Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, Links worth a look, style

Rabbit Trail: Talkin’ bout My Generation.

benetton

In general, I am not a big fan of the New York Times. As news outlets go, they are subpar despite their legacy. Nevertheless, they caught and held my attention with this recent style piece on my generation, GenX.  In This Gen X Mess, they described us this way:

Like many things considered “cool,” Gen X is pretty exclusive. You had to be born between 1965 and 1980 to get in to this gloomy, goofy club of forgotten middle children, and only about 65 million of us were. (Both boomers, at 75 million, and millennials, at 83 million, far outnumber us.)

The idea behind that “X” was about coming between. Gen X supposedly didn’t know what they were, or what they wanted. All they knew, they were told, was what they didn’t want — marriage, money, success — and then they shrugged and popped a Prozac.

As “Reality Bites” celebrates its 25th anniversary; as groups like Bikini Kill, Wu-Tang Clan and Hootie & the Blowfish reunite for tours; as generational idols like Ani DiFranco and Liz Phair publish memoirs; and as the first real Gen X candidates make a run for president, Gen X is in the air.

And you know what else Gen X is? Getting older. Its oldest members are 54; its youngest are preparing for 40. As we try to make sense of that fact, here’s a look at the stuff we loved and hated, as well as a re-evaluation of things like “The Rules,” grunge, CK One and 1994; an appreciation of John Singleton; a quiz to figure out which generation you actually are; and a visit with Evan Dando, plus some dynamite for the myths that have always dogged Gen X. So plug in your headphones, click on that Walkman and let’s travel through this time machine together.

I was born almost smack dab in the middle of the Gen X years, and am at exactly the halfway mark between the oldest GenXers (54) and the youngest (40). I remember many of the things they included in their retrospective. The youth culture which took place from the mid-80s until 1993, I remember quite well: Sony Walkman, the Challenger explosion, United Colors of Benetton, and the off-beat, quirky style of Lisa Bonet smudging the then squeaky clean image of Bill Cosby’s hit family sitcom.

walkman
picture credit

 

The items outlined from 1993 onward, I can hardly remember. While most of my contemporaries were plugged into popular youth culture in 1994, I was marrying and giving birth to our first child. The only thing I remember about the 1990s with any clarity is the music. There was always the music, but we had twins in 1995, so I spent the next three years in something of a sleep deprived fog. Somehow though, the music was always playing.

Our generation was also the first to be treated to parental advisory warning stickers on our music labels, courtesy of Tipper Gore. For some reason, I find that uproariously funny. I don’t recall the brouhaha, but I do remember the appearance of the stickers. My generation spent an obscene amount of money CDs that almost always got scratched and damaged, rendering them unusable. Then we spent even more money on those solutions and contraptions which claimed to repair scratched CDs; with mixed success.

The entire section discussing 1994 struck me as a bunch of things I have vaguely heard -more likely read about- in passing, but have no tangible memories of. I was, quite simply, not doing the typical 22-year-old thing. I do remember the Motorola pagers because my young husband -two years younger than I- had to carry one for work. Somehow, he remembers a lot more of the things that happened back then than I do. He must have been getting more sleep.

 

clueless backpack
Alicia Silverstone Clueless (picture credit)

Tiny backpacks were apparently a trend, courtesy of Alicia Silverstone in the 1995 film movie Clueless. I missed that one, but like all fashion trends, I get to witness it a second time around as our youngest daughters each carry a tiny backpack as a purse. I also didn’t see Clueless the year it debuted (busy chasing toddlers), but it turns out that I really enjoyed the very modern spin on Jane Austen’s Emma.

 

The NYT piece concludes, and I agree, that my generation was a mess:

Generation X, who came of age eating microwaved burritos and watching “Gomer Pyle” reruns while Mom and Dad were at the office, were depressed.

Enter Eli Lilly’s magical green-and-white pill, which was introduced in 1986, but became almost as defining to the gloomy 1990s as that other pill — “the pill” — was to the sexually liberated 1960s. Elizabeth Wurtzel and loads of other 20-somethings became citizens of Prozac Nation. Eventually, people started to murmur about the drug’s potentially dark complications, including sexual dysfunction and suicide. At the time, though, the biggest crisis this chemical-smiley-face equivalent posed was one of generational identity: If we children of the 1990s could no longer brand ourselves as sullen, nihilistic Kurt Cobain clones, what in the heck were we?

I was not depressed, another fortunate side effect of being too overrun with life stuff to really think about who I was and what I didn’t accomplish, but I do recall the number of women in the early 2000s who had few qualms about openly admitting they were on anti-depressants.

The most interesting part of the entire retrospective was the list of books that were published during those years (1984-1995), supposedly shaping a generation.

I haven’t read a single one.

 

 

12 thoughts on “Rabbit Trail: Talkin’ bout My Generation.”

