No, I’m not the model they hired to pose for now infamous, ill-advised health care ad. But I am the kind of guy who would sit on a couch wearing pajamas, reveling in my hot chocolate with a pretentious look on my face after making some prescient point about health care.
Maybe that’s why, as I observed the general public make merciless fun of Pajama Boy, all I could think was that this guy must be having the worst Christmas ever.
But that’s what human beings do: we see people we can’t relate to, and we mock them, sometimes mercilessly. I have done this myself. Growing up in the South, I struggled to relate to those who drove giant, dilapidated trucks, who went hunting early every Saturday morning, and who, I assumed, were racist. So my friends and I mocked them, partially out of self-preservation and partly out of self-righteousness.
Our name-calling did nothing but dehumanize them. It reduced them to a group of stereotypes rather than a group of individuals, and it allowed us to happily go on disliking them without feeling that we were disliking a friend or even an acquaintance. The truth was, we weren’t acquainted with them. We took one look at their clothes, their chosen automobile, heard Toby Keith blaring from the windows, and we gave ourselves permission to slowly back away.
Everyone Graded on a Curve
After some geographical distance and maturity, I grew to understand my motives in those circumstances. I thought of myself as better than others because I thought I was good. I saw myself as the measure of things, and everyone else was graded on my curve. The rednecks fell short.
These days, we apply the same kind of generalization and name-calling to “hipsters” and “millennials”—two groups whose labels exist almost solely as a brand to simplify categorization and as targets for widespread complaints. Millennials are often portrayed as lazy, narcissistic, and lacking of any moral conviction. Hipsters are seen as an aesthetic outgrowth, wearing “weird” clothes to get attention, listening to bands no one has heard of in order to quell their obsession with individualism, and harping on social issues that mean little to anyone else.
Pajama Boy embodied everything we love to hate about those two groups. Far from a man of action, he lazes around in his pajamas. He wears a onesie because he esteems comfort above dignity. He drinks hot chocolate, a self-indulgent and impractical drink with no nutritional value. He thinks he knows it all, telling us that Obamacare is best for our nation.
Pajama Boy’s offense, and the offense of so many other hipsters and millennials we so quickly dismiss, is that he has committed aesthetic and cultural sins that we have deemed to be binding and punishable. Because God himself hasn’t taken the initiative to lash out against these imagined sins, we pour out our own wrath in the hopes that eventually God will follow our lead.
Loving Even the Smug
But God won’t follow our lead. God expects us to follow his lead in sacrificing for and loving the despised, even when it seems like the despised are just a little too smug and self-satisfied. The fact is that even the most self-satisfied (especially the most self-satisfied) are deeply insecure and unsure of themselves. They are unsure of their calling, their passions, and, worst of all, their value in this world.
Just as young people have a tendency to dislike and distrust their elders, older generations often indulge in thoughtless and needless criticism of younger generations. A better approach would listen, consider, remember, and imagine.
Listen to those you might refer to as “hipsters.” Ask questions about what they like about their clothing and music. Seek out their insecurities and challenges.
Consider what it must be like to live in their shoes. Consider the unique economic, social, and cultural factors that affect them.
Remember what it feels like to be young and on the cusp of “real life.” Remember what it feels like to not know whether you will ever be secure, whether you will ever have a family, whether you will ever be successful.
Imagine the pressure-cooker that everyday life feels like for the young person attempting to both discover and retain his identity in the internet age.
The tendency to play into the general trend, to shake your head and write off what makes you uncomfortable or bewildered, however quietly, does little more than instill a feeling of smug self-satisfaction. And that’s a result the gospel simply doesn’t allow. It esteems you above God’s redeeming grace. It esteems your own preferences above God’s. When we indulge in even flippant judgment of others based on seemingly trivial things, we give ourselves the posture of God.
The gospel calls us to humble and loving obedience to God, a life that causes us to see those in our churches we might call “hipsters” or “millennials” as sinners in need of God’s grace. Just like everyone else. Just like us.