Generation X: Sneering and Laughing
We got skipped—again!
It was Saturday morning about two weeks ago. My wife was sitting at our dining room table, laughing at something on her laptop, while I was on the couch with our kids. A bit later, she had gotten up and was on her way to the porch when she insisted that I look at something online. “You are going to laugh so hard,” she told me. It was this screenshot and tweet, and the reply thread that followed:
The Huffington Post article “Generation Xers have the most Gen X response to being left off the list” from January 21 explained this CBS News graphic and the sarcasm that followed. Of course, there is one glaring problem with the graphic: there actually were people born between 1965 and 1980, who are now 38 to 53 years old. I don’t have any context for the graphic that this guy Bill Evenson posted, but it seems fairly clear.
Now that I’m middle-aged – I fall smack in the middle of Generation X – I try really hard to focus not on the 1980s and ’90s bitterness that marked my generation, but on being kind and empathetic and those sorts of niceties. As a parent, I want to be unselfish and understanding, and as a teacher, one has to care what other people think and need. I’ve gotten used to putting other people ahead of myself, mainly because that’s my daily reality now. But I’ll admit that the negligent, devil-may-care attitude toward Generation X combined with the widespread sympathy for Millenials’ plight and feelings— it pisses me off!
Before I go too far, I want to clarify: it doesn’t piss me off that Millenials get sympathy, it pisses me off that Generation X seems to get so little. After the Great Recession, I read about how Millenials couldn’t find good jobs and had to move back home after college, while this Gen-Xer was buying groceries with a credit card and clinging with a scant finger hold to my teaching job while severe cuts were made to education. When the bottom fell out in 2009, the oldest Millenials were 29 years old and the youngest were 12, which leads me to wonder: how many of them had to move back home with Mom and Dad, considering that half of their generation was too young not to live with Mom and Dad? If the ones on the older end had to delay living the dream for a while, I’m sorry . . . That does stink. Meanwhile, Generation X was raising small children on slashed wages and getting victimized by sub-prime mortgages.
Now, sources like CBS News are asking if the Millenials are the “burnout generation,” because their dreams didn’t come true fast enough. After growing up in the age of participation trophies and helicopter parents, Millenials probably have looked at the bleak unfairness of the real world and been dismayed. For Generation X, notions of fairness and just rewards were dispelled long ago— thus, one of our generation’s signature films being titled Reality Bites. Unlike the Millenials, our cynicism is well-earned. We grew up doing air raids at school to prepare for nuclear war, as though getting under our desks was going to help us to survive the blast. The divorce rate skyrocketed during our childhood, and we would babysit ourselves in the afternoons and during summers. The rock-star of our generation didn’t OD accidentally, like Morrison, Hendrix, and Joplin; he killed himself rather than continue. Later, we found out that the smiling president of our youth turned out to be half-senile and more than a little bit racist, and that the wholesome comedian on Thursday-night TV was drugging and raping women in his free time. Sit down, kid, let me tell you about “burnout.”
As a now middle-aged Gen-Xer who attempts daily to depart from the fin de siecle attitudes of my youth, it takes real effort to quell my first assumptions that everything around me is bogus and corrupt. Part of me feels sorry for Millenials who were convinced that bullying could be eradicated and that in sports everyone could be a winner. They’re old enough now to see that those idealistic notions aren’t true in real life, where the gloves are off. Generation X learned that a young age, and now we’re trying to impart that wisdom to the ones who came next. We never stared slack-mouthed at conflict. Generation X was more inclined to sneer or laugh, even when we were getting our butts kicked.
Which is the sentiment that most of the comments in the Huffington Post story exemplify. CBS News skipped right over us – the middle children – and went straight to sympathizing with the youngest ones. As a Gen-Xer, I’m not surprised, and my wife was right, I did laugh. Not because it was funny . . . but because it was typical.