The Culture Wars Rage on Because of Generation X's Failure
February 23, 2021 2:45 PM   Subscribe

We are in a temporal loop. George Santayana’s 1905 observation that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” remains (ironically?) indelible, but it isn’t even the half of it.

If you want a sense of how far we haven’t come, revisit the PC debates of the early ‘90s. Names may have changed but the story is still the same. Consider the following quotes:

“McCarthyism of the Left makes open debate irrelevant.”

“People are afraid to speak out because they know they will be abused. They’re walking on eggshells.”

“The saved…are good no matter what they do; racial minorities, for instance, are, by definition, incapable of racism. The damned — the white male ‘oppressors’… — are evil, even when they teach or act politically in favor of the oppressed.”

Though the PC wars were only tangentially related to Generation X discourse insofar as they were concurrent and figuring out inclusiveness was the youth’s problem to deal with, it is nonetheless useful to revisit the discussions on Generation X for what they tell us about the culture of young people in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
posted by waving (103 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's not just PC debates .. it's everything. For example, Kavanagh and the drama of his confirmation is basically Thomas 2.0. I mean, with exception of LGBT stuff and BLM it feels we've been circling the drain over the same cultural war stuff for nearly 40 years. This is by design, I suspect, and it ain't any one particular generation's fault.
posted by flamk at 3:02 PM on February 23 [49 favorites]


"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it without a sense of ironic futility."

~Errol Morris
posted by sockpup at 3:11 PM on February 23 [22 favorites]


When avocados go extinct, what will replace them on toast?
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 3:19 PM on February 23 [5 favorites]


the headline editor at Jezebel sure knows what they're doing
posted by elkevelvet at 3:27 PM on February 23 [21 favorites]


So back in '93 .... My sister was in her second year of college and she came home with a tape from a local college band that I wish I could remember the name of... because well... this. The opening of their easily best song went like this:

There seems to be a problem with society today.
People aren't watching out for every word they say.
The problems of this nation could be simply solved - we bet
If everyone would learn to be politically correct!


Gen-X didn't have a successful culture. We were beat down by boomers and just trying to get shitty jobs at that point. We were cause heads, just trying to have some corner of cultural relevance because we had a minor knock in the recession and a skill mismatch for the careers that were starting to form. And we've had to listen silently to the boomers while we wait for them to get to the age where they die off.

Do people think that the central mass of political and social change is brought mainstream by people in their 20s and 30s? No. It isn't. It never has been. That's where the change is driven from. But that's the age of historically low voter turn out. That's the age of youth, idealism and no follow through, and being able to fail at your dreams with minimal consequence. Do you know why movements are successful right now? Because Gen-X has been WAITING for someone with a loud enough voice that they can get behind. Because the boomers wanted no part of a counter-culture that wasn't theirs. For those that toughed it out, Gen-X has bolstered the ranks of progressives. But yeah - we've also lost a bunch to the fucking stupidity of being beat down by boomers resistant to change and the treatment by them of us as weeds. It sucks to follow a large societal mass of people... because they seem to think that their causes were enough and that all progress should have stopped with them.

In our 20s we told them they were wrong... and they've made sure to hold us to the yokes of societal hierarchy - not retiring, maintaining their own status quo and failing to learn the basics of using anything besides an iPhone. You - you have no idea how painful it was in the 1990s to try to help someone older use a computer. Holy. Painful.

So yeah. We failed. You want to blame us for not trying? Go right on ahead. We're used to the societal blame from the boomers. Its nothing new. But, if you really want to make a change as a millennial - remember the lessons of the Boomers, and treat Gen-Z and their ideals with more respect than they treated Gen-X with.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:27 PM on February 23 [115 favorites]


It's unsurprising how often the complaints about "McCarthyism" and "Political Correctness" and "Cancel Culture" boil down to people who do not want to be told they're wrong.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:31 PM on February 23 [53 favorites]


Weren't most Gen Xers teenagers or barely in their 20s around this time? I'm not sure how much can really be expected of people just trying to pass algebra II.

Millennials are well into their 30s now. Is is too early to say they've failed to set the world right, too?

Or maybe we're all (including Boomers) still working on it and generational blaming, shaming and generalizing is still incredibly fucking dumb?
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 3:33 PM on February 23 [66 favorites]


Popularly, “politically correct” was often used in the 1990s the way people use “virtue signaling” today.

Just going to take this opportunity to drop my take on "virtue signaling":

Virtue signaling is a good thing.

Sure, it's also good if people ask themselves how well they're doing on embodying the virtue they're signaling support for, which is why pretty much every religious faith worth a damn (or a save, I suppose) asks people to practice introspection about the distance between their behavior and ideals.

But it remains good for people to talk about what they think is good and what is not good. And even people who aren't super good at what they think is good might do good by speaking up on behalf of good.

If you think we should have a better public-funded mental health system but haven't dedicated your whole life or even your last paycheck to mental health, I think it's OK to stand up and say so. If you think people shouldn't be executed by the police but haven't gone to a protest, it's still good to say so. If you think someone should feed the hungry but haven't donated to a food bank you should still be able to say so.

It's good to figure out how to contribute to the work. But it's still something to contribute to social conversations about what virtue is.
posted by weston at 3:36 PM on February 23 [20 favorites]


The Right loves choice except when they are not chosen. Criticism = silencing.

It feels we've been circling the drain over the same cultural war stuff for nearly 40 years. This is by design, I suspect, and it ain't any one particular generation's fault.

I say this not as a Jimmy Carter stan but as a person living in the U.S. for the past 20 years and alive for the past 30:

The U.S. took the most sickening and wrong turn in 1980 and we have not recovered from it.
posted by ichomp at 3:36 PM on February 23 [83 favorites]


Did whole supposition in the piece that "this is actually Gen X's fault" come from one sited article from 2002?

Sure blame Gen X, sure, back to the same old blame game that we've been processing from our elders for the last 40 years. Same old shit.
posted by djseafood at 3:38 PM on February 23 [13 favorites]


Eh, the boomers called us gen Xers nihilistic underachievers while kicking away every ladder they used and making everything unaffordable and drowning every attempt to define ourselves, until they got distracted by avocado toast and iPhones. I guess it's the millenials' turn to blame the state of the world on us, while we're still waiting for the boomers to actually retire. Whatever, we're used to it.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 3:40 PM on February 23 [48 favorites]


Ah yes, esteemed journalist Rich Juzwiak, author of such incisive Jezebel(?) think pieces including: "Third Boob Be Gone", "Drew Barrymore Makes Rita Ora's Specialty: A Banana and Hot Sauce Sandwich", and "Dr. Pimple Popper Goes Head-to-Head With a Nipple... on Someone's Head".

Eat my shorts, Rich.
posted by jeremias at 3:41 PM on February 23 [17 favorites]


There are all these memes about how The Simpsons has predicted recent history to a stunning degree. And I saw a response to them that said, "The Simpsons writers weren't psychic; we just haven't solved any problems in this country since 1989."

And... Yeah. I can't get that out of my head now.
posted by meese at 3:41 PM on February 23 [94 favorites]


Is this because the Zoomers roasted millennials so hard they are out for revenge?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:43 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


I don't know exactly how to engage with this. The timeline is all over the place. People born in the 60s didn't build the foundations of the internet, and people in highschool in the 80s didn't write article for Forbes criticizing grunge culture.

