All I Want for Christmas Is To Be Gen. X

Meghan WilliamsGeneration XX11 Comments

thatsovintage

Are you old enough to remember and appreciate the renaissance of Kurt and Courtney and zines and Cabbage Patch Dolls and Daria and Sassy and My So-Called Life? If so, I envy you as only a Gen. Y-er, part of the generation that is defined by disenfranchisement and raging discontent, can.

Before we go on, I should probably stipulate that I consider Gen. X-ers to be anyone born from roughly the early 70s to the early 80s–apparently, there is no 100% agreed-upon date range for Gen. X, but in my completely arbitrary way, I define it as those who were young adults in the late 80s/early 90s.

Being a Gen. Y-er certainly isn’t the worst–I’ll take it over being a baby boomer any day. But I do feel, rather acutely, the sense that my generation doesn’t have a core belief or goal to wrap ourselves around. Whereas Generation X was reactionary because their parents and grandparents gave them things to react against–homophobia, racism, religion, vaguely middle-class ennui–Generation Y is contentious and atheist and promiscuous because, well, why the hell not? That stuff’s cool, right?

Perhaps we Gen. Y-ers are just too pragmatic, mired in reality, because we give the establishment plenty of leeway and we rarely protest its machinations. The things we supposedly care about, like environmentalism and gay rights, are bandied about as talking points, but the people actually sticking their necks out, demanding change–Dan Choi, Jessica Valenti, Jason Russell–are Gen. X-ers.

When Obama was campaigning, there was that brief wave of activism and excitement that was frankly contagious, but it died, unsurprisingly, nearly immediately after he won the election. And my cynicism tells me that my generation jumped the Obama bandwagon not least for the “cool” factor that it invoked, bailing after success because, despite the fact that Obama and the left wing still faced innumerable challenges, the most high-profile part of the battle was over.

Let’s make some comparisons, shall we? First, consider grunge, the musical genre plus the thrift-store/flannel fashion and self-deprecating moodiness it evokes. It’s no secret that once-alternative grunge bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam became wildly popular in mainstream America; Entertainment Weekly had a 1993 article titled “Smells Like Big Bucks” that said “There hasn’t been this kind of exploitation of a subculture since the media discovered hippies in the ’60s.” So what happened to grunge? Within a year of that article’s publication, Kurt Cobain was dead and the grunge movement was virtually over–it didn’t survive Madison Avenue’s attempted co-opting, which made grunge profitable but also destroyed its spirit.

Now let’s examine Gen. Y’s answer to grunge–the hipster movement. Musical genres include anything under the vast umbrella of indie music: electroclash, freak-folk, prog-rock (which isn’t even really ours), baroque pop (again, not ours) surf rock, post post-punk (it’s like postmodernism–you try to see how many “posts” you can add until someone slaps you), and on and on, ad nauseam. I absolutely agree with Salvatore Bono over at the Huffington Post, who says, “When trends seem to come on in this day and age, they seem to come fast and intense and then wither away, especially musical trends.”

If you want to be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of music being made these days, wander over to Pitchfork. I dare you not to get lost in their seemingly endless indictments of this or that artist for being too “polarizing” or “merely trendy.” But the dirty little secret is that Pitchfork is the trendy one; they’re the godfather of hipsters, feeding them a steady pablum of approved, “underground” music and jumping from this awesome, new genre to that re-discovered, co-opted genre like a flying squirrel lunges between trees.

I don’t hate hipsters, but it disturbs me that the defining subculture of my generation is so obsessed with achieving the sheen of credibility that they would never write “Slut” on their stomachs, they would never fail to wash their hair for more than two days in a row, they would never wear thrifted clothes that weren’t ironically fashionable, and that this movement has been capitalized on and marketed practically to death, but it’s still here. It remains profitable, because Gen. Y continues to buy it.

We’re still coming into our own, and that’s the hope that I cling to regarding this generation. The oldest Gen. Y-ers are just turning 30, and there’s still a chance that with age will come settling and a serious consideration of values and ethics and what exists in this world that is really worth fighting for. I’m waiting for something to light a fire under our collective ass, for us to snap our ironic Buddy Holly glasses in two, and realize that sincerity of purpose and belief is more powerful, more life-sustaining, more fulfilling than hundreds of successive, brief highs achieved through embracing whatever cool gadget or hat or political movement or hairstyle is suddenly “it.”

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Meghan WilliamsAll I Want for Christmas Is To Be Gen. X

11 Comments on “All I Want for Christmas Is To Be Gen. X”

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  1. Avatar of
    goingquietlymad

    I was born in 71, graduated high school in 89. I’m about as Gen-X as it gets. I think for people who are within a few years of my age, we grew up in a time when it was just beginning to be ok to be “different”. It was ok for wives to call the cops on their abusive husbands. It was ok to occasionally air your dirty laundry (metaphorically speaking). We suffered through a recession that saw many of our parents lose the jobs they’d held for 20+ years, the Cold War, the horror of HIV/AIDS, the initial anti-smoking campaigns, and a flood of don’t eat this it will kill you news reports.

    We became jaded before our time, we learned to be loyal to ourselves before anyone else, we learned that working your ass off all the time doesn’t always pay off, and we learned that at some point if you don’t respect your mind, your body, your thoughts, and your ideas—they will be crushed under someone else’s boot.

    But, for all that negativity, I think we were kind of lucky. We weren’t coddled, we weren’t treated, at 18, 19, 20 like we were still little kids, and we knew that the only way we were going to realize our dreams would be to chase them down until we couldn’t chase them any longer–and that made us strong.

