What the Great Duvet/Top Sheet Debate Says About the Generational Divide
I swore I'd never be alienated by the younger generation. But I kinda am.
In the debate between the American lifestyle vs. the European one, I’m Team Europe all the way.
But one difficulty I’ve had in adjusting to life here is that most European beds have a duvet without a “top” sheet. Basically, there’s a bottom fitted sheet on the bed, and then you sleep directly under the duvet.
I hate it.
I concede it’s easier to “make the bed” — you just throw the duvet over the bed and voila! — but it doesn’t seem nearly as hygienic. Maybe if you wash the duvet cover regularly, but getting those stupid covers off and back on the duvet once a week seems way more of a pain to me than simply making a traditionally fitted bed every day.
Also, it seems like you lose the option of throwing the blanket aside on hot nights and just sleeping under the sheet.
Okay, fine, some people in some countries like duvets. I think I have logical reasons for my preference, but in the end, I recognize it is just a preference.
But guess what? Apparently, the “bedding war” is more than just an America vs. the Europe dispute. It’s now a generational divide too: American Boomers and Gen Xers (like me) still prefer the top sheet, but Millennials and Gen Y and Z are increasingly opting for the duvet.
Again, so what? It’s just a personal preference, right?
Except it’s yet another example of me finding myself on the “older” side of a generational debate and being vaguely — or not so vaguely — baffled by the issue in question.
I distinctly remember the first time this happened. It was about a decade ago, when suddenly every young progressive — at least the female, BIPOC, or LGBTQ ones — was saying some variation of: “It’s not my job to educate you.”
“You want to talk with me about this issue I say I passionately believe in? Forget it, I’m tired — do your own work.”
On one hand, I got it. It’s exhausting when minorities are expected to answer the same questions again and again — and annoying that they even have to ask for equality in the first place.
And, of course, even I believe it’s pointless talking when someone’s not asking questions in good faith.
Nonetheless, it seemed so weird to me progressives had taken this as a mantra: “You want to engage with me? Nah, I’m good.”
This was a real break — a totally different vibe — from how I’d spent the first two decades of my adult life. In the 90s and 00s, as part of various activist organizations, I begged and pleaded to talk to anyone who would listen about the issues I cared most passionately about — LGBTQ issues but also environmental stuff and the cause of artistic freedom. (I used to be a frequently challenged and banned novelist.)
Over the years, I gave more than five hundred speeches to various classrooms, churches, and civic groups.
Did I get a lot of the same questions? God, yes. Were some of the questions stupid? Not as many as you’d think, actually.
Nonetheless, I was occasionally booed, and I endured a number of online harassments — including an extremely disturbing false rape accusation. I had two different multi-year phone harassments that the police were unable to trace.
And for the record, I totally moderated my message to appeal to my different audiences, and I always tried to be as non-threatening as possible. Partly, that’s just who I am: I’m not a bomb-thrower.
Then again, the whole point of what I was doing was to persuade people — to appeal to any shared values and desperately try to find common ground.
But honestly, I found the whole thing an honor. This was ground zero for the dreaded “civility politics” that younger folks now say were so pathetic and pointless. But I didn’t feel pathetic: I felt incredibly empowered. And it definitely wasn’t pointless: I knew I was changing minds, because, well, hundreds of people told me so.
Anyway, the next generation was now taking a different tact. “It’s not my job to educate you.”
Um, yeah, okay. Things change — more than just a generation’s choices of bedding, I guess. And man, I sure agreed that the anti-Obama backlash was both ridiculous and infuriating.
Still, in my heart of hearts, I did think, somewhat petulantly: The reason you young folks are able to be so cavalier about this is that you’re taking for granted rights — and a level of visibility — that a lot of us worked our asses off to achieve.
I also thought, more forebodingly: If it’s not your job to persuade people, what happens if darker forces say they are willing to answer people’s questions?
Which — at the risk of blaming minorities for any prejudice they must still endure, and absolving bigots of personal responsibility — seems to me pretty much exactly what happened.
The greater point is, for the first time in my life, I found myself on the wrong side of a generational divide.
It only got worse from there. Soon we entered the full-fledged Cancel Culture Era — which is perfectly defined by the fact that we can’t even agree on what Cancel Culture is. Pick your left-wing rebuttal. Or use both! Who cares if they’re contradictory?
Conservatives have the real “cancel culture.” (I think this is actually true, but it doesn’t mean the left doesn’t have real problems and shouldn’t be criticized for bad faith, overreach, and sometimes even outright hysteria.)