The article does get at something though, the lie we were told was that history was over, all that was left was to mop up the few remaining pockets of injustice in the world, so we should stop complaining. When the truth was that the reactionary machine was routing us and pulling up all the ladders it could.

The headline though, is either clickbait or victim blaming. I can't even really blame the Boomers for any of this, I'm just fully sick of transgenerational trauma.

Whatever
posted by Horkus at 3:45 PM on February 23 [20 favorites]


Please allow me to retitle:

The Culture Wars Rage On, Something I Claim To Be Opposed To Even While I Engage In It To Make A Paycheck
posted by at by at 3:52 PM on February 23 [30 favorites]


We're the dolphin parents that will bring Gen Z bail money and cookies I guess.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:55 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


We weren’t even supposed to be here today.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:57 PM on February 23 [81 favorites]


...I will note that in 1992 which seems to be a year in this incoherent piece, I was 21, working 2 minimum wage jobs, volunteering in an AIDS hospice, fresh off organizing a Take Back the Night walk, and starting to think I could use some therapy. I freely admit that at that time I was still thoroughly indoctrinated into thinking that the Civil Rights Era fixed most things and that colourblindness was the way to go.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:59 PM on February 23 [25 favorites]


Well, the title is silly and the article is badly organized (speaking of generations, this is really a fanzine essay, the kind where you're excited about something and throw in everything you read at the library yesterday) but I can't think it bad that someone is trying to patch together a sense of the generation before his own. It's hard to write history but writing history, even so-so pop history, is a valuable activity. It gets things going, especially now when we have sort of a vague amorphous sense that everything is terrible and has always been terrible instead of any kind of periodization or inflection points.

Like, it's good to say "this happened and these things failed and if that had been different we wouldn't be where we are now". We get an awful lot of ruptureless history where injustice and horror have always unremittingly been with us and all that does is project them forever into the future.

He's got something with the whole default-whiteness thing but he doesn't quite have it exactly how it was - on the one hand, you have, eg, Buffy and everything is super white and no one ever comments. On the other, there's this whole effort to make A Different World and All-American Girl etc into normal representative pieces of pop culture. This is distinct from radical cultural production in this period - the "multiculturalism" of the time did have this very reformist, anodyne and yet sincere and decent side which was about expanding mainstream culture, the idea that we really could just sort of have this additive solution to racism.

It's really hard to write history. It's hard to capture the fine-grained stuff. I've seen some really egregious histories of 90s punk and riot grrrl, for instance, stuff I know because I was there. And yet you have to try. I feel like starting from a point of estrangement is best rather than continuity and similarity.
posted by Frowner at 4:03 PM on February 23 [16 favorites]


Is this the thread where we litigate generational fights and get it right, finally?
posted by axiom at 4:28 PM on February 23 [11 favorites]


Weren't most Gen Xers teenagers or barely in their 20s around this time?

I am not the oldest Gen-X type but when GHW Bush made his speech linked in the article (to pick a year) I was 24 and married. We weren’t all trying out skateboarding moves down in the mall parking lot.

I was, however, being assured that the working for less than a living wage thing was only for a few more years until the baby boomers retire and all the well-paying jobs open up.

SMASH CUT TO: “Thirty years later.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:32 PM on February 23 [43 favorites]


Back in October, I decided to watch all of the Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons. One thing I took away from it is that the "Citizen Kang" bit aged extremely poorly. That episode dropped in 1996, and while the "both sides are the same" trope has been in play since the dawn of political parties, I genuinely believe that as a piece of culture, "Citizen Kang" had a huge influence on a significant cohort of the audience in instilling the "both sides are the same" narrative.

As for political engagement, generational divides on political engagement also go back far before Gen X. See, for example, "The Folk Song Army" by Tom Leherer, which casts the protest folk singer as someone who desires to what we would now call "virtue signaling" rather than effect real political change. (There was, of course, a bit of self-deprecation here, as Lehrer wrote quite a few politically motivated protest songs, just more musically and lyrically interesting ones.)

I've complained in threads before about how the Occupy Wall Street movement failed to capitalize by putting people in office to actually wield the levers of power. Part of this, I do think, is the myopia that voting is ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. I also think that part of it is the collapse of local news and the idea that local and state politics has any sort of impact on people's lives. The people we elect to local office can become our future state politicians, future state politicians can become future national politicians. You have to start building a progressive political movement from the bottom up, and the left has regularly failed to do so to any meaningful degree in decades. That we have a far-right party and a centrist party rather than left and right wing parties is a result of this.

I think if a contemporary Lehrer wanted to write a contemporary take on "The Folk Song Army" it would be about how people are happy to yell on Twitter about how politicians should be doing this or that, yet never show up to vote, or even bother to call their elected officials to push them on the issues that matter to them.
If you feel dissatisfaction
Tweet your frustrations away
Some people may prefer action
But give me a tweetstorm any old day
posted by SansPoint at 4:35 PM on February 23 [7 favorites]


Checks notes, signs form: "Let's you and them fight" successfully deployed.
posted by k3ninho at 4:43 PM on February 23 [12 favorites]


This piece is pretty incoherent. It honestly feels like the Gen X angle was of tacked on just to generate outrage clicks.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 4:45 PM on February 23 [14 favorites]


it is nonetheless useful to revisit the discussions on Generation X for what they tell us about the culture of young people in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. (Parameters varied, but generally, Generation X has been perceived to span the birth years of early-to-mid-‘60s and late-‘70s-to-early-‘80s.)

so, doing a little math - someone born in 1980 (and supposedly part of "Gen X") would have been 9 in 1989, and just 19 in 1999 - that is NOT someone who was a "young person" in the late 80s or 90s - that's someone who was A LITTLE KID in the 80s and early 90s.

Generalizing about entire generations is already inherently annoying, but if you are going to, try to be consistent about it. The life experiences of someone born in 1965 really aren't the same as someone born in 1980.

As for the "failure" - maybe we were all too busy trying to find jobs and pay rent than to fix elite culture. Elites can take care of their own stuff.
posted by jb at 4:48 PM on February 23 [9 favorites]


Gen X for me exists as a media memory of a moment that happened just before I became a teenager. It started roughly in 1991 and was over by 1996. I've heard that I'm part of some sort of in-between generation that is a few years too old for X but not quite millennial. Curt Cobain was long dead and MTV had moved on to hip hop and boy bands by the time I entered middle and high school. I'm not sure how you'd characterize cultural products like Fight Club, the Matrix, South Park, and Eminem, which were hugely influential amongst white males of my age. Were they all manifestations of Gen X cynicism and nihilism? Technically my friends and I would have experienced them as early millennials? Then again a lot of my friends also were into "indie rock", which seems more purely millennial.

I guess the idea of generations is kind of silly in my opinion.
posted by eagles123 at 4:48 PM on February 23 [10 favorites]


We are still in the culture war because there's an entire right-wing industry that's awash in money perpetuating it. Blaming it on Gen X when the boomers still run everything is just clickbait.
posted by LindsayIrene at 4:57 PM on February 23 [28 favorites]


I say this not as a Jimmy Carter stan but as a person living in the U.S. for the past 20 years and alive for the past 30:

The U.S. took the most sickening and wrong turn in 1980 and we have not recovered from it.


I'll happily quote-for-truth as a Jimmy Carter-stan, and be more explicit: Reagan and the movement he was part of has made the world actively worse for most of my life.

