GenerationX-Men

1659484_origDo you remember when there used to be lots of references to Generation X? Then you’re probably a GenXer. Douglas Coupland, Reality Bites, the whole slacker stereotype was across the cultural domain, poised at the edge of a generational battle with the Boomers.

The way I remember it, we would soon be taking over and instilling society with our values. Whatever happened to that? All I read about these days is the never-ending discussion between GenY and the Boomers. It’s as if GenX never existed. You might note that a significant percentage of the GenY vs Boomers discussion is work-related, usually with GenY telling us what they need in a workplace, and the Boomers quipping in reply, “GenY employ them.”

Indeed, the issue of work may have something significant to tell us about the disappearance of GenX, and the construction of a certain type of archetypal GenX masculinity. Of course, there is no archetypal GenX masculinity, but bear with me while I entertain a few generational clichés. In short, mature Boomer masculinity (as opposed to its free-wheeling early years) is largely defined by work, whereas GenX masculinity is not. Remember Ethan Hawke in Reality Bites? Clever but annoying, oddly effeminate yet sexually predatory, and certainly dismissive of Winona’s efforts to secure ongoing employment. That’s the stereotype of GenX masculinity.

But what happened to that stereotype as it matured into manhood? Contrary to the Ethan Hawke story recently reprized in Before Midnight, most of us did not write books and enjoy a trans-Atlantic lifestyle of existential angst (and, damn it, those of us who did manage to write books probably didn’t write successful ones). Rather, we reluctantly embarked upon a work trajectory while simultaneously resenting work values and finding it all rather beneath us. (Forgive me if that wasn’t your experience, but I’m willing to bet there are enough people who share it to warrant the point).

Then, when we did not play the game of work, we became rather put out to discover that work had no desire to reward us with positions of power, but it is willing to at least acknowledge the existence of GenY who seem to oscillate between the poles of being unemployed-but-really-wanting-work, or entrepreneurs with millions in start-up venture capital. And so Boomers and GenY lock horns, but nevertheless understand one another due to their mutual centralization of that classic masculine signifier of work. GenX masculinity, on the other hand, is quietly erased from everywhere but a few sketches in Portlandia.

But here’s where I want to shift into manifesto mode. Because like all good GenXers I paint on a broad canvas, and despite all the superficial skepticism, I am at heart a hopeless optimist. I believe GenX has yet to have its time, and here’s how I hope it’s going to pan out.

GenX values will soon be viewed via a lens of sustainability. All that being dismissive of work, houses and cars was paradoxically not about slackerdom but proactivity. By rejecting consumer and corporate culture, GenX was, perhaps unwittingly, nurturing a set of lived values that would evolve into what we now understand in mainstream society as social, economic and environmental sustainability. The flow-on effect for masculinity is that it is no longer defined purely by work and possessions, rather a whole spectrum of alternative sustainable values.

The point, then, is not that GenX has been overlooked in receiving the baton of power from the Boomers: GenX has chosen not to receive the baton of power, opting instead to explore a different way of being and constructing identity. As Gen X embarks upon what Jung described as “the afternoon of life” we can expect to see many of those empty-day thinking exercises of youth begin to manifest in real life acts of subversion, mutuality and generativity. As society unravels from social, economic and environmental mismanagement we might just be lucky enough to be passed into a safer pair of hands. Of course, GenX has to stand up and play its part, but it’s a role it has coveted for years.

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  • Liam_McGonagle

    Our brand was sarcasm and self-conscious irony.

    Pretty hard to be a sarcastic and self-consciously ironic parent and homeowner.

    The American dream claims another 82.1 million victims.

    • fr0thing

      Umm I’m an ironic parent and homeowner. It can be done!

  • Ted Heistman

    I think we pussed out. Not self righteous enough, probably.

    • Rob Lai

      Yeah, when nothing’s all that important its hard to find much of a reason to fight for anything.

    • The Well Dressed Man

      That’s part of it. I think it has more to do with being vastly outnumbered by boomers and millennials, as well as our adult lives being bookended by grinding recessions.

      • Ted Heistman

        Yeah, my impression of baby boomers though is that they were always really narcissistic about how awesome they were. “talking ’bout my GENeration!” I was always like “How about shutting the fuck up about your generation for once?” Anyway, the degree in which they were pwned by Henry Kissinger’s generation wasn’t lost on me. I also think many people my age observed that “Yeah, grandma and Grandpa may have been too strict with you but at least they have their shit together!”

