Generation X washed up?
April 25, 2001 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Generation X washed up? Okay, so it became a marketing term for a demographic I'm part of, and I usually cringe when seeing something described as 'Gen-X', but I still saw some truths while reading this. Was that it? Was the 90's Internet revolution and crash our time in the sun, and now we're "so over"? (And do Gen-Xers really range from 20-38 years old now?) [via obscurestore]
posted by kokogiak (56 comments total)
20-38 seems like a very wide range... they have the new term, Generation Y (or Generation I) which is supposed to be something like 14-24 right now, which is basically supposed to the be the first generation to grow up "completely around computers".

At 23, I seem to fall in between the two ranges, and seem to be trapped in demographic limbo.
posted by benjh at 10:50 AM on April 25, 2001

How cute. The early- to mid-90s depressed navel-gazing slacker routine morphed into the late-90s egotistical overpaid dotcommie routine, and now that that's failed, one of them's trying to go back to the original depressed navel-gazing slacker routine that he mistakenly thinks worked so well before. Christ, he actually mentioned Kurt Cobain!

Sorry, no. You may have gotten a middle-aged OCRegister editor to buy into it, Mr. Lynch, but the rest of us have long since had enough of it.
posted by aaron at 10:52 AM on April 25, 2001

Wait a minute... no good cartoons??? What about The Smurfs and Transformers?
posted by GrooveJedi at 11:05 AM on April 25, 2001

Amen to the cartoons! Being 20, I fall somewhere in the middle of the X and Y generations. This just appears to be another whiner starved for attention because he is suddenly without the press he was addicted to before the .com fallout.
posted by prototype_octavius at 11:16 AM on April 25, 2001

Generation X was washed up the moment Billy Idol's group named themselves "Generation X" and the other members of the said cohort didn't lynch them. How long ago was that?

Dare one suggest that identifying with a generation is about as silly as identifying with a football team? Especially when that generation is itself identified merely as an age range with a certain kind of popcult.
posted by jfuller at 11:23 AM on April 25, 2001

Judging from this specimen, we (Gen-X) might be a bunch of idiots who relate to ourselves only through popular culture, and media worthiness.

Kurt Cobain and Smashing Pumpkins didn't have a message, besides the no-message message, or the I suffer message.

I don't relate to any of that garbage. I wasn't in a dot com, and I didn't listen to that tripe. Our parents got into the suburbs for the kids, you fool. The dot com shit happened mainly because the Boomers were trying to retire big, and still are, hence the shrill tone of the news, now that it isn't still paying off. GenX got everything, don't tell me about the hostility of living with everything while growing up. "They pushed my TV show and Madonna out for thirtysomething boo hoo."
posted by mblandi at 11:23 AM on April 25, 2001

benjh: 23 here, and also in limbo. maybe we should be twentytweens. argh.
posted by owillis at 11:23 AM on April 25, 2001

benjh, I'm in limbo with you. I'm 37. When "Generation X" came out, it was pretty clear that I was not part of its demographic, and I'm definitely not a baby-boomer. Come to think of it, limbo isn't so bad, is it?

jfuller, I'm almost positive that the band predated the use of the term to categorize the demographic. I think it was only used as such after the release of the book and all of the hype surrounding it.
posted by gimli at 11:32 AM on April 25, 2001

I'm 21 and I'm generation X and I'm a slacker.

And under my belt I have:
Designed websites viewed by millions.
Written essays and stories viewed by hundreds of thousands.
Written and directed four short films.
Participated in a startup, and left it.
Sold advertising for another startup.
And I graduate in a month from a prestigious university.

