POSTED ON JUNE 12, 2013:
Turn Up That Damned Music!
The Gen X-Millennial generation gap
Every 20 years, Time depicts people in their 20s as "lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow." This time the target is the Millennial generation (Americans born between roughly 1980 and 2000 to Boomer parents). According to the Boomer-run media, twentysomethings/Gen Y/Millennials are narcissists.
Back in 1990, Time was smearing Gen X as shallow, apolitical, unambitious shoe-gazers.
"[Gen Xers] have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial. They hate yuppies, hippies and druggies. They postpone marriage because they dread divorce. They sneer at Range Rovers, Rolexes and red suspenders. What they hold dear are family life, local activism, national parks, penny loafers and mountain bikes." (Penny loafers? Really?)
Back then, we Gen Xers defended our collective honor by alternating between "we don't suck" and "if we do, it's your fault, old farts." Gen Y is manning its rhetorical ramparts the same way.
You know what's wrong with young people today?
Not much. Not according to me or my friends. We're fine with younger people.
Gen Xers get along well with people in their 20s and 30s. We like Gen Y. We respect them. We don't chafe at working under a younger boss. We ask them for advice. OK, mostly about tech stuff. I learned about Wordpress Wii from Y friends. Mostly, we like the same music and movies. We hang out. It's good.
Sometimes, though -- it's not like it comes up a lot, just now and then -- my Gen X cohorts let slip a complaint about our younger friends and colleagues:
Why are Millennials kind of boring?
Young people today! So obedient. They believe politicians. They go along to get along in corporate America. When they get laid off, they don't get angry, they adapt. They reinvent. Gen Y music, movies, even their clothes: so conservative!
The Generation Gap of the 1960s and 1970s referred to the refusal of "tune in, turn on, drop out" Baby Boomers to relate to their stodgy "we won World War II so turn down that music" parents. Though decried at the time as sad and alienating, the dynamic of that demographic divide was as natural as could be. The young were loud, obnoxious, demanding and politically radical. The old were reserved, quiet and conservative, even reactionary. Kids were kids; parents were parents. The young fight to be heard. The old yell at them to shut up. The old get older and quieter, the young mature and gain influence and replace them.
That's how it was 200 years, and 20 years, ago.
The Gen X/Y divide breaks this pattern.
We're middle-aged and cynical, and our tastes run to smart and sarcastic and anti-PC and antiauthoritarian, Tarantino/postpunk. We voted Green Party and never looked back, or for Obama but never expected much. Millennials are old and naïve and earnest and retro.
Millennial hipsters are militant nostalgists. They've revived the ancient traditions of our grandparents: martinis, old-fashioneds. They golf. They wear clothes from the 1930s. They grow retrosexual Civil War beards with handlebar mustaches. They take everything very seriously. You can elicit a dry chuckle. Not a bellylaugh. Certainly not a snide Xer sneer.
Steampunk could never have been a big Gen X thing. We're scrappy and stripped down. They're baroque.
Millennial pop culture is about flat affect: mumblecore movies and all-attitude-no-plot TV shows like "Arrested Development," emo-influenced music, giant dollops of special nostalgia sauce everywhere, every member of every band dressed like they're showing up to roof your house (but with Taliban beards). Prose novels about nothing, packaged beautifully, thanks to the McSweeney's empire.
Gentle, chatty movies and TV shows, not a series of scenes, but rather riffs of tone and mood.
Even their taste in cars is boring.
Boomers' countless faults aside, let's give them this: they knew what they wanted. They loved. They hated. They wanted revolution. Which was one of the things Xers hated about Boomers (Xers hate a lot): they came so close to revolution and they gave up. Gen Y revolution? It's hard to imagine such an oblivious generation shooting anyone or blowing anything up. That, I think, gets close to the mystery of the Millennials. They've been horribly screwed -- they are mired in student loan debt. They'll never make much money or get any government benefits or get much of anything out of the system. The planet is finally, really, irreversibly, ruined. Their planet.
Why aren't they pissed off?
Parents shouldn't have to bury their own children. Know what else is wrong? For the old to see the young as uptight codgers.
Not that Xers blame Yers for being uncool. Gen Xers, a self-deprecating generation from the beginning (and why not? Society hated us -- remember all those evil child horror movies like The Omen and It's Alive?).
Writing in The New York Observer, Peter Hyman argues that Gen X and Gen Y shouldn't be as cozy as they are. That it's X's fault that Y hasn't made its own mark:
"The old generational identities that once defined us have broken down, and the net result is a messy temporal mashup in which fortysomethings act like skateboarders, twentysomethings dress like the grandfather from My Three Sons, tweens attend rock concerts with their parents and toddlers are exposed to the ethos of hardcore punk."
And it's up to Gen X to fix it (like everything else, apparently):
"I know guys whose style of dress and off-duty interests haven't changed a lick since college. They devote their free time to movies about comic-book heroes, to video games and to fantasy football. No, they aren't hurting anybody. But perhaps what we really need to do is put on suits and take our wives out for expensive dinners, like our dads before us."
That burns. I'm wearing skinny black jeans and a Dead Kennedys T-shirt as I write this. But I can't afford a suit or an expensive dinner, thank you very much, Boomer scum.
Anyway, I don't buy Hyman's argument that passing the torch of our old cool (the Ramones, Beastie Boys) to the young "shortchanges" the young and "infantilizes" us oldsters. My fogie parents prosthelytized about Benny Goodman and Benny Hill, and guess what? It didn't take.
One problem with writing about generational politics is that it requires sweeping generalizations. There are exceptions. Another is that you risk pissing people off. People you like.
To be clear, we Xers think you Millennials are awesome. We just wish you'd act your age.
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