Did we ruin everything?
For a couple of decades now, we’ve been blaming the Boomers. And there’s good reason for it. Their narcissism followed up Woodstock with a bunch of STDs, the persistent treatment of women as sex objects (Love the One You’re With, indeed) and then self-centered approaches to business and politics. They say people grow more conservative as they grow older, but I think the Boomers have been remarkably consistent. They matter, and you don’t.
But what about us? Do we Gen Xers deserve any of the blame for a world in which democracy and reasoned capitalism, the values that the pre-Boomers fought to instill in the modern world, are in decline?
Let’s talk about it. This is X Marks the Pod. (This one is also available on Spreaker and should go out to Apple and Google.)
New York Post columnist Eric Spitznagel, who looks like someone from the 1920s rather than the 2020s, says Gen X is running the world and nobody realizes it. He starts with the Super Bowl halftime show, then runs through all the reboots — Bel Air, Jurassic Park, Kids in the Hall, Scream, Beavis and Butthead (we’ll get to that one). He points to the dominance of grunge on mainstream rock stations, but that seems more of a circular definition of the genre, like saying modern jazz is the dominant genre on modern jazz stations.
All kidding aside, he raises a legitimate point. Culturally, our stuff has staying power. He didn’t even mention Friends, which Millennials probably claim but is absolutely a Gen X creation.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that we seem to be faring poorly with all that power, and the generations after us have to pick up the mess from the “failed generations” of the Boomers and Gen X. So argues the Portland Mercury. I think. It’s an anonymous column behind a paywall, and I’m saving my subscription payouts for the New York Times, the Washington Post and other entities I should probably cancel because their coverage of today’s crises is horse-race horseshit.
Seriously — if I see one more poll about COVID, let alone climate change or the economy, that emphasizes “here’s how this affects the midterms” instead of explaining why a substantial number of respondents are wrong, I’m going to puke. If I see one more “meteor about to hit Earth — how will this affect Biden?” story, I’m going to hurl. Bear in mind — I’m like Jerry on Seinfeld. Many years pass between my puking and hurling.
In fact, I’m giving up news sites for Lent. I still have searches for Gen X culture, and I’m sure I’ll see on Facebook whether World War III has actually started. At some point, I may only read news once a week. That’s all you need to really stay informed. Following it minute-by minute is a good way to get lost in the weeds. Or not see the forest for the trees. Or wreck your mental health. Or all three.
So anyway, back to the question of whether Gen X has failed, I consulted Google — which, after all, is one of Gen X’s grandest achievements.
Here are the first 10 results, and because it’s not yet Lent, I can read them …
New York Times, “Gen X is a Mess.” This piece actually makes no such case and is just a laundry list of references. Hey! Lisa Bonet!
New York Times, same day, “Actually, Gen X Did Sell Out, Invent All Things Millennial, and Cause Everything Else That’s Great and Awful.” The subhed says we’re responsible for both social justice warriors and capitalist super-soldiers. I can see the case for the former but not the latter. The best part of this, though, is the refutation of the notion that we’re “slackers.”
The Independent, “Don’t blame the boomers, it was Gen X that sat by and let the world crumble.” It’s specifically about British politics, so I might quibble with the notion that we’re responsible for “the world.”
Jezebel, “The Culture Wars Rage on Because of Generation X’s Failure.” Aside from the observation that today’s “woke” debates mirror the “politically correct” debates of the past, this piece is about as useless as you’d expect from the headline.
Arizona Central, “Millennials and Gen Z think they invented ‘OK, boomer’? Wrong. Gen X hated you all first.” Key quote here is pretty good: “Gen X was sold the boomers’ failed utopia throughout our youth but never bought it. Our childhood was infused with the wreckage wrought by hippies and yuppies.”
NBC, “X doesn’t mark the spot: As Millennials and Baby Boomers feud, a generation is left out.” Subhed: “Generation X has largely earned a reputation for being cynical and disconnected politically.” Other than that, there’s very little substance here.
