Admittedly, as a Gen Xer I may be biased, but I believe that my generation has produced pop culture that outshines other generations’ pop culture. To prove my claim, I’ve listed the fifteen best cultural artifacts produced by Gen X. I defy Baby Boomers and millennials to counter with a list of fifteen of their generation’s offerings that bests my list.
Made up of pop culture that was either produced by a member of Gen X or that is indistinguishable from Gen X, the list includes albums, movies, TV shows, and books.
Whether you love or hate this uber-popular TV show, there is no denying that Friends is the quintessential sitcom. The fact that it remains among Netflix’s most popular shows is a testament to Friends‘ pop culture relevance.
14. High Fidelity
The book, not the movie, although the movie starring John Cusack is great too. With his best-selling book, Nick Hornby may not have invented the “list,” but High Fidelity definitely turned the making of lists into a cultural zeitgeist, ensuring that articles like the one you’re reading will exist as long as Gen Xers are still around. The book also gave voice to Gen Xers’ fear of commitment.
13. The Breakfast Club
Every Gen Xer knows that high school separates everyone into groups — the jock, the geek, the rebel, the rich/popular kid, or the loner. What The Breakfast Club taught us is that we are all more similar than we are different. That, and our real enemy is the principal.
12. Dazed and Confused
Not having gone to high school in the ’70s, I can’t comment on the historical accuracy of Richard Linklater’s depiction of high schoolers in the mid-’70s, but I choose to believe that it’s accurate. The interesting thing is that those of us who were still in high school or college when Dazed and Confused was released in 1993 felt that the kids at Lee High School were just like us.
11. Daydream Nation
Released in 1988, Daydream Nation demonstrated to society how Gen X musicians were going to take the musical styles of the previous generations and mold them into a distinctly Gen X sound. In a few short years, that sound was going to dominate the airwaves and pop culture’s consciousness.
10. American Psycho
As Gen Xers entered adulthood, they exhibited a cynical self-awareness about the societal pitfalls facing Gen X. Bret Easton Ellis’ acclaimed novel spoke to the dangerous allure of the glittering materialism held out by the prosperous times that Gen X came to adulthood in.
9. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
Gen X may not have invented the indie music scene, but we definitely took it to new heights. Pavement, the best Gen X band that even many Gen Xers have never heard of, released their best album in 1994. Proving that they were Gen Xers through and through, Pavement rebuffed all of the major label deals that came their way.
8. Fight Club
In the preface to his novel, Chuck Palahniuk said, “bookstores were full of books like The Joy Luck Club and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and How to Make an American Quilt. These were all novels that presented a social model for women to be together. But there was no novel that presented a new social model for men to share their lives.”
I am almost 100% confident that Heathers could not be produced today. Dragged into the culture wars of our parents, Heathers gave voice to the belief of Gen Xers that we were the casualties of societies sins and not those in charge. Maybe if adults had paid more attention to what Gen X was saying with movies like Heathers, society would look a little different today.
Sadly, more people are aware of the Singles‘ rip-off Reality Bites than they are of Cameron Crowe’s masterpiece that displayed Gen X culture before the rest of pop culture had caught up. Even if you don’t like the plot, the movie is a vivid snapshot of Gen X culture at its most Gen X-ey.
5. Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
Douglas Coupland is the voice of Gen X. In fact, Coupland’s landmark 1991 book is where society got its current definition and usage of the term “Generation X.”
4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
When a first lady references a movie in a commencement speech, you know that the movie has deep cultural relevance. To be fair, Gen X didn’t need Barbara Bush paraphrasing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to know that our favorite high school movie is the greatest high school movie ever produced.
3. Twin Peaks
People who claim that we’re currently living in the Golden Age of Television should have their certainty challenged by being forced to watch Twin Peaks. Now, I’m not claiming that Twin Peaks is the greatest TV show of all time (I can’t, because of #1 on this list), but I am claiming that without Twin Peaks the current makers of great TV may have never received their inspiration to do so. Lovers of TV owe Gen X a thank you.
I must admit that I am somewhat conflicted about this selection. I mean, Nevermind isn’t even my favorite Nirvana album (In Utero has that distinction). However, it’s impossible to deny that Nevermind represents Gen X in a way that no other album does. And it is a great album.
Gen X’s dry, self-serving cynicism was not birthed in a vacuum. Our divorce-happy, gaudily self-serving parents pushed us to it. Seinfeld, besides being the greatest TV show of all time, confronted all of us with the tragic consequences of our parents’ excessive egotism.