Saturday, 30 June 2007

Movie Critic Joel Siegel R.I.P.

Joel Siegel, the film critic for ABC frequently seen on Good Morning America died yesterday at the age of 63. He passed on yesterday afternoon after a long battle with cancer.

Siegel was born July 7, 1943 in Los Angeles, California. He graduated from the University of Los Angeles. Siegel began as a disc jockey newscaster. He wrote freelance for various advertising agencies and publications. He eventually received the job of writing book reviews at the the Los Angeles Times. In 1972 he moved to New York City and started work at WCBS-TV and hosted Joel Siegel's New York at WCBS Radio. It was in 1976 that he moved WABC, where he reviewed his first movies for ABC. It was in 1981 that he started reviewing movies for Good Morning America. Siegel also wrote the book for the Broadway musical The First in 1982.

In 1991 Siegel founded the Gilda's Club (named for Gilda Radner) with Gene Wilder, a non-profit group that supplies support for cancer patients and their families. He was honoured by the New York State Associated Press Broadcasters Association for excellence in individual reporting and was given a public service award by Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.

Siegel was known for his jovial demeanour and sense of humour, present even when the movie he was reviewing was less than stellar. Siegel had an almost unique ability to take stabs at bad movies so that even the people who made them enjoyed the review. OF the film "The Sweetest Thing" he said, "Remember the movie critic Sony invented to give their films good reviews? Not even he would like this movie." 40 Days and 40 Nights he said, "What I learned from this movie: Absitenence can be a very good thing. Especially from box offices where this film is playing." Siegel had a gift for writing funny reviews.

Joel Siegel did invite a bit of controversy when he rather loudly walked out of a press screening for Kevin Smith's film Clerks II, even invoking a word that definitely was not "fudge." As for myself, I prefer not to hold Siegel's behaviour at the press screening for Clerks II against him. Everyone can have a lapse of good judgement at times. That having been said, Joel Siegel always came off joyous and good natured in his reviews, even when it was clear he did not like the film he was critiquing. Unlike many critics, one got the sense that Siegel loved movies, that he truly enjoyed them. What is more, he seemed to have genuine taste when it cames to movies, something that is rare among critics. I cannot say that I ever agreed with him 100% of the time, but I agreed with more than many other people who make their living reviewing films. At any rate, I must say I am saddened by the passing of a man whose reviews I honestly enjoyed.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Defining Generation X Conclusion: My Generation

Having determined what I consider to be the defining characteristics of Generation X, I feel compelled to ask the question, "Does any of this matter?" I have complained about the media's efforts to pigeonhole Gen X into a preconcieved stereotype, but is making generlisations such as I have about the characteristics of a generation any better?

The truth be told, I have had discussions with people and read essays by people who express the idea that what generation in which one was born should not matter. Or to put it more simply, "Age doesn't matter." And I must agree with this to a point. In my ordinary life, when I meet someone I do not ask myself, "What generation does this person belong to?" My friends have ranged in ages from the Depression Generation to Generation Y (my second best friend is that much younger than I am). Certainly, it would be untrue to say that any two people of a given generation, even ones born on the same day in the same month in the same year, will have everything in common. Ultimately, people are individuals with their own tastes which are not necessarily determined by which generation to which they are born. A person born in the Silent Generation might love hip hop. A person born in Generation Y might love Swing music.

That having been said, obviously from this series of articles I do think people born in a certain era are going to have things in common largely shaped by shared experiences. Of course, even given that, I must admit to problems with that thesis. Namely, not everyone born in a given year is going to identify with a given generation. This is perhaps no more true of those considered to have been born early in Generation X (or, if you prefer, on the tail end of the Baby Boom). Being born in 1963, I unapologetically identify myself as Generation X. On the other hand, my friend Dave, born only a month earlier than myself (the year was 1963, for the curious), identifies himself as a Baby Boomer. Is one of us wrong? I am not so sure, especially given Dave's thoughts on the matter. Dave's theory is that for all we have in common, he is a Boomer and I am an Xer. Quite simply, Dave does not believe that generations begin all at once or end all at once. Instead, they build up gradually with a few individuals being born at a time and peter out slowly with fewer and fewer individuals being born belonging to that generation. In other words, the Baby Boomers did not end all of a sudden in 1960, but gradually dissipated as fewer of them were born until 1964. By the same token, Gen Xers did not suddenly start being born in droves in 1961, but a few were born at a time until reaching critical mass around 1965. For Dave, much like Douglas Coupland, generations are not so much a matter of when one was born as one's point of view. Dave's theory appeals to me as it explains why one person born in 1963 will identify with Boomers and another born the same year with Xers. Quite simply, in Dave's mind generations overlap.

