By Elwood Watson
Latchkey kids. Slackers. Caffeine lovers. Grunge. That’s how a lot of people have referred to Generation X, the 46 million Americans, like myself, who were born between 1965 and 1980.
We were a generation that has been perennially pegged as cynical, self-indulgent, aimless, contrarian, and often peripheral when it comes to life and other everyday matters. But if we’re being honest, there are a lot of good reasons why many of us are cynical and disillusioned with life. Turmoil and instability have been major factors in some of our lives.
Gen Xers have been directly affected by downturns in the economy, perennial wars, deadly sexually transmitted diseases, and parents’ divorces. Moreover, we have frequently been eclipsed by some of our parents – the baby boomers (1946–1964), millennials (1980–1998), and occasionally even by others of us whose parents and grandparents are members of the silent generation (1925–1945), the group legendary journalist Tom Brokaw refers to as the greatest generation.
Did Gen X ever live in a period marked by stability? Most of us lived in times of chronically high levels of instability and a chilling degree of ambivalence. Despite that, we endure, we adapt, and we drive the culture, even if our own cultural moment as the “flavor of the month” in the early 1990s was brief.
From a sexual standpoint, fatal sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes and the AIDS virus, confronted segments of our generation with a demonstrably high degree of ruthlessness and despair. A number of us saw friends, colleagues and in some cases, a loved one fall victim to such maladies.
This sort of marginalization has always been a part of our unorthodox history. When the oldest Baby Boomers turned 60 in 2006, numerous magazines ran cover stories that both celebrated and analyzed the supposed impact of what such a distinctive milestone actually meant. Conversely, outside of some obscure, diminutive op-ed pieces, no major mainstream publications ran similar stories when Gen X hit their half-century milestone in 2015. The perception of the often overlooked, frequently neglected middle child syndrome validated itself.
While Boomers continue to influence culture and society by embracing new age philosophies, religions, and predominantly left-leaning politics, Gen X has adopted a much more iconoclastic political spirit. This is evident in our diverse political views. Polls conducted over the better part of the past decade have indicated that many of the older Gen Xers lean towards conservatism, while younger members of our cohort identify with a more liberal ideology.
We are a group of men and women who readily embraced a pluralistic culture, from our pre-teen years well into early adulthood and beyond, as evidenced by a diverse selection of movies ranging from “The Breakfast Club” to “Reality Bites” to the iconic “Boyz in the Hood,” directed by the late John Singleton.
We were the children of rap, new wave, alternative, and MTV. We were raised in a post-Kennedy, post-Watergate, post-Vietnam world. Unlike our Boomer predecessors, most of us never had idealistic dreams of changing the world, nor did we grow up in a world with an obsessive dependency on helicopter parents, unlike our Millennial successors. In short, we grew up looking at the world head-on, neither up at it idealistically, nor down on it as a larger force that should take care of us.
It will be interesting to witness what type of reception the oldest Gen Xers will receive from the larger pop culture when they turn 60 in 2025. Will the pattern of being disregarded continue or will we be pleasantly acknowledged? Time will tell in short order.