Trial and error is the unavoidable process for attaining adulthood no matter where you grow up or who your parents are. Immaturity, however is not the only thing the girls in “Girls” have in common with the subdued audience at a youth rally Mitt Romney schooled on our country’s history at Otterbein University in Ohio Friday. Both groups of young people are facing their future in a very difficult economic environment.
For each youthful socio-economic cohort, the rarified privileged artists and writers depicted in HBO’s series, and those earnest Ohio youth seated behind the candidate, the stakes are real for the first time in their life, and the deal they got was not the one they were led to expect. As New York Magazine’s Noreen Malone succinctly summed up recently, “It’s a putrid, stinking, several-months-old-stringy-goat-meat moment to be young.”
The generation of young people currently coming of age are not just broke, but their very expensive, not-entirely-paid-for, educations have failed to propel them to an adequate income on which to live, let alone pay down these loans. Their boomer parents are not only unable to help financially; we are also leaving them an energy and environmental crisis that will take many decades and billions of dollars to resolve.
Nevertheless, Mr. Romney encouraged his young audience to “Take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business.”
Commenting on the tone-deaf candidate’s speech, the clip made Melissa Harris Perry on MSNBC want to “honestly, jump out of my skin,” because the very reason we are in this student loan crisis is “we can’t simply borrow money from our parents.” Her guest, youth coalition leader Jessy Tolkan, wondered if Romney was intentionally trying to alienate their generation.
Speaking as a parent, I concur with the 20-something MSNBC host. The economy tanked just as the young people got to the ticket window, and they can’t borrow a few thousand dollars to start a business. (Nor, I’m sorry to say, can we make their transition to adulthood any easier.)
While Romney’s advice to ”take a risk” is not wrong, and no matter how grim things look, this is the best age to invent oneself. (As discouraging as these future leaders’ outlook seems now, they are certain to make some use of all those clever algorithms and equations their generation is so good at.) For the talented and original Lena Dunham, the star and creative force of the autobiographical series “Girls”, risk apparently paid off.
What the Boston millionaire got wrong was what decade we’re in and maybe where he was speaking. If Romney had been addressing the young “Entourage” meets “Sex and the City” HBO hybrid of millennial women from the New York arts and literary world, he might have hit a closer note of resonance in his painfully off-key pep talk.
The comedy pilot aired two weeks ago revolved around Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath’s crisis after her parents had advised they were cutting off her support money. Her negotiating strategy? “All I’m asking for is eleven hundred dollars a month for the next two years.”
Maybe Romney was watching?
Bonnie Goldstein is a Washington-based writer. Follow her on Twitter at @KickedByAnAngel.