“Generation X” is … (a post from 1994)

Before I get to the meat of this, I should provide some preamble.  The post that will go up later in the week is titled “Being Michael Grates,” wherein I take a look at Ben Stiller’s character from Reality Bites from the perspective of someone who is in his mid-thirties and see, much like Mr. Vernon in The Breakfast Club and Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything … how much that perspective has changed.  As I was writing that piece, I thought of a piece I wrote in my high school newspaper where I referenced the movie in some screed about then-current stereotypes about teenagers and twenty-somethings of the day, who were labeled collectively as “Generation X” (taken from the Douglas Coupland novel of the same name).  I thought of quoting an excerpt from it in the post and then I decided, why don’t I just reprint it?

So, this is from the November 1994 (Volume 4, Issue 1) issue of Voices Inside, the then-student newspaper for Sayville High School.  I was seventeen years old, and it was the first in a regular “column” I had (read: gave to myself since I was made editor-in-chief) called “@#$&!”, which is an early precursor to this blog.  Perhaps one day I’ll write about that and “From the Nosebleeds,” the column I had in college.  But until then, enjoy this and come back later in the week for another all-new post as well as next week’s episode of the podcast, which also touches on Reality Bites.  Until then, here is the original column in its entirety (with a few punctuation errors fixed).

“Generation X” Is …

For many teenagers, these are confusing times.  We are on the verge of adulthood, preparing to go out into what is considered “The Real World.”  However, this “Real World” is not yet ready to welcome us into its ranks.  To many, especially the “Baby Boomer” generation, we are “Generation X,” and are not always wanted.  But what is “Generation X;” how is this term for eighteen- to thirty-year-olds a description for the generation to which we all belong, if we even do belong at all?

1) “Generation X” is a group of ungrateful, whining slackers that have everything handed to them, and as a result, are materialistic, superficial, self-centered, and take everything for granted.

Ah yes, stereotypes galore.  Believe it or not, this is how “GenerationX-ers” are perceived by “Boomers.”  You see, something went wrong, somewhere along the line.  We lost our work ethic or something.  “X-ers” are inconsiderate, rude kids that sit behind a counter at McDonald’s and have panic attacks when the cash register breaks down because they do not know how to make correct change.

Yes, synonymous with the word “slacker,” “Generation X” is a group which has inherited a four trillion-dollar national debt, global warming, AIDS, and a whole load of problems that it whines about.  However, “X-ers” are too lazy to do anything about the problems.  They would rather just sit at home at whine about them while watching MTV and mooching off of mom and dad.

Meanwhile “X-ers” perpetuate the image set forth by the “Boomers” by wearing clothing that looks as if it hasn’t been washed in weeks, and piercing several parts of the body in order to look like, well, how does my father put it?  Oh yeah, freaks.”  Face it, “Generation X” is, we are, just a superficial, whining group of freaks who by now have raised vegetation to an art form.

2) “Generation X,” as a result of the actions of the “Baby Boomers,” has been forced into a situation in which it will be worse off than previous generations, and although it will strive for success, it will have to settle for mediocrity.

“Generation X” has no choice but to appear to be the group of slackers that it is thought to be.  According to recent figures, the average salary for a male between twenty-five and thirty-four years of age is $26,197 a year, and for a female, $21,510 per year (Newsweek, June 6, 1994).  As a result, many people in their twenties are forced to return home after college because of absurdly high housing costs.

There are also many problems which face our world today that were not around twenty or thirty years ago:  AIDS, environmental disaster, a tremendous national debt, and so on.  “Generation X” has inherited these problems and feels the burden of solving them because they blame “Boomers” for them and do not expect the instigator to produce a solution.  What’s the old saying?  “For the sins of the fathers, the sons must pay.”  Well, the “Boomers,” figuratively speaking, must have committed mass murder, because “X-ers” claim to be in it pretty deep.

3) “Generation X” is a clique.

