The Generation Gap
April 28, 2003 11:20 AM   Subscribe

The Generation Gap. How differently do you see the world from people born just 18 years ago?
posted by grrarrgh00 (37 comments total)
I had to keep up today's train of concise posting, but here's the scoop. Every year, Beloit College publishes a "Mindset List" for its faculty and staff, cataloguing the realities of the world the freshman class has grown up in (for example, this year's Mindset List reminds us that "Vanessa Williams and Madonna are aging singers" for those born in 1984.

Many of the items are amusing, but most give us young folks far too little credit. For example, despite what they say about my graduating class, I do remember the fall of the Berlin Wall (and I still have the piece of it brought back by a friend of the family after the event), most folks my age remember the Challenger explosion, I had both an Atari and vinyl albums when I was younger, the expression "you sound like a broken record" evokes memories of actual broken records for me, I got many fond years of use out of my Fisher Price record player when I was little, I enjoyed both Pac Man and Pong in-the-arcade-thank-you-very-much, Star Wars still awes me a little bit, cd's still strike me as a new technology, I've only in-line skated once or twice, but I've roller-skated many times, I dimly remember Johnny Carson hosting the Tonight Show, I remember those ugly McDonald's styrofoam containers as well as the next octogenarian, and I have quibbles with some of their other assertions. That said, regardless of whatever mass hysteria was prevailing at the time, Jordache jeans were never cool.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 11:21 AM on April 28, 2003

I miss the McDonald's styrofoam containers. I've had no place to put my fries since they got rid of them.
posted by nyxxxx at 11:32 AM on April 28, 2003

Oh, nyxxxx, yeah, I miss those too. I love the Beloit lists. They always tend to make me feel old, but it fascinates me to see how much has changed since I graduated from college.
posted by greengrl at 11:40 AM on April 28, 2003

Well, nyxxxx and greengrl, if you purchase a Big Mac, you have all the fry-holding convenience of the styrofoam container in a receptacle that's not only environmentally friendly, but also brown, so you know it's environmentally friendly.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 11:43 AM on April 28, 2003

i don't like the way some of the statements were made, like this one...

They have no meaningful recollection of the Reagan era, and did not know he had ever been shot.

sure "kids these days" may not remember the reagan admin, but i would think in school they may have learned he was shot. or are kids these days just high on dope and listening to that loud rock and roll music.

my dating preferences skew younger and the young women i know [caution: small sample size] that are in their mid twenties seem to have a strong grasp of life on the planet before they were born.
posted by birdherder at 11:43 AM on April 28, 2003

I am legally drunk and they are illegally drunk.
posted by mookieproof at 11:54 AM on April 28, 2003

It's pretty interesting, but there's some weird assumptions made. Lowest Common Denominator, I s'pose, but...
From the 2002 list:
"They never took a swim and thought about Jaws. "
I would think that at least a statistically significant number have seen Jaws and if you've seen it, you're thinking about it.

"The Vietnam War is as ancient history to them as WWI and WWII or even the Civil War"
Not if your uncle died there.

"Kansas, Boston, Chicago, America, and Alabama are all places—not music groups."
Further proof that the universe will restore the proper order eventually given time.
posted by chandy72 at 11:57 AM on April 28, 2003

From the 2002 list:
40.Michael Jackson has always been white.

Now that's just plain rude.

True, but rude nonetheless.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 12:17 PM on April 28, 2003

Some of these are just bizarre...

The center of chic has shifted from Studio 54 to Liza's living room, live!

Umm... huh?
posted by turaho at 12:20 PM on April 28, 2003

From a different perspective, I've heard an anthropological description of "cultural generations" as occuring when the popular culture (in a broader sense than simply 'pop culture') changes sufficiently so that previous generations have a difficult time either identifying with or adapting to it. Presumably, given a faster and faster developing society, every generation would dwell in a world that is fundamentally different from their parents. Obviously oversimplified yet still pretty scary. I would suggest that we have possibly reached that point in regards to our technological society, while some other aspects seem to persist - which may explain the aforementioned 80's rock bands.

