Generation X Mourns Two Icons on the Same Day

Both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died today. They shared a common bond as wildly popular stars who had strange behavior and controversy later in their careers. But there was another bond as well. Although both of them were Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960), they were icons to the the generation that was young during the peak of their stardom: Generation X (born 1961-1981).
Many Generation X boys remember having this poster of Farrah up on their walls:

She was the pinup girl of our generation, and her feathered hair inspired many a (now terribly dated) hairdo at my Junior High and High School.

The cultural impact of MJ was also enormous. His style, his moves, his sheer entertaining ability were all admired by Gen X’ers during his peak. I clearly remember watching his performance during the Motown 25th anniversary celebration on television where he introduced the world to the moon walk and his one white glove:

His hits were enormous and his failings, later in life, just as large.
They were not Gen X’ers themselves (MJ was born in ’58, Farrah in ’47), but like all generations, our entertainment icons came from the generation before us (the Boomers in this case). So what does this mean for Generation X? First of all, it means we are getting older. Most of us are entering midlife and loss of these cultural references are a big reminder of that fact. The “new kids” coming up in entertainment we only hear about from our kids. And although many of the popular entertainers today are Gen X’ers, they don’t connect us with our youth.
It’s a sad day for Generation X. Sadder still because we realize that the arbiters of today’s youth culture (the Millennials, born 1982-200?) think of Farrah and Michael as some crazy old people.

35 thoughts on “Generation X Mourns Two Icons on the Same Day”

  1. I promise I didn't read your post before I wrote mine – much brief and not nearly as eloquent. But, man – we said the same thing. We're getting older. The Boomers can stop treating us like we're 19 now. Great job.

  2. Earlier today I was thinking about exactly the two iconic images you posted here: Farrah's poster (which was the only non-Kiss poster in my room as a 13-year-old) and MJ's infamous moonwalk on Motown (incredible — the recording of that moment still pops with electricity). Nice post!

  3. Dave,
    I tweeted Guy Kawasaki again last night about gen X and Alltop and I got tweets from two of his guys! They want Gen X Feeds, but say the did a quick search and didn't find many ????
    How do you think we should proceed? Tweeters: @neenz and @GuysReplies.

  4. Jackson was also a Boomer icon. My mother is about his same age, my father one year older than him. They were hit hard by his death as they grew up with him.

    1. @Robert – Agreed. Jackson's career spanned so many years, first with the Jackson 5, then the high of Thriller and the lows of his later life. Each generation (Boomer/X'er/Millennial) has a different view of him based on the age we were during his career.

  5. I am quite surprised that you consider Gen Xers to include those born in 1961. Quite frankly, I’ve never heard anyone make that assertion before. Baby Boomer by definition means people born between 1946 and 1964. By your definition, both my sister AND my wife are somehow now of a generation different from my own. I’m sure they would find that pretty amusing, though I’m positive neither of them considers themselves to be a Gen Xer.

    1. @michael – those dates come from the generational theories of Neil Howe and William Strauss (see more on their site at http://www.lifecourse.com). They developed a theory of American generations with lengths of approximately 20 years. The break of Boomers/GenX in 1960/61 is based on their surveys that show a shift in attitudes. Think of the graduating class of 1978 which saw the rise of hip hop and punk, both which are decidedly Gen X phenomena. I highly recommend their books, particularly their first one from 1991 called \”Generations\” which is amazing in how well its predictions for the future hold up 18 years later. You can get an overview of their theories on my \”Start Here\” section.

      The \”Boom\” between 1946 and 1964 is a purely demographic demarcation of the increase in birth rates.