  1. I spent a long time reading your post. Very good job. I’m a little younger than you but not much. Some things that jump out at me:
    1. I haven’t read a single of those books either. They look terrible. I remember A Dog Named Wolf. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Encyclopedia Brown, Louis Lamour, Rex Stout, Ender’s Game, Crichton.
    2. I didn’t think you spent enough time on how GX was basically ignored/shafted by our parents. My siblings spanned the generation line (67-78) and I could see the parental investment decine within my own damn family timeline! Something in the water…I mean food…yes my parents were loons but I swear other parents I knew were worse. I have no fond memories of childhood.
    3. I forgot how incredibly hot girls looked in my generation (tiny backpack, big boots, and all). The 60s women looked like sluts, ’00 girls like fat hos, but the 80s girls still look innocent, feminine, and thin to me. Loved the hair and mood. What the heck happened?
    4. You may have a comment on race here I could use (few blacks where I live) but I found blacks in the media during GX to be “cool” (not Jackson!). I mean guys like Eddie Murphy or Michael Jordan or Darius Rucker were cool and something we all aspired to be like, socially. Blacks today seem, well, less friendly and less compatible with general culture, be it music or clothing or attitude. Q: is this because blacks had to “play white” in GX but now are more free to be true “black” so us whites are just waking up to reality? Or is it just media BS?
    5. I have more comments but out of time for now. Appreciate this piece. I hate the NYT but do agree there is the occasional gem I miss, you wade through the garbage so I don’t have to…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bikini what? He’s writing about my generation without mentioning early rap, late Motown, hair metal, funk, and the like? Yes, there was early punk that was influential, but Bikini Kill is not exactly up there with the Dead Milkmen. Does the author not know that you can look up the Billboard top 40 by month and year?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. @ smk:

    I didn’t think you spent enough time on how GX was basically ignored/shafted by our parents. My siblings spanned the generation line (67-78) and I could see the parental investment decine within my own damn family timeline! Something in the water…I mean food…yes my parents were loons but I swear other parents I knew were worse. I have no fond memories of childhood.

    People who have been reading me in some form or other for the past decade know my story, but I don’t know if you do, smk.

    Mother died the day I was born, spent formative years with dad and brothers (sister left home when she was 17 and I was 4). Dad remarried when I was just shy of my 10th birthday. That’s enough for you to know I had a…melancholy childhood.

    Factor in that in black families, housewives were the exception not the norm for a whole host of reasons (so my stepmother always worked even though she didn’t HAVE to), and I don’t really have a context for what it looks like to have been “shafted”. I hear white and suburban GenXers talk about us being the latchkey generation, and I used to think, “Compared to what?” LOL.

    As these things go, I think my dad did a pretty decent job under the circumstances. Were we on our own a lot? Yeah, but I think that’s been a standard for a while. The perpetually present parents watching ever so carefully lest junior scrape a knee or get his feelings hurt have never been a thing, even before GenX.

    You may have a comment on race here I could use (few blacks where I live) but I found blacks in the media during GX to be “cool” (not Jackson!). I mean guys like Eddie Murphy or Michael Jordan or Darius Rucker were cool and something we all aspired to be like, socially. Blacks today seem, well, less friendly and less compatible with general culture, be it music or clothing or attitude.

    Racial differences and mistrust has grown exponentially since the 1980s. I totally agree. When I was kid, everyone watched The Cosby Show. Everyone watched Family Matters, and everyone watched Family Ties. Culture was far more common across racial line. Michael Jackson, Prince, Boy George, blacks and whites alike enjoyed them.

    These chasms were orchestrated almost solely for the purpose of certain groups of people solidifying political power bases. They just didn’t give a flyin’ flip about the end result of tearing people apart along race, class, and sex lines.

    Also, there was a push among black people to recapture some version of authenticity. Not all of that is bad. For instance, after 25 years of wearing my hair chemically straightened, the hair you see now is the hair that God gave me to grow out of my head. It’s made no less attractive to do that. I’m biased, but hey. My gravatar pic was taken on April 20th. I’m different than when I was wearing the hair straight, but I’m more “me”.

    Culturally, I find the authenticity notion a little silly because for better or worse, we’re Americans. We were here before there was ever any United States of America. We’re not African in any culturally meaningful sense. The push to be somehow different has produced a tension not only between blacks and the larger culture but between certain segments of the black community as a whole. There are no monoliths.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. @ Bike:

    Bikini what? He’s writing about my generation without mentioning early rap, late Motown, hair metal, funk, and the like? Yes, there was early punk that was influential, but Bikini Kill is not exactly up there with the Dead Milkmen. Does the author not know that you can look up the Billboard top 40 by month and year?

    For some strange reason, I had to fish your comment from the trash. Not sure what went on there.

    It doesn’t take much to figure out that these guys and gals are writing from their own particular cultural prism, although they tried to be inclusive. A lot of the stuff I didn’t catch might be in the deeper essays that they have linked at certain intervals so I may have missed it, but seriously: Run-DMC? Phil Collins before he became a Disney animated movie theme song go-to guy? David Bowie? Prince, Depeche Mode? Eurythmics?

    They did get around to talking about how at the end of the day, GenX sold out, invented all things millennial, and caused everything else that’s great and awful, LOL. To wit:

    Gen X set the precedent for today’s social justice warriors and capitalist super-soldiers. Enjoy, and also, sorry!

