This was the year that ‘Generation Snowflake’ arrived – at least in the pages of the Collins English Dictionary, where it is one of “10 words of 2016”. According to the lexicographers, the term describes “the young adults of the 2010s, viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations.”
The barb is not one that the society shown in 70s science fiction film Logan’s Run would ever have to suffer. But then there are no generations in the 23rd Century – everyone is dead by the age of 30.
The cult classic turned 40 this year. It depicts a dystopia in which computers run a society that survives beneath vast geodesic domes. There are no families – the young are raised by machines – and no work. The ever-young citizens are free to get high and hook up. There is even a Tinder-like handheld device to summon lovers to your bedroom at will.
In Logan's Run, the ever-young citizens are free to get high and hook up. There is even a Tinder-like handheld device to summon lovers at will (Credit: Getty Images)
It’s no surprise that all this freedom has a terrible cost – this is sci-fi, after all. Citizens in Logan’s Run must submit themselves for ‘renewal’ when they turn 30, a form of reincarnation that everyone chooses to believe in. Of course, nobody is really renewed - they’re all killed by the computer with lasers.
The heroes of the story, Logan 5 and Jessica 6, decide they don’t want to die and go on the run. The film follows their eye-opening journey into the world outside the machine-managed complex.
The film has not aged well. All the characters are white and its free society subordinates women. But this future in which relations between generations have not just broken down but dissolved completely has lessons for the present. In 2016, the outlooks of the young and old are diverging and the lines of communication growing strained.
In Logan’s Run, youth has not just revolted, it has completely dominated
William F Nolan, who co-wrote the 1967 novel on which the film is based with George Clayton Johnson, is now 88. “I think I predicted a very dark world in which I’m trying to make a statement,” he says. “There are no families and no generations. Youth has not just revolted, it has completely dominated.”
It’s a different picture today. In many countries, young adults are far from dominant, especially in economic terms. In the last 40 years, housing costs have risen much faster than earnings. In the UK, a flat once worth 2.5 times annual wages, now costs 5 times those wages on average. As a result, the numbers of adults living with their parents has rocketed. One in four British people under 34 now live with their parents, for example.
The picture is just as bad in the US. A recent study found that only half of 30-year-olds earn more than their parents did at the same age. In the 1970s, on the other hand, most people could expect to earn more than their parents.
Since the 1980s, the disposable income of pensioners has grown three times faster than that of working adults under 34 (Credit: Getty Images)
Since young people are more likely to be unemployed, the benefits of income growth also escape them. The disposable income of pensioners has grown three times faster than that of working adults under-34 since the 1980s. And many young people are entering adult life loaded with debt that would have seemed unimaginable to their parents. The average student debt on graduation in the UK is now £44,000, for example. In the US, it is around $37,000.
All this may explain why the chasm between the outlooks of the young and old has grown wider, this year more than most. Brexit, Trump – more than ever political decisions are splitting along generational lines. Had under 45s been the only voters in the Brexit referendum, we would not have voted to leave the EU. Had that same demographic been the only voters during the US election Hillary Clinton would have won by 12 points. Meanwhile, nearly three quarters of Trump voters felt that life and culture were better in the 1950s.
We hear a lot about disenfranchised youth. But the political upheaval cannot all be blamed on younger people not voting. In the Brexit referendum only 2% fewer 18-24 year olds voted than 45-54 year olds.
Only half of 30 year olds earn more than their parents did at the same age
Why are younger generations not demanding change and taking to the streets? The contrast between the 60s generation that inspired Nolan – a youth in revolt - and the millennials of today is stark.
Bobby Duffy, head of social research for polling company Ipsos Mori, does not put it down to a lack of social engagement, however. “Some people misinterpret it as young people being selfish, that they’re only interested in themselves,” he says. “But that’s not true. When you look at the trends in positive social action, in volunteering, the rates among this generation are as high, if not a bit higher, than previous generations.”
However, Duffy’s research also indicates that the young are highly independent and self-reliant and that makes political action difficult. “In some ways, the system has got its own protection built in,” he says. “Young people feel personal responsibility. They tend not to look at something external to blame. They take the blame for their situation on themselves.”
A future in which relations between generations have not just broken down but dissolved completely has lessons for the present (Credit: Getty Images)
If there is a battle between generations about the shape of the future, it is one played out not in public life but within families. Nolan always envisioned Logan’s Run to be a defence of the family. “The minute someone is born in Logan’s world, they’re taken away from their mother and taken to an industrial nursery,” he says. “A family is the thing that ties people down and keeps you as a moral creature. Logan never had that and I did that on purpose to indicate the value of family.”
As we live longer, the gap between generations widens. David Willetts, who was the minister for Universities and Science in David Cameron’s government between 2010 and 2014, is confident the differences can be reconciled, however. He now chairs the Resolution Foundation, a UK think tank that works on improving living conditions for people with lower incomes.
“As soon as you say ‘Hang on, what about the younger generation, are they ever going to afford to get started on the housing ladder, what about pensions for them?’ you find older people respond to that kind of appeal,” he says. “They realise that if they had great opportunities, they really do have a responsibility to make sure that similar opportunities are available for younger generations.”
With Logan’s Run, Nolan was out to warn the young not to ignore older generations. Today that message applies across all ages. If we want a future in which we all thrive, different generations – young and old – will need to look out for each other.
Ed Howker is co-author with Shiv Malik of Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth.
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