July 12, 2007

New Victorians in New York City.

From the New York Observer:
While their forbears flitted away their 20’s in a haze of booze, Bolivian marching powder, and bed-hopping, New Vics throw dinner parties, tend to pedigreed pets, practice earnest monogamy, and affect an air of complacent careerism. Indeed, at the tender age of 28, 26, even 24, the New Vics have developed such fierce commitments, be they romantic or professional, that angst-ridden cultural productions like the 1994 movie Reality Bites, or Benjamin Kunkel’s 2005 novel Indecision, simply wouldn’t make sense to them....

Down in the West Village, we have Liv Tyler, barely 30, the daughter of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and legendary rock-star muse Bebe Buell, who’s now contented wife to Royston Langdon and mother of 2-year-old Milo. “I’ve always been super-responsible and hardworking and kind of a worrier,” she recently told Allure. Even former rebel Angelina Jolie has turned somewhat New Vic on us, what with her adopted brood and her causes and empathetic emaciation. Yes, the wasting disease!
This concept is spiraling out of control. Is this a phenomenon or a cascade of impressions and a label? Anyway, whatever it is, it's supposedly a reaction to those terrible Boomers -- I mean, us terrible Boomers. And Lord knows, we deserve it.
“Maybe this is also fallout from the sort of these boomer ideas about what sexual freedom is,” [says a 26-year-old New Vic in Brooklyn]. This theory is a popular one among New Vic observers, just as it was popular to blame the priggishness and probity of the Old Victorians on the ill example of their Georgian predecessors. In this case, the reaction isn’t against specific syphilitic laxity and moral decay, but is rather a vague fear of too much sex (hello, STDs!) as well as the pressure for procreative sex (even men have biological clocks these days!) and the attendant nightmare of becoming—pardon the phrase—an aging spinster, lurching around New York sloshing cosmos and wearing age-inappropriate Capri pants, as in the TV version of Sex and the City and its many spinoffs....

In fact, just a few months ago, [that 26-year-old New Vic] was out with friends when a pair of slightly older women launched into a jeremiad of dating and despair, imploring her to hold tight to her boyfriend, lest she wind up single and, gasp, 30-something, just like them. “It’s like I was being terrorized by these older women who were like, ‘Don’t let him go, there’s nobody out there!’” she recalled with an alarmed laugh. “I was really scared.”
There have always been slightly older women like that, I say, being a much older woman. And there are usually also older women to tell you not to sew things up too quickly. Your fantasy of rescue and permanence may lead you back to the single life, this time with children and little or no career.
And then there are the moments of revelation, the ones when a New Victorian stumbles, say, into a book party at a bar celebrating a gay-interest anthology, as [that 26-year-old New Vic] recently did. “I felt really, really straight, and really, really normative,” she said. “Because there were all these gay men who were obviously trying to get with each other, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is New York, and I’m living some weird other place that’s not New York, but I don’t know what that place is!

“You have to confront this question of, ‘Am I a deeply conventional person?’ she said. “It kind of throws the idea of who you thought you would be into question.”
So.... what do you think: New Vics as the new phenomenon or lifestyles writer who talked to one or two people she already knew?


George M. Spencer said...

Sells newspapers in New York City and gets the attention of bloggers.

Angelina Jolie a Victorian! Ha.

Liv Tyler telling Allure magazine her secret worries! Pfft!

reader_iam said...

Whichever, there's no mistaking the genetic heritage.

"Look, she's got Aunt Jane's smugness!"

"His self-consciousness is just like Uncle Dick's!"

"Blood" tells.

reader_iam said...

In the oddest, inverse way, this story made me think of this quote:

"Playing strip poker with an exhibitionist somehow takes the challenge out of it.

Name that film, folks!

Peter Hoh said...

My take: Vics (or the modest and earnest) have always been among us. In some generations, they are celebrated. In other generations, they are mocked and their values scorned.

reader_iam said...

I just don't think this is new. I do think it's self-conscious.

It's the 'tude, not the values.

Paddy O said...

It's true for religion as well.

reader_iam said...

It's the 'tude that provides the connection to the previous generations from which they're supposed to be so different.

bill said...

Can't discuss new Victorians without mentioning Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. One of the more powerful phyles are the New Atlantans, a society of Neo-Victorians, or Vickys. Quote:

Nell did not imagine that Constable Moore wanted to get into a detailed discussion of recent events, so she changed the subject. "I think I have finally worked out what you were trying to tell me, years ago, about being intelligent," she said.

The Constable brightened all at once. "Pleased to hear it."

