Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Generation X

While exchanging comments on Millennials (see comments on post below), Valerie gave an assessment of the preceding generation:

Gen X didn't so much become cynical but was cynical from the get go. One can hypothesize as why, but I can see a few things: Nixon, the effects of Vietnam on their Dads and Uncles, Jimmy Carter telling us to put a sweater on, Ronald Reagan, the 1980 Olympic Boycott, Mortgage rates in the double digits, the Cold War, recession, the space shuttle blowing up before our eyes (at school, no less!) No wonder we are the Generation that invented grunge.
This inspired me to look into what has been said about us.

The first reported use of “Generation X” was in a 1952 issue of Holiday. In that instance, the author was actually referring to youngsters from the 1930s and 1940s. It was Charles Hamblett and Jane Deverson’s 1964 novel Generation X that began describing the cohort that would come of age at end of the last century. Douglas Coupland popularized the label in Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. In his book, Coupland narrates the lives of three friends who try to escape commercialization by retreating to California’s Mojave Desert.

While Coupland was clear that he meant to reflect the diversity of this age group, “Generation X” as with any other appellation has ossified to describe a segment of society. In reporting about Gen X at the workplace, Deloitte includes Americans born between 1961 and 1981 who experienced key societal trends. It was a period marked by the highest divorce and abortion rates; the highest dual incomes; and the most permissive parenting habits. It was also one of the most blatantly anti-child phases in history - children were deemed intrusive obstacles to their parents' self-exploration and were for the most part, left unsupervised.

A related report claims that Gen X-ers come from single-parent or blended families; were “latchkey kids”; experienced increasingly flexible gender roles; and feel overshadowed by—and alienated from—the huge Baby Boomer generation. They also sensed a breakdown of authority.

Undoubtedly, the MTV generation (a.k.a. Gen X) survived pretty tumultuous times. They witnessed Glasnost, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. They began to doubt government, thanks to Watergate and Ollie North. They were caught in Reaganomics and the Wall Street frenzy. They were taught “greed is good.” They suffered cutbacks in funding for social programs and education. They were traumatized by the Iranian hostage crisis, the Challenger tragedy, Tiananmen Square and the outbreak of AIDs. They were made to feel vulnerable by Ryan White’s stigma. They were the first kids to use computers, get hooked on video games and explore the World Wide Web. They were enthralled by MTV and Punk rock.

As such Gen X-ers are described as skeptical, pragmatic, adaptable, self reliant, informal, and technoliterate. They also tend to uphold diversity and think globally. They seek balance between work, family and play.

Now one has to be careful about generalizations (as few pointed out on the Millennials post). I know of Gen X-ers who come from solid families, whose parents are not divorced and were not consumed by the self-centeredness of the eighties and nineties. While these individuals were buffeted by the turbulence of the eighties and early nineties, their families and communities provided safe and nurturing spaces.

We cannot choose or control many things, such as families into which we are born and the times in which we grow up. We are molded by our background and influenced by past experiences. However, we do have a choice about how we think and act in the present. And ultimately about who we want to be.


Valerie said...

Personally, my family was very stable (my parents have been marrried 37 years now), so I don't think it was that that made me "X", although my Mom did (gasp!) work outside the home and we did have to (gasp!) let ourselves in after school and stay home alone for 30 - 60 minutes every afternoon. I think for me it was more the instability in society at large. We were the 1st generation to worry about potentially dying from having unprotected sex. Then as you mention, the Cold War, the Iran Hostage Crisis, The Olympic Boycott, etc. When the 2nd shuttle exploded a few years ago and my husband told me I had an awful, dizzying sensation. I said "no, no that already happened" I coulddn't grasp that it had happened again!

Sometimes I see my generation as exceptionally materialstic and I wonder if all that loss, not personal, but societal, makes us want to grab as much stuff as we can while we can...

Erwin de Leon said...

You might be on to something there Val. I remember relatives and family friends who had gone through the Second World War in the Philippines and were rather frugal and fearful of losing their material belongings.