An August 2000 editorial cartoon by progressive Gen Xer Ted Rall. (Another, even earlier ’toon by Rall on this topic is here.)
When I saw a little while ago that the new book The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown, which I (probably stupidly) since bought via amazon.com (I just opened the package today), very apparently pretends that those of us of Generation X don’t even fucking exist, I thought of my fellow progressive Gen Xer Ted Rall and his quite correct labeling of us Xers as victims of “generational leapfrog.”
Prompted by what I had read of The Next America on amazon.com, I was going to blog on my thoughts on my generation’s exclusion from the national discussion as though Winston Smith, working at the Ministry of Truth, had simply erased all mention of us, but now, I see, Rall (thankfully) has written a column on the topic, so, at the risk of violating copyright law, I am posting Rall’s column in full at the end of this post (I don’t think that he would mind), because he echoes my thoughts and feelings.
Not only does the title of this latest book about generations of Americans, which sits at No. 239 on amazon.com as I compose this sentence, exclude my generation entirely, but in the preface of the book — in which the author (shockingly!) identifies himself as a baby boomer — my generation is ignored. In the preface, the baby-boomer author, one Paul Taylor, proclaims:
… This book … pays particular attention to our two outsize generations — the Baby Boomers, fifty- and sixty-somethings having trouble coming to terms with getting old, and the Millennials, twenty-somethings having trouble finding the road map to adulthood. It looks at their competing interests in the big showdown over entitlement reform that our politicians, much as they might try, won’t be able to put off for much longer. …
So why has baby boomer (yeah, I don’t capitalize the term, since that might imply respect, which in this case is undeserved) Taylor disappeared (as Ted Rall accurately put it in his latest column) my entire generation?
And let me first interrupt myself to tell you that my generation actually isn’t all that tiny, with an estimated more than 80 million Americans being Xers, for fuck’s sake, while the figure for the number of baby boomers who were born apparently is around 76 million, and it is estimated that about 80 million Americans are members of Generation Y (a.k.a. Millennials).
Yes, there was a baby boom when the boomers were belched from the bowels of hell and into the world from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s (yes, Barack Obama is a [late] baby boomer; we’ve yet to have a Gen-X president [and we very well might not ever have one]), but American population (despite advances in birth control) has climbed steadily since the boomers made their unfortunate entrance, which, I surmise, would explain why all three generations actually have been roughly the same in size, despite Taylor’s assertion that only his generation and the Millennials are worth discussing because they are “outsize.”
(The cover of the book says that it is authored by “Paul Taylor and the Pew Research Center.” Wow. You’d think the folks at the Pew Research Center would have caught the mistake or even the lie that we Gen Xers are so tiny a cohort that we’re not worth discussing. Seriously — this “oversight” has harmed Pew Research Center’s reputation, in my mind.)
Back to what I was saying: So why would baby boomer Paul Taylor exclude my generation almost entirely from his book that is supposed to be a part of the national discussion?
Well, of course it’s easier to discuss only two generations instead of three. So yes, some laziness definitely might have been involved.
But the larger part of it, I believe, is that the baby boomers in general — and we very apparently cannot exclude Taylor from that cohort, based not only upon his age but also based upon his brand of inter-generational politics — long have treated us Xers as though we didn’t exist.
Indeed, one of Ted Rall’s most successful books is his 1998 Revenge of the Latchkey Kids, one of the first, if not the first, Gen-X manifesto.
I was born to boomers and I certainly was a latchkey kid. I won’t go into detail that only will make others (especially boomers) accuse me of being a whiner who blames everything on his parents (for the record, I blame much on them, but not everything on them), but yeah, while the boomers were the cherished children of the American men who had survived World War II and come home to inseminate their wives and while the Millennials were the cherished children (largely if not mostly of boomers) replete with “Baby on Board” signs, we X’ers were, to put it mildly, not cherished. There were no “Baby on Board” signs, no car seats for us. Our parents were not, for the very most part, “helicopter parents.” No, they were more like invisible parents. As Rall stated correctly many years ago, we Xers, overall, were latchkey kids. We were largely left to raise ourselves.