"The Vickys have an elaborate code of morals and conduct. It grew out of the moral squalor of an earlier generation, just as the original Victorians were preceded by the Georgians and the Regency. The old guard believe in that code because they came to it the hard way. They raise their children to believe in that code– but their children believe it for entirely different reasons."

"They believe it," the Constable said, "because they have been indoctrinated to believe it."

"Yes. Some of them never challenge it– they grow up to be smallminded people, who can tell you what they believe but not why they believe it. Others become disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the society and rebel– as did Elizabeth Finkle-McGraw."

"Which path do you intend to take, Nell?" said the Constable, sounding very interested. "Conformity or rebellion?"

"Neither one. Both ways are simple-minded– they are only for people who cannot cope with contradiction and ambiguity."

"Ah! Excellent!" the Constable exclaimed. As punctuation, he slapped the ground with his free hand, sending up a shower of sparks and transmitting a powerful shock through the ground to Nell's feet.

"I suspect that Lord Finkle-McGraw, being an intelligent man, sees through all of the hypocrisy in his society, but upholds its principles anyway, because that is what is best in the long run. And I suspect that he has been worrying about how best to inculcate this stance in young people who cannot understand, as he does, its historical antecedents– which might explain why he has taken an interest in me. The Primer may have been Finkle-McGraw's idea to begin with-a first attempt to go about this systematically."

"The Duke plays his cards close," Constable Moore said, "and so I cannot say whether your suppositions are correct. But I will admit it hangs together nicely."

"Thank you."

"What do you intend to do with yourself, now that you have pieced all of this together? A few more years' education and polishing will place you in a position to take the Oath."

"I am, of course, aware that I have favorable prospects in the Atlantan phyle," Nell said, "but I do not think that it would be fitting for me to take the straight and narrow path. I am going to China now to seek my fortune."

KCFleming said...

It's always tempting to name a new era. Boomers, Generations X, and Y. Now the New Victorians. Some of the labels stick quite well, and change how we think about people of that age. Some of these stereotypes are fairly accurate, too.

There is evidence that an age tilted away from the more selfish approach to life and towards one more traditional is here, although it's really quite spotty (and one can hardly call it normative when you're the only one at the bar celebrating a gay-interest anthology not "trying to get with each other").

These subtle shifts, including the earlier bearing of children, greater military volunteerism, more church attendance, fewer divorces, and greater interest in marriage have already been written about elsewhere.

The NYTimes may be the first to name it, but the last to see it. More importantly, as peter points out, in any recent era, these folks would have been mocked as reactionary squares. It's may not be a shift in actual numbers, but in how the popular kids behave, and media treat them.

Brittany is now ridiculed. Mandy Moore is celebrated. On MTV of all places.

As Johnny Lydon discovered, anarchy has a terrible dental plan.

reader_iam said...

I felt really, really straight, and really, really normative,” she said. “Because there were all these gay men who were obviously trying to get with each other ... ."

Didn't know anyone could get away with saying stuff like that these days. How non-normative!

TMink said...

Good morals are like ZZ Top. The band stays the same but they go in and out of popularity as tastes pendulum.


MadisonMan said...

lifestyles writer who talked to one or two people she already knew?

That one.

People in New York really ought to get out of New York every once in a while and actually open their eyes.

Bissage said...

Gee, I hadn’t noticed before that people are living normal (oops, I mean normative) lives.

In keeping with Reader’s quoting from a movie, I am reminded of this: “It's funny how the colours of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on a screen.”

Thank God for the New York Observer.

Real horrorshow!

reader_iam said...

Can a new generation of Bloomsberries be too many decades behind?!?

reader_iam said...

Thank God for the New York Observer.

... and Stanley Kubrick.

Roger J. said...

reader: In jeopardy form: "what is Metropolitan"

bearing said...

I am so pleased that when I got here, bill had already brought up The Diamond Age.

reader_iam said...

Damn, we're positively allusional this morning!

(I may also be delusional--how DID I marry into a family that doesn't consider caffeine an essential food group?

Must ... go ... find ... espresso ... )

Jeff with one 'f' said...

This has been noted and written about for more than a decade. The New Vics were the teenage "promise ring" straight-arrows who were fans of squeeky-clean 90's boy bands and who utterly rejected grunge and industrial. The sudden resurgence of clean bubblegum pop marked the end of Gen X's 4 or 5 years in the spotlight, and the youngsters have held it ever since.

There was a great cartoon by Wally Wood in an early Kurtzman-edited issue of Mad magazine that showed what the next generation gap would be like. Middle aged rockabilly Dad and sock-hop Mom are horrified by their nerdlinger son and daughter, who wear glasses, listen to Lawrence Welk, and are intent on their studies. The parents blare rock on the high fi and use slang while remonstrating the kids for not partying and rebelling, while the kids bemoaned their parents juvenile ways.