Less seriously: this is the only generation meme we need.
posted by jb at 4:58 PM on February 23 [60 favorites]


Can we really have failed at something we were never trying to do?
posted by DiscourseMarker at 5:06 PM on February 23 [4 favorites]


Oh, well, whatever, never mind.
posted by linux at 5:22 PM on February 23 [11 favorites]


I'll happily quote-for-truth as a Jimmy Carter-stan, and be more explicit: Reagan and the movement he was part of has made the world actively worse for most of my life.

Same. Even if I spend the rest of my life undoing the damages of Reaganism, at this rate we’ll only be approaching a slightly more habitable world by the end of my life. Because the people who voted Reagan into office are still trying to hold on to their privileges and screw everyone else.

As a Millennial the people I blame are the 50% people who voted Reagan and the GOP into office in 1980, whatever age they were at the time.

On the other hand, I am heartened by Boomers who see this moment as the fight for our lives and the “fight for our grandchildren.” They really make me feel that there are helpers and good people every generation and the fight for justice is eternal.
posted by ichomp at 5:27 PM on February 23 [14 favorites]


I was born in 1974 and I feel like I've had most if not all of the same problems as Millennials. Maybe the extra four years I spent in the military between high school & college put me in the same economic stagnation. Maybe that shouldn't count, 'cause the military is a job. I dunno. Most of my experiences and opinions still track, while also feeling still solidly Gen-X.

Maybe a lot of these generational divides we've created are artificial bullshit meant to keep us from really changing things, or even just relating to each other.

But hey, if placing blame upon Gen-X for the continued woes of society & the planet would actually fix things? I feel like I'm okay with that. Sure. Go ahead. We definitely fell short on any number of important things. At least accepting that would put us one up over our parents.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 5:32 PM on February 23 [7 favorites]


This essay is a good example of "inane trigger headline title stomping all over a not-entirely-stupid essay". I think the main theme is boomers squatting on things til they die, of course?

The late-80s/90s college "political correctness" controversy seemed like two things conflated back then:
1) just telling (mostly old) people to just not be blatantly racist & sexist, and them getting all shirty about it (more in the newspapers than on campus) (wow this shit is still going on...)
2) paranoia about "The Western Canon (tm)" being downgraded from it's domination in Liberal Arts pedagogy. The famous 1987 Allan Bloom book was a figurative "closing the gates against barbarians" gatekeeping, which Camille Paglia took up the torch for.

(Hey, I think the Western Canon is interesting to me, but I wouldn't force it on anyone, and it's not the only thing).
posted by ovvl at 5:33 PM on February 23 [6 favorites]


Blame us for all you want, you'll get no more than a weary sneer vaguely directed at you as a response. We've had decades of practice at this.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:54 PM on February 23 [15 favorites]


I'm not sure how anyone can blame Generation X for anything political given that they faced a generation before them that unheard of numbers and political clout wielded solely for their benefit. What were they supposed to do? Outvote them?
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 6:03 PM on February 23 [21 favorites]


Generation X is Sick of Your Bullshit — this article is almost a decade old.

"Right now, Generation X just wants a beer and to be left alone." That's good advice.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 6:07 PM on February 23 [14 favorites]


If you're too young to remember JFK, but old enough to remember The Banana Splits, you're Generation X.
posted by Beholder at 6:09 PM on February 23 [9 favorites]


If you replace "Generation X" with "conservatives", the piece comes a whole lot closer to making sense, other than of course that conservatives by nature don't want things to change.

Other than the perennial problem of young people not voting, which is not exclusive to Gen X, we didn't have much power to fix things compared to what the religious right and moneyed lobbyists could do. The plunge of good unionized jobs, the impact of the .com crash and 2008, and similar things all had well documented impact on Generation X's earning ability, and we know, cash equals power.

But it's silly to say that things haven't gotten better as a result of Generation X. I had two schoolmates dies of AIDS in 1988, just years after that was considered a joke by the President. I never imagined gay marriage would be legal in more or less two decades (yes, the gay rights movement then and now has racial and gender issues).

The culture of normalized casual sexual assault got a lot better. (Reported) Rapes dramatically plunged as Generation X came of age. Multiculturalism advanced significantly during the era. Racism became a lot less acceptable.

“McCarthyism of the Left makes open debate irrelevant.”

Basically all those talking points are either conservative falsehoods (like the above) or takes a very narrow band of left wing extremists and claims they represent the whole. Political Correctness overall wasn't an extreme movement and made some progress on making our language a little better. But it was a convenient boogeyman for the right ring to rant about for profit.
posted by Candleman at 6:12 PM on February 23 [15 favorites]


Born at the end of 1974 here. Normally I'm pretty defensive of GenX, and for the most part I still am: I too am still waiting for the Boomers to retire so that I might make the big bucks.

That said, Jan 6 made me really uncomfortable. There were a whole hell of a lot of white guys my age in that insurrection. I wonder if those guys are also waiting for the boomers to be done, only they're impatient in a very different way from me.
posted by nushustu at 6:33 PM on February 23 [17 favorites]


.....old enough to remember The Banana Splits


NA NA NA
na na na na
na na na
na na na na na
posted by thelonius at 6:35 PM on February 23 [16 favorites]


We are still in the culture war because there's an entire right-wing industry that's awash in money perpetuating it.

Culture war bullshit is mothers milk to conservatism since before the Reagan era. From that springs forth all the resentment and hatred and motivation. It overrides any veneer of principle, adjusted to the outrage du jour. It isn't generational. It's identity.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:46 PM on February 23 [7 favorites]


I mean? I guess technically we did fail to reverse the tide of the rightward shift that Nixon set up and Reagan brought home. (And can I just take a minute to say how tickled I am every time Autocorrect changes “Reagan” to “Teagan?” Rest in irrelevance, old man.)

But it doesn’t seem to me like we stood much of a chance for enacting widespread reform. Especially with our parents having taken such great pains to point out how smart and special we weren’t at every possible opportunity during our formative years, while we watched them happily vote away the strides that had been made. For a lot of my political life I’ve felt like the little boy with his finger in the dyke. While I haven’t always liked it, I’ve been able to understand the state of premature burnout I’ve sometimes seen in my generation.

I’ve never felt more energized and hopeful, politically speaking, than I have the past couple of years as the people young enough to be my kids have started making themselves be heard.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:59 PM on February 23 [7 favorites]


Yup, it was all my fault. I’m a jerk. Sorry.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:03 PM on February 23 [8 favorites]


The culture war is, for better or worse, Boomers versus Millennials. That's a gross generalization, for sure, but there it is. The Gen Xers are the smaller generation and caught in the middle, but in a real way, they're the "swing voter" generation.

And whether because of necessity of the economic situation, or just plain apathy, they've largely fallen in with Boomers.

"Right now, Generation X just wants a beer and to be left alone."

Opting out of a moral struggle is de facto siding with the oppressor.