        Generation Y seems more ballsy though than x. I am kind of excited about them actually.

    • fr0thing

      We didn’t puss out – we aren’t narcissists – and that is a good thing!

  • Anarchy Pony

    It was like the sixties, everybody became a bunch of button down yuppies.

  • emperorreagan

    I’m still good for a subversive act every now and then. I don’t need to wait for the afternoon of life!

  • Thad McKraken

    Fascinating. You know what happened? Media Deregulation. That whole, “critical thinking in popular music” was replaced by wealth worship. Remember how things shifted from bands like Soundgarden to Limp Bizkit? What’s the difference there? Well, it’s the difference between being angry about something and being angry about nothing. Then bling hop took over. Do you really think that pushing hyper materialistic/mysogyny on the poor was an accident? Media deregulation was in fact a thing that happened, that no one talks about, because it would require people in the media talking about it.

    Funniest thing about Reality Bites (and I only have a comment on this because I watched it again a few years ago). The whole movie was about struggling with the concept of selling out. Seriously, people thought about that in the 90’s. A mere 20 years later and the concept of selling out isn’t even a thing. It’s just, what you OBVIOUSLY do. You sell your shit to corporations or you starve. Most bands don’t bat a fucking eye at selling their songs for commercials. That’s success now.

    One more thing, generation X is literally half the size as generation Y.

    • Kropotkin1936

      As a member of the Gen Y demographic, I disagree on the concept of “selling out.” For the boomers and for Gen X, selling out was a possibility. You had your youthful rebellion, than you grew up and got a corporate job. But for the vast majority of Gen Y, selling out is not really an option. The economy is collapsing. There are simply not enough jobs. There are millions and millions of twenty-somethings in America and across the globe with advanced degrees and unpayable debt who cannot land a temp job at Target. As an anarchist, and as someone who never wants to work in the corporate economy again, I think this is potentially a good thing. I would also say that my generation is reversing the smug cynicism and sarcasm of Gen X, which in many ways ultimately came from the privilege of living in a stable world at “the end of history”. We have no such privilege, for us it’s global revolution or global collapse, and probably both…

      • Rhoid Rager

        Agree. All is gained as it’s lost. ;)

      • Xenkenito Smittian

        All this talk about generation this and generation that is totally irresponsible and ignorant.
        Some Y’s are characteristically identical to Gen X. Some Gen X and Gen Y
        are characteristically identical to boomers. The cynicism and sarcasm
        is old….look at George Carlin.
        It didn’t just emerge from a
        particular generation. LOL It emerged from hundreds of years of human
        hypocrisy and the constant ironic condition of humanity. Trying to
        categorize people by the frame of times they were born is just silly if
        you ask me. I was born 1983. All my favorite music minus a few was
        created before I was born. I do believe that society as it is…..is
        hopeless. Its just utterly a failure. Every generation has failed to
        create a fair and just society. This most recent generation where
        Zuckerberg is made into a billionaire “man of the year” for selling your
        private information to corporations, while Assange is hunted like bin
        laden for sharing corporate information to the public for free. For
        being an investigative journalist he is made to be a terrorist. See the
        value problem here is not from any one generation. It is very old. There
        are only 2 types of people. There are white magicians and black
        magicians (not racially, just color to symbolize the meaning) the white
        wizard wants to brings you up to his level and make you as able as he,
        he wants to manifest decentralization of power (example: Assange, our
        founding fathers) the black magician wants to suppress and stump you,
        keep you out of his playing field, he wants to manifest the
        centralization of power (example: Zuckerberg, the current leaders of US,
        aka Nazi’s).

        • elvister crowley

          You forgot the Red Magicians.

      • elvister crowley

        The world has never been stable. It’s always been possible to earn a living without selling out, by selling out I mean going against your code of ethics to make money. Do you honestly think an entire generation before you was spoiled and you have it so much worse? I’m sorry but that’s wrong. The world was screwed up then just as now. I was lucky if I got to eat a microwaved hot pocket at the end of the day. However I’m not trying to bash your generation, I work beside them everyday and we get along fine, no need for generational conflicts.

      • Scott Drury

        You do realise gen x also entered the work force during massive youth unemployment. At least you had family behind you at every turn. Something many gen x never had.