      1. I'm not at all familiar with the generational theories of Neil Howe and William Strauss, but will research it further. However, Webster's defines a generation as: "the average period of about thirty years between birth of one generation and that of the next." Also, I'm reasonably certain that almost anyone born in 1961 -1964 considers themselves to be a Baby Boomer … if for no other reason than because that's what we've been told our entire lives. Seems to me that anyone born in 1961 to 1964 who wants to think of themselves as a Gen Xer must be trying (in vain, I think) to hang on to some last bit of youth by disassociating from their own generation and gloming onto a (only slightly) younger one. lol

        As for "… hip hop and punk, both which are decidedly Gen X phenomena"??
        Ahem, I absolutely am a Boomer … and I played in a punk rock band in the 1970s.
        Every punker I knew was about my own age (or older). Seems to me that Punk is the creation of Boomers (though Gen Xers went on to become the consumers).

        Hey, be as young or old as you wanna be. I don't care. My wife & sister will absolutely appreciate knowing they are suddenly Gen Xers … and I'll enjoy telling people I'm married to one. Too, too funny.

        1. @michael – I agree that many creators of hip hop and punk were Boomers, but the consumers were the important aspect, just as many creators of 60's rock were Silent generation but consumers were Boomers. Take a look at Howe and Strauss' theories – they shine a new light on the concept of generations.

          And thanks for reading!

          1. Good point. None of the Beatles or Stones were baby boomers, but they are considered to be boomer icons.

            Having said that, however, it still seems incorrect to refer to Punk as a "decidedly Gen X phenomena" if it was "created" by Boomers.

      2. Another example: Strauss and Howe were very clear about the GenX/Millennial Border being 1981-1982 with those born in 1982 being the High School Class of 2000 feeling as a solid majority, believing they were part of something new and different from GenX. While those born in 1979-80 couldn’t identify being anything different from GenX. Check out Millennials Rising about why 1982 is the first birth year of Millennials.

  6. Well, Duh! Barney was/is a purple dinosaur, not a purple elephant. Shows how much you know. lol But you are correct: We boomers don't want him either. Ha ha.
    Though, my kids absolutely love him. My youngest is 2 years old & recently switched his affections from Elmo (another Boomer creation? … the Muppets) to Barney.
    Sooo, what generation do you claim my son to be? He was born in 2007.

    BTW, I'm still researching your generational theories.

    1. @michael – Howe and Strauss say that your son (born after 2003 or 2005) is the generation after the Millennials. They have named them the \”Homelander\” generation. I don't think it is a great name, but it probably won't stick anyway. They will be somewhat like the Silent Generation (born 1925-1942) who were overprotected and conformist (until midlife).

      1. Oh great! So my son will grow up to be more like my own dad (born 1929). Ugh!
        Guess that means I can l look forward to all the same generational gap conflicts my Dad & I had … only this time in reverse?
        I was kinda hoping he'd be more of a surfer, rocker, free-spirit … but then, that would make him rather boomer-like now wouldn't it? lol

        1. @michael – and so it goes 🙂 My kids are Millennials (born 1982-200?) and will probably suffer from an annoying case of group-think. I will probably spend my elder years telling them to think for themselves and question their assumptions (which will seem quite quaint). Ah well.

  7. So I guess that after the Homelander generation, maybe around 2020 the next Prophet generation will start to be born. And perhaps the next awakening will be sometime in the 2040's.

  8. BTW, my Dad (born 1929) certainly does not fit your description of his generation.
    Hardly overprotected & conformist. He left home at age 14 to live on his own & was a total rebel in his youth. Rode around on a motorcycle, carried a knife, stabbed a guy … a real bad ass. UNTIL midlife … that's when he became a complete conformist, uniform-wearing member of the police dept. — though, still riding a motorcycle and still very much a bad ass.

    1. @michael – there are always many that rebel from their generation. I actually think that \”Rebel without a Cause\” was an iconic movie for the Silents. Many wanted to be rebels but were brought up to conform. Then in their midlife some of them went the other way, but with great risk: think RFK, MLK, Malcolm X and Harvey Milk.

      Fascinating stuff.

  9. Ok, I checked out some of the generational theories of Neil Howe and William Strauss and found it all rather intriguing. Seems like you’ve bought into their theories hook, line & sinker … like a convert to a new religion. However, I find the credibility of these generational theorists to be questionable, at best. One writer called them generational crackpots, another called them generational generalists. One wrote: " … these generational profiles don't necessarily have any more validity than, say, horoscopes."