Anonymous said...

Dear Madam: Give no countenance, I pray you, to scriveners' prattle of this so-called New Victorianism. Even were truth to be found in such tales, which God forbid, surely any person of sense and breeding must agree that it were best to keep that fact discreetly from the impressionable eyes of the lower orders (and especially of the young, for whose moral improvement I trust that you, as a member of the fair sex, have an especial care); for it can scarce be denied that the recrudesence of so obsolete and exploded a code will do injury not only to the social order but to the universal human creed of Progress.

It would be a particularly deplorable eventuality were the aforementioned young people to become persuaded that they may take as exemplars such females as Miss Jolie, whose character could not possibly recommend her anywhere. That you will employ your undoubted influence, in future epistles, to speak out against this peril is the most fervent wish of

Your most humble servant,
Paul Zrimsek

paul a'barge said...

I sense a course correction.

David53 said...

I am so pleased that when I got here, bill had already brought up The Diamond Age.


I downloaded and listened to the unabridged version while driving. It was a very enjoyable 18 hours. Jennifer Wiltsie is an excellent narrator. The term Vickys will stick with me for life.

chickelit said...

That's just one way to maintain social equilibrium.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sharinlite said...

Ah, a tiny glimmer of hope that sanity may be returning to the human race. I live in a community where Vics have been the "norm" forever. It was very refreshing and safe feeling to have it once again! My wish for my great grandchildren is that they can experience some "normal" life experiences before they grow up and are faced with the choices currently open to most. Perhaps the pendulum will have swung to the middle by then.

geekWithA.45 said...

As Neil Stephenson points out through Nell, mindless conformity is equally as vacuous and spiritually corrosive as mindless rebellion, and the essence of humanity is the _potential_ for intentional, fully informed conscious, mindful, masterful living.

Sadly, there are few genuine examples of that to be seen today, and so the question becomes as to what the template shall be for those who slumber to follow by default.

It is this "normative" template that is up for grabs in our society.

Jami Hussein said...

New Victorians in 2007? How about Michael J. Fox as Alex Keaton in Family Ties (1982-1989),

bill said...

another one, edited down:

"New Atlantis, like many tribes, propagates itself largely through education. That is the raison d'être of this Academy. Here you develop your bodies through exercise and dance, and your minds by doing projects. And then you go to Miss Stricken's class.
"What is the point of Miss Stricken's class? Anyone? "

"To teach you humility and self-discipline," Nell said.

"Precisely. Which are moral qualities. It is upon moral qualities that a society is ultimately founded. All the prosperity and technological sophistication in the world is of no use without that foundation-we learned this in the late twentieth century, when it became unfashionable to teach these things."

"It is the hardest thing in the world to make educated Westerners pull together," Miss Matheson went on. "That is the job of people like Miss Stricken. We must forgive them their imperfections. She is like an avatar-do you children know about avatars? She is the physical embodiment of a principle. That principle is that outside the comfortable and well defended borders of our phyle is a hard world that will come and hurt us if we are not careful. It is not an easy job to have. We must all feel sorry for Miss Stricken."

Nell could not bring herself to agree with what Miss Matheson had said; but she found that, after this conversation, everything became easy. She had the neo-Victorians all figured out now. The society had miraculously transmutated into an orderly system, like the simple computers they programmed in the school. Now that Nell knew all of the rules, she could make it do anything she wanted.

Darren Duvall said...

Alex Keaton was a Temporal Reaganite.

Hey said...

Jamie: Alex was supposed to be a joke, a square, completely unbelievable that anyone would ever be like that. Now APK is the hero of loads of 20 somethings and early 30s. Michael J Fox, for one, is not laughing about this.

It's what I love about Wall Street and corporate America: we subvert revolution and commodify it, and invert denigrations into celebrations. Wall Street and Gordon Gekko are adulated by the business community, rather than being the serious moral lesson about the evils of capitalism that those behind it intended.

As anecdotes go, I'd say that the New Victorians are VERY common. Upwards of 80% of classmates are married within 4 years of undergrad, and at least half of those who aren't have been on track once or twice before the relationship dissolved. This is amongst young professionals in big cities, not the usual small town progression.

Anonymous said...

