by Benn Ray
Among the many shit-storms erupting last week, my favorite has to be the one caused by Joel Stein's Time Magazine cover story on the Millennials (previously Generation Y) - where he goes on to call an entire generation lazy, narcissitic, stunted, etc. Essentially, he did to the new, up and coming generation what previous generations have done to younger generations time and time again.
Well, more specifically, it's what Baby Boomers have been doing to other generations ever since the Greatest Generation pointed out their narcissistic qualities.
The thing I really feel bad about, however, is that the guy who is shitting all over the Millennials is a member of my generation, Generation X. We know better, having spent our entire lives in the shadow of the most narcissitic generation in history, the Baby Boomers. A generation that prides itself on "getting us out of a war" (Vietnam) only to send following generations into bogus and unnecessary wars. A generation that fully takes advantage of social programs like Social Security while telling younger generations they need to get used to the idea of not having those types of programs. A generation that... well, I could go on all day about Baby Boomers, but this isn't about them (no matter how much they like to believe everything is about them).
Stein's argument seems to both confuse the narcissism of youth with the narcissism of a generation and blame the Millennials for the technology they grew up with - just imagine what Boomers would be like if they grew up with access to smart phones, the internet, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
So on behalf of Generation X, I'd like to apologize to the Millennials for the dumbassery of the Time Magazine-sanctioned Joel Stein. We're not all like him, really. And don't take it too seriously. Being slandered in Time is a generational rite of passage. And in a few years, they'll do another cover article about you, taking it all back, saying that maybe they were wrong about the kids and they're not so bad after all (most likely after your generation takes over the editorial staff, that's what we did).
Also, just be happy that they've now stopped calling you "Generation Y." It was way too derivitave of my generation.
I agree with Stephen Colbert's comment at this past weekend's 2013 UVA commencement, "You do not owe the previous generation anything." In fact, we owe you. Well, honestly, the Boomers do. They owe us all.
But reading Stein's article and a lot of the responses to it, I was reminded of a series of articles I wrote for my college newspaper, The Salisbury Flyer, about 20 years ago (actually, it might be exactly 20 years go this month).
This was before the Generation X name had been permanently affixed to my generation. There was a lot of talk in the media about what to call us, but no one was really asking us - it wasn't put up to a vote - it was more like the media was crowd-testing brand names to see which was the most marketable, and I thought that perhaps we should have some say in what those of us born between 1960-1980 were called.
So I present those articles here, just for posterity (and well-deserved mockery).
Note: The articles appeared over serveral weeks in the campus newspaper. They intitially received little response while they were running but resulted in a fair amount of hate mail (which I, unfortantely, neglected to save) after I finished the series. They have been edited from their original format to form a more cohesive whole (and updated where it made sense, with a few corrections and a few minor editorial changes that I couldn't resist making).
Who are we? As a generation, I mean. Yes, it seems that we are developing our own generational characteristics. By "we" I am referring to those of us who were born between the early 1960s - the early 1980s.
Here I will attempt to name and identify our generation, but I need your help. As big as my ego is suggested to be, I can't do it alone. So if you have any suggestions, please mail them to me at The Flyer - let's work together on this one.
First, some general information, then some ideas that occurred to me.
To name and describe a generation, certain generalizations have to be made, but that happens with every generation. For example, my parents were twentysomething in the sixties, yet they weren't the generalized generational hippies that everyone thinks of when someone mentions the 1960s. According to them, they were rambunctious drinkers who liked to play volleyball and race cars.
Okay, so let's generalize. In order to do this, we are looking for certain distinctive qualities that separate us from other generations. So if you are a young, career-oriented student in the Perdue School of Business, some of these qualities may not apply to you. However, other qualities might, so please don't feel left out - all of us contribute in some way.
To get started in the right direction, let's look at the names of other generations and subcultures: hippies, yippies, and yuppies; punks, mods and beaniks; the I, Me and We generations, Baby Boomers; and The Lost Generation. If I have forgotten a few, I apologize. Some of the above mentioned are only loosely generational, but again, this is just to get us started.
An article in a recent issue of Spin magazine referred to us as the "generation-that-would-not-be-named." That's bullshit, we just need a really catchy name.
However, in order to get one, we need to just focus on generalized characteristics that describe us: MTV; grunge, rap and "alternative" music; skateboards and rollerblades; slamdancing and moshing; alcohol and drugs (?); AIDS; raves and Lollapalooza; post-Reagan-era survivors and the unemployed; suburban childhood, divorced parents and dysfunctional families; apathy; environmentalism, nihilism, pessimism, hedonism (?), no communism, and a general sense of impending doom.
