What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
See the previous installments in Mark Ellis's exploration of Adam Carolla. From January 21, 2015: Adam Carolla: The Quintessential Counterculture Conservative?. And from February 6: President Me: Adam Carolla Vs. the Scourge of Narcissism.
Submitted again for consideration, Adam Carolla, born as his very cohort, Generation X, was beginning in 1964.
Joining him in this chapter is writer Chuck Palahniuk, born in 1962, another prominent Gen X cultural figure.
Consider now, as the swath of humanity that followed the boomers reaches full majority, in fullest possession of its powers, how variant Carolla/Palahniuk countercultures confront what we see on the horizon. How will the legacy of Generation X be written from this point forward?
How will a generation’s power-players and cultural icons impact, for example, policymaking on healthcare, strategies for dealing with the radical Islamist threat, and the social landscape that the millennials following them will inherit?
In September 2013, PJ Lifestyle editor David Swindle, riffing on Strauss and Howe’s Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, laid out his self-described “oddball” take on generational theory. Swindle argues for more detailed time-frame specifications in generations, recommending five year break-downs in place of the usual twenty -- "boomer-leaning Gen-X-ers," "Millennial-Gen-X blends," "Gen-X-leaning Boomers," "Millennial-leaning Gen-Xers" and so forth.
However you want to slice and dice the decades -- for the sake of this discussion, Carolla and Palahniuk are instructive examples of the reactions, rebellions, and disillusionments of a generation shaded by oblique pathos.
On the earliest cusp of X, Carolla is part of the generation that inherited a choice between three ideological frameworks: progressivism, reactionary traditionalism, and unaffiliated rebelliousness.
Palahniuk predates the official kick-off of X, but is arguably too young for the boom. He served as a transitory figure, a harbinger of Gen X‘s devastatingly critical, tribal quest for definition.
Adam Carolla and Chuck Palahniuk, an unlikely duo but for their Gen-X lineage, hold claim to tributary subcultures that were natural responses to the boomer counterculture that rejected button-down corporatism and neo-Victorian social mores.
Where Palahniuk twists culture to his visionary fictional ends, Carolla goes hammer and tong to make sense of it.
My first adult experience with Gen X came primarily from two sources. First, when I met younger parents from across the socieo-economic spectrum in my children’s schools. Second, when I hired or began to compete with young guys coming up in the paint-contracting trade.
Something I noticed about both cohorts right off: Gen-X cynicism on the subject of national pride, a rejection of the reflexive patriotism that I had been inculcated with since birth.
We said the Pledge of Allegiance, with God and without irony, every morning at Hillview Crest Elementary School in Hayward, California. This ritual recitation was not yet under assault when Carolla and Palahniuk were schoolchildren in the late sixties and early seventies, but criticism of the Pledge on grounds of church/state separation was coming.
Another noticeable difference I discerned between my fellow boomer kids and many in the generation supplanting mine was a devolved sense of the wisdom and integrity of the elders. Though we’d rebelled against parental and societal units, they were intact units for most of us, and thus recipient of residual respect.
X was rebelling against the failure of the units. Who can blame them for skepticism about narratives handed down in the midst of social transformation?
Another striking thing about the Gen-X parents with millennial children: they were having fewer kids. At least in my neck of the woods—white suburbia around Portland, OR. Gone were the large families I remembered from the grade schools of my youth, with three, four, and even five children. There were lots of single moms in the mix, many with only one child.
Even as Gen-X emerged from the flatlands of generational history, predecessors found the crop coming up to be at a vague, not-immediately-readable disadvantage. There was the sense that despite the boomer legacy of conformity as fifties children and upheaval as sixties teens, somehow the squarely situated boomer-kids had it better than their children.
Palahniuk summed things up in Fight Club, when antagonist (if the term even applies here) Tyler Durden says,
Our Generation has had no Great war, no Great Depression. Our war is spiritual. Our depression is our lives.
Though Palahniuk’s theme of alienation and purposelessness can be extrapolated universally, Durden’s morose dictum is understood to most apply to the generation stuck between the boomers’ long fade and the heel-snapping millennials.
The Greatest Generation had Pearl, the boomers had JFK. September 11, 2001, belongs to all of us, but history bequeaths it to the millennials.
Applied mythos for Gen X doesn’t focus on any history-making date.
Their crisis moment is like Palahniuk’s depression, which moves from functioning to acute. They came from broken homes, the first, true Children of Divorce.
Tyler Durden again, “a generation raised by women.”
Divorce and the ascendancy of feminist theory combined toxically in the era’s primordial soup; norms which boomers only dipped their toes into, Gen-Xers became immersed.
As we move towards a near future as threatening as any that contemporary observers have seen, what is the result of the experiment?
Irony in Carolla’s generation has always aspired to an intellectual gravitas out of proportion to its value as an assessment mode for the human condition. Humor, in the hands of either Carolla or Palahniuk, is internally targeted, at an irremediable state of disenchantment, a diaspora of disillusionment bred by failing social institutions into their very bones.
Though boomers were concurrent in history with social upheaval and the erosion of traditionalism, such counter-ideology had not yet become ingrained into the culture. Boomer kids with positive associations to traditionalist America benefitted from a durable connection, which proved decisive for many with the Reagan Renewal.
But too many Gen X progeny approaching adolescence and young adulthood in 1980 missed the Gipper’s wave. Raised by culturally progressive parents and academic liberals, they flocked underneath the nanny state's skirts.
Palahniuk’s associations to visceral fear--violence versus ennui, terminal support groupiedom, soap-rendering from fat, corporatism as the ultimate evil--are different from what boomer kids feared in their gut.
Nobody at Hillview Crest Elementary School got divorced. Parents stayed together, for the kids, and we liked it. Crawling under elementary school desks and lore about Khrushchev’s hammering shoe sat heavily in our stomachs. Boomer kids inherited the potential for being incinerated thirty minutes after war broke out.
Carolla and Palahniuk were born into that, but the possibility of death from above peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Threats from within domestic body-politic were coming home to roost. Gen X could still be atomized by the Russians, but were more imperatively left with the fallout created by existential threats to the pillars of society: marriage, faith, the social contract, industry, and national sovereignty.
There is no generational exactitude. Generations flow; there are overlaps, demographic choke points, trail scouts, and cave fighters. The decimations of disease and war skew the transitions. But there comes a point in life when a person realizes that generational culture has overtaken them.
Songs that boomers lauded as visionary Gen-X anthems are now twenty years old.