As a generation, they saw how they were maligned for being the "slacker" generation, and then they decided to punch down instead of speak up when millennials were the new punching bag.
posted by explosion at 7:08 PM on February 23 [4 favorites]


If you don't think this describes you, maybe just give it a pass. The reflexive defensiveness has real "not all men" energy. Generational politics is always going to be a gross generalization about cohorts, not an indictment of individuals.
posted by explosion at 7:10 PM on February 23 [5 favorites]


Alright
We care a lot!
We care a lot!
We care a lot!
About disasters, fires
Floods and killer bees
(We care a lot)
About the NASA
Shuttle fallin' in the sea
We care a lot
About starvation and the
Food that Live Aid bought
We care a lot!
About disease, baby, rock, Hudson, rock!
Yeah!
Oh, it's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it
Said it's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it
We care a lot!
We care a lot!
We care a lot!
About the gamblers and
The pushers and the geeks
We care a lot!
About the smack and crack and
Whack that hits the street
We care a lot!
About the welfare of all you boys and girls
We care a lot!
About you people 'cause we're
Out to save the world!
Yeah!
Well it's a dirty job but
Someone's gotta do it
Said, it's a dirty job but
Someone's gotta do it
Well, it's a dirty job but
Someone's gotta do it
Said, it's a dirty job but
Someone's gotta do it
Well, it's a dirty job but
Someone's gotta do it
We go oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh
Ai
Oh-oh-oh-oh
The right start
We care a lot!
About the army, navy, air force and marines
We care a lot!
About the NY-, SF-, and LAPD
We care a lot!
About you people
We care a lot!
About you're guns
We care a lot!
About the wars we're fighting
Gee, that looks like fun!
We care a lot!
About the Garbage Pail Kids, they never lie
We care a lot!
posted by loquacious at 7:21 PM on February 23 [24 favorites]


Counterpoint: current WH Press Secretary Jen Psaki (42), who adeptly fends off bullshit "gotcha" questions from Fox & other numbnuts with variations on, "I'm not gonna dignify that with a response" without openly saying that or rolling her eyes but her facial expression still makes it very clear that's what she actually means.

This is a very GenX skill, and our mastery of this is probably the only reason any of us still have jobs, squashed between the won't-go-away Boomers and the won't-shut-up Millennials.

And we're good at it because, yes, we've been dealing with conservative bullshit gotchas since Reagan.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:37 PM on February 23 [45 favorites]


We have two teenagers at home and I think that when the time comes gen-Z will, with gentle compassion, slaughter the Millennials while they sleep.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 8:08 PM on February 23 [5 favorites]


While we watched them happily vote away the strides that had been made.

This is the most enraging thing to me and the thing connecting me to Resisters / Boomer Dems. More than a few have told me that the last 4 years radicalized them again as the environmental and gender progress they had fought so hard for were being undone.
posted by ichomp at 8:12 PM on February 23 [4 favorites]


there's no grand unified theory of social change in societies. there's no such thing as linear "progress" in society, unless you believe all human societies start in place X and progress uniformly to place Y. and even if there was a goal every generation needs to make progress toward, each one also is affected by things that most people in it have no control over, like economic shocks, wars, and uh.. pandemics.

weighing Gen X's progress over another cohort is like asking whether the crazy kids from 1650 in [insert place of your choice] did more progress than those in 1690. what the fuck does that question even mean? i mean, it's fun as a bar game, like arguing over a sports team, i mean, if we still had bars.
posted by wibari at 11:36 PM on February 23 [7 favorites]


There seems to be a problem with society today.
People aren't watching out for every word they say.
The problems of this nation could be simply solved - we bet
If everyone would learn to be politically correct!


But it's not like that for Gen X
When it's cool for cats
It's cool for ca-a-a-a-a-ats
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:26 AM on February 24 [6 favorites]


You - you have no idea how painful it was in the 1990s to try to help someone older use a computer. Holy. Painful.

Speaking as a computer geek with infosec knowledge... you have no idea how painful it is in the 2020s to try to help someone younger use a computer.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:33 AM on February 24 [26 favorites]


Generational politics is always going to be a gross generalization about cohorts

It's gross, all right.
posted by entity447b at 12:43 AM on February 24 [4 favorites]


Oh thank god, a new culture war front to enjoy!
posted by EatTheWeak at 12:46 AM on February 24


They might hate us, but at least for one brief moment they're remembering we exist!
posted by nickzoic at 2:40 AM on February 24 [14 favorites]


I admit, at 15 years old when Bush gave that speech, (76, tail end of the generation, raised far more TV meant for adults than was appropriate), that it is, indeed, my fault. My peers and I, in between trying to avoid the pitfalls of the structural decay in our school built in the sixties, and working to figure out how to talk to people we thought were cute, utterly dropped the ball on preventing the culture wars thirty years ago. My older friends were too busy trying to score beers as first year students in university to prevent Donald Trump from assuming power in 2016.

Dammit, you caught us. Surely the bullshit and outrage over the concept of politely not being a shit to everyone around you who didn't look like you was molded into a soundbite used to foment outrage at not being able to to tell "three racist caricatures walk into a bar" jokes by people in their teens and early twenties at the time, not, say, by people entrenched in power that they wouldn't ever actually cede to my cohort, no matter how many times it kind of seems like maybe, this time, we'd get a little seat at the table, as a treat.

Or, maybe this hack (and dammit, Jezebel used to be good before that fucking herb took over) is doing the same thing we all do when looking back into the past and getting a little freaked out that Smells Like Teen Spirit came out 30 goddamn years ago. We were kids used as ammunition by people in power so cynical they'd make us, the generation of weary cynics say, dude, tone it down a bit.

If you're going to shit on us, do it right. Nice guys? That's all on us. Seriously. Wail away.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:14 AM on February 24 [6 favorites]


I am into the off the grid, homesteading movement and was interested to learn that Xers are more likely than any other generation to have dropped out of society altogether. That could simply be a factor of age--- they're not so old that going out at 4 am to check on their chickens and collect more firewood but not so young that they haven't been able to save up enough to buy some land out in the sticks. Non-irregardlessly, it warms my Xer heart to have learned this.
posted by drstrangelove at 4:21 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


we'll definitely win if we keep buying into right wing framing (political correctness, cancel culture, generation conflicts, etc) and using our energy to debate that rather than get at the real problems

if a right winger is speaking, their words are empty and only meant to divide - they are disingenuous attention-seeking children who deserve to be ignored while the rest of us get about leaving the world a better place than we entered it
posted by kokaku at 4:44 AM on February 24 [8 favorites]


It's unsurprising how often the complaints about "McCarthyism" and "Political Correctness" and "Cancel Culture" boil down to people who do not want to be told they're wrong.

Also unsurprising that so many of those complaints get put about by people Rupert pays to not want to be told they're wrong.
posted by flabdablet at 5:26 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


Sure blame Gen X, sure, back to the same old blame game that we've been processing from our elders for the last 40 years. Same old shit.

I'm kinda glad we're being blamed for ruining something; at least we got noticed.
posted by nubs at 5:51 AM on February 24 [8 favorites]


Every minute spent deciding who to blame
is a minute not spent figuring out how to make things better
posted by amtho at 6:30 AM on February 24


if a right winger is speaking, their words are empty and only meant to divide - they are disingenuous attention-seeking children who deserve to be ignored while the rest of us get about leaving the world a better place than we entered it

Well, it's lovely to think so. But I am afraid that there are lots of people who seem to sincerely believe that there should be no values in society but what the "free market" decides, that anyone calling for social justice is "whining", etc.
posted by thelonius at 6:41 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


Somewhat telling that I read this as 'George Costanza'.
posted by iamck at 7:22 AM on February 24


I blame Generation A1N16. What good is time travel, if you're too afraid to use it?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:40 AM on February 24 [7 favorites]


One thing it is important to ignore is the right wing's attempt to redefine the word 'ignore'.

