Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gen X Hits Middle Age

A.O. Scott has written an interesting NYT piece about the midlife crisis of Generation X, gathering a few recent pop culture texts that supposedly offer insight into a peculiar lament.

Though I've always felt that the Gen X moniker was foisted upon us to sell books and magazines, I must admit that I've gravitated to its definition of folks born between the Kennedy and Reagan presidencies. Indeed, back in the '90s I remember reading Douglas Coupland's book of the same name, which actually borrowed the term from another author's description of a previous generation, and feeling some sense of recognition.
Image borrowed from PopSop
Problem is, Generation X has always stood for nothing except a dull contempt for people and things presuming to stand for something. In that way, the term contains its own contradiction. Remember, we're the folks for whom OK Soda was marketed. You know, the dolts who'd nod sagely at a slogan like, "What's the point of OK? Well, what's the point of anything?"

Except, really, we were supposed to buy the drink because we got the joke, long before Alanis Morissette ruined the whole concept with her singularly clue-deaf song, "Ironic." Even better, most of us never even got OK. The soda is remembered chiefly as an idea of how to market to people for whom failure is a kind of identity. A pitch that itself failed.

How ironic. Or not. Damn!

So now Generation X enters middle age, and we continue to rail against the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. Our parents turned on but sold out, and our kids mock us between mindless texts and tweets. And folks my age? All we can do is look back on advertising campaigns resembling sodas or books or movies and say, "That was us." Where are we now?

Nowhere in particular.

We work. We have families. We pursue careers. We grew up. And with dawning dread, we realize that our fate will be no different than the one suffered by the Greatest Generation. We will be packaged and sold by sociologists, by trade authors, by kids who never really knew us. We'll be transformed into yet another marketing pitch, all to sell things we don't want to buy.

One day my grandkid may sit down to perform an elder-interview (oh, God). She'll be earnest and sincere, perhaps flipping through notes from a textbook about American life in the late twentieth century. Then she'll consult her memory of a lecture she heard about my generation's pop culture and ask, "So, granddaddy, you were a slacker, right?"

Yeah, sure, whatever.

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