Jeff Gordinier wrote a feature for Details magazine in March, 2006 titled “Has Generation X Already Peaked?” His editor had called him with the idea that the magazine should weigh in on Generation X. What happened to them? What had they accomplished? This was even a question, because of the precarious position Generation X holds sandwiched between the world-swallowing leviathan of the Baby Boomers and their offspring, the Millennials. You may know them as Generation Y if you’re sympathetic to GenX, or my favorite descriptor, the Echo Boomers. By 2006 all of the short-lived lustre of GenX’s media closeup had warn off. We held the limelight for maybe three years? 1993-1996. Maybe? From the end of the first Iraq War to the moment the world discovered the Internet. Whatever.
For the next two years, Gordinier expanded his article into a book, X Saves The World. As he explains when promoting its publication he originally intended for the book to have the more melancholic tone suggested in the title question of his Details article. Yes. The answer is yes. We’re done. We’re over. We’ve been snuffed out. And besides that, we’re not even supposed to be here, today. Gordiner writes:
Because we’re said to be the defiant demographic, dedicated to shredding whatever raiment the marketing apparatus tries to drape us in; because we’d prefer not to be categorized at all, thank you very much; because, like one of those unmarked speakeasies on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, we’re not even supposed to acknowledge that we exist– coming right out and calling yourself Xer has always seemed a bit too, I don’t know, Andrew McCarthy. Too obvious.
But as he worked on the book and interviewed people, his position changed. The fatalistic impression faded and he was able to more than just a catalog of contributions Generation X has given to society, but a cultural mindset– a generational personality. A way of doing things that is hopeful without preening.
Gordiner argues Generation X developed an in-betweener, middle-child sensibility: detached, skeptical, quiet, questioning. This is in strong contrast to the polished mythology of the Boomers who preceded us. His neat and ironically-articulated example:
I am Steve Jobs, soothsayer for humanity.
Boomers are all about the collective, and so are the Millennials. We did this. We changed the world. We saved you. You’re welcome. To Generation X, that just rings false. It’s a varnished mythology of so much shamelessness and unnecessary self-promotion.
And the giant generation behind us, what about them? Gordiner is equally critical. Here’s a summary.
The Millennials speak with none of the doubt and skepticism that have marked — and hampered — Generation X. They just love stuff. They love celebrities. They love technology. They love name brands. They love everything. […] So what if they can’t manage to read anything longer than an instant message? — That’s okay! If anything, it’s an advantage. Because literacy leads to self-reflection and critical thinking, and self-reflection and critical thinking open the door to doubt and skepticism and stuff like that just gets in the way.
So continue your Boomer parade. Let the band play on. Millennials, post your selfies to Instagram. Try the rose-colored filter. Use the hashtag #timeofmylife.
We’ll just be over here, keeping the lights on.