Okay, let’s cut the blaming, all the causes, all the pondering, all the figurative b.s., and get to the point.  Why we’re here.  Why ahve taken the time to bore you with some Godforsaken diatribe of what I think “Generation X” is, and why I have made an attempt to answer, in my own words, questions that pertain to “Generation X.”

First, foremost, and last, I believe that much of the point I am or have been trying to make is almost moot because i believe I will never understand “Generation X.”  Why?  I believe I am not a part of it.  That’s right, I do not believe I fit into what is considered “Generation X.”  Come on, the stereotypical “X-er” is a flannel-wearing, lazy teen whose top priorities are beer, sex, his or her own image, and who lists Beavis and Butt-head as archetypes for his/her generation.  Well, I am not into the latest flannel wear, I rarely drink, do not believe that image is everything, and never, in a million years, would consider either Beavis or Butt-head to be the archetypes for my generation.

However, i do long to be a “Generation X-er.”  Tell me, how do I do it?  How do I join what seems to be some sort of club for “cool” people?  You know, the clique that every person wants to be in but cannot.  Please, tell me what i have to do.  Drop my SAT scores 400 points?  Go brain dead in class?  ACTUALLY WATCH MTV?

4) “Generation X” is the greatest marketing strategy ever created.

Yet, it is hard to tell who exactly has fallen for it.

Advertising today is supposed to attract an audience.  In attracting an audience, ad execs have perpetuated what they see as “Generation X”–the stereotype to which we must all conform.  Many can say that “Generation X-ers” have done so.  I don’t know why I do it, but I keep coming back to MTV.  The cable network’s original purpose was to be kind of non-conformist, to serve youth and to be opposite from the norm, the establishment.  Instead, it has shaped youth and become the norm, instituting the “MTV Generation” (hey, maybe that is what “Generation X” should be called).

An example of how ad execs have been able to manipulate and control “Generation X”: in the film Reality Bites Winona Ryder’s character creates a very deep and moving documentary–one worthy of PBS–in which she chronicles the lives of her friends.  Eventually, she sells it to an MTV type of television station, and the editors butcher the film, making it into a mockery of what it once was.  The funny thing is, that mockery is some classic MTV–what is served to an eaten by “Generation X” like three square meals a day.

However, “Generation X” is not so duped by advertising all the time.  In fact, perhaps it is the “Boomers” who have bought into the stereotype so perpetuated by ad execs in this nation.  Writer Ian Williams says that “Generation X” has a “Bulls–t alarm.”  For so many years, a generation was shown every type of advertising ever imaginable and according to writer Karen Ritchie:  “The first time you realize the super toy you wanted is really only four inches tall you learn a hard lesson. We created a whole generation that believes advertising is lies and hype” (Newsweek,  June 6, 1994).

So how have these stereotypes of “Generation X” survived?  Simple, “Boomers” need a way to come down on “Generation X.”  Having a stereotype so convenient makes their jobs a heck of a lot easier.

The bottom line?  There are so many views, so many ways of looking at “Generation X” that there may be no clear-cut definition as to what it is.  Ah, who cares?  World’s screwed up as it is.  I don’t know why I bothered writing this.  Maybe I’ll just go watch MTV.


  1. Reblogged this on Red Lines and Highlights and commented:

    I realize I’ve been doing a lot of cross-posting lately, but these have been pieces I’ve written with the context of school in mind. And this particular piece is pertinent because it’s me exercising my student voice … nearly 20 years ago. Reprinting the very first essay from my editorial column, @#$&!, in my high school newspaper, it’s “‘Generation X’ Is …”

  2. Fascinating, as the stereotype hasn’t changed at all with time. What do you make of the characterization of Millenials as either lazy bums living in their parents’ basements writing on the internet, or justifiably depressed but stoic alcoholics with a penchant for colourful sunglasses and hugging?

    1. Funny enough, my next post addresses that to a certain extent. I was working on it and remembered I had this one and thought it would be fun to post it (since I wrote it 19 years ago). So, in other words, stay tuned.

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