October 14, 2008

Generation X is just as dopey and loud as the Baby Boomers

If you thought that Gen X-ers would continue their "whatever" attitude into middle age -- guess again. They're becoming just as attention-whoring as the Boomers. Here is a great example this year from Time:

Where, he wondered, amid all this news about "the mating habits of AARP members" and their offspring's "bloggy, bling-bling birdsong of me-me-me-me-me sounds" were the cover stories about Generation X turning 40?

You've got to love someone who tars a rival generation as me-me-me, while whining about not getting a fair turn to hog the spotlight and bore everyone with their life's details -- I mean, that's what blogs are for.

Sandwiched between 80 million baby boomers and 78 million millennials, Generation X — roughly defined as anyone born between 1965 and 1980 — has just 46 million members, making it a dark-horse demographic "condemned by numbers alone to nicheville," as Gordinier puts it in the book.

The truly marginal generation, of course, is the one born between 1960 and 1964. I've never heard of a common name for them -- perhaps the Disco/Punk generation, or the Original Yuppies? They include the internet celebrities Tyler Cowen, Steve Sailer, and Alias Clio (if I've guessed correctly), the original line-up of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Barack Obama. Whatever you call them, they're pretty cool, as far as generations go. Unlike the Boomers above and X-ers below, this group doesn't storm on stage to snatch the microphone and rant about the injustice of being ignored -- at least, qua belonging to their generation.

"I don't really understand the tyranny of the boomer moment," Gordinier says. "Great, you had a party in Haight-Ashbury in 1967, I'm thrilled for you. Can we hear about the flappers in the 1920s instead? How about the Great Depression? There's other times in history that are interesting."

Yeah, and in Seattle in 1992, you held your girlfriend's purse at a Take Back the Night rally -- BFD.

"[Millenials] just love stuff. They love celebrities. They love technology. They love brand names. . . . They're happy to do whatever advertising tells them to do. So what if they can't manage to read anything longer than an instant message?"

Like you dingbats had much longer attention-spans when you were 19 year-olds. And look at how much Gen X fawned over the celebrities Kevin Smith and Winona Ryder.

Xers witnessed the rise of the yuppie and the burst of the dot-com bubble.

No, by the time the typical Gen X-er -- born in 1971 -- graduated college and entered the workforce in the early 1990s, the yuppie culture was dead. Judging from when the term first appears in the NYT, Time, and Newsweek, yuppies first burst onto the scene in 1983 or 1984, when even the oldest Gen X-ers were still underclassmen in college.

"Instead of getting free love, we got AIDS," says Douglas Rushkoff, author of 1993's GenX Reader . "We didn't believe the same kind of things as boomers. It was much harder to fool us."

I've got to write this post in under 30 minutes, so I'll let the readers fill in the blank: "Sure, it's not like you totally fell for ______."

Shirking the media myth that Xers are slackers, Gordinier argues that Generation X has — to borrow a '60s term — changed the world. Citing Gen-X icons like Quentin Tarantino and Jon Stewart, along with Gen-X triumphs like Google, YouTube, and Amazon, among others, Gordinier argues that not only are Xers far from over, they might be the most unsung and influential generation of all time. "

Leaving aside how you can shirk a myth, Google and other internet companies represent the next step along a path well-paved by the WWII generation and everyone since then. That's how technology works. As for the parts of culture that do differ a lot by generation, Jon Stewart has never been funny. The Boomers at least produced a lot of funny people, even when Gen X was in the spotlight during the '90s -- the creators of Seinfeld and The Simpsons are all Boomers -- and the Disco/Punk generation produced most of the memorable cast of In Living Color, including Jim Carrey.

And what of the legacy that millennials inherited from Generation X? Aren't Gen-X creations like YouTube and MySpace largely responsible for millennial narcissim? Didn't punk rock begat Rock Band? Perhaps. "We've created all these great Websites that now millennials waste their lives on," Gordinier says with a laugh.

