Monday, March 24, 2008

How Generation X Got the Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking

AlterNet has a review of (and interview with) Jeff Gordinier's just released book, X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking. The author of the review and interview, a Gen-Xer like myself, also adds some commentary at the beginning. While I don't agree with all of it, I do think it is an interesting take on what has become the forgotten generation.

Here is the beginning of the article:

Somewhere in between the ceaseless celebrations of the Baby Boomers turning 60 and the Millennial generation discovering they were suffering from a quarter-life crisis, the cultural powers that be forgot to take note of a major milestone: Generation X began to turn 40.

Molly Ringwald, of the quintessential Gen X film The Breakfast Club, celebrated her 40th birthday earlier this year. Prozac Nation author Elizabeth Wurtzel might well be spending her days taking notes on perimenopause -- she's turning 41 in July. And if Kurt Cobain were still alive, no one would be thinking of him as an angry young man. He would be 40-plus too.

Yet Generation X, those born roughly between 1965 and 1980 (it's worth noting that demographers disagree about the group's exact parameters, preferring to use the dates 1963 to 1977), remains forever young in the public imagination, still those 20-somethings sitting around Seattle and Austin grunge bars and coffee houses exchanging ironic witticisms about life and doing not much else with their time. "Somebody seems to have forgotten Generation X," writes Jeff Gordinier, author of the just released X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking. "The stodgy old species known as the 30-something has been shuttled off like Molly Ringwald herself, to some sort of Camp Limbo for demographic lepers."

Gordinier seeks to rescue Generation X from the shadows in this rollicking book. (Hint: if you don't think Gordinier is funny, read his hilarious take-down of a Newsweek article on Boomer friendships in his introduction), He revisits Gen X highlights from childhood in the inflation-ridden 1970s through slacking during the recession of the early 1990s to the dot-com boom and bust, and what came after. He looks at the careers of folks as disparate as director Paul Thomas Anderson and Meetup founder Scott Heiferman and his partners to prove that, well, Gen X doesn't deserve its slacker reputation. They work, those 30- and 40-somethings. They really do -- when they can get work, that is. Generation X, it seems, has a nasty habit of getting bushwhacked by bad economic conditions time and time again. Yes, they've produced a few Internet millionaires, but Census Bureau figures reveal that the men of Generation X are grossing less than their fathers at the same age. And if you think you detect a tone of slight bitterness in my reportorial voice, in the interests of full disclosure I admit to a birth date that marks me as a full-fledged member of Generation X.

Yet in his attempt to shill for a group that is genuinely in need of some good public relations, Gordinier lets some less than exemplary Gen X traits slide. When it comes to solipsistic spending, for example, Generation X puts Baby Boomers to shame. What other generation can claim to have made $1,000 architecturally inspired infant strollers and $5 cups of designer coffee into necessities? Gordinier could also have devoted more page space to the women of his generation, who are now on the forefront of the work/life balance debate.

Yet Gordinier is ultimately an optimist, believing Generation X is only now coming into its own as a true force for change.

Read the rest.

I guess I don't fit the mold completely. While I don't make much money in comparison to my peers, I do make more than my father did at my age. But I also live a much more simple and non-material life than my peers, so I don't need the money.

Here's a taste of the interview:

Olen: One of the odd things I find is that when you say Gen X, people still envision a bunch of slackers hanging around a coffee shop in Seattle, in Austin. But Gen X'ers are well into their 40s. Why does this persist?

Gordinier: There's a kind of cut-and-paste media laziness to a lot of the coverage of things like this. I've been a slacker. I wasted my time. I drank beer, I played chess with old guys, I sat around, I wrote a couple pieces, but, you know, so I slacked. Who hasn't? It was good times. But for the most part, I was just unemployed, looking for work. I mean, I wasn't slacking. I wanted a job, you know? We had a hard time finding work. That's different than not wanting to work at all.

And how can you still even use the word "slacker" about the generation that created Google? I mean, Generation X has reinvented global business. We have. I mean, I haven't. If we're speaking collectively, we're talking about people who have changed the way the entire world does business. That's pretty big, and this kind of becomes absurd to continue to call those people "slackers."

Olen: You write in the book that the Internet reflects Gen X values ...

Gordinier: I think something like YouTube reflects Gen-X values. Craigslist, certainly. Wikipedia. Google. But instead of Gen-X values, why don't we talk about Gen-X head space. I think that, when you look at something like Wikipedia, something that's crowd-source like that, I mean, it reflects the same obsession with encyclopedic knowledge that, I think, a lot of Xers have. Instead of baseball statistics, a lot of X guys, for instance, are obsessed with Guided By Voices' B-sides. It's similar to me to a Tarantino movie, or a Beck song -- these pieces of art that are larded with cultural references, cultural allusions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey thanks for posting this...