Culture

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation: 6 Gen-Xers I Can Actually Stand

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in two parts in May and June of 2013. It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists of 2013. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months…

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When my (millennial) editor suggested I write about my favorite (fellow) Generation X-ers, it took me four days to think of one name.

Then the rest of the week to come up with the rest.

For someone who is as cohort-sensitive as I am, who rages constantly about “kids these days,” and who feels most comfortable socializing almost exclusively with other X-ers, I found this assignment surprisingly daunting.

I used a HighLowBrow post about Gen-Xers to try to kickstart my brain.

That site calls us “Recons” and counts those born between 1964-1973 as members of that generation.

The article features a labor-of-love list of famous Recons/X-ers that was invaluable in helping me put together this column.

Predictably, I take issue with their chosen start date, however.

It’s a weird definition of “Generation X” that excludes the guy who popularized the phrase (Douglas Coupland, 1961) or the fellow who wrote our “national anthem” (Gordon Gano, 1963):

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1. Music: Courtney Love

My loathing of the O.J. Simpson jury is boundless.

Thanks to the only twelve people in America who apparently couldn’t even spell “DNA,” a wealthy celebrity got away with murder.

In my review of Ann Coulter’s most recent book, Mugged, I noted that, in her opinion, the trial’s outcome did have one positive (albeit shortlived) aspect:

Coulter’s thesis is that after the ridiculous O.J. Simpson “not guilty” verdict — and particularly, the racially divided reaction to it — sane Americans finally gave themselves permission to say farewell to white guilt and all its attendant evasions, hypocrisy, awkward social etiquette, and toxic lawmaking.

Having said all that, I confess that I’m not entirely immune from the naked tribalism that fuelled that jury’s rationale.

Only a handful of individuals make my “Do No Wrong” list:

Folks like Pete Townshend, Sarah Palin, and Zombie Frank Sinatra, who could team up on a five-state ax-murdering spree and I’d be insisting that, well, they probably had a good reason.

Hole frontwoman, sometime actress, and Kurt Cobain widow Courtney Love (1964) also makes my very short list.

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I wish I cared that she used drugs when she was pregnant, but her daughter seems to have turned out all right. I wish I cared about whatever flaky thing she probably tweeted while I was writing this, or what religion she’s into this week.

But surveying that HighLowBrow list for Gen-X musicians I cared about – or, frankly, I’d even heard of (hip hop and rap have bored me since Malcolm McLaren’s premature attempt to popularize those genres and cultures back in 1980; I can’t tell Kanye from Jay-Z) — I came up short.

Yes, Cobain and company’s “Unplugged” sessions are immortal.

But if you believe he “really wrote” the songs on Hole’s (also immortal) breakthrough album, you’re delusional.

Not even a man as un-masculine as Cobain could’ve written “Jennifer’s Body” or “Doll Parts.” Those are girl songs.

I still listen to Live Through This about once a week.

Recently, I gave Nobody’s Daughter another shot and now have it in regular rotation.

The album’s obvious references to stuff she and I both grew up listening to – I detect hints of America’s “Ventura Highway” and “Sister Golden Hair” — make it the perfect “meta” Gen-X record, actually.

So moving:

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2. Comedy: Adam Carolla

I’ve praised Adam Carolla (1964) a lot in these virtual pages.

I love that he didn’t go to college, that he has a breathtaking work ethic, that he knows how to build and fix stuff, and that he has little time for received liberal wisdom and “goodthink.”

I don’t admire everything about him, of course.

Sometimes Carolla lapses into lazy thinking on topics like gun control, or when he rants too long about hacky topics like airports, hotels, and limo drivers.

And for someone who espouses tough talkin’ bootstrapping in both his bestselling books, I cringe when he talks about how spoiled his kids are.

But he’s my favorite (Gen-X) comedian. (Alas, Nick DiPaolo falls outside the cohort.)

It’s revealing to contrast Carolla’s popularity with that of his rough contemporaries Louis CK and Marc Maron.

The latter two are far more beloved amongst millennial comedy buffs — damn, this was long overdue — whereas I can’t stand Maron’s petulant bitter neurosis or CK’s — for lack of a better word — wimpiness, not to mention either one’s default liberalism and prejudice against “flyover country.”

Both flirt with “edginess” but pull back just before they offend their earnest, politically correct fans.

Listen to Louis CK’s act carefully. Sure, he jokes about race and rape, but gets away with it because he reaches “acceptable” conclusions.

Adam Carolla? Not so much:

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Finally, contrast the way Louis CK spends his riches with Carolla’s buying style.

After making a million bucks off his downloadable comedy special, Louis CK guiltily gave a bunch of the cash to various non-controversial charities.

Being a real man and all, Carolla just gets another sports car.

Anyhow, I can’t wait to watch his new reality show, in which he’ll confront lazy contractors who’ve messed up people’s homes.

