Reporting Eric Henderson
If you don’t automatically know what I’m talking about when I say “Old Economy Steve,” odds that you actually are an Old Economy Steve just increased tenfold.
To bring you up to speed, Steve is an Internet meme that surfaced in the last couple months. Steve, as portrayed by an army of mordant millennials, is a late Baby Boomer or, perhaps, a very early-cusp Gen X’er who has reaped the benefits of America reaching its pecuniary apex. Steve will be enjoying a long retirement while the succeeding generations of jobless applicants overqualified for underpaying jobs all cope with the collapse of Social Security.
A visual aid:
Old Economy Steve is a merciless manifestation of the hopeless, dulled rage many of those born after 1990 feel about their one-two post-collegiate punch. They can’t get jobs, and they can’t pay off their mountain of student loan debt.
The phenomenon is addressed directly by some of the young interns Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson interlope upon in their new comedy The Internship (or, Google Crashers). They’re all among the top achievers in their class, and yet they are pretty sure that they stand, at best, a 3-in-4 shot of even getting a job, much less a good one.
Which is why the competition at Google’s summer intern derby — in which only one team out of dozens will be offered full-time positions at the end of the season — is so heated. And why the trio of misfit go-getters that wind up forced into a team with Vaughn and Wilson’s old school, newly jobless salesmen Billy and Nick resent them so deeply. Not only have Billy and Nick’s generation put them so deep in the lurch right out of the gate, now they are on the hunt for some of the only jobs the youth are clearly more qualified to hold.
As the article linked above suggests, what those perpetuating the legend of Old Economy Steve don’t realize is that things were often pretty tough for the previous generation. How many of today’s twentysomethings are even familiar with the word “stagflation”? Buried underneath Billy’s “barrage of nonsensical ’80s references,” as one of the other interns chides, is a clear understanding of the stakes, and a palpable drive to overcome the obstacles that mount with each passing year. If anything, from Billy and Nick’s point of view, it’s the texting but otherwise emotionally isolated generation below them that have yet to prove the moxie that would validate their vocational existence. So, with shades of Dodgeball, they set about to coach their Bad Newsfeed Bears into life-drunk dynamos.
Cute and overlong, clichéd and ultimately stymied by PG-13 business as usual, The Internship doesn’t offer much in the way of laughs, and doesn’t tap even remotely deep into the reservoir of rage that could’ve fueled a truly raucous comedy classic. The Internship proves that one career field that’s currently wanting for qualified candidates is screenwriting.
Not lacking in rage, but harboring way too much guilt about it for a horror movie, is The Purge. From frame one, it revels in its own internal logic with the dedication of a mid-level episode of The Twilight Zone. (In fact, I think we’ve basically seen The Purge‘s core social dynamic played out before in one episode: “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”)
Written and directed by James DeMonaco, The Purge posits an America not quite a decade into the future, where crime rates have been successfully reduced to less than 1 percent and prosperity has returned. All credit for what is being sold as a major turnaround from the brink is given to the annual Purge Night (Walpurgisnacht?), a 12-hour period that gives all Americans the chance to commit any crime they wish and be absolved of all legal repercussions.
Yes, that includes murder, which for whatever reason or another most Americans seem to opt for.
Oh, and in a twist that should surprise no one, it seems that almost every victim of violent crime is poor, who are usually bumped off by the middle class while the rich families hunker down in their high-security mansions to ride the night out.
Ethan Hawke’s patriarch James Sandin has sold his entire town upgraded security systems, a fact that is hardly lost on his neighbors every time they look at the new additions on Sandin’s home.
Built on what could’ve been a solid foundation for a thesis on the end game of Old Economy Steve’s breed, The Purge is constantly flirting with provocation without ever managing to follow through on the premise’s implications.
Putting the movie to the credibility test is obviously a losing battle, and it’s to the movie’s credit that it never tries to over-explain just how a civilized people arrived at their predicament. (There is one tossed-off sound bite from a psychologist explaining that humans actually aren’t civilized, and have only been fooling themselves the entire time.) But raising issues for subtext doesn’t excuse sloppiness in the execution … or, this being a horror movie, the executions. The Purge is a decent enough “what if,” but man, what could’ve been.