    Another wrote:
    "In spite of their claims being little more than unscientific cyclical theory, they are currently taken seriously by a lot of conservatives and liberals alike, because it offers conservatives hope that society is on the verge of cycling out of the social changes of the 1960s and 1980s and back to the social conservatism of the 1940s-50s, and it offers liberals hope that society is on the verge of cycling out of the Reagan-Bush era of deregulation and privatization and back to the New Deal and Keynesian economics of the 1940s-50s."

    I’ll concede that bits of what they theorize is actually somewhat logical. But one cannot just unilaterally change the entire definition of a generation. While I agree that lagging end boomers do not share the exact same life experiences as leading edge boomers, that does not mean they are not all boomers.

    Bottom line is, this is not a well established, vetted theory, like the Theory of Evolution, which has the entire scientific community pretty much in agreement. These guys just made up a theory about why they think the generational divides should be altered. That’s all well and good. Perhaps if I put my mind to it I might come up with even more and different divides and rational supporting MY theories.

    But “theories” do not change the FACT that Baby Boomers are those born 1946-1964 and Gen X begins in 1965. This fact does not magically change just because you prefer it to be that way and have found a bit of theoretical support for such notion. I see you refer to 1961 over and over as the beginning of Gen X. You state it as a fact; it is not a fact. You can keep on saying it over and over, but repeating something incessantly does not make it so.

    This is a bit like if I suddenly began stating, over and over, that a dollar bill is really just 99 cents. I could perhaps cite reasons why it’s only 99 cents: it is no longer worth 100 cents, or whatever. But a dollar bill is still a dollar bill no matter what I say or what my reasoning may be. And a boomer is a boomer (1946-1964) and Gen X is Gen X.

  10. Michael your operational definition of a generation is the old school mainstream one, purely arbitrary break points in the time line combined with peaks and valleys in birthrate. The Straussian op def factors in shared environment and experiences. For example I cannot remember JFK. I was one year old when he was assassinated. I have nothing in common with Boomers. I have everything in common with Xers. This, to me, is more significant than arbitrary lines in the sand.

  11. First off Generation Y runs from 1980-1994, not 2001. Gen Z starts in the mid 90's. Second, Generation Y appreciates MJ's music. Think about how many people in their 20's and earlier freaked out when they heard MJ died. And you forgot Ed McMahon, who Britney (a Gen Y'r) said she was so sad for. As for Farrah, every girl my age (I'm in college) realizes the icon she was and envies her beauty. No guy doesn't realize how sexy she was. Miley Cyrus (who I don't really respect) even said what a beautiful woman inside and out. I told my friend I had just gotten her famous poster and he said "you know it's good when I can tell you exactly what it looks like." The night of the 25th, my friend was talking about how he had the poster. Remember, Man of the House, a big kids movie in the mid 90's came out when we were kids. We certainly appreciate these two. Now Generation Z is too young to have experienced them at all, THEY might see them as a pedophile and some random woman, but most of Gen Y understands why they are icons. Remember, we are Echo-boom, our parents lived through all of it.

    1. @Sam – Sorry I did not approve your comment earlier – it must slipped through my email filter.

      We disagree on the dates for Millennials and Gen X – mine are based on the theories of Neil Howe and William Strauss rather than demographics or popular opinion. To see more about them you can visit my start here section. And to your point about Farrah, McMahon and MJ being icons to Gen Y, I can agree that they were important to this generation, but not nearly as much as they were to Gen X. Millennials were just too young to appreciate MJ's early music en masse and Farrah's early beauty. Doesn't mean that some don't get it, but they were not the pop phenoms during the Millennial/Gen Y period.

