Many thanks to JLH for translating this essay from Henryk Broder’s website Die Achse des Guten:
An eighteen-year-old German Gymnasium graduate gives us her view of the German snowflake generation
The New Sorrows of Young Snowflakes
by Elisa David
When I was studying in gymnasium, I got into a “strings” class. That means my class had an extra two hours when we learned to play a string instrument. Today I know I will definitely not be another Anne-Sophie Mutter.. Those years were not useless, however, for I learned something quite different. Since the idea of extra strings practice did not appeal to many boys, we had a rather unusual gender division, with three boys and twenty girls. So for five years in my class, a collective of puberty-driven teenage girls set the tone — for my own self at the time, it was an absolute horror. But now I know what the consequences can be when women gain the upper hand.
I am no longer amazed at any political movement. My time in school has, to a certain extent, prepared me perfectly for Fridays for Future, #MeToo, and all these trends which my generation has absorbed, because they are tailor-made for them. Generation Snowflake is sensitive, does not wish to be confronted by unfamiliar opinions, is united in “otherness”. Because that is the point — being “other” but “belonging” to it; a certain uncertainty, coupled with the habit of considering oneself important; the need to be seen and simultaneously to conform. My observation is that these completely new views, this strange, contradictory behavior — which major portions of society and above all my generation display — depend on it.
One result seems to be the inflationary increase of psychic illnesses. Not being quite right in the head seems to be the first and decisive step to welcoming otherness. In my class, it was a proven method in the constant battle for sympathy. Passing through distinct stages of puberty is normal, but many took this to a higher level. I still remember how we discussed eating disorders like anorexia in biology class, and shortly thereafter, half the class was anorexic. The imaginary ill predictably announced their new suffering loudly to the world.
The Cutting Trend
Our teacher showed us pictures of an anorexic patient and explained that it is definitely unhealthy for the rib cage and the spine to show so clearly, and that help is needed urgently. Before the very next sports hour, a bunch of girls were standing in front of the mirror, lamenting loudly that their bones were not showing, so they must be overweight and would eat nothing for the entire rest of the day.
Our teacher explained the food pyramid and why a balanced diet is important for the body. My fellow female students were already planning what foods they would avoid to reach the desired weight loss through deficient nutrition. At some point, the attention they received for these actions was no longer enough. When, every hour on the hour, somebody runs out to throw up, it is no longer anything special.
Then, as if by divine will, there came a conference day on the explanation and recognition of depression. There is no denying how important it is to recognize depression. But a side effect of presentations which explain in detail what the symptoms of these illnesses are is that these symptoms are served to young attention-needy girls on a silver platter. All they have to do is write it down and act it out. And in fact, even writing it down isn’t necessary, since glossy brochures are passed out at the end.
If you think a mob of supposedly anorexic girls is bad, just wait until you see what artificially depressed girls can do. It started when half of them had bandages on their arms and because of that, wore short sleeves in winter, so everyone would ask what had happened. “I cut myself” was the answer, and that was the beginning of the cutting trend. Later, the bandages came off and countess scars appeared. Still in short or rolled-up sleeves, they bore the scars proudly, until they noticed someone looking at them, then they theatrically hid them behind their backs. I felt like I was in a madhouse, and there was no other time that deadened me to this junk pile of feelings like this one did.
Otherness Through Sympathy
Biology wasn’t the only dangerous class for us. One of the most important studies was geography. Before that, we led a dull existence, and ate what tasted good. Then, in geography, we saw a film about the meat industry and my little snowflakes realized that even the gelatin in gummy bears did not grow on trees, but came from sweet little piggies. At a stroke, all of them were vegetarians. And it is not enough to just be a vegetarian, you have to live it. To the shock of how cute cutlets were when alive came a second, more important one — that almost no one was a vegetarian at the time.
The situation was brilliant for my classmates. They were special again with their new insight and could set themselves off from the masses, see themselves as better, more enlightened. What I find comforting is that, of those where prepared to go under the axe with every dead piglet, hardly any of them today will give up her schnitzel. Not eating meat has become quite normal, and nobody wants to be that conformist. The little bit of attention is not enough reward for the sacrifice. So, either go right to being vegan, or forget food altogether, and declare yourself a non-binary, pansexual, rainbow person. Since there are now over sixty genders, there is not much competition.
So what can be learned from my classmates? First and foremost, that they would do anything for attention, whatever the price. Approximately following Madonna’s byword: “Even bad publicity is publicity”, they take what they can get. They get this attention through otherness. Apparently, my classmates wanted sympathy above all. At any rate, group pressure must be factored in. We are, after all, herd animals. Aside from that, the tone of the Snowflake Generation is set by girls, and it isn’t just going to the powder room that they don’t like to do alone — they don’t become anorexic, depressed or bisexual alone. They always like to have like-minded people around them. Just so long as they are not those who are considered normal and boring.
The question remains: why is something like this happening now? In the 21st century, we are living in a time when technical, medical and scientific advances — at least in the West — have secured prosperity. We have never had it so good. I am not one of twenty children, of whom only three have survived. I have had my shots and have grown to the age of eighteen without fear or problems. My grandmother is not worshipped as the oldest in the tribe, although she can no longer light candles on her birthday cake. It would look like the Atlanta fire. That is, many people nowadays grow “old” (quotation marks because of her vanity). I did not write this article on a typewriter and so did not have to start fresh after every mistake.
The ability to read is not a privilege, but normal. Almost all of us carry small devices that give us access to boundless knowledge. But not all of us use this knowledge. Our quality of life has never been so good, yet some cultivate starvation and conjure up psychic disturbances that we would not wish on our worst enemy. And how contemptuous this behavior is of those who actually suffer from these illnesses, the seekers of attention do not care.
But where does this sudden self-destructive urge come from? Why is it striking the very generation that has everything? I think the lack of responsibility and challenge has made us incapable of living. We no longer have to worry about ourselves, there are no expectations of us, and if we have no real problems or don’t even care to see them, then we make some up for ourselves.
|1.||Title taken from Die neuen Leiden des jungen Werthers by Ulrich Plenzdorf, adapting Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers to an East German milieu through a young man’s attempt to evade the strictures of life in the DDR.|
|2.||Well-known German concert violinist.