'Ignore' means what it has always meant, i.e. 'refuse to allow unacceptable views to be pushed into your personal space without permission, while remaining aware that the proponents of said views exist, and that if they have anything to say which is worth hearing, it will be reported on channels which they do not control'.

'Ignore' does not mean what the right wing want people to believe it means, i.e. 'live in an echo chamber bro, don't you ever question anything?'
posted by Cardinal Fang at 7:51 AM on February 24 [5 favorites]


I am Gen-X AF. Born in 1973, raised on Reagan, John Hughes, and MTV.

In passing, the article touches on some of my biggest blind spots. Irony and apathy felt both correct and necessary. But those modes of engaging with the world turned out to be privileged, racist, and woefully insufficient.
posted by lumpy at 8:44 AM on February 24 [7 favorites]


Being pessimistic about any chance for social transformation is the essence of Gen X, so what's the surprise here? The biggest "failure" it turns out was a success. What would be a failure is to be if Gen X were redefined as optimistic because they failed at being pessimistic.

Anyway, I had a hard time understanding this article and I'm glad so many people smarter than I commented. I have a PhD, but not in that.
posted by waving at 9:29 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


Gen X here. Born 1967, and I was studying at the University of Michigan when Bush(1) gave that speech. A friend of mine actually got in trouble with the Secret Service for sneaking around the place when Bush...

Well. Dumb, dumb article for the reasons people have said. Picking on a numerically small generation when a much larger, far richer gen rules the nation is not a smart move analytically.

I would add that Coupland's identifying punk with GenX is just wrong. Punk was a minor theme (a minor threat, heh heh), exciting but marginal at the time.

I am kinda chuffed that mentioning GenX actually yields clicks. Usually the move is to pick on Boomers or Millennials. Are we actually salient enough to be productively mocked?
posted by doctornemo at 9:31 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Are we actually salient enough to be productively mocked?

Nah. The boomers are old, mostly retired, and starting to die off. Us Gen-Xers are now old enough (41 to 56 years old now, how the hell did that happen?) that the baleful glare of younger generational pop social-sci has turned on us. It is our turn to be blamed for all the world's woes. We are now (theoretically) at the peak of our power and earning potential, it's all downhill from here, into the irrelevance of dotage.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:02 AM on February 24 [6 favorites]


I am normally disinclined to comment on such things as arguing on the internet is like wrestling with a pig. You get dirty and the pig likes it. However....

It's an interesting article, but it misses the point.

Yeah, Gen X tried, we tried real hard to right some wrongs. And we did.

Race, previous to the current goings on, was less of a problem in the US than previously in the history of the world. Gay rights are a thing. Etcetera.

The problem is not that Gen X screwed the pooch on these things.
The problem is that the pooch had already been screwed and was having a bunch of mutant puppies and that we helped push a hidden agenda that we knew nothing about.

The article (like most people, and most similar articles) misses the larger, deeper context and wants to lay blame on the people who were genuinely trying to do good. Road to hell, and all that. If you're actually interested in how this started, where it came from, where it's (hopefully not) going, I have three fantastic, well written, well researched (and well read, if you go for the audio book version) books:

The Madness of Crowds by Douglas Murray
Kindly Inquisitors by Jonathan Rauch (and read by Penn Jilette)
Cynical Theories by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay

They don't cover everything, but they cover a lot and give some very nutritious (if mildly terrifying) food for thought.

They all come at our current issues from differing, but not incompatible perspectives. One of them from all the way back in 1993. Not that anyone was listening, then. I just hope some people will now.
posted by jaded at 10:26 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


I read the first few couple of dozen comments, then started scanning, and wound up here feeling glad I didn't RTFA.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 10:52 AM on February 24


]if a right winger is speaking, their words are empty and only meant to divide - they are disingenuous attention-seeking children who deserve to be ignored while the rest of us get about leaving the world a better place than we entered it

Well, it's lovely to think so. But I am afraid that there are lots of people who seem to sincerely believe that there should be no values in society but what the "free market" decides, that anyone calling for social justice is "whining", etc.


And indeed the less thoughtful right-wingers I interact with, presented with e.g. the news that $VISIBLE_MINORITY is incarcerated at a rate three times that of white people, goes for the two-pronged attack of (a) “that is because they are more criminal” and (b) “this is a (fake) news story designed to divide us.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:47 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


and wound up here feeling glad I didn't RTFA.

It's not terrible, it just has a pretty stupid title.
posted by ovvl at 1:54 PM on February 24


I had time to go back in my Twitter likes and find this graphical summary of these generation wars.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:21 PM on February 24


It doesn't do at all what it says in the title. You'd think that the article would be arguing that Gen X had an unfinished political project that we were still stuck with and would make an argument about how this is Gen X's project for [reasons] and didn't succeed because [other reasons]. But that's not at all what the article does - it's actually a potted history of anti-PC discourse and pop culture in the nineties.

I think that in general writing the history of the recent past is good and important and also really difficult, so I think that mainly this article is a good thing. Some questions that come to mind:

1. The mainstream pop culture of the nineties was mostly not created by Gen X but rather created for us by Boomers/late Boomers. The culture debates of the nineties were certainly hugely influential on us but were not run by us - Camilla Paglia is 73, for instance. So it's not really our political project, exactly. It's an unfinished project, but if it "belongs" to a generation, it's late Boomers.

2. "Generations" tend to have multiple cultural styles but we usually collapse them into one. Like, if you were to meet a disparate group of 50-ish activists, they would all be different politically and culturally but not infinitely different.

3. To what extent does it make sense to "blame" generations? Can't exonerate Generation X and sit around blaming the Boomers, but also can't don't want to let the Boomers off the hook solely to let Gen X off the hook.

4. I think you're left with questions of influence. To the degree that members of a generation are similar, what makes them similar? It's facile to say "Boomers easily got jobs" or whatever, because this is far, far from universally true - I mean, it's not useless, but it's not definitive either. Institutions, international political climate, family dynamics, gender expectations, the news, nuclear war, the economy as more than "I can get a job" but as a set of norms? Changes in technology - less/more surveillance?

5. One thing - people are reactive. Boomer cultures are reactive, so are Gen X. No one just ups and decides to be ironic and disillusioned or whatever - you're ironic and disillusioned about something. My feeling is that for Gen X it was capitalist overreach and the Cold War. Like, simultaneously an eighties culture of incredible sanctimony, reaction and paranoia and the hollowing out of the economy - you can't get the buy-in to reaction if reaction isn't offering anything. Also the hypertrophy of pop culture marketing and how its flamboyance collapsed. And of course, the constant anti-communist propaganda coupled with the actual collapse of the USSR - difficult to hold onto the dream of communism when the propaganda looks true.

6. Maybe generation theory would be better replaced by some kind of theory of flows? I go back and forth because I love history's potential to estrange things and make us see how events could have gone differently; on the other hand, it seems key to understand that events kind of are constrained - a Trotskyists may frequently have gone neoliberal but were very unlikely to go evangelical, for instance.

