The New Copernicans

Thank You For Your Service! Hollywood Educates the Public on Military Life

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The sacrifices of the military are lost on most Americans. It has become customary to thank those serving in the military for their service. What are we thanking them for?

The military is war weary. Deployments are more frequent and conflicts seem interminable—now decades long (Stop-Loss, 2008). Prolonged military sequestration is showing up in equipment failure and training lapses. For most citizens this fact is lost on them. While there are close to 1.4 million people serving in the U.S. armed forces, this amounts to .04% of the American population. Unless one lives in or near Fayetteville, North Carolina, Fort Hood, Texas or Coronado, California the rhythm and cost of military life is unknown.

Young Americans between 18 and 29—the millennial generation—have made the transition into adulthood during the single longest period of continuous war in American history. Surprisingly, their interest in military service has remained steady despite the improved economy and a fading sense of patriotism since 9/11. What attract millennials to the military are things like education, travel, teamwork, and being a part of something larger than themselves.

The Pentagon uses a “propensity” poll to determine potential interest in military service: “How likely is it that you will be serving in the military in the next few years?” Recent results among millennials is 19%, which is not far from the peak of 23% in 2003.

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We Need Fictionalized Heroes Because Real Life Sucks

We Need Fictionalized Heroes Because Real Life Sucks

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Gone are our real life heroes. It’s time for some make-believe ones. Storytelling cultural creatives must come to the rescue.

 

We are living through a necessary national catharsis of sexual misbehavior. I presume that the reality is far worse than is being reported. But the nightly news is no longer “family friendly.” The litany of perversions across a host of industries leaves one disgusted. Social trust is in the toilet. Heroes and integrity appear to be in short supply. Culturally we will suffer scandal PTSD.

 

Hollywood directors and television showrunners have a special responsibility in times like this. Social scientists and storytelling cultural creatives both know the power of story. Stories are what help us make sense of the senseless facts that bombard us day in and day out.

 

Some have claimed that we live in a “post-fact” era. Decorated reporter Carl Bernstein corrected this assessment on Bill Maher. We don’t have a crisis of facts, he explained, we have a crisis of context. We no longer know how to connect the dots. We have a frame problem not a fact problem.

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Turning Our Hearts Toward One Another

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Life can put one’s emotions into a pressure cooker. Nothing does this more than family challenges. My tight knit family is dealing with the combination of a funeral and wedding within a month of each other. All of the wounds, past tensions, and unresolved relationships as well as the joys, love, and shared memories find their way to the front burner. Our millennial children are right in the middle of this. It is not easy terrain to navigate.

In general, millennials are not alienated from their parents. There is much less generational conflict between boomers and millennials—as both feel a mutual responsibility to care for one another. This is a beautiful thing, another point to celebrate, though it is often overlooked in the negative press about millennials.

In some ways the economic realities of millennials make this a necessity. Pew Research Center data shows that about 36% of women and 48% of men ages 18-34 lived with their families in 1940. For the first time since 1940, these numbers have crept higher today. There are certainly economic benefits gained by living with one’s parents, especially with the strangle hold of college debt and the high cost of real estate.

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Giving Up on Millennials

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Perhaps the most important lessons one can learn in life are from failure—even better if you learn from the failures of others. The restaurant chain Applebee’s announced last week that it has “given up on millennials.” In response to brand and menu changes they made in the past year aimed at millennials, sales are down by 6% and poor customer experience has risen and as a result 130 of its restaurants will be closing by year end.

Their response is indicative of the problem: they weren’t really committed to a millennial audience. No one is saying that the restaurant business is easy. You are defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. Clearly, millennials did not make Applebee’s priority list of struggles.

And while millennials are an enigmatic market segment, one can hardly imagine a consumer brand writing off so publicly the largest and most influential market segment. It is short term thinking that guarantees long term failure. John Cywinski, Applebee’s brand president, age 54, should know better.

Millennials can smell inauthenticity from a thousand paces. Posers do not warrant re-tweets. It is always the case that companies that try to be all things to all people lose a distinctive identity.

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BURNING MAN… Embracing the Juice of Reality

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Preparations are being made. Lists are being checked and rechecked. Exotic wardrobes are being assembled. Art pieces are being carefully packaged. Social media is a buzz. So go the final preparations for the annual pilgrimage to the desert that attracts 70,000 persons for a week of carnival known as the Burning Man Festival. It is not a casual party for the unprepared or faint of heart.

Burning Man is the zeitgeist cultural event for the emerging New Copernican ethos. Widely misunderstood, its cultural importance cannot be under estimated. As a rule, one’s awareness of Burning Man will indicate whether one is a settler or seeker—the two basic attitudes one can have toward life.

Comic-Con explores the mythological universe of Marvel and DC. Its exploration of an alternative mythic world is safe, air conditioned, and at arms length. In contrast, Burning Man is in your face.

It creates a temporary immersive experience of a New Copernican world. The contrast for many is shocking. In providing such a venue, Burning Man is both a critique and affirmation—a critique of status quo modernity and an affirmation of a still emerging post-postmodernity in a host of neopagan flavors.

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