I suspect that this is why we are ignored by the dominant generation, the boomers (almost all seats of power in the U.S. still are filled by boomers, who hold on to their seats of power with death grips, like U.S. Supreme Court justices): they always have ignored us, so why begin to acknowledge our inconvenient existence now?
Also, if any of the boomers are actually even capable of feeling anything remotely like guilt, maybe they have at least a dim awareness that they failed us Xers, their children, miserably, that they are the first generation in the history of the United States to have had it better themselves than their children have had it, and therefore, in order to avoid feeling guilty — because boomers were raised by the so-called “greatest generation” to believe that they are entitled to feel only great about themselves all of the fucking time (a “value” that the boomers seemed to have imparted to many if not most of the Millennials) — they do their best not to think about us Xers at all.
All of my legitimate generational grievances aside, there is no way that you can write a responsibly comprehensive book about the problems that loom over the United States of America without discussing an entire generation of Americans. (OK, to be fair, there are some entries for “Generation X” in the index of The Next America, which I have not read because I just opened the package today, but very apparently the book glosses over Gen X for a much more detailed discussion about the boomers and the Millennials.)
We Xers care about, we are affected by and we affect Social Security, Medicare, retirement security, income inequality, climate change, human rights, social justice, politics, overpopulation, etc., etc., and while millions want to simply ignore us (and so do simply ignore us) because to do so fits their own selfish political agendas, we Gen Xers are right fucking here, tens of millions of us — whether the generation that precedes us and the generation that follows us (and, tragically, they have so many characteristics in common) wish to see us or not.
Now: Here is Rall’s column, with my comments inserted in [brackets]:
I’ve been disappeared.
Erased from history.
Dropped down the memory hole.
If you were born between 1961 and 1976, you no longer exist. [Exact definitions of Gen X vary. In my book, Gen X begins around 1962 to 1964. 1961 is a bit early, in my book. And I would extend Gen X at least to those born in 1980.]
Generation X has been disappeared.
The Soviets altered photos to excise the images of leaders who had fallen out of favor, but communist censors went after individuals.
America’s corporate media is more ambitious. They’re turning 50 million people into unpersons. [Again, I see figures that put Gen X at least at 80 million, but even only 50 million people, if Rall’s figure indeed is closer to the actual figure, still is a large chunk of the national population of more than 317 million.]
The disappearing of Gen X began about a year ago, when major news outlets began reducing living Americans to two generations: the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1960) and their children, the Millennials (born approximately 1977-2004).
[I would include 1945, and perhaps also 1944, for the boomers, and I probably wouldn’t start the Millennials earlier than 1980. Again, these generational demarcations vary from person to person. To me, personal characteristics and worldview are important, too, not strictly the year in which one was born, perhaps especially in those generationally cuspy situations. (My husband, for instance, born in 1962, while on the cusp of the boomers and the Xers, has more Xer characteristics than boomer characteristics; otherwise, he wouldn’t be my husband…)]
(Generational birth years are controversial. Many classify the Boom years between 1946 and 1964, but I agree with the demographers William Strauss and Neil Howe’s assessment — and the novelist Douglas Coupland, who defined the term “Generation X” — that people like me, born from ’61 to ’64, called “the most dysfunctional cohort of the century,” identify with the culture and economic fortunes of Xers, not the Boom.)
The unpersoning of X takes full bloom in “Wooing a New Generation of Museum Patrons,” a March 19, 2014, piece in The New York Times about how museums like the Guggenheim are soliciting money from “a select group of young donors already contributing at a high level.”
Take your gum/joint/food out of your mouth before reading further, lest you gag: “Several hundred Millennials mingled under the soaring atrium of the Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue one recent frigid February night. Weaving around them were black-clad servers bearing silver trays piled high with doughnuts, while a pixieish D.J. spun Daft Punk remixes.”
According to the Times’ David Gelles (playing the role of Winston Smith): “Across the country, museums large and small are preparing for the eventual passing of the baton from the Baby Boom generation, which for decades has been the lifeblood not only of individual giving but of boardroom leadership. Yet it is far from clear whether the children of Baby Boomers are prepared to replicate the efforts of their parents.”
