Thursday, October 11, 2012

Youth Is No Longer Wasted on the Young?...

When I was younger, I was convinced no one in Hollywood would listen to me. That was mostly because no one at home listened to me. I had a lot of big ideas, and I was not shy about expressing them-- even fleshing them out fully into feature length or television pilot scripts as early as age fourteen. But this was back during the days of AOL chat rooms, not Twitter, where it was a lot harder to have your voice heard for something real unless you were already surrounded by people who could make stuff happen. 

I must have been ahead of my time. That's what I've had agents and producers tell me when I've sent them my stuff only to hear that they were already currently developing a project too similar to warrant taking this one on (they never came out and said "and from a no name to boot," but it was implied). "Where were you five years ago!?" One actor-turned-produced in particular grinned at me when I pitched him what I was deeming Gilmore Girls meets Entourage in "unconventional relationship" cable comedy form. "In high school," I grumbled under my breath. The story had been born back then, but not perfected or pitched until I had college under my belt, assuming I needed time and experience to back me.

Apparently these days, time and experience just marks you as washed up, though, which is ridiculous to me. 

There was a very thoughtful piece in the Washington Post about Lena Dunham's rise to success and equally ridiculous $3.5 million book deal pithily making the argument that no one wants to hear from you unless you're under age 25. Um, since when? The younger you are, the less life you've lived unless you were a child soldier or child star-- both which cause the same levels, though for very different reasons, of PTSD. Even the key television demographic is kind enough to extend that age bracket slightly. There is something to be said for 25 year-olds writing about other 25 year-olds, which is why Dunham's Girls rings so much more true than the more loosely out-lined Underemployed on MTV, for example. The best writers are the observational ones-- the ones who write what they know and stay true to themselves and their voices. But that's a niche, so Dunham has to be the exception to this overall rule, right?

Except, she's not. When I was just out of school, I assumed my age was a handicap. I assumed everyone would want someone with more experience. I kept the number closer-guarded than forty-somethings trying to pass for twenty-nine. But the more I look around lately at my own colleagues or even those who are surpassing me in status, even if not in assumed expertise, I see that fortune is favoring the youth. Of course it's not in every instance, but it's enough that it worries me.

At first I chalked it up to the fact that their energy, enthusiasm, and ability to work for lower wages if they're just out of college makes them ideal candidates for being trained on the job. A company can invest less, mold the employee to the way they want them to be, and get success faster. But more and more I'm also noticing the laziness of companies to actually do any such training. Instead, they want young people who are just willing to figure it out as they go along, regardless of mistakes they may make along the way. Fine. I was always a self-starter and a go-getter, too. I taught myself how to type and write basic code and format scripts and edit video and a whole bunch of other things that are really only relevant to one or two job titles. So the more I think about it, the more I realize maybe I was never ahead of my time; maybe I was just in the wrong time.

Apparently because I'm over 25 now, no one wants my opinion anymore? No one thinks I have anything interesting to say? How did I miss the memo of the "sweet spot" in my mid-twenties? Because let me tell you: I was pitching like crazy at age 25. That was the year I was in a terrible, dead-end corporate job; that was the year the fire was hottest under my ass to do something I actually enjoyed, let alone believed in. That was the year my mother died, and I took a few months to actually, basically, reboot my professional life. That was the year I published my pop culture memoir, fully giving in to the irony of publishing a memoir at age 25 (that's as ridiculous as naming someone the Voice of their Generation while they're still alive-- a point the Washington Post article made but I was thinking even before getting to that paragraph in their story). If you're a 25 year-old writer, pulling from your own diary for your stories, you're going to be pretty limited. I know. I was. Other than early relationship mistakes and bad grades and not getting along with mom and dad, there isn't much to say. Again, unless you were a child soldier or child star. That's not a dig at the intelligence or imagination of 25 year-olds; it's just a fact. Sure, some 25 year-olds will have lived more than some 40 year-olds, but even if you single them out, wouldn't their lives be more interesting at 40 anyway, when they have dozens more crazy tales and deeper heartaches under their belts? Stories about losing virginity is one thing, but stories about actual loss? That's rich; that's deep. And maybe I'm old-fashioned (or now just old), but I'd rather rich and deep over gratuitous fluff any day.

You can call me bitter, it's fine. I am-- maybe more than a little bit. Because if you're telling me that 25 was the last chance I had to actually make something of myself, I'm going to cut you. Because I haven't yet made something of myself-- not in the way I've always hoped I would. And where would that leave me? Past my prime and potentially having to start over, yet again, from the bottom.

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