I don’t think of these young people as Yuppies (Vickies?) or mindless, conformist money-minded men and women, if that’s what is meant by invoking Alex Keaton. The ones I know are amazing innovators and thinkers. Out-of-the-box approaches still interest them, but they’re tired of acting bohemian and wearing the attitude of “cutting edge” like a uniform, which it is. Profligate/ irresponsible living is an affectation that’s high maintenance and often counter-productive. Some of these kids actually do want families and a stable home life, having now decided that convention, per se, doesn’t condemn one to a boring prole existence, that it, in fact, frees people to accomplish more by regularizing and civilizing the everyday. So there’s utility to this “retro” (actually, timeless) trend toward traditional values, but it’s also about getting back in touch with basic decency and responsibility as good things in and of themselves.

katiebakes said...

I don't know. I always enjoy reading these trend pieces, but I never place much faith in them.

I am 24, Ivy educated, and live in Manhattan working at a major investment bank, so I'm kind of at the younger end of the target demographic described within.

But for every friend of mine who is settled down, engaged or close to being so, thinking of moving to Brownstone Brooklyn, etc, I can think of several who make it home at 5am, hop from trendy restaurant to new club, and date new guys or girls each week.

And all these people have their happy moments; all have their crushing doubts and sad occasions. The clubbers aren't heathens and the settlers aren't drags.

They aren't mutually exclusive groups, either - although the article makes it sound like the "New Victorians" would never deign to play with those who have missed the boat, so to speak.

Jami Hussein said...

Alex Keaton, as written by script writers, may have been intended to be a parody of a Reaganite. But instead I saw him as a rebel who shunned the dogma of the hairy old hippies who'd taken over the schools and colleges. I saw Alex Keaton as someone who rejected the Baby Boomer values and looked to older traditions.

Anonymous said...

Alex P. Keaton was a piece of normal life: parents can't control their child's personality, not even if they are free-flowing-anti authoritarian flower-children hippies. That's all.

Whether or not the NYCers are the New Victorians, I live in a place where The throwback against the Boomers is real. Here in the Twin Cities, teenage girls increasingly are rebelling by wearing the jilbab, hijab, or the veil. The New Victorians are at least still Western. The new Muslims here in the Twin Cities are trying to swing the pendulum away from the more hedonistic tendencies of the culture around them. But where will they end up?

Ruth Anne Adams said...

If the trend noted in the article is true, I think it's the social result of the Roe effect.

Am I still allowed to cite Taranto in these parts?

Maxine Weiss said...

I liked the young Edwardians.

Building a Better Country said...

Of course, the New Vics are online. Victoriana magazine, for example.

blake said...

Now all we need are the new Spartans....

TMink said...

What a great thread! The writing is excellent, the discussion interesting and provocative. Well done all. It makes me so happy and comfortable knowing that I have unseen peers who read Neal and understand that he is worth bringing into the conversation.


Michael said...

It's not just morals; there are some other odd throwback type movements going on as well. There are hat forums full of 20-somethings chasing homburgs and fedoras from the teens and twenties, and clothing forums where similar groups of twentysomethings go gaga over wingtips - wingtips! - which haven't been popular since Nixon wore them to the beach, and generally sound like a bunch of Jeeves's fretting about Bertie's ill taste. The shaving brush and double-edged razor are making a comeback. German razor manufacturer Merkur recently introduced a new model, and English brushmaker Rooney was resurrected a few years ago. And in the last few years straight-razor manufacturer Dovo has seen their straight razor business go from hanging-on-for-life to triple shifts and 6-month delivery times.

And I'll believe Angelina Jolie is a new-Victorian when.... Hmmm, I can't think of it right now, but it's something pretty improbable.

the rose gardener said...

As long as they (or anyone else) don't act like boomers, God bless them.

KCFleming said...

Ruth Anne said...
...it's the social result of the Roe effect.

ha! I had the same reaction, both about the Roe effect and the Taranto effect.

When the bohemian lifestyle became ensconced as the ne plus ultra of modern life, the answer to the question What if everyone thought that way? became quickly evident.

It was not Yossarian's "Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way wouldn't I?"
it is instead Marcus Aurelius' "Wherever life is possible, it is possible to live in the right way. Cut the strings of desire that keep you dancing like a puppet."

Jay Reding said...


I'm also in the Twin Cities, and I do see many in my social set being very traditional in their lifestyles. (I'm in my mid/late 20s). Nearly all my female friends are married, and some of them are starting to have or consider having kids. Going out and picking up a random woman every night would not be looked upon well in my social set -- that sort of thing seems to get old out of college. (And we tend to mercilessly rip on those who still live that lifestyle.)

It is an interesting question how the Islamic traditionalism plays into all this as well. The same factors that motivates the New Vicks motivates many Muslims to live more traditional lives. I'm not sure how those factors interrelate, but there is an interplay there.