Of course, Dave's theory could allow for the existence of a generation whose existence I denied earlier: the so-called "Generation Jones." In other words, Jonathan Pontell could be right about Generation Jones. Generation Jones would comprise people who would otherwise be "Beatles wave" Boomers or "Space Ghost wave" Xers, but identify with neither generation (why I can't say, but it does look from Pontell's "Generation Jones" website that they buy into the media's whole Gen X stereotype).They would identify with different cultural events and a different set of values than either Boomers or Xers. That having been said, while I cannot entirely dismiss all of Pontell's arguments and I agree with Dave's idea that generations can overlap, I still cannot quite accept the existence of "Generation Jones." Quite simply, while I will accept that there is some overlap between generations (say a few years here and there), I do not believe that there can be a lot of overlap between generations (many, many years). In my generational paradigm, for Generation Jones to exist at all, it would have to co-exist with both the "Led Zeppelin wave" of Boomers and the "Space Ghost wave" of Xers. In my mind this simply is not possible. Instead I think we can perhaps talk about a "Jones Subculture," a subculture consisting of rare individuals from the "Led Zeppelin wave" of Boomers and the "Space Ghost wave" of Xers who, for whatever reason, do not identify with their respective generations and place importance on an entirely different set of cultural events and values from most Boomers and Xers.

The question of who is precisely Generation X may not be as important as the question of just how much impact being born in any given generation has upon an individual. Certainly there are many more important factors that influence a person's development. Economic status, upbringing, religion, ethnicity, and many other things impact the development of any one person. This is not even addressing the matter of genetics, how much we inherit from our parents. It seems to me that the jury is largely out on the whole argument of "Nature versus nurture." With so many different factors central to the development of individuals, can we really speak of each generation having their own identity?

My thought is that we can, but only in very broad and general terms. I believe the character of Generation X I have described here is valid and accurate, but it is not going to be true of every single Gen Xer. I do believe that entire generations are shaped by the society and that society's condition into which they are born and come of age. Indeed, the central thesis of generational scholars Strauss and Howe has been that history moulds each generation depending on what period of life that generation is in as it contfronts important historical events. My own thoughts match those of Strauss and Howe, although I would add that I believe pop culture plays a key role in shaping a generation's identity as well. That having been said, both Strauss and Howe's thesis and my own will fall apart if it is ever proven that environment (which would seem to include historical events and pop culture) has little impact on the development of individuals. After all, if environment has no impact on the development of people, then it would have no impact on the development of generations either.

Of course, even if we accept that the generation into which one is born has an impact on the development of that individual, we still face the question of how central the generation to which one belongs is to that person's identity. The fact is that while many of us are aware of the generation in which we are born, we do not tend to think of it every single day. I think of myself as a man, a writer, a Missourian, a Southener, a person of English descent, and an American, but only occasionally do I give thought to being a Gen Xer. And the fact is that I suspect I have much more in common with someone who was born in my hometown, even if they are 25 years older than me, than I would someone born in Boston in the same year that I was. At any rate, I would tend to identify with them more. I rather suspect most people are this way. We do not tend to define ourselves in terms of which generation in which we were born, but by our family, our ethnicity, the area in which we were raised, and so on. Looking at it that way, it would seem that generational identity doesn't matter a whole lot in the whole vast scheme of things.

That having been said, while we don't tend to think of the generation in which we were born every single day and there are certainly things more central to our sense of identity, the generation to which one belongs certainly does seem to matter to most people. The fact is that, as I said, I am unapologetically a Gen Xer. I will correct anyone who tries to identify me as Boomer (or if they try identifying me as a Joneser, I will explain to them why I reject Jonathan Pontell's entire thesis). And much of the inspiration for this series of articles was to dispell the stereotype that the media crafted for Generation X--in other words, I felt the need to defend my generation. The fact is, if one simply surfs the internet long enough, he will find plenty of web sites in which individuals declare themselves as belonging to one generation or another. And one will find plenty of Gen Xers complaining about the way we have been stereotyped. If the generation to which one belongs is not central to many people's identities, then I don't think any of this would matter.