    You can find that article here:

    Like

  5. GenX here too. I get what SMK is saying. We were the latchkey generation – and our parents were not. Even 10 years before us, there were more SAHM around. And there were no coping mechanisms for being latchkey. The parents of my generation in my town were the very opposite of helicopter parents – unless you were going to call your kids repeatedly, there was no way to know if they were even at home! We got into a lot we shouldn’t have. I think maybe this is because the world around the latchkey kids changed – no more tight communities, no more “someone will know what you were up to”. High school for my cohort was a lot like Fast Times at Ridgemont High. That’s why we have helicopter parenting now, it was the excesses of our own youth. The pendulum always swings.

    I hope that GenX rises up out of its cynical apathetic annoyance and takes its turn at the wheel of power. I think that our ethos of “nobody has your back, you’d best have this under control” would do the country some good.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think maybe this is because the world around the latchkey kids changed – no more tight communities, no more “someone will know what you were up to”.

    Ah, I see. In the town I grew up in, we at least had the community to some degree. I suspect it may have just been a holdover from the days when that was the way parents helped each other out. Since, as I said, the majority of black women worked whether married or not.

    I hope that GenX rises up out of its cynical apathetic annoyance and takes its turn at the wheel of power. I think that our ethos of “nobody has your back, you’d best have this under control” would do the country some good.

    I think GenX has taken a turn at the wheel of power, the only way they know how. See Bezos, Jobs, et. al. You cannot depend on the grownups (i.e. Washington) to look out for you, so they took the back door approach. Seizing power through corporate dominance and selling the tech to the grownups who don’t even see what’s happening because they’re too busy chasing their own dreams and championing their own causes.

    Gen X is doing it again: quietly shaping the future and no one will notice the scope and breadth of it until it’s too late.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh yeah, no community here baby. Remember I know someone who brought DYNAMITE to school. Just. So many questions, you know? (To which I don’t have any answers).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Gracious hostess; maybe your spam filter does a good job with comments by nincompoops, no? :^)

    Seriously, I think the split for black vs. white music has a lot to do with rap. I “get” jazz, blues, gospel, Motown, and even a bit of funk and such, but after Run-DMC was replaced by gangsta rap after 2 Live Crew and such, a great portion of the genre activates my “say what?” reflex. I wonder if a big part of it is that rap came along as unwed parenting rates shot past 50% among blacks, and hence the culture from whence it springs is even more distant from white culture than Jim Crow era black culture.

    (another point of reference where the Great Society was even worse for minorities than legally sanctioned discrimination? Yikes!)

    Dunno.

    On a much lighter note, Hearthie’s comments are reminding me of some awesome jokes I heard about LA from native Angelinos and Angelinas when I lived there. My favorite one is the Angelino is encouraging a man who’s worried about moving there because of the earthquakes, wildfires, crime, and such, and just as the new immigrant to the basin is almost encouraged it’s going to be OK, he asks the native what he does for a living–to which the Angelino says “I’m tailgunner on a bread truck.”

    (sorry, Hearthie!)

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I think Gen X is also the first generation whose parents could divorce without the stigma that existed in the past. Divorce has always been around, but with “no-fault” it’s so much easier to get one. And remarry and divorce again. And again. Between my husband and myself, we have had a combined total of two step-moms, four step-dads, and a dozen step-siblings. My husband and I met and married later in life, but when I was single I would often joke that I had never been married, but had been divorced twice. I know it’s not exactly the same, but people are too cavalier about it nowadays and they need to be reminded that these decisions have a life-long impact on their kids.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. E: I didn’t know your history or if I did I forgot. But no matter what our personal histories GX was pretty easy to spot from the outside methinks. It’s almost easier to see from a distance.

    H: The pendulum always swings.
    Yep. I agree GX caught the pendulum swinging hard. My parents were so clueless at the implosion of institutions they would often gape openly at what was happening in real time.

    B: I’m not sure about the rap part; lots of whites mimicked rap; I listened to Beastie Boys and thought it was pretty “white” but clearly influenced by black culture (in a good way I thought). Eddie Murphy was a crude example of a black guy who was fully “normal” so us white guys thought we could emulate him and it was damn funny to watch us whites think we could. Murphy did a good job of race-mixing in the police department scenes of Beverly Hills Cop 1; I laughed then but don’t laugh much anymore…

    C: Gen X is first generation whose parents could divorce without stigma
    Amen. Also who experienced the canard “women have been persecuted in the past so they need special privileges and can do no wrong!”. And the first generation who had a growing number of men who actually disliked their own mothers and family find it a good year with zero contact with them (I certainly resemble that remark).

    Like

  11. @ smk:

    GX is pretty easy to spot. You’re right. I had lunch today with two GenX friends (and one mom on the border between GX and Millennial).None of us grew up with similar backgrounds except same generation. We had a conversation about this and the GenX backdrop was pretty much universal.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. @ Curly Sue:

    You’re correct about stigma free divorce and the fallout from that. I didn’t see that mentioned in any of the cadre of articles that I read which accompanied this retrospective.

    I wonder why…

    Liked by 1 person

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