As ever, I suppose there's the tension between knowing enough to care about something and get excited about it and not oversimplifying. Too little detail and you're saying nonsense, too much detail and you end up writing forty pages just trying to convey how membership changed in a neighborhood association in Cleveland between 1985 and 1995.
posted by Frowner at 2:33 PM on February 24 [10 favorites]




The thing that arguments about political correctness from the 90s and cancel culture in the 20s have in common is that they're arguments about where the boundaries of acceptable speech should be and what the social consequences should be for crossing the line. That's an argument that is always going to be raging (unless you believe in an "end of history/politics"), the progress to be made isn't to no longer be having that argument but in where the "line" is. Is anyone claiming that it hasn't moved since the early 1990s?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 2:44 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


I'd be delighted to see generational theory shuffle off, Frowner. But people love it so.

(I was just in a terrifying presentation by a self-identified Boomer who spoke extensively in terms of Strauss and Howe. Said presenter got really defensive when people started making generational comments; she backed away fast and it was suddenly all about exceptions and individuals.)
posted by doctornemo at 3:29 PM on February 24


METAFILTER: I have a PhD, but not in that.
posted by philip-random at 3:30 PM on February 24 [3 favorites]


We have two teenagers at home and I think that when the time comes gen-Z will, with gentle compassion, slaughter the Millennials while they sleep.

Kids are so kind
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 6:31 PM on February 24


Don't Blame Me, I Rioted in Seattle
posted by eustatic at 12:49 AM on February 25 [5 favorites]


B/w My CopWatch Chapter Called Out Kathleen Hanna For Aligning With TERFs, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt
posted by eustatic at 1:08 AM on February 25


4. I think you're left with questions of influence.

Yeah, which is why, on a re-read, I think the Jezebel article has a huge blind spot. Juziwak is mad that we're fighting version 2.0 of the 80's/90's culture wars, but he's utterly ignoring the question of how much political and economic power Gen X has been able to attain in order to do anything about it besides continue the fight in various media.

The real article should be:

"The success of Gen X is that they won the Culture War. Their failure is that this amounts to black squares on Instagram and the Steak-umm Twitter account dunking on the right wing."
posted by soundguy99 at 5:44 AM on February 25 [3 favorites]


Yeah, which is why, on a re-read, I think the Jezebel article has a huge blind spot. Juziwak is mad that we're fighting version 2.0 of the 80's/90's culture wars, but he's utterly ignoring the question of how much political and economic power Gen X has been able to attain in order to do anything about it besides continue the fight in various media.

Exactly. The closest gen X has ever gotten to the US presidency is Kamala Harris, and she's right on the boundary between gen X and boomer, being born in 1964.

And the latest congress (written before they took their seats):
Baby boomers make up nearly 70% of the incoming Congress, a radical overrepresentation of a generation that constitutes 21% of all Americans.
...
Congress wasn’t always such a bastion of blue-hairs. A great many now-older current and former senators took their seats when they were in their thirties, including president-elect Biden. As baby boomers hit maturity, they also flooded into politics. In 1981, the first election in which nearly the entire boomer generation was eligible to vote (and when the first millennials were being born), the average age of Congress was 49.5. By the time Bill Clinton took office as the first boomer president in 1993, the average member of Congress was 53. By comparison, the average member of the incoming House of Representatives is nearly 58 — and that person is a spring chicken compared to the Senate, where the average member is nearly 64.
The youngest boomers are only 57, and still drastically over-represented in any position of power and authority you care to examine compared to gen X, even when you take the demographics into account. Is it any surprise that so many gen X's have given up trying?
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 6:36 AM on February 25 [8 favorites]


^ yeah see, they didn't try hard enough, obvs
posted by elkevelvet at 7:12 AM on February 25


Here is another reason I have trouble with generation discourse - the boomer generation is considered to run either from 1946 to 1964 or 1946 to 1968, but births peaked around 1958 and then declined steeply more or less through 1975. Why then does the baby boom continue through 1968?

Then Gen X is 1965 or 1968 through 1980, which is fewer years and doesn't seem to link to demographic trends super well since births were declining from 1964/68 until 1975, and in any case it's a shorter generation; leaving aside the boom itself, obviously fewer kids will be born in twelve years than in 18.

And of course the Millennial stuff is just as arbitrary considering birth trends.

This might make more sense if you tied the generations to specific cultural experiences, but that doesn't work either - someone who started college in 1964 would have a totally different adolescence than someone who started college in, say, 1979. The international situation, the economics, the structure of the family, the ease of getting a job...growing up before the big social upheavals of the late sixties/early seventies, during or after - totally different! If you didn't go to college and started adult work in 1964, you probably could get a job fairly easily - US manufacturing was going strong. But if you started adult work in 1979 - different picture!

The thing is, there's obviously some truth to cohort characteristics - I can tell this whenever I'm in a room with people of a range of ages, and there are certain fairly characteristic ways that my generation has aged politically. But I think you've got to look more closely and more carefully to understand what exactly this means and where it comes from.

~~
A critical moment IYAM was the late seventies because the new Boomer politicians mostly didn't have ties to labor, and it's obvious that you aren't going to have any significant real liberal/really center-left political formation unless it is indebted to working people and the structures through which they mobilize. Labor is necessary, even if it's not sufficient, and that's where things started to fall apart politically.

Gen X is a small generation. They were closing schools when I was a kid because there weren't enough students. That's going to limit our political power and I think our cultural window has closed. You can sort of roughly say "Boomers vote for boomers, millennials are more interested in voting for millennials [except for, eg, Bernie Sanders] but we can vote for 45 year olds all we like and all we have to choose from is Mayor Pete and Ted Cruz, basically. There isn't a bench.

~~
I also think that people have to be very careful with periodization. I had a conversation with someone which revealed that she thought that Gen X was the generation doing most of the AIDS activism and that it was Gen X which had lost its own elders and leaders. This is substantially untrue, but it illustrates how people confuse decades and generations - it happened in the eighties and nineties, therefore it was done by Gen X. The article makes the same mistake.

And people flatten the past - that Tavi Gevinson article on here seems to assume that in 1998 everyone thought that the marketing of Britney Spears was absolutely fantastic and empowerful, when in fact it was extremely controversial in all parts of the political spectrum. Her marketing was IMO an inflection point after which teenage pop stars were marketed in increasingly fetishy, sexually explicit ways - not that this had, like, literally never happened before, but it intensified a lot post-Britney. In any case, people tend to assume that the master narrative of the past is all there was. Empowerful sexualization of teen girls became the norm and therefore everyone thought it was great, etc.
posted by Frowner at 7:21 AM on February 25 [8 favorites]


Further, I think the Boomer narrative is basically "Boomers are bad and selfish and kicked the ladder away", which makes it very hard for people who haven't considered the issue much to understand that AIDS activists, anti-nuke activists, etc in the eighties were all Boomers.

Also, I think we've sort of undertheorized why a subset of Gen X women go TERF in a particular way. Rowling, obviously; the women around MichFest; various women who may not be full TERF but who have really dubious views, like Xeni Jardin. I have zero ideas about this except for the material influence of MichFest since it seems so intensely weird to me - I grew up mid-late GenX and the material I encountered about trans people was either medicalizing-but-positive or the vulgarest kind of bigotry, so I am not familiar with the sources at all.
posted by Frowner at 7:35 AM on February 25


the boomer generation is considered to run either from 1946 to 1964 or 1946 to 1968, but births peaked around 1958 and then declined steeply more or less through 1975. Why then does the baby boom continue through 1968?