I was a freshman in college in 1983, and at the risk of stating the obvious, things are certainly different than they were back then. However, I certainly have no problems dealing with technological developments, since, in part, it is my job (and I'm a geek) and I thankfully outgrew my youthful appreciation of hair bands, so the question becomes whether there are sub-culture groups that are more prone to cultural adaptation.
posted by elendil71 at 12:22 PM on April 28, 2003

I absolutely despise these lists. I think the Class of 2000 (when I graduated) was a big one for their publicity, what with the whole national obsession with round numbers. It was entirely wrong for me -- I owned (and listened to) records regularly. I remembered Reagan's presidency and the fall of the Berlin Wall. I even vaguely remembered the Challenger explosion. And of course, anything that says "they don't know this" is patently wrong. People still say that you sound like a broken record. Through the miracles of VHS, young people have seen movies from before they were born. And as for stating things that happened before they were born -- big deal. That should be obvious to anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of mathematics.

Aargh. It annoys me to no end to say "young people don't know this!" as if everyone younger than you was nothing more than part of a hive mind. Even worse is that, no matter how much you learn, you'll be considered less knowledgable because events within their lifetime happened before yours.

None of those things say anything about anyone's "mindset." They're nothing more than something old people do so they can pretend they're better than young people.
posted by dagnyscott at 1:31 PM on April 28, 2003

Class of 2005 here, These lists are really far off.

There have always been red M&M's, and blue ones are not new. What do you mean there used to be beige ones?
I remember beige M&Ms fondly, and was old enough to hotly debate the relative merits of blue, purple, or pink among my friends. (I thought they were all bad choices.) Didn't realize red wasn't original, though.

They do not know what the Selective Service is, but men routinely register for it on their financial aid forms.
Ah...wrong. And most of us still call it the draft.

If they vaguely remember the night the Berlin Wall fell, they are probably not sure why it was up in the first place.
The fall of the Berlin Wall is actualy my first memory of the outside world. I don't think I knew it existed until it fell. But I could have given a rudimentary explantion of why it was up by the time I was in sixth grade, and to assume that a college freshman couldn't do so is really rather insulting.

One earring on a man indicates that he is probably pretty conservative.
Depends. Which ear?
posted by hippugeek at 1:36 PM on April 28, 2003

list seems really narrow to me. i'd like to think my life hasn't been defined entirely in terms of products & tv shows.
posted by mhjb at 1:46 PM on April 28, 2003

True cultural generations (these Beloit things are bogus, not true generations) are fascinating to me. My parents, for instance, in their early 70s, complain that there's nothing "good" on TV anymore. Of course there are at least a handful of quality shows, such as Simpsons or West Wing, and many more that would otherwise appeal to my folks, but these are effectively off-limits to them because they have no idea what people are talking about. Think how jarring, and annoying, and frightening on some level, it would be to have a cultural reference thrown at you every third line that means nothing. Last night's Six Feet Under, for instance, had a great example: One character was trying to figure out where another character had come up with a fake name. "FiFi is the dog you grew up with, and Blahblah, that's your porn name..."

What are my parents supposed to do with that?

Even more than the physical infirmities, the thing I dread about becoming old is the slow process of becoming a foreigner to your own culture.
posted by luser at 2:01 PM on April 28, 2003 [1 favorite]

hippugeek, red was original, and until 1976 there were red m&ms, but because of red dye number 2 (and the attendant scares), they took them away. Red M&M's were discontinued for 11 years from 1976 to 1985 after the FDA banned Red Dye No. 2, even though M&M's did not contain this dye. They have always used Red #'s 3 and 40! from here

(just doing my part educatin' the younguns) : >
posted by amberglow at 3:05 PM on April 28, 2003

Geez, I grew up listening to my Grandfather telling me in Yiddish about how he and his brothers fought back against the Cossacks in the 1906 Kishinev pogrom and how he lost his finger in the first world war. My mother was chased around Europe by the Nazis and my father still reminisces about the great depression (I know from him, for example, that a mickey is a potato baked in a fire made of rolled up newspapers, basic bronx teen slow food of the 1930s.)