And I feel like I haven't accomplished much compared to my peers. To me, that is Generation X. People who get shit done, and then feel like they haven't done enough.
posted by kcalder at 11:39 AM on April 25, 2001

The article is flawed in a bunch of ways, but he has a point with his assertion that the Boomer generation crams the 60's down our throats at every opportunity while stifling our generation's music and culture. Living in San Francisco, I feel this acutely. Local news and music coverage is constantly marginalizing or demonizing great music, while pathetically slobbering over old dinosaurs like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. Every time the local media refers to Haight St., they can't resist mentioning the summer of love. Barf
posted by dubhead at 11:41 AM on April 25, 2001

I was smack in the middle of Gen-x when the demographic was invented by confused boomers. I was 20-ish and almost a boomer but just a tad too young to be one. My parents were among the first boomers to turn 50 (horror!). I've been in demographic limbo my entire life.
Somewhere along the line the age range for gen-x stayed the same while I kept getting older.
I think gen-x is just a boomer code word for "those damn kids" just as gen-y is a boomer code word for "those damn grandkids"

Just remember this, "Friends"(gen-x) is the "30-Something"(boomer) of today. A bunch of 30 year olds pretending to be 10 years younger than they really are and not pulling it off very well.
posted by Dillenger69 at 11:49 AM on April 25, 2001

I really don't equate identifying with a generation as identifying with a football team. It's more about commonality of experience, a shared cultural environment. For instance, there are only a few of us who have memories of seeing the original Star Wars debut in a theater when we were under 12 years old. Granted, it may not be as 'important' a memory as when JFK was shot, or V-E Day, but it is one of our memories.

I'm surprised at the negativity about Gen-X, makes feel once again like those who are outside of it don't get it. Kurt Cobain wasn't Jesus Christ, but he was my age, my neighbor and he spoke, dressed and acted like me and a lot of people I knew and respected - plus his music really rocked.
posted by kokogiak at 11:51 AM on April 25, 2001

I'm 26, but didn't find much to agree with in that article.

>>Christ, he actually mentioned Kurt Cobain!

Notice how only white guys get to be in "Gen-X"? The author mentions white-boy bands Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, and Moby (comparing them to white-boys past, The Beatles, and white-boys future, Limp Bizkit). Apparently Public Enemy and NWA were not "Gen-X" enough.

Changing the subject, I think the late 1980s must have been one of the most culturely barren periods in postwar America. Just remember the pop charts: Vanilla Ice, Poison, etc. (Hmmm...on second thought, it looks as if we might be in a similar period right now...)
posted by johnb at 11:52 AM on April 25, 2001

My recollection from the height of the Gen X hype is that it was defined as those born between 1961 and 1981 (though 1965-75 felt more accurate to me).

That said, I've met plenty of people outside both ends of that spectrum who fit the profile. Slackerhood is not age-specific.
posted by jjg at 12:00 PM on April 25, 2001

generation X was a term first used in the mid- to late-70's to describe the disenfranchised young adults who were cynical, over-educated, and unable to find work. that generation would now be in their 40's, and i don't believe anyone younger than that, including myself, can refer to themselves using that moniker. we may all be lost and disenfranchised, sure, but we shouldn't co-opt that term as our own -- anymore than we should call ourselves hippies just because we wear sandals and have long hair.
posted by grandpaboy at 12:02 PM on April 25, 2001

Those of us in the gap between the Baby Boomers and Gen X do have a label. We're "Trailing Boomers", or so says Rocking the Ages: The Yankelovich Report on Generational Marketing, which provides some fascinating insight on how events that happen during our formative years shape our views of the world (and how crafty Marketeers can exploit that to their ends).
posted by dws at 12:03 PM on April 25, 2001

> he has a point with his assertion that the Boomer
> generation crams the 60's down our throats at every
> opportunity while stifling our generation's music and
> culture.

Please don't be misled. What you're reacting to is not what people of any particular generation are doing to you, it's just marketroids and mediadroids (who might be any age) aiming their pitches where they think the money is. Speaking as an old fart who endured the 60s in person, I guarantee you I'd rather go listen to and support new live music any day if the alternative is yet another Beatles-repackaging CD.
posted by jfuller at 12:08 PM on April 25, 2001

Dillenger, some of the "Friends" are closer to 40 than 30...
posted by Ben Grimm at 12:10 PM on April 25, 2001

johnb - um, Pixies? De La Soul? BDP? I recall listening to great music in high school. Culturely barren = pop charts at any point in time, not just the late 80s.