Dissent, an unabashedly socialist publication, “What’s Left of Generation X.” Great point here: “To be Gen X was to be disaffected from the consumer norms of the 1980s, but to be pessimistic about any chance for social transformation. It was to be ironic, skeptical, deflating of pretension and authority, detached from social movements and political parties alike.”
Observer, “OK, Millennials … and Gen X, too.” It’s an apology from a Boomer.
Upworthy, “Gen X is the ‘most stressed’ generation alive but they’re also the best at handling it.” Part of it is that all our parents got divorced.
And finally, from Paper City, “It Took a Global Pandemic, But Generation X is Finally Getting Love.” The idea here is that we’re great at social distancing because we were latchkey kids.
Speaking only for myself, my parents’ separation certainly was a cause of stress, but I think it made me clingy rather than great at social distancing. I grew up to be self-reliant, but I still don’t consider myself to be the best company. I have all sorts of ways to entertain myself at home — musical instruments, piles of books, a universe of video and audio content on which I could binge — but I have not enjoyed the last two years.
And one thing I’ve always felt that became a stronger belief over these horrible couple of years is that civilization depends on a certain amount of cooperation. Otherwise, four-way stops would be a new experience in terror. We’re also seeing a united front against Russia and for Ukraine.
I think a lot of Boomers never got this. We don’t exactly have a demographic breakdown of the truckers trying to shut things down in Canada and DC — because freedom! — but it’s safe to say a lot of them are Boomers, given that the average age of truck drivers is anywhere from 45 on up, depending on what source you read, and some of the most prominent people are quite gray. The average age of the people who sit down in front of cable infotainment channels to reinforce their prejudices is well into the 60s.
So I don’t buy it. Gen X has been the tipping point on gay rights. We value education for ourselves and our kids. We didn’t give Afghanistan to the Taliban. We didn’t put party over country — a trend that seems to have skipped generations from the Boomers in charge to Millennials like Lauren Boebert and Madison Cawthorn. (OK, fine, we have to accept Marjorie Taylor Greene.)
The Boomers grew up thinking they were special. Nothing wrong with that, per se, until they feel like their rights trump yours. Same with the Millennials.
Gen X? We know we’re not that special. And that makes us a little less likely to ruin things.
So to repeat — I’m cutting out my intake of news over Lent. When it’s over, I’ll be able to make a decision on what I’ve missed reading and what I didn’t. In the meantime, the podcast is going to focus on the Gen X cultural glories that I’ve been meaning to explore already, such as how Weird Al managed to get better over his 40-year career and whether we can still watch Animal House or Caddyshack.
Gen X news
Beavis and Butt-Head are back! Again.
We’ll see the middle-aged versions of our favorite Burger World employees in the film Beavis and Butthead Do the Universe on Paramount Plus in July, and there will indeed be a new season along with remastered classic episodes. We’ll see whether they, unlike WKRP and even UFC events, get to keep the music intact. That was one of the fun parts of the show.
Sure, the show has little of the satire that we see in South Park, Family Guy or The Simpsons, nor does it have the family warmth of Bob’s Burgers. But it’s escapist fun at its best.
The Washington Post has not one but two remembrances of Mark Lanegan, who had a peripatetic solo career after his band, Screaming Trees, finally had one too many arguments. Screaming Trees is overlooked compared with some of their Seattle contemporaries, but they had some damn good songs. I think the best is Dying Days, a lament for all of their friends who died too young. It’s a painful irony to add Lanegan to that list, especially after he had done so well to remove himself from his drug problems and even moved all the way to Ireland to change his surroundings.
And finally, Will Leitch writes that we shouldn’t be using generational terminology at all. Instead, we should think in terms of who was president when we were born.
Geez, I’m a Nixon baby. I think I’ll stick with Gen X for now.