I'd also guess that this tends to be a middle- to upper-class phenomenon...

reader_iam said...

Michael: As long as they resurrect Cole Porter and some others as well, I'm for this aspect of it.

Jay Reding said...

Michael: I just realized that I own a Vulfix shaving brush, a Merkur DE razor, and more Italian shaving soaps and lotions than I'll ever need. That and I own a fedora. (Although I rarely wear it.)

All this time I figured I was just a dork, and now apparently I'm on the cutting edge of the next big societal trend. :)

The Snob said...

I'm 31, and more than half my close friends were married by the time I was 25. Grew up in NY, live in Boston, so not exactly Bible Belt here.

That said, by 30, around half of my close friends were referring to their ex-wife or ex-husband, too. The intentions were good, but they all say they pulled the trigger too soon.

"Normative" is an eye-of-the-beholder thing. The way our society works, most of us can choose our norms. Among my peers here in Boston, I have both hellfire evangelical Protestants and pan-poly pagans. Both scenes enforce a fairly high degree of conformity.

Unknown said...

"...Now all we need are the new Spartans...."

Oh, we have them alright, in Iraq. And just like the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, the doubters and second-guessers at home are as much a problem as the enemy in front of them...

Balfegor said...

It's not just morals; there are some other odd throwback type movements going on as well. There are hat forums full of 20-somethings chasing homburgs and fedoras from the teens and twenties,

I wear a fedora occasionally. Particularly now, in the summer, whenever I know I'm going to be out in the sun walking for a long time. That calls for a straw fedora. Homburgs, though, are right out for me. Too formal to wear with ordinary clothing, and I don't exactly go to formal functions often.

and clothing forums where similar groups of twentysomethings go gaga over wingtips - wingtips! - which haven't been popular since Nixon wore them to the beach, and generally sound like a bunch of Jeeves's fretting about Bertie's ill taste.

I wear wingtips. Wingtip brogues, at least, as walking shoes. They go well with tweeds.

The real throwback movement here is the people who wear detachable collars.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Lots of Smiths fans and wanna-be beatniks wore wingtips in the 80's!

Freeman Hunt said...

New Vics as the new phenomenon or lifestyles writer who talked to one or two people she already knew?

I don't know, but I think it may be a new phenomenon. I hadn't heard of the "New Vics," but much of it well-describes my friends. Affairs are entirely unheard of. Hearth and home is where it's at. Dinner parties are the norm, even our "Ladies' Night" is a dinner party or a gourmet potluck. There is *no* drunkenness, and many, myself being one, don't drink at all. Child-raising is considered to be of paramount importance, and most get togethers are family affairs. There's no angst, at least none visible. Salacious gossip and what many would call "drama" are out. Boomer culture is definitely out. Home improvement and tasteful fashion are in. High quality (classical?) education is in. Everyone is very driven.

Some things are different than you might expect. Most women work in some career-oriented capacity. While some people are into church, many are not or are only involved nominally. Many (most?) were not always so square--it's a chosen thing. Politics vary. While I do live in Northwest Arkansas, it's not a Bible Belt thing as some might assume. Regular Bible Belt culture is quite a bit different. For example, I would disagree with this:

The New Vics were the teenage "promise ring" straight-arrows who were fans of squeeky-clean 90's boy bands and who utterly rejected grunge and industrial.

This, I think, is hugely overstated:

Single people are to be pitied—that is, if their existence is even acknowledged.

Single people aren't pities unless they complain about being single and express wishes to be married. And while there few single people in the group, it isn't because they are excluded or unacknowledged, it's because they're out meeting people and we're not a very good set for doing that.

Sound square? I guess I love being square.

blake said...


Exactly my thoughts when I wrote that. I don't know how we manage to grow them, though.

PatCA said...

I think Katie has a point--there have always been partiers and their opposites, but this writer seems sort of ticked off that the boomers didn't completely obliterate traditional values.

I think literature and film for the last 30 years has bludgeoned the conventional, but it keeps getting back up...like Rocky? People are beginning to realize human beings need a bit of order in order to be happy. Deep down most people are conventional and traditional, and that's a good thing (as the Queen of Vics might say).

Valancy said...

I think people have forgotten what the Victorians were actually like behind their facade of prudish traditional behaviours and ideals.

I doubt the New Vics are anything but boring. Hell, I'd support any societal trend that brought back brothels and opium dens.

Just the other day I went to a victorian-themed burlesque show in an old smokey velvet tent with wooden booths and stained glass windows that was absolutely awesome. Here here!