Thursday, April 01, 2010

I am Generation X

Being born in 1972 I am squarely in Generation X, the complicated, whiny, irony-loving generation that came after those bossy baby boomers. I loved the mythos of Generation X, popularised in the 1990s by Doug Coupland. The film Reality Bites, starring X-queens Winona Ryder and Janene Garuffolo summed us up. We were over-achievers and slackers, we were going to be stuck in McJobs - exploited by the Baby Boomers. We had no culture of our own - apart from Nirvana. So instead we went back in time - picking out bits and pieces from other decades or from other societies and combining them in new ways. And we were big worriers. Maybe it was because we were the first generation of children where being part of a "broken home" was increasingly seen as normal. And our formative years were spent being told we were either going to get blown up in a nuclear World War III (which the film Threads made patently clear wasn't going to be any fun at all), or we would become drug addicts ("just say no!") or die of AIDS. In Reality Bites, Janeane's character worried about become HIV+ and then told Winona that she was like a character in Melrose Place, who was there to teach the other characters that it was OK to have AIDS. And then she'd die. Despite the horror of the situation, the girls ironically acknowledged that "Melrose Place is a great show!" And at times, that's all Generation Xers had - irony.

Of course, these are sweeping generalisations - and only really apply to a small percentage of middle-class, westernised people who were born into my generation. If you never had the cultural capital to know what Generation X was, then you weren't in it.

Now the Xers are in their 30s and 40s - on the cusp of power. I can see it as work, as my older colleagues retire in droves, leaving the way clear for the likes of me to take their places. Lots of them don't seem to want to go though - they've held the reins for so long and they've been so hard-working, that a common refrain I hear is that they don't want to retire because they'd be bored (although there are some lovely exceptions Kaz). Me - like a good X slacker, I can't wait to retire.

We are a minority generation too - represented by a hugely falling birth rate in the 1970s. I recall class sizes shrinking and shrinking in the years at school immediately following mine as the boomers sensibly decided to put off having children or just to not have as many.

The birth rate went up again a decade or so later, and the Generation Ys - the first generation to grow up with computers from birth, are the ones on Facebook and reading Harry Potter. Gen Xers are now stuck in the middle. I organised a conference earlier this week and was amazed and slightly horrified afterwards to find out that the younger members of the audience had been twittering each other about the speakers, as they were speaking. Blogging feels like a quaintly Gen X pursuit these days.