As for Generation X, does anyone else remember reading Douglas Coupland's book? The demographic he labels Gen X barely included me (in 1992 I was 20), so how could it include many 20-somethings now? jjg's timeframe seems closer to what I remember.

Back when I was a kid, we called Gen X...
posted by megnut at 12:10 PM on April 25, 2001

Another related story: Maureen Dowd's The Gabbiest Generation. Op-ed piece about how the boomers are dealing with their newly vocal and righteous parents, the "Greatest generation" (as named by Brokaw).
posted by kokogiak at 12:20 PM on April 25, 2001

As a Gen X'er (age 29), I've enjoyed watching some aspects of my youth return in cultural flashbacks.
posted by
allaboutgeorge at 12:23 PM on April 25, 2001

meg, you're right. They keep moving the time-frame around. I think the term "gen x" is more important to marketers than anyone else. A quick google check had the age range anywhere from those born in the early '60s to the '80s, depending on who you believe. There was an article, in Details I think, where Coupland said that the term has been so abused that it no longer means anything.
posted by gimli at 12:32 PM on April 25, 2001

Amen Kcalder.

I consider myself gen-x despite what the label was invented for and what others might see it as now, it represent to me a childhood in the 80's and young adulthood in the 90's, and all the cultural significance that happened during that time, popular or not.
posted by Hackworth at 12:34 PM on April 25, 2001

Also 23 here... man, we should start a committee to find out what the hell we are.
posted by fusinski at 12:44 PM on April 25, 2001

Here's a history of the term.

Billy Idol's band Generation X was a punk band named after the book in the aforementioned link, and had nothing to do with 20-38 year old marketing demographic.
posted by jennyb at 12:59 PM on April 25, 2001

"Generation X" is simply a scare-quoted bugagoo term designed to denigrate whatever Those Goddamn Kids Are Up To These Days. Which is why it gets flopped around all over the timeframe; having invented the perfect shadow-derogation for some group of kids/young adults, the media and finger-waggling adults are reluctant to let it go.
posted by Skot at 1:01 PM on April 25, 2001

I don't think the Friends cast is supposed to be markedly younger than the actors are. The only thing that's really wrong with that show is that nobody's married off and not seeing the rest of the crowd anymore. But I know plenty of people under 40 who are still trying to get it together.

I'm a "trailing boomer" myself, or perhaps more accurately a baby-boomlet-er. (There was a birthrate decline, then a late blip around 1962-64.) Sometimes I feel like a boomer, sometimes like a GenXer. The one thing we can agree on is not getting what all you GenY nutcases are on about.
posted by dhartung at 1:08 PM on April 25, 2001

Here is how Douglas Coupland himself described the origins of his book title:

"The book's title came not from Billy Idol's band, as many supposed, but
from the final chapter of a funny sociological book on American class
structure titled Class, by Paul Fussell. In his final chapter,
Fussell named an "X" category of people who wanted to hop off the
merry-go-round of status, money, and social climbing that so often
frames modern existence. The citizens of X had much in common with my
own socially disengaged characters; hence the title. The book's title
also allowed Claire, Andy, and Dag to remain enigmatic individuals while
at the same time making them feel a part of the larger whole." (Details Magazine, June 1995)

Thus, his use of the term applies not so much to a specific age group as a mindset/worldview - which happened to be common to his particular age group. The term got picked up by marketers and the media, and overused/abused thereafter.
posted by dnash at 1:11 PM on April 25, 2001

In Britain, the concept of Gen X never really took hold. The Guardian (who else) tried to promote the thing (although it was probably just an attempt to fill column inches). Perhaps are friends who wrote the article should have looked at AltCulture, which carefully and discrimately covered all of the important things. Is the Frutopia still available in the US? Oasis won that war in the UK . . .
posted by feelinglistless at 1:11 PM on April 25, 2001

Yeah, they still have Fruitopia here. Had some of it the other day, in fact, although I tend to prefer my juices pure and untainted by mingling with other flavors.
posted by kindall at 1:16 PM on April 25, 2001

Upon seeing this thread title, "Generation X washed up?" my first reaction was... "Yeah, and maybe they should have a shave, too."
posted by kindall at 1:17 PM on April 25, 2001

>>johnb - um, Pixies? De La Soul? BDP? I recall listening to great music in high school. Culturely barren = pop charts at any point in time, not just the late 80s.