      It's kinda like how Gen X might appreciate the Beatles – we get that they were wildly popular and appreciate their music, but by the time most of us were born they had already broken up years before. We didn't live through their story, and our story was not bonded to theirs. I am not saying a second-hand experience is irrelevant, but it is certainly different. And that is where generation theory comes from: the experiences of our youth are what bind us as a generation.

  12. I am familiar with Howe and Strauss. Just completed reading Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation by Neil Howe and William Strauss.

    Among the aspects of this book that I find troubling is the combination of facts, trends, and broad assumptions that are not really well verified being taken as some sort rigorous analysis. It is more theme oriented journalism with lots of citations, interviews and “factoids”. Not even close to any real in depth analysis. And the authors’ essential conceptual model and conclusions are problematic. It seems to me that the whole “generational” model is an artificial (and, at worst, stereotype-driven) way to break people into easily-labeled groups. In fact, I think things are a lot more complex than the authors seem to believe.

    Prospective readers should also be aware of the background of these authors. Although they are referred to in various reviews as “historians”, their backgrounds are closer to what might be termed “Republican policy wonks”, who now run a consulting business based on identifying and advising on generational trends. If one has read their other books or heard them speak, one becomes aware of their antagonism to cultural trends. Their whole concept of “generations” such as “Xers and Boomers” is largely a marketing and pop culture phenomenon that frequently “fits” the way a horroscope does. Make a few suggestions, present some “proof” and voila, an instant read on history and the future. Their books and their generational divides in general are mostly unsubstantiated, unscientific hooey.

    1. @JP – I would suggest you consider reading books other than \”Millennials Rising\” if you want to get a sense of Strauss and Howe's books. \”The Fourth Turning\” is a good place to start if you want a more in-depth assessment of the cycles of generations. \”Millennials Rising\” was written with a more \”Generations for Dummies\” tone, so I am not surprised you came away unsatisfied.

      As for their politics: I have always gotten a much more liberal feeling from their writings, especially their editorial comments in articles and other published works. I am surprised you think of them as conservatives and I wonder where you got that impression.

      And finally when it comes to their predictions, I will take a wait and see approach. According to their theories, there should be a massive crisis starting in about 10 years and running until 2020 or 2025. Although I believe the predictions they made in \”Generations\” (1993) and \”Fourth Turning\” (1997) have been surprisingly on the mark, I will withold judgement until the crisis does or doesn't develop. The proof will be in the pudding.

      Dave

  13. I do not agree with using 1982 as the start date of generation y. People of ANY age can be a millenial if they are tech – savvy, open – minded to ALL kinds of diversity, and into the latest music and entertainment. I am very forward – thinking, and do not believe in using dates to describe generations. I was born in 1979 and am definitely gen y (all the characteristics above describe me).

    1. @David – that's kinda the deal with generations: not everyone feels they belong in the generation they are in. This is especially true for those on the cusp like you. Read my article about Generation Jones (http://www.thegenxfiles.com/2009/02/10/does-generation-jones-exist/) to see what I mean about the cusp of generations. Generations are general by nature and they don't accurately define everyone in them. But they do give a good picture of a vast majority of the people born during those times. Saying a Millennial is anyone who is tech-savvy, open-minded to diversity and into the latest music doesn't really help in understanding what Millennials are about. But I get your point: if you feel and act more like a Millennial, then the dates may not work for you personally. But on a larger scale they do predict where we are going.

    2. People of Any age can be a Millennial is like saying people of any age can be a Silent or Boomer. They can understand the traits of Millennials but that doesn’t change the fact they’re born way before Millennials. I was born in 1979 and learned this lesson myself.

  14. Dave: I was born in 1979. I’m singlehandedly GenX. I understand you’re a cusper but I had my share of Millennials. Millennials are lame, spoiled, hubristic, naive, shallow, materialistic braggers. I can’t imagine anyone born in my year calling them GenY. Just face it. Your GenX. Be proud to be X. I can’t stand their Conventionality. Their over the top with tech they didn’t even event and the music they pioneer points to a shallow culture by 2035. Gen X Rules!!!!

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