Here’s something that’s going to make you feel instantly old: The oldest X’ers are turning 50 in 2014. In a time when all the buzz is about aging Boomers and flailing Generation Y and Millennials (the youngest adult generation is so mythologized that it has two names!), Generation X is so quickly blending in with the grayish wallpaper that we hardly even recognized their anniversary. Isn’t fading out the inevitable fate for those who finally mellow after years of destructive notoriety?
Gen X, I’m sorry, but your reputation still kind of sucks. People thought you were permanently imprisoned by your youth’s bottomless ennui and grungy cynicism, so they just kind of got used to disliking you. Your elders accused you of being a morally shady slacker who couldn’t muster much more than making old ladies clutch their purses. And now your youngsters try to guilt trip you for being this pessimistic party pooper who is stealing their future. More than anything you’re a gloomy naysayer with a hopeless lack of imagination. Your lackluster stints at innovation fade in comparison to your acid-trippy boomer predecessors and your techie-hipsterish, selfie-gazing Millennial descendants.
So half way through your century what does this graying, middle-aged version of yourself have to show for besides financial crises and oceans of debt?What have you contributed to this world beyond seedy hedge fund schemes, suicides and drug overdoses? That is, unless you really want to make a big deal of leveraging the most transformative information revolution of our time, of course. Or if you insist on elevating the art of composing music that owes its genius to songwriting talent rather than to ex-boyfriend gossip and hit-predicting computer algorithms. Or if you decide to count some staritists at Comedy Central who think their profane, indolent wit can beat the insanely hilarious punch lines of Nickelodeon sitcoms. I mean, just check out these losers!
No, give us another “like” button, Zuckerberg! Let’s show those olds Xers what real innovation looks like! And puhleeze, let’s leave songwriting to those who know it best – Beyoncé and Taylor Swift! (Happy now, Kanye?)
I’ll end my rant. I think you catch my drift here.
A common misconception is that Generation X is small and therefore negligible. Many consider the birth years of this generation to have spanned over only 15 years (1965 – 1980), but the more commonly accepted time frame would be closer to 20 years. Furthermore, at least in the United States, the effect of a declining birth rate is to a great extent compensated for by immigration. So the size of GenX is actually 97 percent (83.0M/ 85.5M *100) of the Millennials.
To really understand this generation you have to discern the experiences that formed their collective memories as children. This was the first generation that experienced childhood during the launch of a new “social operating system”. Their parents were the beta-testers whose new opportunities and challenges inverted the ideas of having family. More women entered the work force and more families divorced. So that’s why you often hear the most recent crop of velcro parents refer to their own childhood as latch-keyed and lonely.
“Generation X has marinated in the fat of boomer mythology for so long that now we’re like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix when he’s hooked up to all those tubes and wires in a tub of gelatin”, says Jeff Gordinier in his book Generation X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking.
While Boomers adopted the lofty goals of the Cultural Revolution, X’ers disassociated themselves with the hypocritical ways in which those goals were carried out. It’s not that they failed to ascertain the Boomers’ civic engagements, but they were disillusioned with the halcyon ideas of a movement they felt got estranged from its original objectives. So instead, X’ers became more comfortable with satire than with sanctimony. They strategized their influence by means of lampooning rather than by lip service. But still too many fail to get their irony and confuse it with crankiness. When Kurt Cobain sung the refrain “Here we are now, entertain us” it was a slap in the face to a hyperbolic entertainment industry that seemed to have grown out of size and did not seem very authentic to young X’ers. This aspect became grossly overlooked in the 2000s after 9/11 amputated the Gen X zeitgeist and everybody turned zany. It was as if suddenly all types of cultural noncompliance and critical thinking, which Gen Xers tend to excel at, were thrown out together with suspect Arabs and crazy-haired professors, and replaced with this weird new tribal symbolism of flag waving. And as soon as we were ready to dismount our deranged horse, the newly adult Millennials got all the cred for this new, revitalized “yes-we-can-do’ism”.
Oh well, you just can’t win, Generation X. But you already knew that. Happy birthday anyway!