Sure, sure, I agree -- most of the good stuff happens off the charts. But some pop music is decent (James Brown, the Beatles etc), and some (most) is just really bad. It just seems to me that in the late 1980s there was a greater proportion of the latter (Bon Jovi, New Kids on the Block, etc). Then again, I don't really listen to that much chart-topping music, so I could be way off here. (Wake me up when Autechre breaks the top 40)
posted by johnb at 1:25 PM on April 25, 2001

Frutopia is not the same since they switched from glass to plastic packaging. It just tastes different.
posted by owillis at 1:31 PM on April 25, 2001

you aren't supposed to eat the packaging, owillis.
posted by lescour at 1:36 PM on April 25, 2001

As a Gen X'er (age 29), I've enjoyed watching some aspects of my youth return in cultural flashbacks. [link to today's NY Times article on 80's culture returning]

Holy crap! I wrote something on that theme (80's revival in pop culture) two weeks ago. Ok, the Times piece is more erudite than mine, but I was first, damnit! I feel so validated. :)

(but then the Times doesn't have a cool 80's quiz linked to their article)
posted by andrewraff at 1:51 PM on April 25, 2001

even if you fall smack in the middle of defined age range, it does ont necessarily mean you are the quintessential example of that 'generation'.

i resent that word 'generation' as if for a 5 years the human collective decided to have kids, then they wait 10 years before another 'generation'.

one of my former roommates, 5 years my senior, said to me once she hates when people say kurt cobain defines her generation, he didn't affect her (she's kind of a mod.)
i'm 21, and i don't want to be part of any generation that was ever a mob, and they've all been. i've never wanted to buy anything because it's gen-x or gen-blat or whatever.

i agree that the best musicians come from the group described in this article; but who's reading this thread anyway? we are who we are, growing up listening to what we listen to. there is good music out there, as ever just don't expect to find it on the radio.
posted by elle at 2:09 PM on April 25, 2001

lescour, I suppose now you're going to say you're supposed to drink that red stuff inside! Yeah... pull the other one!
posted by fusinski at 3:30 PM on April 25, 2001

if you wish to study a granfalloon,
just remove the skin of a toy balloon.
posted by pikachulolita at 4:04 PM on April 25, 2001

I don't think the Friends cast is supposed to be markedly younger than the actors are. The only thing that's really wrong with that show is that nobody's married off and not seeing the rest of the crowd anymore.

The characters on Friends are getting more and more cultlike with each passing year. It isn't healthy to stick with your college friends that long and date only amongst yourselves. They're like the crazed loner who keeps to himself, except in this case there are six of them.
posted by rcade at 4:12 PM on April 25, 2001

lescour: that explains everything.
posted by owillis at 4:16 PM on April 25, 2001

Re: fruitopia (and its kin): I not only prefer my juices unmixed with other flavors, I prefer them unmixed with 90% corn syrup. If I want soda or Kool-Aid, I know where to find it.
posted by darukaru at 4:44 PM on April 25, 2001

johnb: most of the crap on the radio disappears over time. kids today don't know who New Kids on the Block were, and you and I don't know the junk that was on the radio way back when. the cream rises to the top, that which stinks sinks.

the "good old days" never were.
posted by jpoulos at 4:55 PM on April 25, 2001

Apparently some large corporations are in on the new generation naming game as well.

Just caught a banner on MSNBC about it...
posted by daver at 5:20 PM on April 25, 2001

>>johnb: most of the crap on the radio disappears over time. kids today don't know who New Kids on the Block were, and you and I don't know the junk that was on the radio way back when. the cream rises to the top, that which stinks sinks.

the "good old days" never were.

no, no, I'm not being nostalgic here. I think the 90s had some good pop music, as did the 60s, 70s, and early 80s. But the late 80s seem to me to be particularly bereft of good pop music. Who were the Beatles of the late 80s?
posted by johnb at 5:30 PM on April 25, 2001

Yeah - what are some other names for the next generation? Some I've heard: Gen 14, Generation i, Generation d, the JackAss Generation. Though I can't imagine the last one will stick. Anyone else?

