When the sociologists and historians of the future look back at us and write the chronicle of our times, will they refer to us as the “it is what it is” generation?
That phrase has gained so much currency in recent years that it has become a cliché, an intellectually slothful way of writing off a seemly intractable problem.
Can you imagine how much worse the Middle East crisis would be if Israeli, Palestinian and American leaders had refused to attempt any sort of amelioration since the official creation of the Jewish state in 1948?
It would be so easy, especially from the relative safety of the United States, to look at all those years of bloody conflict, shrug our collective shoulders and say “it is what it is.”
In a way, it’s understandable that we use that expression so much in our everyday lives. That ever-present staple of sloppy prose, the “average American,” feels so disempowered these days.
Yes, we miss the money we think we should be earning and the freedom to which we think we are entitled. But, more than that, we miss the belief that upward mobility, enabling our children to have better lives than ours and enjoying a retirement free from the stress of abject poverty after a lifetime of hard work are still possible in America.
We miss middle-management personnel who stand up for their subordinates instead of spending so much time currying favor with upper-level management that we wonder when they’re going to book a room at the No-Tell Motel.
We miss the feeling that collective expressions of dissatisfaction with issues in our nation, ranging from letters to our elected officials to marches in the streets, amount to something more than fodder for cable-television pundits in search of higher ratings.
We have far too many opportunities to sigh and say “it is what it is,” and we’re exhausted.
We’re not living in the Camelot era, can-do optimism of the Kennedy years. Nor are we living in the post-assassination, never-say-die years of angry activism.
At least in both of those eras, we still believed we could get things done.
In working as a reporter, talking with colleagues and competitors about large and small problems with the profession, inevitably I’d hear more than one person say, “Well, that’s the nature of the industry.”
In all the journalism conventions I’ve attended, I have yet to hear anyone say, “Why is it the nature of the industry? Aren’t we the industry? And, if we are the industry, can’t we change the industry?”
With deregulation and the consolidation of the media under fewer and fewer corporate umbrellas, I doubt I’ll hear those questions very much. After all, if the empty suits in the executive suites think they know more about the city council in Poughkeepsie, N.J., than the reporters in Poughkeepsie do, they must be right.
After all, it is what it is.
It’s the nature of the beast.
With apologies to Reinhold Neibuhr, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can change, and the wisdom to ignore the people who say ‘it is what it is.’”