Narcissism has not increased in recent decades, contrary to media reports -- although the last I checked, the media are at least covering the other research in this area, which shows no change.

And punk rock is definitely not a product of Gen X. Even the oldest ones were 17 in 1982 when punk was more or less gone from the center stage.

Gordinier wants to be clear about one thing: X Saves the World isn't personal. "A lot of what I'm doing is channeling all these things I would hear about millennials in the office, or boomers forcing their history down our throats," he tells TIME. "It's more about radar. It's more about antennae. These are signals I'm picking up."

In other words, you haven't bothered to fact-check these self-serving rumors and hearsay from a rival tribe, and instead you've just swallowed it whole. The more things change...


  1. The truly marginal generation, of course, is the one born between 1960 and 1964. I've never heard of a common name for them -- perhaps the Disco/Punk generation, or the Original Yuppies? They include the internet celebrities Tyler Cowen, Steve Sailer, and Alias Clio (if I've guessed correctly)

    Steve Sailer was born in 1958, so he's just outside this group. You're probably right about Clio, however.

    I like your idea of treating the 1960-1964 group separately from the Baby Boom generation. In most instances the latter generation is treated as encompassing people born from 1946 to 1964, which is absurdly overinclusive ... heck, in some cases, you have a parent and child both considered part of the same generation.

    What I would do, in addition to your split off of the 1960-1964 group, is to further divide the Baby Boom generation into a 1946-1953 group and a 1954-1959 group. Life experiences of these two groups were quite different. Those in the 1946-1953 group were old enough to have fought in Vietnam and to have participated in the hippie/antiwar/feminist movements, while for the most part the others weren't. On a different note, the 1954-1959 people had a harder time getting started in the working world, as by the time they came along the value of a college education had been diminished and many jobs were held by the 1946-1953 people.

  2. The first usage of "Generation X" I remember was the title of the Douglas Coupland novel, which shrewdly observed and named a lot of zeitgeisty phenomena of the early 80s. The 60-64 age cohort it described was certainly not made up of "original yuppies". The yuppies were older, taking on their first mortgages while we 60-64s were still screwing around - first without condoms, then with them - in houses other people owned. The disco-punk divide seems much more relevant.

  3. There is grunge, which is most certainly a creation of Gen-X.

    I lived in Japan from 1991 to 2001. So, I saw the cultural rise and fall of Gen-X from afar. Personally, I rather liked the Gen-Xers (I was born in 1964), at least the ones who had the gumption to get on a airplane and come to Japan in the early 90's when the U.S. had a crappy economy. The one's I knew (in Japan) had kind of scrappy, self-reliant ethic. They knew full-well that they were screwed by the "system" and, therefor, did not expect anyone to do anything for them. So, they did things on their own. At least this was true for the ones who became expats in the early-to-mid 90's.

    I think the ones here in the U.S. were different from the above. Also, the Gen-Y's (the current young people) appear to completely lack the scrappy self-sufficiency mentality that the expat Xers seemed to have.

    They also strike me as being much more celebrity obsessed.

    As far as being a marginalized generation, the twits are those who actually care about this kind of stuff. I don't.

  4. The people born between 1960 and 1965 are called Tweeners.


  5. Another angle to look at this:

    Not just the people of one particular cohort, but also that of their parents, and how the two relate.

    I was born in '67 (early X-er); my parents were *not* Baby Boomers, but Silent Generation (Depression kids).
    Most of my cohort have Baby Boomer parents. I seem to share more values with my parents than Baby Boomer types, whom I share little with.

    In other words, it's not just the cohort we're born into, but also the cohort that's raising us.


  6. There was a movement some time ago to call the '60-64 generation "Generation Jones," but I haven't heard that lately.

    They were also the original Generation X as coined by Coupland, but somehow the term creeped up to mean people born in the 70s. As of the early 90s, you still had to be born in the early 70s or before to get the "X" label, but now it seems to go up to 1979 or so.


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