Q&A with French professor, author of 'The Other Serious,' Christy Wampole| March 23, 2016
Until the Instagram-worthy, 'Valencia'-filtered, joyful existence Millennials envision materializes, our generation could use all the advice thrown at us. Princeton French professor Christy Wampole wrote "The Other Serious," a book of essayspublished in July 2015 that strives to give advice to young people on how they should live their lives.The essays in "The Other Serious" explore defining themes of the Millennial generation, including Millennials' contradicting existences online and in private, exaggerated lives on social media, and materialism. The essays focus on a single question: “What should you do when you know what to do?” Street Senior Writer Victoria Scott contacted Wampole to talk about her book, the challenges the millennial generation faces, and the writing process.
The Daily Princetonian: What inspired you to write "The Other Serious"?
Christy Wampole: Since I spend a lot of time with undergraduates and get so much energy from their presence, I wanted to offer them an uncynical book, one that acknowledges that they've inherited a tangled mess from us (earlier generations like Gen-X and the Boomers) and that suggests that there are ways to refuse a lot of it. It is a book of essays, not a self-help book or a user's manual for life, but I hope young people find in it various strategies for refusing the unacceptable aspects of what we've saddled them with.
DP: Did you have anything similar to "The Other Serious"growing up?
CW: No, not at all. I had to figure things out on my own, mostly from listening to depressive music, reading dystopian novels and watching cult movies.
DP: How did you begin the process of writing "The Other Serious"?
CW: I wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times in 2012 called "How To Live Without Irony,"which generated a lot of interest. I took some ideas implicit in that piece and spun them out into longer essays to see where they would go. Once I could see that a book was coalescing, I took the liberty of adding other observations about cultural phenomena –awkwardness, distraction, seriousness, self-infantilization –and some weird close readings of things like the national anthem, Richard Linklater's film "Slacker," and the movie "Labyrinth"starring our dearly departed David Bowie. "The Other Serious"is an arbitrary collection of thoughts that imitates the scattered thinking of our age and is thus a product of it.
DP: In your opinion what is the greatest setback our generation faces?
CW: It will at some point be necessary to devise new codes for what is permissible in speech and behavior now that the [Internet] has changed everything. Your generation will be the ones to negotiate the differences between free speech and hate speech, between enemies and allies, between innocuous forms of expression and dangerous ones. On our current trajectory, microcommunities with swift and changeable enmities will eventually pulverize any potential solidarities that could have formed. Hopefully, a new digital ethic will involve giving people the benefit of the doubt and being less quick to slaughter someone for some slip. Probably the idea of patiently considering the longer patterns of someone's behaviors and speech will become necessary. Otherwise, everyone will eventually be seen as a hateful bigot by someone else. This seems pretty obvious to us all, at least subconsciously, but it doesn't seem clear yet how to put brakes on this wild machine. Self-righteousness will become unpopular. Dogmatism will probably give way to all sorts of new relativisms, ambiguities and fuzzinesses like it did in the 1990s. People will need to regain their composure without losing their political will.
DP: How did you overcome writer’s block, if you experienced it?
CW: I didn't have writer's block for this project, but in general when I do, I put the project aside and work on another one. Or I play my ukulele or walk in the woods for three hours. This cures any writer's block, bad moods, sad days... basically anything.