the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

My Entry to the Vanity Fair Essay Competition


Vanity Fair magazine is concerned that the youth of today is apathetic, especially compared to the baby-boomer editors who lived during the 1960’s. 

"More than 30 years ago, young people across the country staged sit-ins for civil rights, got up and protested against a misguided, undeclared war, and actually gave a damn if a president lied to them. Today it seems as if the younger generation of Americans are content to watch their MTV, fiddle with their game players, [and] follow the love lives of Brad, Jen, Jessica and Paris. What has changed? What is going on inside the minds of American youth today?"

To rectify the problem, Vanity Fair (in association with Montblanc fountain pens) is running an essay competition titled, "What’s on the minds of America’s youth today?"   The prize:  $15,000, a trip to the  the Santa Maddalena writers’ colony, and a Montblanc fountain pen.

So, I figured — hell, if I can write erotica, I can certainly write a short essay on this topic.

My Essay for Vanity Fair:

What’s the Matter with Kids Today?

In the 1960’s young people had meaning in their lives.  They were politically aware and cared about what happened in this country and in the world.  Young people today are more technologically sophisticated, but have lost much of their "soul."  How did this happen?  What made America’s youth go off track?   I’d like to thank Vanity Fair for the opportunity to address this important issue.  

Rather than caring about war and poverty, today’s young people only care about celebrity culture (Jennifer Aniston, Vanity Fair cover, September 2005; Scarlett Johansson photoshoot, Vanity Fair, August 2005) and scandal (Martha Stewart, Vanity Fair cover, August 2005).  In the 1960’s, young people looked up to heroes like Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy.  Who do they look up to today?  (Tom Cruise story, Vanity Fair, August 2005; Porn Star Memoirs, Vanity Fair, September 2005).  In the 1960’s, women were at the forefront of a political movement, pushing for equal rights for all women.  Why have today’s women lost interest in politics?  (Jimmy Choo shoes article, August 2005; Elle Macpherson’s lingerie debut article, August 2005).   In the 1960’s, young people were fighting the establishment.  Today’s youth are complacent, caring more about consumerism and material objects than changing the world. (Adrienne Vittadini ad, Polo ad, Ralph Lauren ad, Movado ad, Calvin Klein ad, Bacardi ad, DKNY ad, Audi ad, countless other ads, in all Vanity Fair issues).

So, who is the culprit in the dreadful attitudes of our misguided youth?  The answer is clear. 

The editors of Vanity Fair.


  1. xtessa

    it has impact… you have a point… but i think VF will not be awarding you with that pen anytime soon. LOL!

  2. Em

    I hope you send that in because if they are honest they will give it a chance.

  3. JJ MacMillan

    Did Vanity Fair get new editors or something? They didn’t give a damn about that stuff in the 60s when it was happening and they were one of the bastions of the 80s consumerist culture that’s responsible for the deadening of American souls. Who’s next? Mad magazine?

  4. M.A.

    So awesome, Neil. Send that one in.

  5. ashbloem

    No shit.

    This essay rules.

  6. Jef

    Apathetic? Baby boomers were the ones who sat around and smoked pot and had sex all the time. Lest we forget it’s the boomers who love to run the entertainment magnets that generate that crap. Talk about hypocrisy. I will be glad when a few of their generation loses control of the media.


  7. psychotoddler

    What have you got to lose?

    After that last essay, the only place to go is up.

  8. Charlie

    I smell a Pulitzer…

  9. Jack

    Mad Magazine rocks.

  10. jamy

    First, your conclusion is a beautiful thing.

    On a more serious note, I take exception to Vanity Fair’s contention that “today’s youth” are more complacent than kids in the ’60s. Maybe–but at UNC where I went to grad school, there were sit-ins all the time. There were protests about labor conditions for the Housekeepers, marches on MLK Day, teach-ins and all kinds of activist stuff going on. In the undergrad days, there was an anti-apartheid shanty town on campus and protests against the first gulf war.

    While I’d be delighted to see a mass anti-war movement right now, I want to know how long it took to build the movement against Vietnam. Probably more than a year or two. If the madness continues, I have faith that “our youth” will get pissed off enough to do something.

    And protests are a great way to meet people. They don’t call it a “social” movement for nothing.

    (My apologies for the outrageous length of this comment. I got a little worked up.)

  11. justin

    Did they get her drunk for that cover photo or what?

  12. meme

    Jamy: I, too, saw the same thing at my college (UC Berkeley), but unlike the Free Speech Movement of Berkeley’s heyday, these rallies were very organized, i.e.-someone always brought the Crispy Cremes and Starbuck’s Mocha Soy Lattes. And all too often I saw the same people from the pro-Palestine rally at the pro-Israeli rally. Go figure. Hell, let’s be honest wouldn’t you go anywhere there’s Crispy Cremes?

  13. Aurorealis

    HIGHFIVE!!! Thank you for illustrating their complete hypocrisy.

  14. Bad Maria

    This was truly sublime – and I agree, you should send it in.

    On a related note, partially because of Bill Clinton’s encouragement, the Peace Corp. now has higher participation numbers than in its entire history (including the 60s). Sitting on our ass? I think not. And by the way, my parents, who are retired, work Habitat for Humanity sites all over the country, side by side with people ranging in age from 18 through 70.