I’m pretty sure neither Mark Maron or Louis CK knows one end of a hammer from another.

Just another reason to love Adam Carolla.

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NEXT: Generation X TV and film…

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3 and 4: Broadcasting: Glenn Beck and Greg Gutfeld, both born in 1964.

All the millions of words written about Beck somehow don’t seem like enough. Curiosity about, and hostility towards, Glenn Beck remains insatiable. We’ll be inundated with bashing bios and long-form think pieces about him for decades and cover stories on glossy magazines just before they print their last issue.

Beck’s career was declared “over” after he left Fox News, yet his net worth has increased exponentially since.

Beck even received an “innovation” award from the TriBeCa Film Festival this year (!).

Greg Gutfeld shares Beck’s (and my) “question authority” sensibility. If he were a lefty, Gutfeld would be making ten times more money, and hailed as a genius by the same people who rag on him now.

He doesn’t share Beck’s extreme tolerance for risk or apparent ADD, both of which sometimes prompt Beck to make stupid decisions and mount (then discard) wacky personal hobbyhorses with abandon.

However, if they stay grounded, both men will outlast their critics, whom they are smarter and more talented than. (They work harder, too.)

Speaking of working hard but staying grounded:

While I admire much of what Andrew Breitbart (1969) accomplished (or tried to), he also worked himself into an early grave and left behind a wife and kids.

That’s not cool.

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*Language warning on this page’s first 2 videos.*

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5. Movies: Judd Apatow

Ten or twenty years from now, how many people will still be watching films by the Gen-X moviemakers I keep hearing I’m supposed to admire?

Does anyone want to see Happiness ever again? Don’t you wish instead that you could selectively lobotomize your memories of that thing?

Dazed and Confused? Nice soundtrack, epic costume sourcing; otherwise I have zero recall of anything that happened in the film. Empty calories.

Quentin Tarantino is most frequently described as “daring” and “original” — the exact two things he is not. His “meta” references to other movies are ham-fisted and self-indulgent; he makes Brian De Palma look like Ozu. Tarantino isn’t “daring,” either. What could possibly be less brave than targeting — wait for it — Nazis and slave owners? What century is it, again?

The characters in Slacker are gross.

So are the pathetic losers in Clerks, who I wish had died in a stick-up.

Two filmmakers who really do speak to the Gen-Xers I know — Whit Stillman and the late John Hughes — were both born in the early 1950s. Make of that what you will.

Of people in my cohort, I have to pick Judd Apatow (1967).

Yes, his output is wildly uneven.

But Apatow also put out Freaks and Geeks, along with two funny, well-observed mega-blockbusters about a) a 40-year-old man who waits until his wedding night to have sex, and b) a woman who chooses not to abort her one-night-stand baby, and the dad who doesn’t want to do the right thing but does it anyway.

And Apatow made those two movies in (and about) the 21st century.

Knocked Up has likely prevented more abortions than all the earnest, ill-advised stunts pulled by pro-lifers since Roe v. Wade.

It’s easy to mock Apatow’s Afterschool Special for Stoners formula — come for the fart jokes, stay for the mental and moral hygiene — but when it works, it’s superb.

Unlike all the filmmakers I dissed above, Apatow dares to put a little (corny) humanity and decency on display on screen — which makes you think maybe you can display yours in real life, and still be funny and smart and have cool friends.

I’ve said it before, but come on: How stunning is this?

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6. Television: Mike Judge

This was a tough one.

My first instinct was to choose South Park creators Trey Parker (1969) and Matt Stone (1971).

That show has endured far longer than I’d ever thought it would. Yet, ironically, will its very timely “meta” humor stand up decades from now?

(You’ll notice that Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which aired when both those guys were infants, rarely name-checked the current prime minister or events in the news. And episodes are mostly still watchable, assuming the troupe’s sense of humor syncs with yours.)

Parker and Stone’s output isn’t all good.

The Book of Mormon (ugh) cancels out Team America: World Police (yay.) Orgazmo, BASEketball, and That’s My Bush also fall on the “no” side, while the South Park feature film was better than it had any right to be.

I admire them greatly for trying to portray Mohammed in South Park, but they’ve also had ample opportunity to do so in other venues, and obviously decided to pick on the Latter Day Saints instead.

In some ways, Mike Judge‘s (1962) portfolio is just as shaky.

I hate Beavis & Butthead, and was prepared to loathe King of the Hill until I realized it wasn’t designed to bash red staters.

I fell in love with the show, and with Hank, who is a great role model for men.

With Office Space and Idiocracy on his side of the ledger, even though I know they’re movies, I have to pick Judge for the “Television” category.

(I hope his The Goode Family gets another chance.)

PS: Stick up for Seth MacFarlane if you like. Family Guy is unwatchable trash.

Anyway, here’s an interview Mike Judge did with… Alex Jones (1974). Really.

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