Dammit, let's be sure to start labeling these up & coming snotnoses as soon as possible. I'll be god-damned if I'll stand still and let them co-opt our beloved/despised all-defining/undefinable "Generation X" moniker. And Heaven forbid we should let anyone go unlabeled.
posted by kokogiak at 5:35 PM on April 25, 2001

Articles that say "we" in an exclusive sense disturb me. Either speak for yourself or for the whole of humanity. Screw this my group vs. your group shit.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:48 PM on April 25, 2001

johnb: I'd nominate Public Enemy as the Beatles of the late 1980s. When I think of the second half of that decade, I think of the rise of hip hop (going over the top in 1990, I might argue, with the pop radio and sales success -- and critical failures -- of M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice) as a popular and vital art form, with Chuck D and Flavor Flav as its Lennon and McCartney. I'm comfortable with rap as a significant cultural force, and with PE as a disseminator of ideas about how pop music should sound and previously under-discussed political issues (discounting and stating my displeasure with, from the word go, Professor Griff's anti-Semitism).
posted by allaboutgeorge at 5:50 PM on April 25, 2001

mid and late 80's:

Soundgarden, U2, Indigo Girls, Nine Inch Nails, Suzanne Vega, Sting, Dire Straights, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Chris Isaac, Concrete Blonde, REM, Depeche Mode, Tom Waits, Kate Bush...

We could have had worse.
posted by NortonDC at 6:27 PM on April 25, 2001

My pal Simeon used the term Generation A in a whimsical sort of way about 6 or 7 years ago. The idea being that we'd moved full circle from where we were a few years before.
posted by davidgentle at 6:31 PM on April 25, 2001

The 1961-1981 definition of GenX mostly comes from Strauss and Howe's description of the 13th Generation in their books Generations, 13th Gen, and The Fourth Turning. (See For what it's worth, those who say that it should be 1965-1975 are forgetting that no generation is only 10 years long... at least not in most cultures. :) But generational boundaries are flexible. It's obvious that we've crossed a generational line, now that my peers are all pretty much out of college, getting married, having kids, etc. (I'm 35 and I consider my peers to be around 23-40 -- I hang out with people throughout that age range. Perhaps not so coincidentally, that matches the 13th Gen time frame pretty well.) But I couldn't tell you any one particular date when the line was crossed.

It's just that one day you realize -- wow, we have been replaced as "the kids" that everyone older gripes about. When did that happen?

Arguing about what to call our generation or whether someone is part of it or not is pretty silly. It's clear that there are groups of people with age-based commonalities. It's pointless to deny that, and pointless to get too hung up on definitions. It's all generalization anyway.
posted by litlnemo at 7:36 PM on April 25, 2001

I think the one single thing that shaped the culture that 'gen-x' grew up in was the murder of JFK. From talking with my Mom, American culture was extremely naive. After he was declared dead, she tells me that American culture changed completely, overnight. Can this be the root source of 'gen-x' cynicism?
posted by StormBear at 5:58 AM on April 26, 2001

> From talking with my Mom, American culture was extremely
> naive. After he was declared dead, she tells me that
> American culture changed completely, overnight. Can this
> be the root source of 'gen-x'cynicism?

No. It's just a coincidence. The Civil Rights movement was already underway in JFK's time (federal troops protecting black pupils in Arkansas schools was Eisenhower's doing) and was destined to become very large in the national consciousness, wrecking a lot of white folks' comfortable ignorance, no matter what white dude happened to be President. Again, during JFK's brief stint in office the Vietnam war was just a blip on the screen but it was going to get huge and naivete-destroying no matter who was in charge of it; and along with the war, government duplicity concerning the war would have gotten huge and naivete-destroying even had JFK lived (his record of honesty over the Bay of Pigs invasion was Not Good -- and as we have learned since, his sexual behavior differed from Bill Clinton's only in that Slick Willie had the misfortune to get caught.)

