Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yes, We Suck: The Return of the "Generation X" Think Piece

It's such a simple word, "we." It echoes around the world - nous, nosotros, wir, wij, all basic and universal evocations of a common purpose and identity. And all, when deployed in the correct context, signify a writer's departure from the realm of the personal or critical essay, and the beginning of Generation-Defining Time.

This installment of Generation-Defining Time comes to you courtesy of talented Salon writer Heather Havrilesky! I believe it is her first entry in the genre. It is entitled "An open apology to boomers everywhere," and it comes straight from Generation X.

Now, I missed Generation X by a few years (I think I am technically a "Millenial," what with my Facebooking and my text messaging and my baggy pants) but I have been familiar with the X Generation since the early '90s, having known them primarily as the generation of people that would not stop fucking defining themselves, ever. Throughout my tender adolescence there came to prominence a barrage of Generation X spokespeople with Generation X thoughts who wanted us to know about how Generation X was perceiving the world in this totally new Generation X way, and it maybe involved having a crappy service job and being mad at your parents. I thought we were done! I thought the answer was "irony." Apparently, not, however, for the Generation X define-a-thon continues.

So, on the "being mad at your parents" tip, here is Heather Havrilesky, apologizing to them for the entirety of her Generation:
Dear boomers: We're sorry for rolling our eyes at you all these years. We apologize for scoffing at your earnestness, your lack of self-deprecation, your tendency to take yourselves a little too seriously... Chanting "What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!" at that rally against the Iraq war made us feel self-conscious in spite of ourselves. We felt like clichés. We wondered why someone couldn't come up with a newer, catchier, pro-peace slogan over the course of 40 years of protests.
Ah, the true failure of the anti-war movement - insufficiently catchy slogans. Here, Havrilesky explains political involvement, X-style:
We really did stand for something, underneath all the eye-rolling. We're feminists, we care about the environment, we want to improve race relations, we volunteer. We're just low-key about it. We never wanted to do it the way you did it: So unselfconscious, so optimistic, guilelessly throwing yourself behind Team Liberal. We didn't get that. We aren't joiners. We don't like carrying signs. We tend to disagree, if only on principle.
So, completely ineffectual, then? I'm not sure I get it; I've only read 900,000 pieces on Generation X in my lifetime. Can you explain this in a way that involves the words "cynical," "ironic," or "slacker?"
We grew cynical. We doubted even the most heartfelt, genuine statements. We didn't want to be blind to our own faults, like you were, so we paraded our faults around, exalted in our shortcomings. The worst thing, to us, was to not see ourselves clearly. The worst thing was to not be in on the joke... everyone is a fake and the high capitalist world is bought and sold and even the purest form of art is a commodity, not to be taken seriously. No one can be trusted, nothing is pure -- these are the truths we held to be self-evident.
My goodness! Imagine the "capitalist world" being "bought and sold!" Clearly, this means that you can never believe in anything ever and that people are terrible. Remember, people: sad thoughts are always more valid and insightful than happy ones. This is the principle of all psychological health.

Anyway, Havrilesky explains, the real fault lies not with Generation X, but with the Baby Boomers, who were horrible, horrible parents:
You told us to tell you anything, to be honest, to come to you with our problems, but when we did, you were uncomfortable and dismissive. You didn't really want to know how we felt. When we were emotional, you flashed back to that time your drunk mother threw the jack-o'-lantern into the street. You loved us, but you were passive-aggressive and avoidant in spite of your best intentions.
Wow. An entire generation raised by my ex-boyfriends? That must have blown. From now on, I won't carry any bitterness about my past relationships. (Which all ended, by the way, exactly like Terminator 2: "I know now vhy you cry, but it is sommesing I can nevah dooo.") I'll simply understand that they were Baby Boomers. Gentlemen - congratulations. You all look very young for your age.

But wait: crappy parents? Cynicism regarding the political views held by the preceding generation? Disengagement, disillusion, dysphoria? Why this sounds precisely like the Generation X anthem from Generation X-defining Generation Xtacular Reality Bites, written and performed by Ethan "X-treme X-ing" Hawke!

Okay, to be fair, I only put that video in this post because it is the most horrible thing that has ever happened. Just like Generation X!

Still, Havrilesky notes, Obama's nomination can change all that. Now that we've elected a President we can believe in, we can drop all of the cynicism and disengagement and reach out to the world, with eyes and hearts wide open. We can be vulnerable, trusting, maybe even a little bit naive. We can be, in other words, this woman:

Oh, Generation X. You say we only hear what we want to. We don't listen hard; we don't pay attention to the distance that you're running to anyone, anywhere. We don't understand if you really care. We're only hearing negative - no, no, no, baaaaaaaad!

And we say: stay.

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