Although I think it’s very cool that a gal from the Silent (born 1925-1942) Generation would have their own blog (and a good one, at that), I am amazed at the amount of vitriol that Helen of “Margaret and Helen” has for Sarah Palin. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of Palin, but Helen’s diatribe on Palin is mostly about how she has “no substance” and low morals. Martha Stewart (also a Silent, but younger than Helen) said something similar. The question is whether the massive voting block of conservative [X] really cares about those sorts of things. I often wonder why people have such a hatred of Palin. I get that people don’t like her ideas (I certainly don’t care for them). I get that some are offended by her approach. But could it be because she is an independent-minded woman who doesn’t seem to give a damned what anyone else thinks?
This interesting article from Huffington Post suggests that the movie Fight Club was “prescient” by showing just how cynical our society has become. It’s great to see this movie (one of my favorites of all time) to receive credit for capturing the spirit of [X].
And watching Fight Club, ten years later, with all that we have available to us, it seems even more prescient. For better and often for worse, we’ve become even more disconnected from ourselves. And even more narcissistic. People text, they twitter, they communicate online instead of talk on the phone or in person.
Fight Club is one of my favorite movies of all time and I think many Gen X’ers (males especially) feel the same way. It captures both the survivalism and nihilism that were the bread and butter of those times. One particularly strong theme is how the young men in the movie are so emasculated that the only way they can feel alive is to beat each other senseless.
The author of the book that the movie was based upon, Chuck Palanhiuk, is the proto-typical Gen X’er himself (he is a Portland native). Check out his wikipedia entry.
He worked as a tech writer (for an old-guard technology company in Portland) for many years, and I think many of the scenes in Fight Club are drawn from that experience. He is a pretty twisted guy, and he definitely goes for shock value. Note this part of the Wikipedia entry:
While on his 2003 tour to promote his novel Diary, Palahniuk read to his audiences a short story titled “Guts”, a tale of accidents involving masturbation, which appears in his book Haunted. It was reported that to that point, 40 people had fainted while listening to the readings. Playboy magazine would later publish the story in their March 2004 issue; Palahniuk offered to let them publish another story along with it, but the publishers found the second work too disturbing. On his tour to promote Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories in the summer of 2004, he read the story to audiences again, bringing the total number of fainters up to 53, and later up to 60, while on tour to promote the softcover edition of Diary. In the fall of that year, he began promoting “Haunted”, and continued to read “Guts”. At his October 4, 2004 reading in Boulder, Colorado, Palahniuk noted that, after that day, his number of fainters was up to 68. The last fainting occurred on May 28, 2007, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, where 5 people fainted, one of which occurred when a man was trying to leave the auditorium, which resulted in him falling and hitting his head on the door. Palahniuk is apparently not bothered by these incidents, which have not stopped fans from reading “Guts” or his other works. Audio recordings of his readings of the story have since circulated on the Internet. In the afterword of the latest edition of “Haunted”, Palahniuk reports that “Guts” is now responsible for 73 faintings.
David Fincer did an amazing job directing the adaptation of Fight Club. If you read the book you would swear there is no way they could make a movie out of it. But I wonder if Fincer can capture the Millennial (born 1982-2004) theme with The Social Network. The author of this article seems to think that the Millennials are the ones living out the Fight Club nihilism, when it is in fact the X’ers heading into middle age.
Martha Stewart (born 1941, making her part of the Silent (born 1925-1942)) seems to be quite judgemental about [X]. Listen to her comments about X’er Rachael Ray:
And next about X’er Sarah Palin:
I suppose the high moral ground that Martha occupies gives her right to judge her juniors. Her attitude seems more Boomer (born 1943-1960) than Silent to me.
This article in City Journal suggests that the characterization of [X] as disengaged politically is not true. They cite a survey from National Conference on Citizenship (download the report in PDF format). It’s an interesting take on the civic attitude of generations. They have stats from their surveys showing that Generation X is just as likely to volunteer or donate as Millennial (born 1982-2004) and even more so than Boomer (born 1943-1960). Their birth years for the generations differ from the ones I use (based on the work of Neil Howe and William Strauss), but they are close enough.
So what is going on here? Are we not the cynical, politically disengaged bunch that people believe we are? Well, I think we are certainly not as extreme as we are often portrayed, but the numbers for cynicism about politics and institutions is highest amongst Gen X’ers in the report. And as for the volunteering and donation rates, we should consider comparing Gen X’ers to Millennials when we were their age. I think the numbers would show that Millennials rate much higher in these civic activities than we did at their age.
Don’t get me wrong: I think a lot of the Millennial volunteer-ism has to do with looking good for colleges and following their parents expectations. And I definitely agree that painting Gen X as a bunch of individualists who don’t care about society is unfair. Be we certainly don’t aspire to be seen as the do-gooders that Millennials seem to be. It’s just not our style.
Great article over at Leadership Turn about how corporations are focused on Boomer (born 1943-1960) and Millennial (born 1982-2004) and completely missing the generation most capable of helping in tough times: [X]. I love this quote:
Let me spell this out.
The economy will turn around.
The Boomers may stay in the workforce for now, but they will retire.