    Plus, we had John Hughes movies, great music, and freedoms that kids and teens today will never have or understand.

    /end ramble!

  2. Ami

    I am a Gen-Yer. I just finished my undergrad at a large university with a bit of a reputation as being the school of choice for upper-middle class, entitled white children spending Daddy’s money on overpriced hand bags and Tiffany’s while partying their degree away (this is not the case in many respects, but it is there), so perhaps I have a skewed view of my generation that has contributed to increased cynicism that my peers do not possess. That said…

    What I find so very frustrating about my generation is a rampant apathetic attitude attached to entitlement, narcissistic tendencies, disconnect and superficiality. We came of age in a decade of manufactured pop music, reality television and the beginnings of social networking. We (speaking for the middle class) grew up with instant gratification, the idea that we could have (and deserved!) everything that we wanted, that nothing really needed to be “earned” and no concrete sense of personal responsibility. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. But I will say, I don’t feel a sense of pride, at least not yet, for what my generation has contributed to society and I don’t know what – if anything – we stand for. The grunge movement of the ’90s may have become commercialized, but everything about Gen Y was commercialized from the start.

    And so I find myself gravitating at least somewhat to the hipster “culture”, because I don’t identify with anything else. But I have always felt that the core of “hipster-ism” also comes from entitlement and apathy – just pretending to be above it.

    Quote from 30 Rock: “Our generation never votes. It interferes with talking about ourselves.”

    1. Meghan Williams

      I agree with everything you just said, 100%. I was born in 1988 and I feel like our generation is extremely entitled and obsessed with public perception and the whole “coolness” factor. AGHHHHH. Plus, the superficiality we possess lends itself so well to decreased care for other peoples’ feelings and increased regard for each individual’s cadre of ‘realness” or what-the-fuck-ever. There has to be some positive way to incorporate commercialization and hyper-self-awareness into our ways of life, but so far I haven’t stumbled across it. If you have answers, please share!

  3. baseballchica03

    I was born in 1981, and I feel like a woman without a generation. Some people lump us 1981 babies in with the Gen X-ers, but I was really too young for Kurt Kobain and the like. Some people lump us in with the Gen Y-ers (aka: “Millenials,” but that’s just dorky), but I definitely don’t feel like I fit in with my brother’s generation – he’s seven years younger than me. We had a word processor and a trusty old Apple IIe, but we didn’t have a computer with the internet until I was almost out of high school. I love VH1′s I Love the ’80s and am saddened by I Love the ’90s, but I’m also enthralled by I Love the ’70s, whose music I adore but wasn’t around to live through. I don’t know what that says about me.

    I was a Cabbage Patch Kid, but I was young because I was the first grandkid on both sides, so I was spoiled by so many of the kids’ fads that might have passed me by otherwise. I love 80s music, but I only discovered it later in life; I was too young to remember it the first time around. (Fun fact: The first song I really remember hearing on the radio was Kokomo by the Beach Boys. I’m sure I heard earlier ones, but this is the one that sticks out in my memory as my first consciousness of popular music.) I was too old, really, for Britney Spears and that ilk. I – fortunately or unfortunately – spent high school in a 1950s Buddy Holly bubble, so I’m even more adrift in terms of “music defining a generation.”

    Oh, well. I have come to grips with the fact that we 1979-1982ers are just WEIRD. Maybe we’re defined by being a bridge between the two groups?

  4. Sally J Freedman

    I still have my Cabbage Kids and all the clothes my grandma made for them! I remember hearing somewhere that Gen X is the way it is because we grew up in the age of the AIDS epidemic, the Cold War and other scary, unimaginable things a generation prior. It’s made us pragmatic beyond our years. I think that’s why Gen Y looks so different from us (and kind of flighty).

  5. Anonymous

    A tumblr recently informed methat 1966 is the first year of Gen Xers. I protested and wailed loudly. Nooooo don’t lump my 45 year old butt with Baby Boomers! Ack.

    As for Gen Yers–it’s not just you, it’s how your parents, the Baby Boomers, raised you right? And the world they created for you. So many safety nets so you won’t be hurt. At least that’s why my Baby Boomer eyes have observed.

    1. Avatar of Meghan Williams
      Meghan Williams

      Oh goodness, I saw something estimating 1961 as the beginning of Gen. X. That would make my parents Gen. X-ers, and if you knew them, you’d know that is impossible (my mother, bless her heart, is not so great with the computer).

      Yeah, Gen Y definitely suffers from helicopter parenting, IMO. Not only that, but (as I mentioned a little bit in the post, but didn’t elaborate on), I think we’ve found very few causes to actively rally around. It’s as if civic responsibility was always something we saw as being for old people, so we don’t participate.

  6. kperfetto

    there is no 100% agreed-upon date range for Gen. X, but in my completely arbitrary way, I define it as those who were young adults in the late 80s/early 90s.

    I spent my teens in that weird twilight between the 80s and the 90s. I don’t really identify with either generation, though I guess this makes me a young X-er. I feel a little too old for 90s pop culture, but far too young for 80s nostalgia.

    1. Avatar of Meghan Williams
      Meghan Williams

      I have that same disconnect with some parts of Gen Y culture, but I think it’s more from being homeschooled when I was younger, not watching much TV, and generally not ever being super-great at following trends (haha, that sounds like I’m some incredibly unique, awesome individual, but really I’m just patently uncool).

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