Every one of us has had a crush on at least one of the following: Leif Garret, Andy Gibb, Rick Springfield, Sean Sassidy, Kristy McNichol, and/or a Charlie's Angel or a Brady kid.
We all watched The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Soap, Taxi, Barney Miller, M*A*S*H*, Welcome Back Kotter, Mork And Mindy, Friday Night Videos, Saturday Night Live, Good Times, What's Happening, The Jeffersons and The Dukes Of Hazzard.
Our cartoons varied from Scooby Doo (and that's the one without Scrappy), Speed Racer, Smurfs (uugghh), Schoolhouse Rock, Josie And The Pussycats, and the Super Friends (oh, those Wonder Twins' Powers). And if you were a really hip kid, you watched Ultraman.
Hell, remember New Wave music when you were in middle or high school? Bands like Duran Duran, Soft Cell, Human League, Devo, The Cars, Flock of Seagulls, Wang Chung, or Oingo Boingo? Right now everyone seems really keen on having seventies parties, where we all dress up in bell-bottom flairs, polyester shirts, and "get fresh" hats while listening to disco music. Well, in the next few years, all the hip parties will feature New Wave music and encourage people to dress up in parachute pants, Members Only jackets, bi-level haircuts, big combs, and really ugly white high-tops.
Okay, so we missed out on a bunch of really cool and fun stuff like Kent State or Vietnam, and most of us were too young to be much affected by the Kennedy assassination. Although some of us might have been conceived at Woodstock, that was the closest we got to it. We weren't at Altamont, nor did we get to witness Dylan booed for going electric.
But we had our own fun stuff like gas lines, the constant threat of nuclear holocaust, Granada, Panama, and Desert Storm (part 1). We got Live Aid and Lollapalooza. Hell we even got to watch 8 years of Reagan on television (which was often funnier than many of the stand-up comics of that time, with classics like "ketchup is a vegetable," "trees cause pollution," and of course the hilarious, "we begin bombing [Russia] in five minutes."). And how can any of us ever forget the doomed environment that years of gross capitalism and consumerism has left us thanks to preceding generations?
And now, with democracy spreading throughout the world (much like AIDS), our economy is coming to a staggering halt and unemployment is soaring. But then, most of us (remember, generalizing here) don't want the job, the spouse, the kids and 2 car garage in the suburbs with an unavoidable divorce after 10 years and an awkward remarriage to much younger person only to retire in Florida and die of cancer.
Many of us feel that this whole thing is a crock of shit and we don't care about antyhing but partying. And that seems logical since our society is dull, oppressive and dominated by a bunch of assholes. And since this death thing seems pretty unavoidable, why not just rock out 'til the end?
Maybe we are lost. But then, that name has already been taken by another generation. So what do we call ourselves? I've heard Slacker used before (referring to the Linklater film). I thought of Pepsi Generation, simply because someone's bound to succumb to that damn commercial, so it may as well be us. But that's aligning our personality with a product, which might, in years to come, reduce our stature to sell-outs. For this reason, the MTV Generation is ruled out. Besides if the network ever gets canceled, no one will know what our name meant.
The AIDS Generation might jinx us. Then I thought of the Brady Bunch or Speed Racer Generation, but I became alarmed that someone might then suggest the Smurf Generation. I thought a good, tentative, working title would be the Fuck You Generation (it expresses the proper blend of hostility, anger and frustration) but I can't see The Flyer running the headline, "The New Fuck You Generation."
So, the temporary title I've settled on is The Loser Generation (it's a combination of the Slacker and Fuck You labels). Besides, there are only two types of people Losers (that's us) and Peons (everyone else). Actually, as Tom Robbins pointed out in Still Life With Woodpecker, there actually are two types of people in the world, those who think there are two types of people, and those who are smart enough to know better.
As you can imagine, our generational title of Loser might be problematic, so please send me any descriptions and alternative title suggestions for us. This way we can, as a type of inner-campus support group, discover who we are.
In the current issue of Rolling Stone, filmmaker Richard Linklater commented that his biggest irritation was "people trying to name the twenty-something generation. ...we've got to get rid of that need to define and classify everything and get to the point where everybody's just kind of flowing with it and liking whatever comes down without judgment."
It should be noted that Linklater is credited with being responsible for our generation being ascribed the monicker Slackers (after his film), so screw him, he has a pony in this naming race.
If we don't name ourselves, you can sure as hell bet some marketing strategist from Coke or Nike or CBS is going to to do it in order to milk us for the few bucks we may be lucky enough to find in our pockets. Besides, Linklater seems to suggest that we accept everything and just groove with it. But isn't that they type of that landed us in the situation we are currently in: decline?
I say we question everything. That way, "We won't get fooled again." Okay, so that's a line from a song that is definitely not from our generation, but hey, let's pick up wisdom anywhere we can.