Gelles’ piece doesn’t contain any reference to Generation X.
Really? Museums don’t give a crap about would-be philanthropists among the millionaires born between 1961 and 1976?
By the way, Xers were into Daft Punk before Millennials were even done being born.
Boomer/Millennial articles that ignore the existence of Xers have become commonplace. Again in The New York Times, Emily Esfahani Smith and Jennifer L. Aaker perform the neat trick of disappearing one-sixth of the country. Their November 30, 2013, op/ed about “Millennial Searchers” for the meaning of life asks about Millennials: “Do we have a lost generation on our hands?”
Substitute “1991” for “2008” and everything Smith and Aaker write could be, and was written about Gen X: “Yet since the Great Recession of 2008, they have been having a hard time. They are facing one of the worst job markets in decades. They are in debt. Many of them are unemployed. The income gap between old and young Americans is widening.”
Even in an essay about humanity’s search for meaning — and about the downward mobility that defines Gen X — there is only room for Boomers and Millennials.
It’s like our crappy economy and low wages and student loan debt never even happened. [Infuckingdeed. As I’ve noted here before, it’s incredibly interesting that our Gen Xers’ crippling student-loan debt and lack of decent jobs never were considered to be newsworthy at all, but that those problems sure the fuck are today, now that they are affecting the precious “Baby-on-Board” crowd.]
“No one’s talkin’ ’bout my generation,” notes columnist M.J. Fine, a Generation Xer. “It’s hard to think of an era in which people ages 34-49 had less social currency.”
Remember the great coming clash over Social Security between Boomers and Xers? We’ve vanished from that narrative too, not just in a thousand words but over the course of a full-length book: The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown.
It’s not just the Times. In Sonya Stinson’s frivolous “What Gen Y Can Teach Boomers About Financial Planning” in Forbes, Gen X neither learns nor teaches. Gen X doesn’t exist.
I saved the worst for last. Courtesy of a sharp-eyed reader, check out PBS’ Judy Woodruff, defining the generations for a NewsHour interview with the author of The Next America:
“I just want to remind everybody what those age groups are, the Millennials, 18 to 33 years old today, Gen X, 34 to 39 [years old] today, the Boomers, 50 — the big group — 50 to 68 [years old], and the Silent [Generation], 69 to 86 [years old].”
In PBS World, Gen X has shrunk. If you’re in your forties, you no longer have a generational home.
Life begins at 40?
[To be fair, I listened to the PBS clip, and in it Woodruff clearly says “Gen X, 34 to 49″ years old. The transcript, however, reads “34 to 39” years old, an apparent typo.]
More like the empty void of generational purgatory, as far as the Boomer-controlled media is concerned.
Indeed, the No. 1 reason that we Gen Xers have been so successfully disappeared is that the boomers have controlled the media, and thus the national discussion, for most of our lives. The powers that be want us to be non-existent, and the powers that be mostly still are boomers and they still mostly control the media, and thus they still mostly monopolize the national discussion.
But actually, as much as I have complained about the unfairness and the insanity of it, I think that I would take my “generational purgatory” (an apt description of Gen X) over the unearned and undeserved attention and rewards that the boomers and the Millennials have received.
Having been left to raise ourselves to such a degree and having been systematically and even institutionally ignored and passed over — and, indeed, having been shit and pissed upon — our entire fucking lives, we Gen Xers have, out of necessity, developed strength, resilience and self-reliance that most members of the pretty fucking awful, overprivileged generations that immediately precede us and immediately follow us never will possess.*
And who wants to be a member of a generation whose collective personality is like that of Nellie Olesen? (OK, the boomers and the Millennials do, but that was a rhetorical question.)
Gen X still rules — not literally, not sociopolitically, but where it really counts — which is why we’re so widely ignored by the two generations that don’t hold a candle to us.
*That said, while the boomers have been a lost fucking cause for a long, long time, and will take their generational assholery with them to their graves and urns, I suppose that the Millennials still have enough time to not become just like their baby-boomer examples.