I think '64 is the "real" cutoff year - in this Wikipedia chart (from the US Census Bureau?) you can see where 1964 is the year that birth rates return to where they were in 1940. Folks considering Boomers through '68 are either confused or considering cultural stuff more than the actual baby boom.

And IIRC even proponents of generational analysis are willing to admit that it's only the Boomers that have any sort of quantifiable birth-rate component. "Generations" before and after that are just kind of "roughly 20 years plus cultural/social influences."

This might make more sense if you tied the generations to specific cultural experiences

Lord knows when & where I came upon this, but I've seen a suggestion that GenX should actually be split in half itself - the older half are the Atari Generation, the younger half are the Nintendo Generation. Which actually makes some sense as shorthand for "when did we get introduced to what technology?"
posted by soundguy99 at 7:51 AM on February 25 [2 favorites]


The youngest boomers are only 57, and

I think '64 is the "real" cutoff year - in this Wikipedia chart


Douglas Coupland is just turned fifty-nine, born at the very end of 1961. I don't mind there being a grey area between generations. In fact, I think there must be. But I do think you've got to include the guy who wrote the book in the generation in question.

I get that demographics tend to argue otherwise (ie: the birth rate was still maxing in 1961 when Coupland was born) but, if you view things culturally (as opposed to statistically), a different story emerges. The story he wrote. The last American G.I.s were out of Vietnam before he hit puberty, The Beatles broke up when he was eight years old. Jimmy Carter was president when he grauated high school and the economy was about to tank big time.

I'm two years older than him but our backgrounds are pretty similar. We even went to the same high school. If I could choose one word to describe the difference between our worldviews and those of the Boomers we keep getting lumped with, it's skepticism. By the time we were old enough to get tried in adult court, pretty much all of the standard Boomer identifiers had played out. The hippies were well in the rearview, Richard Nixon was long gone, the Vietnam War was over and America had lost. Whatever we were going to generationally embrace, commit to, it would be coloured differently because of what we'd grown up watching happen on TV, in the papers.

As a for instance, I started university in 1977 at a campus that was known to be "the radical one" and this was definitely still the case among many of the profs and TAs, lots of talk of revolutionary change, the inevitability of it. Lots of (to me) weird divisions among them. Trotskyists hating on Marxist-Leninists, feminists refusing to engage with either of them, the gays doing much the same. For someone like me who'd spent the previous half decade gorging himself on first MAD magazine, then Monty Python, Mel Brooks etc -- it was comical, particularly the day the Trotskyists and Marxist-Leninists ended up brawling in a local park. People got arrested. It made the papers. It looked foolish.

So (getting to the actual f***ing article) when I first encountered the phrase "politically correct" (offered its worth noting with air quotes) less than a decade later (1984 or 85), my first thought was, "seriously!? What does that even mean? Because what immediately comes to mind for me is that you're just saying 'politically' because if you said 'morally', nobody with a remotely progressive* bone in their body would take you seriously, because Morals (the capital M kind) are of the right, the establishment, THE ENEMY."

Blah blah blah. I could go on and on with this. I guess my overall point is that the notion of political correctness felt like a lazy imposition of orthodoxy from the get-go, and it was immediately divisive even among so-called progressives*. And rather like the climate change movement's early adaptation of Global Warming as a rallying cry, it's proven an extremely unfortunate choice of words, an impediment toward achieving the kind of radical changes we do need if we hope to avoid the wrong kind of apocalypse.



* progressive would not have been much in use then as an identifier. We didn't have things that reduced yet. There was more just this unifying rejection of the status quo (Ronald Reagan's America Inc) -- everybody who was doing their bit to resist it.
posted by philip-random at 8:56 AM on February 25 [2 favorites]


One apparent mistake is thinking that the conflicts of an era are resolved in the moment rather than carried through by the generation coming of age to "answer" in their own manner in their fuller maturity. The heat of the major cultural battles radiates for long time as they work their way through the society. At the same time as the things the linked article is talking about, there was also a renewed debate about the meaning of the sixties and the Vietnam war in popular culture, and Reagan essentially ran on a return to the fifties platform, talking to those who came of age in yet a slightly earlier era.

Values and messages take time to travel through the populace, the gay rights and AIDS battles were fought by those just before Gen X, but a widening of acceptance of varying sexual preference came of age along with the people who grew up during those fights. That doesn't mean things are all better now, no problems at all, but the change in acceptance from the 80s to now is pronounced and important to note for traveling at roughly the same speed as Gen X.

The same could roughly be said about other major phenomenon, the generation that fights the wars, literally or metaphorically, isn't the one best suited to resolve them for being so caught up in their own past cultural history that doesn't provide an adequate map for a path to a solution because they are caught up in identifying the problem and the enemies. The fights over so-called cancel culture and wokeness are indeed revisiting the unresolved PC debates and the co-existent rise in "edgy" comedy and irony that was also a part of the era Gen X came of age in, just like hip-hop burgeoning at the same time as the Stallone type action movie and then grunge music. The culture is always in conversation with itself, but that conversation is one of the immediate past arguing with the present about the possible future.

Generational discourse isn't just referencing an era, but age. The wants and needs of a 20 year old are different than that of a 60 year old and the maps of the culture each carries can't be easily translated to the other. The older person may have created the present culture, but they didn't grow up in it, they created in in reference to their own past history and interests of the moment. The younger person though creates their cultural map based on that refracted history and their own desires, which leads someplace different than the older person would readily understand. Growing up online, for just one example, where the internet is just a given that virtually everyone now deals with as a major part of their lived environment is much different than coming to the internet after growing up without it and holding that memory as a map to understanding it and the world it shapes. Gen X may have helped define what the internet is, but where it leads isn't up to them alone, it'll be fought as much against their plans as for them.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:21 AM on February 25 [4 favorites]


Here is another reason I have trouble with generation discourse - the boomer generation is considered to run either from 1946 to 1964 or 1946 to 1968, but births peaked around 1958 and then declined steeply more or less through 1975. Why then does the baby boom continue through 1968?

Yeah, there's been some kind of baby boomer age range creep that's really souring me on the whole concept of cutesy generation names. My mother was once considered an "edge case" boomer. Specific things about her life (father was WWII vet, went to college when college was still cheap, married young enough that she already had a family when the aimless early 90s Gen X thing was happening) fitted her firmly into the boomer camp, but now there wouldn't even be an argument just from her birth year. Very recently, people seemed to think of Obama as old Gen X (which makes sense -- his mom was Silent Generation, college was affordable but not cheap, he didn't get married until 1992). People now call him a boomer. And now people are arguing that Kamala Harris is a boomer?? This is turning into the Always Has Been astronaut meme.
posted by grandiloquiet at 9:27 AM on February 25 [4 favorites]


But I do think you've got to include the guy who wrote the book in the generation in question.

OTOH you could argue that someone not in a generation (if barely) has some perspective that those in the thick of it do not. (Not that I'm strongly wedded to this take.)

if you view things culturally (as opposed to statistically), a different story emerges.

Generational discourse isn't just referencing an era, but age

souring me on the whole concept of cutesy generation names

Yeah. Really the whole idea of "generations" makes more sense if we ditch the idea of the 20-year length (which seems to mostly exist for vague "creating children" reasons) and move to a more social/cultural set of considerations. Which IMO would split more along decade/major politics lines and be rooted in when you were a teenager/young adult. So Coupland and philip-random would be 70's/Carter Generation, older GenX would be 80's/Reagan/Bush I/Thatcher Generation, younger GenX would be 90's/Clinton Generation, older Millennials would be 2k/Bush II Generation, etc etc etc.

