Back in 2012 I completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Communications at the Auckland University of Technology (sounds cool right?) Towards the end of my Post Grad I chose a paper titled ‘Celebrity Culture’ and my favorite assignment in my academic history was labelled “The Question of Authenticity in Modern Rock Music”. It focused mostly on the world of Grunge, Alternative Rock and Britpop in the 1990s, one which existed within the age demographic known as Generation X. Whilst I was doing my research on Generation X I found a variety of timeframes within which the generation was pigeonholed.
Renowned demographers William Straus and Neil Howe categorized Gen X as children born between 1961-1981, while research behemoths Gallup and many authors of the day labelled it as betwixt 1965-1979, with others scratching into 1980. This also applied to defining the boundaries of the Millennial generation, where 1982 or 1984 are used as a common starting point.
How I personally fit into all of this is that I was born in Dallas, Texas, 1981, and from all the research I was doing I found myself in the middle of an ambiguous generational gap. Am I in Gen X or Gen Y? Am I in the generation who people complain about most or am I lumped into the group that are largely ignored in public discussion? As I went through the characteristics and backgrounds to Generation X I found myself identifying more and more with what it is, what it went through, and where it fits between the generations that are hogging the headlines.
Millennials are maligned as being obsessed with technology and mobiles and selfies and thinking they’re special. A respected Millennial is one who is self-aware, confident, and dedicated to some noble cause on Facebook. But in my Gen X youth the more you didn’t give a crap about something the cooler you became. Movies such as Slacker, Dazed and Confused (both set in Austin) and Clerks portrayed an element of ambivalence in relation to the overworking, overly corporate world their Baby Boomer parents were dealing with.
The divorce rate for the parents of Gen X was one of the highest ever recorded and the overtime hours both parents spent at their places of employment seemed to always increase. There was a sense in Gen X of just getting by, not aiming for some lofty achievement; because who could be bothered when they saw their parents do it and it looked rather hollow. You can even look at Friends where the least of their thoughts appeared to be on their careers or the corporate world. Nobody knew what the heck Chandler did or how Monica and Rachel afforded that penthouse apartment. They might have grown up as ‘Latchkey Kids’, where they had to look after themselves while they waited for their parents to eventually leave the office. My family in New Zealand were fantastic at bringing me up in a loving and balanced family; my Dad worked hard but he still came home at a decent hour to bowl [think pitching in baseball] to his boys outside. But the cultural sense I got from the white middle to upper-class kids of America was one of disengagement and cynicism to the world around it.
I suppose what I’m getting at is Gen X is a bit like the middle child. We’re loved because we’re family, but most of the attention is focused on the older or younger. Being the oldest in the family usually means you’re the guinea pig for parenthood, and subsequently deal with a stricter (but loving) regime as your parents learn how to raise a responsible child. The youngest is when your parents have a better idea of how to look after a kid and to your eldest sibling they’re (initially) having a pretty easy life. But the middle child can be unconsciously ignored being the conduit between the two (and usually the least represented in photo albums).
Like the Pew Research article says, statistically Gen X is seen to be more of a conservative/liberal mix in its thinking. And I think it’s because, once again, we exist in the middle. Boomers are generally very conservative as they claim to be protecting assets they’ve worked so hard for, and Millennials have grown up in a world of great social change and free media but you’ll face online persecution if you don’t show them mercy. And I’ve witnessed that. Facebook and Twitter shows your generation quite well. The Boomers share posts and videos about how Millennials are spoiled and flushing the world down a toilet, and Millennials relay how Boomers are an oppressive and selfish tyranny that needs to be challenged. Gen X? That all makes us sigh and instead post up video clips of our childhood cartoons before putting our sheltered kids to bed.
And I think this occurs because we didn’t stand for much. We just wanted to survive. We’re more individualistic and self-reliant because we didn’t trust anyone to help us out to begin with. We couldn’t see the mountain for the trees so we just sweated it out chopping at those trees. I had literally sat 100 exams when I finished high school, and most of my peers would agree we were taught to just knuckle down and then get the heck out. No ‘Merit’ or ‘Not Achieved’. It was pass this mark or perish.
In my last year of high school, I remember my marks plummeting and one day my concerned dean called me into his office. He asked me what I wanted to do when I finished the year, and I shrugged my shoulders and said “I dunno sir”. I guess 5 years of annually grinding through 20 exams made me disengaged and cynical about life. He was such a great dean because he cared about his students, and told me he valued my history essays and I would do well at a Bachelor of Arts in History. I took his advice, worked hard to get the entry marks and then went through studies that changed my life. I felt emotional writing this because he sincerely brought me out of a scholarly depression. Thank you Mr Villar.
Another thing I relate to with Gen X is how it was bang in the middle of some of the biggest technological advances the world has ever seen. The internet. Mobile phones. DVDs. Mp3s. Social Media. These didn’t exist to me in my youth, but as I grew up these significant developments occurred around me. When did I first use the internet? When I was seventeen. Buy my first cellphone? When I was Twenty Freakin’ Two. The fact that I still refer to it as a ‘cellphone’ gives things away.
When I’ve told this to the younger end of the Millennial spectrum they look at me in horror. They don’t expect their parents to have had them, but that I lived in such a tech transition is difficult to imagine. Using the slow-as-frick internet would cost $8 an hour when my family first plugged in. But I didn’t think about these drawbacks because I was simply in awe (and didn’t have to pay the bill).
The advantage was that despite the rapid changes in technology over the years we’ve still been able to keep up. You’d be hard pressed to find someone from 35-50 who isn’t confident in using a smartphone or tablet; as it’s Gen Xers that helped develop the things in the first place. Wanna blame someone for Millennials living inside their devices? You can blame Gen X.
As someone who just slides into Gen X what can I complain about? Am I jealous of not being in news articles about how everyone hates me? While I read about characteristics of a Gen Xer and say “that’s me” at the same time I know Gen Xers can scoff at me wanting to identify; because I’m basically the little brother that wants to be in my big brother’s gang. And in-light of the modern issues Millennials face, they’re justified in saying I can’t ignore them just because I consider myself too old and ignored to relate. As fellow blogger Edward Sheridan says in his own Gen X article: “…millennials seem to be facing the exact opposite problem Gen X’ers faced. One generation didn’t seem to have many expectations of any kind placed upon it; the other seems to be expected to save the world tomorrow.”
Like I’ve said, I’m in a generational weird spot, but as my older and younger siblings argue away I’m going to walk to my car, push in my ‘Weezer – Blue Album’ CD and drive to my mate’s place to laugh at some cartoon themes on YouTube. And hey, we invented it.