Friday, March 9, 2018

Generational Labels are Stupid (But I Guess I'm a Xennial)

I know I'm a Xennial because I once had a poster of Dylan from 90210 hanging in my bedroom. If that sentence means anything to you, you're probably also a Xennial.  

Gen X? I think that's my parents. Or maybe they were Boomers, but I bet they didn't really feel like either. That's what happens when you're born right on the border between generations. You're too old to fit in with the just-hit-adulthood crowd and too young to hang with the somewhat older middle age fogeys.

Now that I am a soon-to-be middle age fogey - I know this because somehow a subscription to the Saturday Evening Post started appearing in my mailbox and I think that happens automatically - I have been floating around the same limbo in which my 20-year-old parents must have floated.

Definitely not a Gen X cynic but also way, way, wayyyyy out of college. Oldest Millennial (think much more mortgage and much less pink-tinged optimism)? Or the youngest member of Generation X? Turns out the answer is neither because I am a Xennial. Or part of the Oregon Trail Generation. Or (barf) Generation Catalano.

Let's not forget that generational cohorts are actually defined by nothing more than a set of dates.  (Plus a lingering nostalgia for that gum you liked that went out of style along with an ability to understand TV and movie quotes from two or three decades back.) The Harvard Center uses 1965 to 1984 to define Gen X so that Boomers, Xers, and Millennials cover equal 20-year age spans. Which is basically ridiculous since at the rate the world changes today, 20 years is like a full refresh.

And yet TIME magazine and other reputable fogey publications that I will probably subscribe to someday (right after I start writing letters to the local paper) love assigning generational traits designed to make older readers feel superior. Which is how we know Millenials dial their phones like THIS and Gen Xers dial their phones like THIS, and the former are doing it all wrong while also eating too much avocado toast which is why they can't have mortgages.

I find it endlessly fascinating - as well as extremely annoying - that the same old story plays out over. Back in my day, we couldn't have mortgages because we drank too many lattes. And who needed a mortgage anyway when your parents' basement was basically a palace you could enjoy for free? Generation X slackers were too good to take entry level jobs and a bunch of complainers. It was feared that the young adults of the 1950s were lacking in that "old American gambling spirit and enterprise." Young adults in the 1930s had no self-control and were too quick to reject all things traditional.

“We defy anyone who goes about with his eyes open to deny that there is, as never before, an attitude on the part of young folk which is best described as grossly thoughtless, rude, and utterly selfish,” was published in a piece called The Conduct of Young People in the Hull Daily Mail in 1925.

The knife cuts both ways, too. Boomer bashing was once Generation X's favorite hobby. Now you'll find headlines proclaiming that Gen X had a hand in ruining the world, though they apparently did it by being nihilists. Of course, other headlines have suggested that Generation X is our only hope of saving the world from those pesky kids (Millennials) so who the hell knows.

Fact is, we were all 20 once and if we're lucky we'll all grow to be 40 and then 60 and then 80. We're all going to be the newly employed entry-level workforce eating/drinking too much [substance] instead of buying [traditional stability signal]. Most of us will morph into relatively comfortable fogeys who get blissful feels whenever marketers acknowledge our buying power with another  nostalgia-fueled ad campaign. And two decades after that a new crop of young people will be blaming us for everything that's wrong with the world. It's the great circle of social sciences and it goes on and on and on.

Since I'm a Xennial I guess I dial my phone like THIS - which is very timidly because a trait I share with Millennials (but not my fellow Xennials?) is a strong dislike for talking on the phone. But I'd appreciate it if you'd pledge to hold an intervention if you ever catch me hanging up a retro Dylan poster or signing a petition demanding a 90210 reboot. That shit's just wrong.


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