  • festacles

    i used to be proud of my work ethic(20 yrs cook). now it is obvious i was a real sucker, the harder you work the less $$$ you make here in america. my real problem is my loathing of “ambition”(fork-tongued backstabbery). live free or die

    • Xenkenito Smittian

      Darkness at the break of noon
      Shadows even the silver spoon
      The hand made blade the child’s balloon
      To understand you know to soon

      There is no sense in trying. – Bob Dylan

      isn’t Dylan a “boomer”? Wasn’t there a whole “beat” generation. That had slacker values way before gen X. Hmmm. The above article may have an agenda. Didn’t Woody Guthrie write “This machine kills Fascists” on his acoustic guitar? Wasn’t that way before the 60s.

    • fr0thing

      No way. You have much to be proud of. You are a pillar of a stable society and that counts for a lot. Watch what happens when people don’t work anymore in 3… 2… 1…

  • Dan Muench

    Here’s a point no one likes to point out: our ‘ascetic’ doing-without was more forced than chosen. I was born right between the times when Lennon got assassinated and Reagan got elected. Funny thing about that period of time: not only was it the transition point between ‘The 70’s’ and ‘The 80’s’ (cultural epochs, not mathematically, I know what New Year is, thanks), but when punk’s and hip hop’s seeds were first blooming, the transition from the ‘fuck me’ 70’s to the ‘oh fuck it’s AIDS’ 80’s, about exactly when the Boomers hit their afternoon period and traded in the Beetle for a BMW.

    It’s also about the last time the work force in this country received any kind of meaningful on average wage increase. Literally my entire life, inflation has marched on, but wages have not. The ‘$11/hour minimum wage movement’ isn’t even close to enough; back in 2004 the 1968 minimum wage, adjusted to then-current inflation, was 13.85 an hour or so. What would that be now? 15 an hour? More? But even skilled, experienced labor is lucky to crest 10 bucks an hour right now.

    So where was the revolution supposed to come from? The Boomers are still around, and they still run – and own – all the shit. All of the wannabe freak/radical/”hippie” scene is still choked to death by folks that, when I was in diapers, would have been seen as old and in the way by not only young punkers but their own standards out of their own mouths circa whenever they were relevant. Most of those old hippies, by the way, are predatory assholes and/or completely gone, uncritical, ‘we all just gotta be positive, mannnnn’ types who are usually just passive aggressive and not ‘positive’ at all.

    Not to mention, as a generation, we were the ones getting the cheap ass loans on cars and houses and then getting the equity loans on that property – probably because it was the only way to keep up with the lifestyle we grew up having. Think about how a new XBox 360 or PS3 game still costs the same 50 bucks it did back in the 1980’s – when gas was under a dollar, stamps were under a quarter, etc. That 50 bucks was real money then, probably closer to a hundred in today’s value. No problem, pay it. Gas? Yeah, a new Corolla is ok but why spend thousands on a car to save gas when the Nova is paid off and is reliable?

    Now we wring all the value out of every cent, because we have to. That’s why all the manufacturing was moved overseas – to keep prices roughly the same as they had been, because otherwise we’d be hip to the fact that we’re not making ANYTHING even if we ‘have a good job’ haha lol love your optimism as you’re probably barely above the poverty line, which means you’re basically ‘poor but keeping ahead of the steam-roller’.

    And what are they selling us for so cheap? Smart phones, for one – a fucking MacBook is over a grand, but a phone with similar processing power, nearly all the same features, shrunk down to like 10% of the size and weight, AND has to also function as a modern cell phone as well, is 600? I’m homeless at the moment, so I know/recognize many of the local homeless wherever I go – we all got laptops, MP3 players, shit like that.

    We barely can figure out that we’re broke even if we’re working, and we’re constantly stimulated so we can’t focus and concentrate on anything – our ‘window to the world’ happens to also be where we play our video games and masturbate and waste time pretending we’re spreading information on Facebook like all the other super-concerned suckers with their burning issues.

    There’s a great little essay on the esoteric aspects of 2001: A Space Odyssey, deemed by some to be the most ‘initiatory’ film ever made, and I remember one detail about it crystal clear: the ‘monolith’ is the very same proportion as the ‘widescreen’ format from the 60’s that it was designed to be viewed upon.