Indeed, in Saturday Morning Fever Timothy and Kevin Burke point out "If you tell older Xers that they're really boomers, check your life insurance policy. If you tell younger Xers--those born after 1972 or so--that they're something else besides Generation X, start running the moment you finish saying it." The Burke brothers are right. People can be and often are touchy about the generation to which they were born. It would seem that which generation an individual belongs to or which generations with which an individual identifies is then very important to people.

In the end it would then seem that being Generation X is important to many people. And for many of us it is important to dispel the stereotypes that the media created of us. Generation X has not exactly been treated fairly by the media and various other pundits. We have been portrayed as slackers. We have been portrayed as alienated and pessimistic. Almost every aspect of Generation X has been distorted by the media, from our tastes in music to our lifestyles. We have already found our voice. It is time to make the other generations listen.
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I hope my readers have enjoyed this series of articles. I realise that some people might think that these articles have been terribly off topic, A Shroud of Thoughts being a blog devoted to pop culture, but I really don't believe they are. I honestly believe that pop culture has an impact on the development of any given generation. Indeed, it is for that reason I have cited various pop culture artefacts in this series.

At any rate, in writing this series of articles it was necessary to consult various books and articles pertinent to the subject of Generation X. I extend my thanks to these authors and so offer this bibliography.

Books:

Timothy Burke and Kevin Burke. Saturday Morning Fever

Harry Castelan and Walter J. Podrazik. Watching TV: Six Decades of American Television.

Douglas Coupland. Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.

Sturart Fischer. Kid's TV: the First Twenty Five Years.

Lawerence Lessing. Man of high fidelity: Edwin Howard Armstrong,: A biography.

Matthew Rettenmund. Totally Awesome 80s: A Lexicon of the Music, Videos, Movies, TV Shows, Stars, and Trends of that Decadent Decade.

William Strauss and Neil Howe. Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069

William Strauss and Neil Howe. 13th Gen : Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?

Magazine Articles:

numerous issues of Time.

W. Cohen and J. Simons "A New Spin on the Economy." U.S. News & World Report May 8, 1995

Alex Ross. "Generation Exit: Kurt Cobain." The New Yorker
April 25, 1994.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Defining Generation X Part Two: Rootless, Alienated, and Jobless?

The sad fact is that even before Generation X had a chance to define ourselves, the media had already tried to define the generation for us. The stereotype that the media created for Gen X in the early to mid-90s is summed up at Wisegeek.Com in their article, "What is Generation." Summing up the stereotype, they state, "The media played its part in promoting the Generation X stereotype by portraying them as grunge-listening, Starbucks-drinking, flannel-donning slackers who were quietly revolting against their overachieving, conservative Baby Boomer parents or older siblings." In the book Saturday Morning Fever, Timothy and Kevin Burke also deal with the stereotype, stating that the media "...had pegged X as a bunch of rootless, alienated, and jobless whiners who were still living at home with Mom and Dad." The Burkes also note that the media typically represented Generation X as "..a white and suburban construct."

The roots of this stereotype go all the way back to when the generation was given the name by which we have become best known, "Generation X." As I mentioned earlier, Douglas Coupland for his novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelarated Culture based "Generation X" on the term "Category X" from the book Class by Paul Fussell. In that book Fussell describes "Category X" as a group of people who ignore social strata and simply drop out of the class system to live life according to their own rules. To some, ignoring social strata and dropping out of the class system must have sounded suspiciously like "slacking."

That the stereotype swiftly became implanted in the collective psyche of society can be seen in various articles from the Nineties. In an article printed not long after Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain's suicide, the music critic for The New Yorker, Alex Ross, dealt with the identification of Cobain as a Gen X icon. That he felt the need to shows the extent to which grunge and Generation X had become intertwined in the media's minds. That the idea of Gen X as hanging out in coffee shops was so firmly implanted in the mind of the media can be seen in a short piece in the March 25, 1996 issue of Time in which Margaret Carlson calls Generation X as the "Starbucks generation." Sadly, the media often treated the stereotype as if it was fact.