By the time I was ten I had seen Eisenhower on our tiny round screen B+W television, Kennedy shot, watched the first space shots, watched the first run of the Flintstones, Batman, and saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, but I also got to meet the trombone player from Buddy Bolden's original jazz band, and had a baby sitter who was born in 1858.

And I just hit 47.... and I'm starting to feel like Jack Crabbe...
posted by zaelic at 3:34 PM on April 28, 2003

28. "The Tonight Show" has always been with Jay Leno.

damn. now that's just sad...
posted by grabbingsand at 4:06 PM on April 28, 2003

'"Big Brother" is merely a television show.'

Sure it is.
posted by Devils Slide at 4:11 PM on April 28, 2003

Presumably, given a faster and faster developing society, every generation would dwell in a world that is fundamentally different from their parents.

OT, but if this interests you at all, you should find a copy of "Slow Tuesday Night," a story by the great R. A. Lafferty. Online description:
"In this satire, the civilization of the future operates at a much faster pace. Basil Bagelbaker makes and loses several fortunes, Judy and Ildefonsa go through several marriages, and the lifetimes of new products are measured in minutes, all on a slow night."
Unfortunately, the story isn't online in English, but if you read Spanish, here you go.

More on topic: zaelic, do you remember the NBC peacock and "The following program is brought to you in living color..."?
posted by languagehat at 5:17 PM on April 28, 2003


1. Students starting classes this year were born in 1770.
2. They have no memory of Voltaire being alive.
3. When you mention King George, they think that you are talking about King George III, not King George II.
4. Students are familiar with coal gas. They have an intuitive knowledge of how to use coal gas to light their houses, and live in a "coal gas frame of mind".
5. They were going through puberty when the power loom was invented.
posted by Hildago at 5:38 PM on April 28, 2003

I'm 33. My father is a reporter and ex-DJ and his career has kept us all reasonably well-informed over the years (perhaps more with the current-events department and less in pop-culture, but still). And I think we need to consider that we (MeFiers) are not representative of the public, regardless of age.

About ten years ago, I explained CSNY's "Ohio" to a teenager who had never heard of Kent State. They're out there.
posted by swerve at 5:48 PM on April 28, 2003

I teach college freshmen and nothing makes me feel older than when I refer to a film like "As Good As It Gets" or "Seven" and they call it an old movie. The worst was when I made a joke about the movie "Pulp Fiction" last year, and my students had never heard of it.

I think the saddest thing for me is to look out at my kids and realize that they didn't have "the Muppet Show."
posted by miss-lapin at 6:00 PM on April 28, 2003 [1 favorite]

Do young'un's trust people over thirty these days?
posted by WolfDaddy at 6:03 PM on April 28, 2003

My parents ... in their early 70s, complain that there's nothing "good" on TV anymore ... Think how jarring, and annoying, and frightening on some level, it would be to have a cultural reference thrown at you every third line that means nothing.

But then many people of this age (and even younger) bring this situation on themselves by not watching anything current that would give them enough cultural references to cope. I think it's a mindset thing rather than age per se. In the UK, I think it's fairly characteristic of that generation to be interested only in factual and edifying TV (e.g. news, nature documentaries) and to view as rubbish most of the entertainment formats (e.g. action movies, animation, modern comedy) that generate the majority of in-references.
posted by raygirvan at 6:29 PM on April 28, 2003

One of the really interesting things to me is how sharp the difference can be in what people know. As seniors in college ('98) we found that anyone two years younger than us had never heard of the commodore 64, while everyone our year had -- even if they had never owned one themselves. Other than that, our sample pool was fairly consistent in preferences, techie-ness, etc. Of course I'm sure there are exceptions, but it was a weird gap.

And miss-lapin, I feel your sadness about the muppets.
posted by synapse at 6:38 PM on April 28, 2003

mookieproof, that's a beautiful thing.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:53 PM on April 28, 2003

The only thing I regret is the kind of cultural experience that doesn't seem to get, how would you put it, remembered by the culture at large (or at least doesn't become an item of nostalgia). Like, say, the whole glamour around finding out about cool and interesting music -- how you had to get to know people with record collections, and be somehow tuned into underground currents or sorts; the human connections that you had to make. Obviously the web itself changed that, and now file sharing has rendered it obsolete: you hear of a band that sounds interesting, minutes later you are listening to them.