No, the days of happy naivete were numbered, assassination or no assassination. The once and future Tricky Dick was already around on the national scene long before anybody outside of Mass. had heard of JFK. Even Slick Willie was already around in embryonic form.
posted by jfuller at 7:18 AM on April 26, 2001

I think that to a large extent, Gen X had its defining JFK-like moment with the explosion of the Challenger Shuttle. To me (I just turned 30 this year), that's a similar kind of event in that I remember exactly where I was when I learned about it.

In terms of the music, I think that we should be ignored as the generation that made hip hop mainstream (sure rap existed in the 70s but crossed over to mainstream in the 80s) and we can think of the new wave (Eurythmics, U2, Dire Straits...) and electronica (Moby...) as part of our musical legacy.

On the movie end, we consumed mega-hits produced by boomers (Star Wars, Indiana Jones...) and ended up producing more ironic and jumbled kind of cinema (Being John Malkovich, Fight Club, The Matrix, Pi). BTW, if you haven't seen it, you ought to see Memento, which I should add to this list.

On the writing end, the verdict is still out. I guess that "A hartbreaking work of staggering genius" and the aforementioned Generation X partly serve to define us.

On the business end, I think that we are definitely the generation that created the modern internet. Sure, there were a lot of older people involved but I think that our being disenfranchised when we were getting out of college kind of nudged us in the direction of building something new. For those of you who weren't there in the early days, let me say that a lot of us truly believed that we were out to change the world with the Internet (and we did) and didn't care much about the money potentials at the beginning.

I think one of the defining trait of Gen X is that we are a bunch of people who realize that no one's going to take care of us (remember that there may not be any money left in social security for us) and as a result, we've become more self-reliant. We're willing to take risks (build new companies, try anything new) because we figure that with them could come great rewards. We're a generation of doers and our revolt has been against people who just take the status quo for granted. Sure, we didn't have any war to deal with (I don't think the Gulf War can be seen as a parrallel to Vietnam or WWII) but we're trying to focus on making the world somewhat better. Also, because we've grown in a more multicultural environment (listening to music by artists of all colors, sex, sexual orientation, etc..), we're more accepting of diversity.

I think those are the traits that define us. If you think about it, weblogs are a pure Gen X thing. Our fundamental distrust of boometrs translated to distrust of media and we figured that blogs were a good way to bypass that.
posted by TNLNYC at 1:48 PM on April 26, 2001

I think it's kind of funny watching people trying to define the boundaries of the the Boomers and Generalization-X, particularly since I've been discussing the same thing with my best friend from college almost as long as I've had a best friend from college. I've come to the conclusion that, at the boundaries, anyway, generational affiliation is a matter of self-identification. I was born in 1963, and I have friends my age who have married slightly older people and completely bought into the Boomer SUV Soccer Mom 2.4 Kid thing. I have friends my age who completely reject the Boomer SUV Soccer Mom 2.4 Kid thing and all the baggage that goes with it.

I tend toward Generalization-X myself. When I watched the movie Slackers, I recognized damned near every character as someone I knew, mostly in college. I can't stand "classic rock" and am sick and tired of The Beatles. My loving fiancee, on the other hand, also born in 1963, gets very insulted when she hears me and my friend from college disparaging the Boomers and discussing how we resent their cultural hegemony. And she's actually a few months younger than me.

There's no hard wall between the generations, more a gradual shift over a few years, and the warriors on each side try to claim the transitional years as their own.
posted by geneablogy at 9:23 PM on April 26, 2001

What aaron and megnut said.

I'm 35 yrs old now (born in 1965, on the leading cusp of X-ness, according to some), and when I first read Coupland's book, it was as if I was reading the book that I'd been wanting to write for years, but had been too busy drinking to actually write. The moment soon thereafter that media picked up the Gen X tag and started slapping it as a label on any youth subculture that stood still long enough, it lost what meaning it had, for me at least...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:21 AM on April 27, 2001

I felt Microserfs was a good 80s spawned lit.
I remember Challenger as my Big Defining Moment too...
posted by owillis at 12:44 AM on April 27, 2001

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