(Still lots of vagueness/grey areas in this consideration, of course, but really it all comes down to society has changed much too fast ever since WWII for 20 years to be any sort of useful sorting method.)
posted by soundguy99 at 10:01 AM on February 25 [2 favorites]


People now call him a boomer. And now people are arguing that Kamala Harris is a boomer?? This is turning into the Always Has Been astronaut meme.
Look, if 'Millennials' is going to be used for people cracking 40 and kids still in high school (though now "Gen Z/Zoomer" has started taking hold, sorry kids), 'Boomer' is going to become blurred past all sense of definition as well.

In the war of generational branding & catchy thinkpieces, either you fade into obscurity or you get blamed enough to persist. Give it a couple decades, then Millennials will start being called boomers, while we complain that we still don't have access to stable employment or the gears of power.
posted by CrystalDave at 10:27 AM on February 25 [4 favorites]


There are people I know doing actual science (e.g. epidemiology) looking at generational differences - they also acknowledge that their cut-offs are arbitrary and will change them up to see patterns. So one study had 20-year increments (e.g. 1925-1944 for the "silent generation", 1945-1964, 1965-1984, etc.) - and then a later study by the same people looked at differences between "early boomers" (1945-1954) and "late boomers" (1955-1964), etc. They are artificial, but useful divisions to look at issues like whether health improved after the war (the answer is - not really).

I personally think of the early boomers as being the "signal" boomers, that is, when people say "Boomers experienced X" - Woodstock, the moon landing, etc. - they really mean that first 10 years. They are the culturally influential boomers. But the demographic peak was later, so the cohort born between 1955 and 1964 is larger than the first 10 years, and those are the really the bulge of the population and the big sway on voting, markets, etc.

As for Generation X: their unifying characteristic is best described as being economic - as a smaller generation (even when the years are sliced evenly, fewer people were born), they moved into more saturated markets for jobs, houses, etc. Combined with political changes that were undermining the power of labour in favour of the power of capital as well as state support of education, etc., their financial prospects were quite different.
posted by jb at 10:44 AM on February 25 [9 favorites]


As for Generation X: their unifying characteristic is best described as being economic

I think that undersells the enormity of the changes that Gen X went through, at least in the US, compared to those that came before by just looking at it in current terms. The seventies, for some examples, saw a huge increase in women entering the workforce, basically doubling the amount of women workers from the 1950s. Divorce rates likewise climbed enormously, which has some correlative value to being able to earn better incomes, and with the increased availability and acceptance of the Pill, introduced in 1960, women had more options for birth control and through that some greater sexual freedom. These changes were first felt directly by the Boomers of course, but the carry over effect on Gen X who were more likely to be raised by divorced parents and expect women to work and have choices helped lead to a steady increase in the average age entering marriage.

Along with that were changes in speech/obscenity laws, allowing more open depictions of sex, violence and other formerly considered "obscene" concepts and lifestyles to be shown openly, which points to how our current understanding of free speech is really only fiftyish years old . The glut of porn and violence that entered the culture starting in the late sixties was an immense change for media and Gen X was the generation that grew up with that new landscape. Likewise, they were really the first generation of hardcore TV kids and became considered as their own market, rather than just part of a family.

With increasing disposable income and, eventually, their staying single longer shifted how media consumption and marketing was used to coerce spending from Gen X and how so much media is still centered around those interests. and those of the Millennials, as the younger generations media habits moved to the internet and less centralizable consumption patterns for marketing. Gen X has essentially been spoiled by the media for being the core audience for certain forms of mass media for so long without there being the same kind of replacement group to be found under shifting consumption patterns. Having media focus on your generation so intently with newly unfettered access to all kinds of formerly prohibited, and still felt as illicit by Gen X, content did a lot to shape how Gen X deals with the world, for good and bad and is part of what's being pushed back against by "cancel culture" and informs why Gen X was considered the slacker generation and many other things.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:52 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


That doesn't sound correct for Gen X to me. Elizabeth Warren published "Two Income Trap" in 2004, which I don't think was about Gen X since the majority of Gen Xers wouldn't even be married yet, so it was most assuredly aimed at boomers, and references that household income has generally fallen since the 1980s. I'd probably said this before, but there are working papers which suggest that nearly all the income gains since ~1975 have been in non-cash categories - (health insurance costs being one category). To put it shorter, generally your parents were wealthier than you, not poorer.

Maybe you are specifically talking upper-middle class, as this is the timeperiod when class-based income differentials were widening.

I'm also not sure it really tracks that Gen X was the 'tv and porn' generation. My distinct GenX memory was the pushback of that (Tipper Gore/ratings on music) so it existed for a really short period of time, but was on its way out until the modern internet came along at the tail end of the 1990s.

Also just because advertisers pay the most attention to 18-40 demographic doesn't mean that's they are the primary consumers of tv, at least not back in Gen X's timeframe. TV median watcher ages skew super old.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:37 AM on February 26 [1 favorite]


The parents of Gen X, roughly speaking in terms of time line, were indeed wealthier as adults than Gen X, but the way we map our understanding of society comes a lot from when we grow up and Gen X kids were relatively well off in terms of discretionary income thanks in large part to their parents. But, yes, it certainly is true this doesn't hold for all groups within the generation as social changes don't spread evenly, so it is, like so much of this kind of talk, more a broad generalization than one that can account for all individuals or sub-groups.

The more notable element, from my perspective, is in how the mass culture reflects the changes and how that effects the way those who grew up in a given time come to understand how the world works, what might be acceptable, expected, desirable, unwelcome and so on. Coming to something new as an adult is different than growing up with it as the norm. The shift in culture around porn and TV, as you say, carries a lot of other potential elements with it. Potential in that it isn't easy or maybe even possible to separate out what influences lead to what outcomes or how much any given effect matters, but seems to fit with later developments in how Gen Xish era adults viewed later elements of culture, like how they initially envisioned the internet and how they relate to free speech and why that is now being pushed back against from an opposing direction.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:06 AM on February 26


I still remember where I was the first time I heard the word "ass" on network television.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:31 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


Naturally, and as usual, I'm coming late to a "generations" thread to link to Joshua Glenn's work on the subject of generational cohorts. Suffice it to say, people who went to Woodstock when they were 20 have little in common with people who were 20 when John Lennon was assassinated, but they are often lumped together as "Boomers."

“Generations,” Joshua Glenn, Hi-Lo Brow, 02 March 2010 posted by ob1quixote at 8:02 AM on February 27 [3 favorites]


1944-53: [Boomers] Blank Generation

Wow, so Richard Hell (born 1949) really did belong to the Blank Generation.
posted by SansPoint at 10:59 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]


“Generations,” Joshua Glenn, Hi-Lo Brow, 02 March 2010

great link. Thank you.
posted by philip-random at 11:15 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


> ob1quixote: "Suffice it to say, people who went to Woodstock when they were 20 have little in common with people who were 20 when John Lennon was assassinated, but they are often lumped together as "Boomers.""

On a related note, almost exactly half of male Boomers were too young for the Vietnam draft while the other half were exactly the right age.
posted by mhum at 6:39 PM on March 1 [2 favorites]


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