Cancel Culture is just “Consequences Culture,” where people are finally being held accountable for bigoted beliefs by other people exercising their own rights to free speech. (I think this one is pure, self-serving bullshit. In a liberal society that values free expression and debate, the bar for de-platforming anyone should be very high. And if half or more of the population holds a particular opinion, it simply doesn’t work to shame or cancel that idea out of existence. For the concept of “hate speech” to be taken seriously, it has to be narrowly defined and fairly applied. The definition can’t simply be: Stuff I Don’t Like.)
Whatever your personal take on Cancel Culture, I think we can all agree that America’s younger progressive left is now acting more like the American right: imbued with an aggressive, take-no-prisoners style and much more tolerant of harassment and political violence. There’s also much less room for in-group dissent on the issues of the day.
Alas, increasingly, I’m the one in dissent.
Is Liz Cheney a “hero”? In my mind, she’s exactly how we ward off fascism and save our democracy. But younger liberals reject her because she's anti-abortion and holds a numbers of other positions I also personally disagree with.
In an age of monkeypox, is it “homophobic” to encourage gay and bi men to reduce their sexual partners until they're vaccinated?
Part of me can’t believe this is even a real controversy.
Just like I can’t believe there are people seriously arguing it’s “dangerous” and “hateful” for journalists to interview anti-abortion activists.
And don’t get me started on how, in light of the recent attack on Salman Rushdie, most young liberals immediately took to minimizing and ridiculing the harassment of J.K. Rowling, saying she brought it on herself by holding reprehensible views.
I strongly disagree with a lot of Rowling’s ideas, but come on. I know progressives have shoved this down the memory hole, but three months ago, someone literally attacked Dave Chapelle on stage with a knife. Does anyone really think it helps progressive causes if someone kills J.K. Rowling?
Oh, and saying, “I condemn all harassment!” is just the liberal version of “all lives matter!” — a way to avoid saying anything at all.
And here I stand, a fiftysomething man yelling at clouds.
Speaking of social media, here’s where it’s important to mention that much of today’s “discourse” happens on platforms that are literally designed to make almost all debate as pointless and aggravating as possible. Algorithms reward “hot” posts that encourage hate and outrage, because they keep us engaged and looking at more ads.
In short, how many actual people hold the extreme positions I find so alienating?
In my own circle, my younger friends are much more sophisticated than the impression you get online. But language-policing and groupthink are definitely a thing (IMHO).
Often, I want to say: Does everything need to sound like a gender studies seminar? Can’t you just, you know, talk like a normal person?
And yes, I know there’s no such thing as “normal,” but this is exactly what I mean. What’s the point if you’re only talking to people who are already 100% on board with whatever you’re saying?
Anyway, passion and idealism are not bad things, even if the sanctimony and self-righteousness is often a bit much.
I’m much more alienated by the too-cool-for-school cynicism: the idea that everything is completely corrupt, and everyone outside your particular in-group is motivated by either stupidity or evil.
On one hand, I get it. I lived through the last decade too.
On the other hand, I want to say: Have you tried deleting all your social media apps for a month? Because social media does not accurately reflect reality and it might be skewing your perception of the world.
Naturally, the few times I’ve said anything like this, I’m met with a completely uncomprehending stare.
Even worse, I realize this is exactly the kind of thing my dad would have once said to me.
Now there are worse things than turning into my father. He’s still the most principled person I’ve ever met, and this isn’t just me being wistful. Everyone who knows him says that.
Even so, I told myself when I was young that I would always identify with youth culture — that I would never become one of the older sell-outs who become blind to the world’s many flaws.
Weirdly, I don’t think I have. I want the world to change! That’s why I’ve become so frustrated with liberal purity tests, and circular firing squads, and simplistic answers to complicated questions.
It’s also why I so despise that hellmouth of cheap cynicism, social media.
But sometimes late at night, I think back on the thousands of people I spoke to in all those hundreds of speeches I gave, and I wonder: how many of them ended up voting for Trump? In the end, how many minds did I really change?
Whatever the truth, my generation did ultimately make the bed that younger generations now have to lie in. And our top sheets didn’t work out so well, did they?
So hey, sure, why not give the top-sheet-less duvet a try?
But if you’re a younger person reading this? Assuming we survive this current madness, the generation after you is going to come up with some new form of bedding.
And mark my words: no matter how you refuse to believe it now, it's going to feel really wrong too.