Gen Y is being held back because of the economy and may never catch up, certainly not fast enough to run American enterprise when the Boomers retire.
That leaves Gen X, which is being ignored.
I totally agree that this is the sort of thing that will come back to bite them in the future.
I think it was George Bernard Shaw that said that the Lost Generation (born 1883-1900) had the unique disadvantage of being young at a time when elders were revered and old at a time when youth was idolized. [X] are arguably in the same situation, being young when the G.I. (born 1901-1924) were running the show and eventually we will become elders when the Millennial (born 1982-2004) are taking over the game. In between we get the leftovers, as pointed out in this Washington Post article that has been making the rounds on Twitter.
The Deloitte study warns of a “resume’ tsunami” once economic recovery begins, especially among Gen Xers, and notes that many executives were largely unaware of employee complaints unrelated to money.
Such findings don’t surprise Rich Yudhishthu, a 37-year-old Gen Xer who’s a business development consultant from Minneapolis.
“The lack of promotional opportunities has pretty much killed job loyalty within a generation,” he says.
Of course the problem here is that the “recovery” may be a good 10-15 years off, so shining up the resume for Gen X may be pointless. The good news is, as always, we can take it. Just like the Lost Generation before us we are tough survivalists. That’s our gift and our curse.
Noreena Hertz, born 1967 (making her [X]) isn’t a rock star, but she is friends with Bono. And in the world of economics she has risen to fame recently by predicting the financial meltdown in her 2001 book “The Silent Takeover” (she was laughed at back then). No one is laughing now, and this article in Fast Company about her describes just how much power she wields in finance and government now. She is doing Gen X proud!
Not long ago, economist Noreena Hertz lived at the lefty margins of her field. But her (widely ignored) prediction of the credit crisis and her call for a more evolved form of capitalism have suddenly put her at the center of the universe.
Noreena Hertz had to seduce Bono. The Cambridge University economist was writing a book on the developing world, and Bono’s personal saga of getting the U.S. government to cancel more than $400 million of debt was just the pop-culture bridge she needed to move her ideas beyond the wonkish corridors of academia. After all, Hertz’s motive for The Debt Threat — a deep dive into the debt trap that, she argued, would have global consequences for all — was to juice the campaign that had been building slowly in activist ranks. The book itself would be a battle cry (a postcard inside made it easy for U.K. readers to urge the prime minister to cancel billions owed by the world’s poorest countries), and its release was pegged to hit before the 2005 G8 meeting. Hertz sent Bono an email, unsure if it would find him. To her astonishment, it did: “I’m so glad you got in touch,” read the rock star’s reply. “I’m a real fan of your work. Bono.”
He does seem to confuse the attitude of Boomer (born 1943-1960) with [X], since Boomers were the ones protesting for peace for so many years. Gen X didn’t protest for (or against) anything.
But there is another aspect to the green attitude of Millennial (born 1982-2004) which is their tendency towards group think. Millennials are excellent at teamwork and collectivism, but they are also subject to over-simplifying problems. In this way they are very similar to the G.I. (born 1901-1924) who overcame the Axis in WWII. That generation also had a severe case of group think which became more obvious after the war when they put together the shallow “American Dream” which their Boomer kids later rebelled against.
I believe “green” will be held by the Millennials (aka Gen Y) in the same way as the American Dream was held by the GI’s: as a shallow ideal that their kids will eventually rebel against. For example, I can see that 30 years from now everyone will have a “carbon counter” on their phone, house, whatever, and they will measure their status by the number on that device. But, as their kids will probably point out, they won’t be any more connected to mother nature. And so the cycle continues.
This recent article about a Volvo experiment with “CO2 pedometers” is a forerunner to this concept. I picture CO2 emission counters being used in daily life, either on a cell phone or attached to your house/car/children. Your CO2 count will be a measure of your social conscience just like a well-manicured lawn was back in the 1950’s. But, just like those 50’s ideals, it will be a thin veneer that will eventually be challenged by the next Prophet generation (the kids of the Millennials). I can hear them saying, “Okay, Mom, your carbon count is tiny but where is your connection to Mother Earth? When is the last time you actually rolled in the dirt?”). The more things change…
Douglas Coupland, the author that coined the name for our generation,[X], has a new book coming out in September, Generation A. I also noticed that he is on Twitter (how very Gen X of him) and has a Youtube channel that pokes fun in a typical anti-corporate style:
I have to say I don’t mind a guy like Douglas representing the generation. Don’t mind at all.
I just finished reading Slackonomics, by Lisa Chamberlain, and I highly recommend it.
Chamberlain manages to pack a lot into this small format, 188 page book about the role of [X] in modern society. The style is an easy read and most chapter contain interviews with iconic Gen X’ers. Rather than focusing on pop-culture references, Chamberlain looks at the social and economic environment that Generation X now inhabits and what they are doing about it.
Chamberlain is an excellent writer, with the sort of dry wit that most Gen X’ers appreciate. The chapters weave a subtle narrative of how our generation is coping with the challenging times we face today and why our pragmatic attitude is so important. I highly recommend the book for anyone trying to understand Generation X and gain an appreciation for what we have to offer.