Thursday, January 27, 2011

'Generation Y' the Media and Beyond

Sonny Bill Williams, Anthony Mundine and Michael Clarke make interesting high profile case studies in how the mainstream media, their traditional sports and we the public deal with the values of their generation. I'm not bringing solid analysis of academic rigour here, just a few observations and hunches which will no doubt be tested in time. Toss in the 'party boy' Cory Worthington for good measure...
The media coverage might be a factor in itself but essentially each of these characters display traits and values from their generation which are different to previous ones and often the media are using the prism of the latter to make judgements or create 'spin' on their stories.
Let me first set the scene where I was musing about this with friends at a Christmas BBQ a few years ago... one friend was contrasting his own perception and insight with that of a colleague in relation to interviewing 'Gen Y' candidates for an engineering contractor. The only slightly older colleague was bemoaning the short term thinking and lack of perceived stickability of the youngsters. You see these youngsters didn't give any indication of their desire to 'stay with the company' and openly acknowledged this employment opportunity as a step on a much bigger journey. They didn't speak of loyalty, commitment, belonging but rather the vibe, gaining valuable experience and taking challenges on for the future. They were unable to describe the future in terms of the current job on offer or indeed whether this field was viewed as their career in the long term.
This is the generation for whom stereotypically and perhaps in reality in many cases, it's all about the subjective experience, they envisage a series of career changes, focus on the immediate and don't feel embarrassed identifying they seek self interest and couldn't possibly find the words for seeking a gold watch on retirement from the job they are interviewing for after 50 years service. Change is a constant for this generation, 'Manhattanisation' has taken effect in terms of young people talking themselves up. There is evidence of a consumer culture, lack of awareness of certain expectations, manners and conventions... mind you these are only some Gen Yers... there are other motivators, cultures and sub cultures...
Back to my examples which may help explain what I am thinking about...

1. Anthony Mundine
Anthony is a flighty character who pursues his image as 'The Man.' He makes hard to argue with claims about racism in rugby league [his first professional sport] but also talks about having outplayed people selected ahead of him in rep football as part of the case. He has become a Muslim, is an strong anti drugs campaigner, seems to attract friendship with other well known figures adding chapters to his intruiging story. He speaks his mind and then thinks later. The criticism of his boxing career revolves around soft opponents in easier weight divisions.
What's missing: circumspection; respect for tradition; loyalty to contracts signed and deals entered into. He and his Manager are credited with convincing Sonny Bill Williams he was undervalued at the Bulldogs in rugby league and they helped him break a contract and disappear to France to play club rugby. His Manager is painted as an influential shady figure. I sometimes think Anthony just sees things differently... do what works for you, say what's on your mind even if it's going to be taken the wrong way and talk yourself up.

2. Sonny Bill Williams
Sonny Bill Williams seems clueless as to the impact on others of his walkout to France. It's all about what was happening for him. He has since signed with the 'Canterbury Crusaders' and has made his rugby union debut with the All Blacks ahead of a World Cup year.
Somehow I think previous generations would be more careful in their comments about a possible return to rugby league after the Rugby World Cup. What picture does that paint?
It's more than the impact of professional sport and the fact that clubs would cut you at will so why show loyalty in reverse. Does it cheapen the national jersey of any team if you can chop and change or does it speak of an exceptional sportsperson who can chop and change and make both squads, SBW also enjoys the diversion of boxing.

3. Michael Clarke
Michael or 'pup' achieved selection in cricket at a young age and some said by reputation before results. He was trumpeted as a western suburbs success story but quickly adapted to eastern suburbs socialising, fast cars and a model girlfriend... Kerry O'Keefe tells a great joke about all this involving Michael Clarke asking him if he thinks his sporting success has 'changed him' at all...
The media seems to have the finger on the pulse in identifying that the public per se don't seem to 'warm' to Michael Clarke [he gets a mixture of cheers and boos when taking the field] and his current form slump isn't helping.
But this week the ridiculous claim was that his activity on twitter was distracting him and basically outlining that because he's a 'pretty boy' and not a hard as nails, beer drinking, thug... we don't see him as worthy of our admiration. Again I contend it's more than sporting values being judged... pierced ear, sports car, wine drinker, confident about his ability, talking openly about his expected succession to the Australian cricket captaincy... he may well soon be branded an 'enigma'... but then just in time in the last two 'One Day Internationals' he has demonstrated cricket nouse, skills as a leader and innovative and skilled use of his bowlers and field settings... causing at least a media pause...
Now I know they're all Anglo blokes... I'll keep tabs on these and other stories... teasing out whether it's a media thing, a sport thing or a generational thing!!
As a footnote, Cory was the kid a couple of years ago who advertised a party at his parents home while they were away and it and the street were 'trashed' if you believe the media reports. I'm more interested in the interview with Leila Mackinnon on Summer 'A Current Affair' where she was gobsmacked that Cory didn't think he had anything to apologise for, that he wouldn't take off his sunglasses on camera and didn't seem to have anything to say to his parents... while the story had merit the clash of values was most stark and the longer it went the bigger the divide... Cory went on to advertise himself as a party organiser, appeared on 'Big Brother' and just recently did a round of 'he's grown up and settled down stories'...

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