    What does every smartphone remind me of, now, every flat screen on the wall (aside from 1984, of course)? Pocket monolith – now you can take it with you, and will be completely absorbed by irrelevant bullshit like getting into internet shitfits on You Tube videos and keeping up on the very culture we say we abhor, because, we don’t own a TV! Hah! We own something every ONE of use knows is more addictive, enveloping, and harmful than a simple, passive TV ever could – even when we’re conscious of it, we’re deluded into thinking screeds like the VERY ONE I’M TYPING NOW will do one damn THING to wake anyone up or improve any goddamn thing at all. But ‘I’m doing my part, what I can from where I can,’ right?

    Golden example is the argument over at the Jan Irving “McKenna outed as an agent” article, where – while Disney and Miley and Jay Z and all that mainstream culture is created for simpletons who can’t tell they’re being fooled – we, the oh-so informed enlightened, our guys, MUST be white hats – because we say so, we like Frank Zappa and Ken Kesey and even latter day bands like Tool, which, of course, couldn’t be promoted on MTV at the same time and even back to back with Marilyn Manson, who most would view as ‘negative programming/propaganda’.

    Leo Tolstoy considered the printing press a supreme machine for disseminating ignorance – how much more the Internet? The one, you know, that was created by ‘them’, ‘they’ who also own all the media we see, own all the printing presses BRINGING US the weird, fortean, etc, because even when the ‘truth’ is in print, you still have to have the eyes to see it. And where will you find it, save by sheer luck, aka the very grace of whatever you might think of as ‘God’? Buried amongst one ignorant opinion after the next, one hopeful bunch of bullshit that wasn’t thought through after another, until you read the whole spiel put down by some random commenter on a site called Disinformation, completely oblivious as to the ‘Tools’ being used on you, right in your face, calling themselves by name, surely as the writer of this very note is either a programmed idiot, or a knowing charlatan…

    • atlanticus

      Awesome, but you could get by with a dumb phone. I do.

      • Anarchy Pony

        I heard that.

      • The Well Dressed Man

        I’m about to go back to dumbphones myself

        • Rhoid Rager

          I don’t have a cell phone. Haven’t had one for about two years now. Felt good to drop the leash. My Interwebs connection ‘sucks’ too. I am limited to 7 gig a month by my provider. It let’s me spend time with my kids when I’m not working my ass off to start over after having had the fucking bank steal my homestead from right underneath me.

      • godozo

        If it weren’t for my job (the Map Apps are necessary for my work), I would consider going all the way to NO cell phone.

    • Adam’s Shadow

      I don’t have a smartphone either; I don’t even like having a cell phone, but (surprise!) I had to get one for my fucking job. They (smart phones) are fascinating inventions, almost like the precursor to a Star Trek tricorder, but at their heart, I still see them as toys.

  • fl1014

    The impact / results of generation X felt all around us today! Give credit where credit is due … treating them as if they did not exist or was not influencing the world is just misleading … maybe, people don’t like to admit results/ reactions for what is going on belongs greatly to them …… ……..

  • Kropotkin1936

    why does my stuff not show up? Not sure what I’m saying thats particularly offensive…

    • Rhoid Rager

      You might need more screen time on here. Try asking Matt Staggs about it.

      • Matt Staggs

        Disqus can be damned picky. I’ll try to keep an eye on it.

  • godozo

    Sad thing is, I saw this developing in the EIGHTIES, before they came up with the Generation X (as X out?) stuff. And even then I always thought the boomers would ally with the younger people (“Gen Y” or “Millennials”) when the time came.

  • fr0thing

    GenX built and sustains the Internet. Nuff said. Generation Y is too lazy and stupid to even know how it works.

  • coatswg

    You are spot on when it comes to the ‘work’ characteristic across the generations. Boomers and millennials have a mutual value for work. Gen Xrs seem to mock anything boomers value, particularly work.

    There is another characteristic amongst the 3 groups that reveals their differences. It reveals itself as a phenomena that is amazingly predictable: Put 100 people in a room ages 20 to 60, The boomers and millennials (GenYrs) get along very well and even enjoy each other’s company. The Gen Xrs will always stick to themselves never truly enjoying each other or anything for that matter. Boomers enjoy millennials for millennials show proper respect for boomers and boomers admire the future in millennials. Gen Xrs are mostly difficult employees and even dangerous in positions of authority. They seem to respect nobody.

    Boomers and millennials value work and respect. Gen Xrs value…friends and designer jeans?

    Oh, and there is another phenomena that is 100% predictable: Gen Xrs will mock a boomer given half a chance. I’m a boomer.

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