    Which brings up another point, perhaps it’s no longer mass groups of youths, maybe now that the 60s are over and we’re no longer having to protest the us against them mentality of “everyone over 30” is evil, we have actually learned to work together and thus, the groups of protestors, the politically active, are a diverse group of race and age. Catch up with us Vanity Fair.

  15. Edgy Mama

    Definitely send it in, Neil! A friend sent me the contest page, so I’ve been tinkering with something as well–more along the lines of what Jamy said. Nothing I write will be nearly as funny or subversive as your essay, however.

  16. Miriam

    What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed. Kudos to you!

  17. Bad Maria

    In response to Jamy, yes, Vietnam protests did take more than 2 years to get up and running. We went into the war in 1961. You didn’t see anyone coming out publicly against the war until 1967 (and it was a small group of veterans) – that same year, Martin Luther King came out against the war against the advice of his colleagues. College campuses were fully engaged in protests by 1969 and 1970.

    Sorry for the history lesson on a humorous blog but wanted to address the comment because it’s a valid point.

  18. leesepea

    Maybe the youth are misguided because magazine editors can’t pick a cover photo that doesn’t show a hint of boob.

  19. kristine

    since Neil’s not exactly a “youth” i doubt they’d give it a shot. have a little nephew or something send it in.

    i have this issue, of course, and also thought the contest was completely pretentious and arrogant.

    but i also think you meant to say porn star “memoirs”, not “memories”.

    i wrote a piece on emos neil! we’re totally on the same wavelength.

  20. Megan

    My first thought was: aren’t you a little old to represent the “youth” of today? I guess I’m just bitter that I’m not young anymore either.

    I truly hope you submit that. Regardless of what happens, they need to realize that people in the “real world” realize the hypocrisy of this contest.

    I think that this article and your expert porn writing skills have made me develop an even bigger crush on you.

  21. Anne

    Way to go.
    And I love that cover. “She talks. And talks and talks. And cries. And talks”. Brilliant.

  22. Brooke

    I’m with you Neil! The media feeds the public non-stop celebrity crap, and then everyone wonders why all the public cares about is celebrity crap. Force issues down the throats of the public, and maybe issues will have more relevance!

    And I’m sorry, but Jennifer Aniston has a weird face. Her days with Brad were numbered from the start.

  23. Michael Blowhard

    Great essay. Of course, just to be balanced for a sec, Vanity Fair did succeed in getting your attention. I understand that’s what they’re in the business of doing.

  24. JasonW.

    Hey, am I losing ground in Megan’s crush-o-meter?

    Definitely send it in. Hopefully it’ll run in an issue with a scantily clad actress on the cover.

  25. Pauly D

    Personally, what I think is wrong with kids these days can be traced back to Rick Stratton from Silver Spoons. Any time you give a kid his own life size train, a step mom who looks like Erin Gray and his own Dragon’s Lair arcade game, the future of the world is drastically in danger.

  26. Jack

    I am a Peace Corps baby, not that it matters.

  27. Nancy French


  28. alley rat

    fiddle with their game players

    i feel so old.i don’t understand the funky sex slang the kids of today are rappin’.

  29. jenny

    BRILLIANT Neil, really brilliant. This had my whole office in stitches. See you are already a star~ Seriously, you gotta send it in.

  30. groovebunny

    That was brilliant! Please say you’re sending that in.

  31. Kristy

    I love it! Well said! As an Xer (child of the 80s), I say… Down with The Man! Hmm…do I even still qualify as a voice of “today’s youth?” In any event, sometimes I wish I had cable. But then again, I’d probably be hooked on the Food Network if I did. 😉

  32. TB

    With every generation there comes some kind of movement. With this new generation of kids the only thing they’ve done is create EMO. And for an old Punk Rocker I’d rather slash my wrist than hear another annoying emo diatribe. But even worse the apathy and ignorance and the, “What the hell can do?” attitude is so apparent. I hear it all the time. I work in the school system and kids now a day can give a crap. All these kids want to do is consume. Buy this and buy that. Now I realize that there are exceptions to everything and I do know that there are some young people who are doing something either will rallies or whatever I realize this. BUT! Over all compared to past generations I have to scratch my head and think what’s going on? Some people feel they can create a blog rant a bit and then feel that did there part in shaking the system up.
    Not enough. We need those revolutionaries to rise up. We need those battle cries in the streets. Because before you know it, it really will be too late.

  33. Pauline

    Kids these days are losing their minds because of the society around them. They look at the older people as role models.And it turns out to be that their role models ar celebrities.Yes they have talent but they are misusing it by misleading the youth.They are extremely influential,and have the capability of steering the kids back on track.It is also clear that the two worlds of adults and kids lack communication.The kids will follow what they think is right because those who are famous are considered role models. The root of all these is not the movement in the generation or the age, its the people who they look up to that can make or break them.Kids should be taught from chidhood to focus in order to avoid straying. So before you blame the kids, scrutinize the situation and see if it really is their problem!

  34. Amanda

    I was looking for the pullquote from the original competition to reference it in a blog post when I found your essay. The prompt was and still is enraging (as one of those “kids today”) but your essay is pretty brilliant. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t pick it?

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