The 3 Biggest Myths About Generation X

Warren Kinsella is the Canadian James Carville: that is, an extremely well-compensated, high-profile Liberal Party consultant and insider.

(It’s surely just an unlucky coincidence that since he started working for them, the Liberals went from “Canada’s Natural Governing Party” to placing an impotent third in the last federal election.)

Some of us had another great laugh at Kinsella’s expense recently, after he praised a rival party’s “innovative” campaign commercial because it starred, and would presumably appeal to, members of “Generation X.”

Except the young people in the ad were just that: young — all in their twenties.

And Generation X hasn’t been in its twenties for twenty years.

I know, because I’m a member of that cohort. As is, hilariously enough, highly paid, powerful and influential Liberal Party consultant Warren Kinsella. (See: “third place,” above.)

See, being a Gen-Xer means my irony detection meter is always switched to “ultra sensitive.” And Kinsella’s gormless mistake almost broke the damn thing.

You’d think that being Canadians of a certain age, he and I would be on the same page on this matter, if nothing else.

After all, the term “Generation X” was popularized by our contemporary Douglas Coupland’s titular 1991 novel. (And Coupland swiped his title from the name of Billy Idol’s old pop-punk band; my fellow ex-punk Kinsella should know that, too.)

There are lots of things “great minds” got wrong about Generation X since they started writing and worrying about them. (I mean, us.)

After Coupland’s novel — about over-educated, underemployed pop culture addicts who’ve formed an ad hoc “family” of friends – swept the planet, countless “consultants” (including, briefly, Coupland himself) started marketing themselves as experts on my demographic.

These consultants made a whole lot of money, keynote-speaking to job-for-life CEOs about why we Gen-Xer’s were all so broke and unemployed.

And the most irritating (and yeah, ironic) thing is, none of these “experts” (“X-perts”?) even agree on when we were born.


3. At Least Get Your Dates Right.

A few days ago, I got an email touting a new study, headlined “Generation X Becoming Less Christian, Less Republican.”

Now, I can’t speak to the accuracy of that conclusion. When the first amateur anthropologists got hold of us in the early 1990s, the general consensus was that Gen-Xers would grow up to be apolitical types who’d embrace traditional values, as a way of rebelling against our hippie parents and teachers. As with most speculative generalizations, one can find evidence for and against that conclusion.

No, my objection to the study is its working definition of Generation X as “the 35 million Americans born between 1965 and 1972.”

Nope. Douglas Coupland was born in 1961. I was born in 1964. And when we’re both nonagenarians, we’ll still be “Generation X.”

We’ve had over 20 years to get this straight, and yet:

The exact date range that constitutes Generation X is the subject of diverging opinions. Part of the variance comes from slightly differing definitions of what exactly Generation X is. Geography can also influence date ranges. (…)

Most sources cite a start in the mid 1960s. Some cite an end date before the end of the 1970s. Others cite an end in the early 1980s; the birth years of 1981 and 1982 are cited as common end dates, with either depending on geographics, researcher, or the determination of what year the first millennial generation officially left grade school.

The deans of American generational studies, Strauss and Howe, date Generation X as those born between 1961 and 1981.

We can fight about this subjective stuff forever, just like we Gen-Xers can have three-hour debates about “Ginger vs Mary-Ann.”

(I used to joke that the quintessential, universal Gen-X conversation would be “Which Cartoon Characters Are Secretly Gay?” — Peppermint Patty, anyone? — but recently, the “gayness” quit being secret.)

The takeaway for pundits and other “experts” is:

“Generation X” isn’t synonymous with “young people today.”

I’m gonna be 50 soon. Dammit.

(And you’ll have to wrest my Chucks off my cold, dead feet.)

2. Remember “Slackers”? Yeah, Me Neither.

Like the Y2K “experts” who came after them, all those demographic gurus and futurists who got rich theorizing about Generation X ended up looking pretty foolish. (But never had to give their money back.)

When we Gen-Xers were trying to get our first jobs out of college or high school, we did indeed contend with an economy burdened by a triple-feature of double digit horrors: inflation, unemployment, and interest rates were all way over 10%.

We blamed those damn yuppie Baby Boomers. They’d beaten us to all the good jobs and were never gonna give them up.

(In the same way hippies had used up all the safe-ish drugs and free sex, and left us with crack and AIDS.)

I used to wear a button — we were always wearing buttons — that said: “I’m 30. I thought I’d have money by now.”

So yes, lots of Gen-Xers were “slackers,” to use the phrase popularized by Richard Linklater’s 1991 movie.

(God, I hate that movie. That, and Clerks. Frankly, I think of them as the same movie: glorifications of loser potheads with stupid obsessions.)

(And by the way, Kevin Smith is THE most embarrassing Gen-Xer. Jon Lovitz is being praised for his viral smackdown of Obama’s class warfare rhetoric, but that rant was actually prompted by guest Kevin Smith’s irritating poseur populism.)

Anyway, those alleged “futurists” somehow didn’t foresee the dot-com boom that finally gave most of us Gen-Xers jobs — and didn’t require the overnight deaths of 40 million boomers. (Unfortunately.)

Yes, the bubble burst. But even then, the internet remained the infrastructure of our lives. (For one thing, we turned from buttons to blogs to express ourselves.)

We used what was left of the web to build the lives we’ve got now.

Having come of age during one brutal recession, the non-slackers among us knew we’d survive the dot-com bust, too.

This time around, we’d do so more productively, instead of just drinking pitchers of draft beer and singing the unofficial Gen-X national anthem “Add It Up” over and over again.

The lesson for everyone, Gen-X or not?

As Mark Twain said long before any of us were born:

“An expert is just some guy from out of town.”

Buttons via Carbon Crusader:


1. We’d Never Be Like Our Parents.

And that turned out to be right:

We’re worse.

Gen-Xers were latchkey kids of divorce and benign neglect.

(One of my touchstone movie lines is the mom in River’s Edge, telling her son she doesn’t care if he smokes weed as long as it’s not from her stash. It’s on a continuum with “Smoke up, Johnny!” from The Breakfast Club.)

So dammit, no child of ours was gonna end up on a milk carton.

My generation, I’m deeply ashamed to say, are those helicopter parents who make their helmet-wearing, over-scheduled, chauffeured-everywhere kids take off-label ADHD drugs but won’t let them near a peanut.

I honestly thought we’d be tougher. (See, “recession,” above.)

I thought we’d be less cowed and conformist.

I can’t believe Heathers jokes are now public policy.

And while I expected us to make a couple of (ironic) movie versions of our favorite childhood crap when we finally got the chance, I didn’t think there’d be this many.

So sorry about that, too.

Speaking of which: If this commercial was green-lit by a member of my generation, then may your last words be “corn nuts.”