Sunday, April 23

Whatever Happened To Generation X?

In last month's Details, there's an article by Jeff Gordinier about how Generation X seems to be obsolete these days, with most media attention focused on either the aging boomers or on the millennials, aka Gen Y. The article's not terribly well-written, but I found the following excerpt fascinating enough to send along. (I haven't annotated the numerous nips & tucks I did to his prose. This is Baby Ruthless, not an academic journal, after all.)

Having been brined in hours and hours of media when we were growing up, Xers have developed sharply calibrated detection systems for what's good and what sucks. And we generally prefer not to suck. Which is precisely why the American marketplace was bound to lose interest in us.

Quality, it turns out, is Gen X's Achilles' heel. Good taste has crippled us. You might pretend to enjoy American Idol (in, of course, an ironic way), but it still makes you cringe, and that puts you at odds with the purchasing power of the gaping multitudes. In the eyes of the millennials and Madison Avenue, we're a generation of fuddy-duddies, of critics and butterfly collectors, with our affection for lost and minor works, our wincing disregard for the grand statement, our curatorial fascination with moribund forms.

Generation X is still defined more by lasts than firsts. We're the last generation to produce and hold on to albums on vinyl, the last generation to read newspapers, the last generation to believe in the "revolution" of indie film and indie rock, the last generation to remember television dials that stopped at 13 channels, the last generation to express any sort of resistance to corporate servitude, the last generation to produce old-fashioned movie stars (Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt) as opposed to manufactured aristocretins and reality-TV clowns, and the last generation to care in any way about the 'culture' part of the phrase 'pop culture.' We're a generation of Prufrocks, forever hesitating before making the leap.

Standards? Tradition? Quality? Your average millennial couldn't give a rat's ass about words like that, just as he couldn't give a rat's ass that I just made a pretentious reference to T.S. Eliot. If anything, the millennials, not unlike the boomers who raised them, are motivated by the wholesale deconstruction of anything that reeks of mildewy "standards." The Gen Y heroes--Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Kevin Federline, Laguna Beach cast members--are rewarded not for doing anything well, per se, but simply for doing a lot: for hustling, and for hiring publicists and agents who are skilled at cranking that hustle into a constant maelstrom of curiosity. Sucking is fine! Sucking is beside the point.