.

It makes perfect sense that the single success story on the aforementioned Girls is the guy with the band that can’t play who makes millions of dollars off of an app. Of course he does.

It does not make sense that Lena Dunham with her inexcusable thighs seems to be the only twentysomething success story in the world of high art and entertainment. That is just too crazy. What is going on here?

At age 26, the Beatles made The White Album. And half of Led Zeppelin was a mere 21 when Led Zeppelin II came out and changed the world. Oh yes it did.

That is what 21 year olds are here to do: They are here to rock the planet senseless.

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I agree that Generation Z-for-Zero had the world’s worst array of coddling parents and I agree that college debt sucks something awful, but that can’t explain the complete sign of no life at all. At some point, someone has got to be so incredibly unbelievably sick of it until he breaks down the walls and insists on being heard or read or seen. That is precisely what amazingly talented young people have been doing always and forever.

There is no system too harsh to stop genius. And really it is pretty difficult to slam the door on anything entertaining and lovely that conveys honestly the way we live now. Which is why Lena Dunham has succeeded so well: Girls is great. I wish people would stop saying that her parents are so and so. Say what? Who? I have never heard of them, nor has anyone outside of a five-block Soho radius; Lena Dunham’s parents are lucky to be related to her. Her success, like all success, is fairly won, for heaven’s sake.

And I don’t get why there is not more of it.

I blame the Internet, for everything really, most especially for the coarseness like sea salt that has taken over. But because of the World Wide Web, there is too much content and not enough filter, and the value of talent has been decimated. Of course,The New York Times and more specifically its bestseller list is still a meaningful screen, but even that is not the same–unless you are the author of a sadomasochistic vampire legal thriller.

Hollywood is still a dream factory, but between piracy and China and digital, it is also all messed up. No one is paid properly for the great work they do, and that is not fair, because what is better? Beautiful movies, novels that make us cry, music that feels like fantastic sex: the people who come up with this stuff can’t be rewarded enough for making life bearable. Everything is all up the down escalator.

Of course, if this makes it difficult or impossible to be a workaday working creative person, the Internet also makes it confusing as to whether anything is going on at all. A lot of people believe they are doing things when they are interacting online. They believe they have friends on Facebook and Twitter. They believe they are communicating by text and email. And of course, they sort of are. But that is not life—it is virtual life.

Fall in the forest and die for all anyone cares, because if you can’t let people know you matter, you are just another tree. Energy is not part of it, it is all of it. If you don’t know what I mean, listen to Led Zeppelin II. Not just because it makes my point better than I just did, but also because it’s wonderful. And it is something that only young people who are completely crazy and don’t know better can do. That was before computers. The beautiful thing about creativity at that age is it is brutal and unpolished, and not virtual.

Everything should be that intense, or not at all.

Enjoy the last episode of Breaking Bad.