And then of course the advent of punk in the late 70s, which I remember as so ground breaking, so explosive, but which means about as much to the young folks these days as Dylan going electric meant to me when I was a teenager.

The first time I became aware of any kind of cultural generation gap (from my side) was when people younger than me started getting all warm and fuzzy about the Brady Bunch, a sitcom I thought of as an utterly stupid waste of time.
posted by jokeefe at 8:48 PM on April 28, 2003

I teach college freshmen and nothing makes me feel older than when I refer to a film like "As Good As It Gets" or "Seven" and they call it an old movie.

Yeah, miss-lapin, I discovered this last semester that not a single one of my students had any clear memory of the 1st Gulf War. I was a bit taken aback by that, I have to say.
posted by jokeefe at 8:50 PM on April 28, 2003

How differently do you see the world from people born just 18 years ago?
Well. I see the world through mature and wise eyes, while 18 year old kids are ignorant and inexperienced children who know next to nothing.

What a silly question.

posted by Ayn Marx at 9:46 PM on April 28, 2003

*grabs walking stick, hobbles off holding back and muttering under breath*
posted by dg at 11:07 PM on April 28, 2003

Ah...many thanks, amberglow.

I teach college freshmen and nothing makes me feel older than when I refer to a film like "As Good As It Gets" or "Seven" and they call it an old movie.

Gracious. I admit that film majors are overrepresented among my circle, but that hardly seems typical of my classmates. Most are well-acquainted with at least the high points of classic cinema, and...well, really...those movies came out when we were in high school. Are you sure your students aren't tweaking you a little, miss-lapin? I ask not because I don't believe you, but because the alternative is that I'm hopelessly out of touch with people a mere year younger than me, and I'm awfully reluctant to resign myself to that.
posted by hippugeek at 12:13 AM on April 29, 2003

hippugeek-first I didn't say that they weren't familiar with them (these students are currently 18, which means they would have been around 11 when As Good As It Gets came out in 1997) but they refer to them as old movies in the same way that I refer to "Some Like It Hot" or "The Maltese Falcon" as an old movie. I should also note that I am only 28 making me a fairly young college instructor. Imagine how some of my colleages in their forties feel.

And no, they weren't tweaking me.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:31 AM on April 29, 2003 [1 favorite]

I think the same mindset that creates lists like these is what causes people to call a movie like As Good as it Gets "old" because maybe they weren't interested in that kind of thing when it came out. I don't think young people would call things that happened earlier in their life as "old" if people weren't continually pointing things out as "this is before your time," "you won't get this" etc.
posted by dagnyscott at 12:40 PM on April 29, 2003

hildago - that was f'n hilarious.
posted by PrinceValium at 3:02 PM on April 29, 2003

Muppet Show -- hmph, is that anything like "Kukla Fran & Ollie"?
posted by Slagman at 5:41 AM on April 30, 2003

And then of course the advent of punk in the late 70s, which I remember as so ground breaking, so explosive, but which means about as much to the young folks these days as Dylan going electric meant to me when I was a teenager.

Maybe to most. A few months ago I was talking to one of my students, who is probably around 19, about music from my junior high and high school days in the late '70s-early '80s. He said, "I wish music now was as good as it was when you were in school. Music now sucks."

I suppose that even loving that older music doesn't give you the same perspective on it as discovering it new would have, though. Still, I imagine that anyone's own personal "advent of punk" would be awfully groundbreaking even if only in the personal sense. There was a lot of older music that certainly had a strong impact on me when I discovered it years later.
posted by litlnemo at 6:12 AM on April 30, 2003

Muppet Show -- hmph, is that anything like "Kukla Fran & Ollie"?

Meet the new geezers, same as the old geezers...
(hey, does CSI: Miami make that reference "hip" again? Assuming it ever was, that is?)

At 34 and 29 respectively, I'm continually suprised at the differences in cultural knowledge between me and my wife. She fondly recalls NKOTB but never heard of Menudo, while I had to suffer through both.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:46 AM on May 1, 2003

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