Can't-Care Bears: Dave Chappelle's Tired Take on Millennials & Gen Z
One of Dave Chappelle’s most recent stand-up specials on Netflix, “The Age of Spin,” has been getting a lot of attention lately. Many folks are happy to see the legendary comic back on the stand-up circuit. Some are disgruntled over his jokes that have been deemed homophobic and transphobic, or that makes light of rape culture. Others comment on his perceived new arrogance. I watched the special expecting all of these topics, waiting to analyze them from my own perspective. The topics came and went, and I did just that. But there was one portion of the special that I hadn’t been warned about, that I wasn’t prepared for; Dave’s short rant on Millenials and Gen Z.
The rant seemed somewhat unanchored within the greater scheme of the set. The audience wasn’t sure which parts to laugh at and which parts to digest as legitimate social commentary. Dave went from recounting past failed comedy shows, to gay and trans jokes, to OJ Simpson vignettes, and skidded non-stop into a social commentary portion from which the title of the Netflix special is derived.
“How can you care about anything, when you know every goddamn thing? I’m getting over one cop shooting, and then another one happens, and then another one happens, and then another one happens. I’m crying about Paris, and then Brussels happens. I can’t keep track of all this shit, so I just give the fuck up. That’s the hallmark of your generation. And that’s fucked up because your generation lives in the most difficult time in human history. This is the age of spin.”
Dave Chappelle is 43 years old. He talks about watching the Challenger explode on live television. His commentary on the Gen Z and Millennial generations did not strike me as completely original ideas. I’ve often heard older generations talk about the lack of interest and action from young folks, the inability to organize and effect change, the failure to “properly” address many of the issues that face the world today.
But I’ve never heard anyone say we don’t care.
His comments bothered me because I feel that most of the conversations I have with young, socially and politically conscious people ebb and flow between two extremes. On the one hand, people are normally very focused on dedicated to a particular cause or movement, and are doing helpful, multifaceted work within their sphere for activism. On the other hand, people are emotionally drained, damaged and exhausted from the continuous and seemingly never-ending onslaught of social issues, and are forced to recluse from the normalcy of their lives to try to regain enough solace and strength to push on.
I’ve never heard anyone around my age say anything to the effect of, “there’s just so much going on. I don’t care anymore.”
Chappelle goes on to liken his generation to the “Care Bears,” something most people my age are probably only moderately familiar with. He describes them as loving creatures who cared about each other and their environment, who were determined in the face of challenges, and shot enough love out of their hearts to address all of the issues that arose in their lives, head-on. Just when I was about sick of him romanticizing these mythical creatures and insisting a love conquer all approach can be simply adopted and applied to any issue, his rant on young people and Care Bears skidded left as quickly and as waywardly as it had come.
“It’s easier not to care for you. But for us, we were trained to care. We were raised that way...
And when we grew up, we wanted to be like those bears. And then we got our hearts broken, because we found out that life wasn’t going to let us do that.”
He makes a couple more of crude sex jokes about shooting love out of chests, onto chests afterward, does another OJ Simpson vignette, and then the special is over. I was left reeling over his treatment of young folks in America. And perplexed by his somewhat contradictory approach to the conversation, garnished with such faint and non-terminal closure.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking to Dave Chappelle for sociological expertise on generational transfer, socio-political zeitgeist, or even methods for systemic change to America’s oppressive and unjust systems.
I was simply perplexed.
I participate in conversations, literally weekly, with Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers who have all sorts of commentary about what’s going on in the world today and how it should be handled. We agree at some points, disagree at most. It’s hard to explain a world to someone in which they’ve never truly lived. And that is how I feel most often representing the Millennial generation in these conversations.
Much like Chappelle’s special, there is rarely real closure to these conversations. Some tactics are outdated or have been proved ineffective. In many ways, we are fighting a different monster than our mothers and fathers, and their mothers and fathers. The entire culture of how our generation relates to each other is different and complex in ways older generations can never fully understand.
I guess it took me seeing a prominent Gen X’er admit in front of thousands of people that his generation, those wanting to care about everything and solve the world's issues with love first, to make it a little more real for me. If nothing else, I appreciated Dave’s honesty. In a way, his admission of defeat for his generation, the fact that they had their hearts broken thinking they could change the world in the ways they wanted, is the most poignant explanation of Millennial culture that I’ve ever heard. Those Gen X Care Bears raised us. They raised us with broken hearts and lowered expectations. And then they had to send us out into a world that was changing more rapidly than they could have known. It’s not their fault.
But we are the only people who have ever lived in the world that we live in now. We have to understand that and make peace with it. And we have to do what we believe is right based on what we know from this lived experience. I don’t believe it's easier not to care for us. I also never believed in Care Bears.