2008 is the year. It's the year of my 20-year high school reunion. It's the year the Baby Boomers turn 65 in droves. It is time for the Baby Boomer generation to pass the baton to the next generation! It is time for us to grow up and assume responsibility for the world! Let the Boomers play golf.
If the Boomers are the most overrated generation in history, we, so-called Generation X, born from about 1961 to 1981, are the most underrated. We are portrayed as overshadowed by our parents; eternal adolescents. The Baby Boom generation, of course, was so named because after World War II the ecstatic returning soldiers fathered a huge crop of babies. We, sadly, were dubbed Generation X by the marketing weasels who couldn't figure out how to market to us: we were immune to the same lame jingles that hypnotized their parents. (I'm sorry to say, eventually they figured it out: appeal to our quirky individualism, with a dose of ironic humor, and we will buy what you are selling.) Then Douglas Coupland popularized the term in his novel Generation X, which became our bible along with the movie Slackers.
If I read one more article extolling the Boomers as the greatest generation that ever lived, I will throw up. We honor our parents for having rebelled against the corrupt establishment and having, for a golden moment, created something new. We honor our feminist mothers for daring to expose the phallacy of male superiority. But, we cry, you didn't take it far enough! You sold out! You succumbed to the forces of bad drugs, comfort, and conventionality! What happened to the revolution??? Under your watch, the last of the world's old forests and resources were gobbled up, and the military/industrial complex has ballooned. The resources are almost gone.
We, the 13th American generation, are the first Americans to expect a lower standard of living than our parents. Some jokers have dubbed us 'boomerangs', since, due to the lack of decent jobs and affordable housing, some have had to return to the parental nest well into adulthood.
Our parents, growing up steeped in 50's propaganda that sold salvation through shiny new washing machines, are so steeped in the mindset of eternal economic growth that they can't see beyond it. They think that if you invest your money while you're young, you can't go wrong -- the economy will keep growing forever. In fact the very measure of a country's success, the Gross National Product, is a measure of consumption growth. But wait! we, the questioning generation, ask: can we go on consuming forever? We are the first American generation to believe it's possible that life as we know it could come to an end in our lifetimes, due to dwindling resources, a ruined environment, nuclear war, collapse of this house of cards we call the global economy, or catastrophic disasters. In some sense, this nagging sense of potential doom haunts our collective psyche. Our parents, brainwashed into a rosy American paradise of shiny kitchen appliances, can't relate.
The radical Baby Boomers wanted to change the world. We love them for that. But as the 60s gave way to the 70s, ganja gave way to cocaine, psychedelic music to disco, spirituality to hedonism. We suckled at the breast of their abandonment of revolutionary dreams (for many of us, that was the only breast we got, since our generation were perhaps the only mammals on earth to be mostly bottle-fed cow's milk! Smart move!) The Boomers reveled in self-centered pursuits while we their children were raised by Bugs Bunny (one of my great teachers) and the Smurfs. And ruined our health on pollution, processed sugar and pseudo-foods. Are we also the first Americans to be sicker than our parents?
We, sensitive children, saw that our parents had wandered into marriage and parenthood without giving it any thought. It was just what you did. Then we watched them all divorce, our fathers often trading our mothers in for younger wives. Many of us vowed that we would not marry and bring children into this world without serious thought, true preparation.
We also, from the sidelines as latchkey kids, watched our parents wander through one fad after another as they searched for meaning in their lives. My father's closet was like an archaeological dig through the eras of his life, each layer of dusty old stuff marked by different girlfriends with different interests: the ski layer, the personal growth workshop layer, the transcendental meditation layer ... but nothing ever seemed to change. Because of this, we are too jaded to be fully suckered in by ads, fads or New Age cults. We dabble, taking our wisdom where we find it, cautiously building our own belief systems, our own communities. Alienated from institutions that seem to us empty and corrupt, we keep our distance, cynical and distrustful. But beneath this jaded exterior is a heart that longs for something we can truly believe in.
Our parents achieved the pinnacle of material success. They gave us all the stuff we could want, possibly out of guilt for the divorce and emotional neglect. And so we came to realize there was much more to life. Had successful careers made them happy? No. We could tell just looking at them that they weren't. Our mothers fought for the right to join the workplace only to find that the workplace is an empty wasteland, and what's more, they still had to do most of the housework and child care. Boy, was that a bad deal!
And so, the 70s, colorful and cheerful and bell-bottomed, gave way to the 80s. With the Reagan era came the end of our innocence: as our political consciousness dawned, we realized that there was something terribly wrong. Reagan's 'trickle-down economics' never did trickle down, the rich got much richer, and the streets were suddenly filled with homelessness and crime. It's never been the same again. Our generation turned to punk, heavy metal, grunge, and Nietsche; we became nihilistic slackers. Our elders were festering in old age homes. We couldn't count on our parents, the government, any of the institutions of our bankrupt culture. Should we slave away at a meaningless job to make rich people richer for all the good years of our lives, only to retire when we were too old it?
And then came the 90s. Suddenly our hidden inner children, our lost political innocence, flowered for one last hope: Bill Clinton! We X'ers thronged the streets to cheer the young horn-playing President who could save us. And for a moment, we had our golden age. The latent genius of our generation bloomed forth. We made the Internet what it is. We became brilliant entrepreneurs. We created a corporate culture we could live with, the iconoclastic tech culture. We manifested a miraculous network where all the world's knowledge is at your fingertips, where we can communicate instantly with anyone anywhere. We are artists in brand new mediums. And we created the fantastic festival of Burning Man, which makes Woodstock look like a high school party.
Now we are watching the Boomers finally retire. My mother, after a life of thankless service at a gloomy government job, migrated to Florida to live in the Villages, a scary vast Disneyland for the over-65 swinger set. Well, she is happy, at last. My father will soon be forced to retire, and he is terrified: after a life at the office, he has no idea what else to do with himself.
Know this, dear parents: we do not blame you. You did your best. You were a product of your times, as all of us are. You paved the way. We hereby grow up and stop blaming our parents! We are a special generation. We are the first to truly question the institutions and the superiority of American culture. And we are the last generation to remember what it was like before technology took over. Generation Y, the ones who will follow us, were weaned on computers, cell phones, and video games. We are the bridge.
We, Generation X, declare that it is a revolutionary act to search for meaning in life. Despite our slacker image, many of us work hard, much longer hours than our parents ever worked for much less money. Others of us forego creature comforts, living simply so that we need not slave in the cubicles. But we choose our own paths, mindfully, whether it be work, play or service, parenthood or philosophy.
Let this be our manifesto:
Did you know that with only a fraction of what America spends in Iraq in one month, we could buy all the world's remaining forests, for preservation? We're in charge now. We can turn things around. We don't even need a miracle. All we need is cooperation.
We, Generation Xcellent, remove the mask of our cynicism. We bring forth our true natures: our integrity, our creativity, our sensitivity. Let us be excellent.