It was mid-morning yesterday when I allowed myself to take a peek at Twitter, only to see that Gen X was trending. Almost instantaneously, the emails and texts from Further readers started to roll in.
Apparently I’m the “Gen X guy” now. And damn pleased about it, thank you very much.
Anyway, the New York Times released a weird thing titled Gen X is a Mess, which is itself a mess. Seriously, it looks like something Ben Stiller’s character in Reality Bites might create in a futile attempt to impress Winona Ryder’s character.
Buried within this train wreck of bite-sized nostalgia bits is an essay that’s mostly positive, despite the derogatory title. This whole thing was apparently put together by Gen Xers, so why the self loathing? Or were the headline decisions left to a snide Boomer editor?
Never mind, let’s move on.
In many ways, this piece makes the same case I made in last month’s Further Feature: Why Generation X is Running the Show. In short, despite the smaller size of our generation, we’ve had a defining impact on the go-forward culture, both for better and worse.
After the obligatory recitation of cliched observations about us from 1990, the article takes a turn:
What if everything we decided about Generation X turned out to be wrong?
What if, indeed. Let’s look at some of the high points. At minimum, you’ll see that we’ve been on the right track here (or perhaps the author of the piece is a Further reader — although, probably not).
1. We were never slackers
Put this one in the “no duh” category. We talked about this just last week.
“Even though my friends and I all looked like extras from ‘Reality Bites,’” said Sarah Vowell (b. 1969), an author and contributor to This American Life, “our Puritan work ethic was probably more 1690s than 1990s.”
Not only are we not slackers, we’re the hardest working of all the active generations. If anything, we need to learn to chill a bit — but it’s hard when many Gen Xers are raising Gen Z kids while caring for Boomer parents.
2. We totally did sell out
As I’ve brought up several times, our generation seemed completely disinterested in traditional concepts of success — until the internet came along, that is. The article comes to the same conclusion, although I disagree with the “selling out” aspect.
It’s not like we latched onto the “Greed is good” Boomer bullshit of the 80s. We saw the internet as a way to carve out our own path on our own terms — and many of us did.
Now, I suppose we also have to take the blame for Millennial tech bros who are basically Gordon Gekko with a pocket protector. Such is life.
3. We invented “woke”
This is where the article gets interesting. The stereotype of Generation X as a bunch of apathetic cynics never matched my experience. I remember us as being educated young people who understand the true nature of business, society, and justice, and wanted to do something to make things better.
Still, we tend to be more pragmatic than the younger Millennials, while not anything like the conservative Boomers. We care, and yet we’re steeped in self reliance, which leads to a strong centrist streak:
This scrappy, if self-defeating, independent streak was a consequence of our under-parenting. “If you wanted lunch and Mom and Dad weren’t around, all the moral values in the world wouldn’t add up to a grilled cheese sandwich,” Mr. Rosen wrote.
Mmmm. Grilled cheese. We made that an after-school art form, right?
The article ends on a hopeful note, and it’s one that I’ve stated repeatedly and truly believe. If anyone is going to fix this mess, it’s us. Illegitimi non carborundum.