Wasn't it this attitude of just accepting whatever that enabled things like the Love Canal, the most explosive selling car - The Pinto, Three Mile Island and the Cuyahoga River (the body of water in Ohio so polluted it caught on fire, several times).
So with the knowledge that our actions might be pissing off some over-hyped, cult film director, let's get down to business.
Apathy appears to be the key word when describing our generation. It seems the only way to get people to respond to this column is to write a tongue-in-cheek criticism of gangsta rap or commenting on the rape of counter-culture.
With the exception of an editorial from JJ (word-o-matic) Barkett, which claims he had written a letter dealing with the same subject weeks before and it was never published, I didn't get much help here.
The only other letter was from a nameless source who took offense at the title of "Loser Generation." This letter went on to add some interesting points, "a national mega-debt, depletion of our environment, increasing economical stress on the American family (resulting in the destruction of the family unit, increased crime rate, teenage pregnancy and homelessness)."
Man, with all this weight coming down on our heads, it's no wonder that so many of us are alcoholics. Generations before us turned to pot, LSD, and/or cocaine, and while pot is a staple in most people's diets (some look at it the same way most look at beer), and 48 Hours said that LSD use is on the rise, and crack is the virus that infects most of our urban areas, alcohol seems to be our most generally abused substance.
This person continued by blaming previous generations for these problems, and the title that was suggested was the Responsible Generation. This title seems fairly appropriate. However, Loser Generation would also refer to the fact that we are losers for being placed in the position of cleaning up everyone else's mess. Also, Responsible has optimistic connotations, like we will actually fix things, which is highly improbable.
I took it to the streets and asked SU student Jason Danner what he thought about this generational thing. He hoped for a new American Renaissance. He said, "people are more interested in doing things that will make them happy instead of doing things to make them money because there's none of it around." Ah poverty, more and more of us are living in it every year.
So let's get to this naming thing. Another title that was suggested, by SU alumnus Steve Messick, was the New Power Generation. But since this is the name of Prince's band, he probably already has it copyrighted.
We should still look to some other characteristics and general events of our generation (or anything that may be dormant in our psyche) to see if we can come up with a better name.
A few good times we all enjoyed together: the Challenger Space Shuttle, Rodney King and the L.A. Party, Exxon meets Alaska, Waco TX (Koresh - what a wacky guy), Bosnia - what happens when Crustaceans try to live with Serfs (or is that Croations and Serbs?), the hostages (pick a group), general terrorism (adds a little excitement to the everyday), toxic waste and landfills, and Elvis popping up every now and then just to mess with people.
Some other general points of concern: abortions (yes, Pro-Choicers advocate that everyone should get one, it's supposed to do wonders for the digestive system), global warming (hell, if it gives us warm weather and more beach areas, maybe it's not such a bad thing?), vegetarianism (love the cows, hate the plants), down on smoking (if second hand smoke is worse, shouldn't everyone just smoke since the first hand smoke is healthier?), increasing awareness and, hopefully, acceptance of gays and lesbians, body piercings and tattoos, and New Age (silly crystals and boring music).
On television, Letterman and Arsenio are hot while Carson is dead. The three major networks that our parents grew up with are getting their ass kicked by a new network - Fox. While shows like Ed Sullivan and Carol Burnett and Cosby were the norm, we have replaced these with The Simpsons and In Living Color (sending the Cos off to play a gameshow host).
Our parents, who grew up listening to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors and The Who, brought us up in a childhood filled with the sweet sounds of The Carpenters, Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand, Barry Mannilow, Tony Orlando And Dawn and Captain and Tennille. So when we were actually able to buy our own records, we liked The New Kids On The Block, Debbie Gibson, Menudo, and The Bay City Rollers. Some of us were cool enough to dig KISS, but how many of us bought the New York Dolls, The Stooges or even The Sex Pistols at the time? They made us like Donnie and Marie and Sonny and Cher. It wasn't our fault, right?
So where does that leave us? What name can properly express the nuances of our collective personality? Well, I still think the Loser Generation is the best title so far. So please write me at the Flyer if you have any suggestions.
Okay, I'm sick of this naming our generation thing. Judging by the lack of response from you, I can tell that you are also. So this article will finish it up.
With graduation looming over our heads like the threat of global nuclear holocaust, I thought a lot about where we (again, generalized and possibly unique characteristics) want to go. A couple things might reinforce the apathy, dislocation and estrangement we feel from our society.
Shonen Knife summed it up best, "I don't wanna work a boring job / I just wanna play all day" (notice the echoes of Todd Rundgren's "I don't wanna work / I just wanna bang on the drum all day" here).
However, two-dimensional punk rockers Superchunk also have something to add, "I'm workin' / but I'm not workin' for you / you slack mutherfucker." So those of us with the "God, what the hell will I do now," attitude, don't feel alone. None of us really want to enter the workforce anyway.
And if you are especially worried, almost to the point of an anxiety attack, listen to the new Paw record, they announce what many of us, on some level, might feel, "Someone call the doctor / I'm dying, as you all know."
So with all this in mind, let's wrap up who we are so we can get on to more important things like pre-graduation/end-of-the-semester keg parties.
We spent our formative years watching John Hughes movies (Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink, Weird Science, etc.). We grew up feeling isolated from the Polo cologne-smelling, Docksider-wearing and moussed hair-do popular kids.
At the time, were were probably longing for the days of playing Cootie, Mouse Trap, Chutes and Ladders, Leggos, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, Lite-Brite, Spin Art, Knit Magic, Matchbox cars, GI Joes (the real ones that were twelve inches tall), Stretch Armstrong and Stretch Monster (what was that jelly goop anyway?) and Barbies.
You probably remember cruising by that saucy little 5-year-old on her Sit-and-Spin while you were looking like a stud on your Big Wheel. To impress her you might have tried an Evel Knievel stunt.
Our Saturday nights were spent watching The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, and getting excited by The Six Million Dollar Man previews for Sunday night. Those days were quickly replaced. Now, years later, we are left with bitterness, anger and hostility. So much so that apathy seems to be the only release: the attitude of, "Oh, screw it. It ain't my problem anyway. Hey, pass me another brew."
So let's get this over with. A committee was formed at Market Street Inn a few nights ago to finish this off. It consisted of SU students and alumni: Steve Ashby, Jill Combs, Steve Messick, Jimmy Rapp, John Venable and Stacey Wachter. Although my preference remains The Loser Generation, here is what we came up with. You can pick one of these or just develop your own name.
The Pong Generation (but most only remember as far back as Atari) and the loosely related I Can't Talk To Girls But I Have A Nintendo Generation both contain the video game aspect of our group (how many of us spent over $20 on tokens in one night in an arcade?).
The I'm Too Old To Play Dungeons And Dragons So Now I Drink My Sorrows Away Generation seems to be very similar to the Case Of Beer And The Entertainment Channel Generation.
The committee broke into factions, arguing between the Pass The Buck Generation and the Where's The Buck Generation. We compromised on The Too Lazy To Try/Too Big Of A Task Generation.
Due to the unfortunate popularity of classic rock with our generation (and the fact that you can't hurl a hacky-sack without hitting a Deadhead or hippie), this spawned the title Retro-Confusion Generation. This led to the more hostile and possibly more accurate title of We Have No Defining Qualities Of Our Own So We Rape Other Generations Generation. Since this contradicts everything I've been trying to do with this article, I would suggest ignoring this as a possible title. I don't want to feel that I've spent the last three weeks wasting time.
Childhood sayings entered into the title arena: the I Know You Are But What Am I Generation, the Up Your Nose With A Rubber Hose Twice As Far With A Candy Bar Generation, and the Your Momma Generation. Someone in the committee, who obviously had a troubled childhood, suggested the I'm Screwing This Cat You're Just Holding It Generation.
Other closely related titles include The I Lost It When I Was 16 Generation and The Where Did I Put That Condom Generation.
The I'm Driving Because I'm Too Drunk To Walk Generation was suggested, but some might feel it would look like we advocate drinking and driving, which we don't (it's just that most of our generation does it). This rationale also ruled out The Date Rape Generation. We think it's a hideous crime that plagues our generation, but who wants to be associated with anything as terrible as that?
One Loser chimed in, "Hey, how about the I'm Too Silly For A Date Generation." No one wanted to accept that, it might just lead us back to the I Can't Talk To Girls But I Have A Nintendo Generation.
All of these labels, as catchy as they are, are just too lengthy to stick. Here are some of the shorter titles that were mentioned: The Oat Bran And Fiber Generation (but that might suggest we are full of shit), The Hemingway Generation (a positive role model for any male child), The Oodles of Noodles Generation (we have all lived off them at some point, some of us have even become gourmet chefs skilled in the art of making them), What's Vinyl Generation (a reference to the disappearance of records, but then 8-tracks vanished and nobody cared about them, did they?), The Weekend With Wayne Generation (makes no sense to me either), and the Masturbation Generation (perhaps it's just a shorter version of the Too Silly For A Date Generation).
The most appropriate ones are The Flounder Generation, The Why Me? Generation, and the D-Generation (read as "degeneration"). These are short, quick and to the point.
So that's it. Frankly, I'm sick of us. Pick your own name or let someone else do it for you, I'm over it. Hell, remain The Generation That Would Not Be Named for all I care. We'll always be Losers to me.