Of course, in the media trying to stereotype Generation X in ways that were often negative, Gen X was not alone. In fact, it seems to me that nearly every generation born in the United States in the mid to late 20th century was initially portrayed negatively by the media. The "Lost Generation (so named by Gertrude Stein)," born from 1883 to 1900, was portrayed as disillusioned, immoral (they disposed of the strict Victorian morality of their elders), and sexually loose. "The Silent Generation (generally thought to have been born from 1925 to 1942, although 1944 may be a more realistic end date IMHO)" received its name from historian and biographer William Manchester, who described them as "withdrawn, cautious, unimaginative, indifferent, unadventurous and silent." The term may have received its first exposure in the mass media in the November 5, 1951 issue of Time Magazine, in an article entitled "The Younger Generation." History would prove the stereotype wrong, as among those born in the so-called Silent Generation were Gore Vidal, Allen Ginsberg, Hunter S. Thompson, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan, none of whom could be described as particularly"cautious," "unimaginative," or especially "silent." If anything, the Baby Boomers have been painted more negatively than the Silents. In the Sixties they were often portrayed as a bunch of turned on, tuned in, drop out hippies. In the Eighties they were often portrayed as greedy, power hungry yuppies. Even today there are those in both older and younger generations who would characterise them as self absorbed and narcissistic. That none of these stereotypes hold true I know for a fact, as my older sister is among the oldest Boomers and I have plenty of friends who are Boomers as well. None of them are self absorbed or narcissistic.

Sadly, I fear that such stereotypes, even when patently false, may have some very real consequences in the way that older generations treat younger generations. I am sure that all of us, whether Silent, Boomer, or Xer, have experienced being treated as if he was an idiot by someone older, no matter how polite and knowledgable he tries to be. In fact, I am sure most Xers can recall instances in which the media used the very stereotype they created to criticise our generation!

Perhaps the most damaging part of the Generation X stereotype created by the media is that we were a bunch of slackers who lived at home well beyond the acceptable time limits. Indeed, this was probably the most frequent criticism levelled at the generation in the Nineties. What the stereotype ignored, however, is that Generation X came of age into one of the roughest economic periods in recent history. In Saturday Morning Fever Timothy and Kevin Burke wrote of the stereotype that Gen X stayed home with their parents longer than previous generations "...that to the limited extent that any of this has been true, it has been a transient byproduct of being twenty five years old in a stagnant economy." The truth is that in the Eighties jobs were often very hard to come by. Even after graduating from college, the best that many Gen Xers could do is get a job at a video store, fast food restaurant, or bar (back then I knew plenty of degreed bartenders). Making minimum wage or close to it, they often found they had little choice but to return home to stay with their parents. It was not a case of Gen Xers not wanting jobs or not being willing to work or not wanting to be on their own. It was more a case of they took what jobs they could get. In fact, while I have never worked at a fast food restaurant, it seems to me from friends who have that such jobs are often much more demanding than many more respected, high paying positions, hardly the sort of job a slacker would take.

In fact, the economic conditions into which Generation X came of age may be responsible for another part of the stereotype--that is, the idea that we are alienated and pessimistic. It's true that in many surveys Generation X seemed convinced that they would be the first American generation in decades not to do better economically than their parents. I must say that this does not reflect an inherent pessimism on the part of Generation X, however, as people of many generations were often pessimistic about the future at the time. As I see it, in the idea that they would not do better than their parents, Gen Xers were simply being realistic at the time. After all, why be optimistic about coming years when the best job one can do upon graduating college is that of a video store clerk? The fact that Generation X are neither slackers nor inborn pessimists can even be seen in studies from the Nineties, the very era in which the media insisted that we were both slackers and pessimists. In 1993 a study conducted by Marquette University and the University of Michigan demonstrated that 70% of all new businesses were being started by people between the ages of 25 and 34 (making them born between 1959 and 1968). Indeed, many of the best known names on the internet were founded or developed by people born between 1961 and 1977: Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.Com, Peter Thiel, the inventor of PayPal, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the inventors of Google. That hardly sounds like a bunch of slackers to me. In a 1997 survey conducted by Time, 72% of those between 18 and 24, those Gen Xers felt that the generation had "...an important voice, but no one seems to hear it." They also described themselves as ambitious and determined. This is hardly the talk of pessimists.

As pointed out by Timothy and Kevin Burke in Saturday Morning Fever, the media's stereotype of Gen X was also "..a white and suburban construct." Indeed, in looking at the movies and commercials trying to portray Generation X (remember Reality Bites?), the faces almost overwhelmingly appear white. This is hardly true of Gen X, no more than it has been for any other American generation since the 19th century. The truth is that Generation X is one of the most ethnically diverse generations in the history of the United States. According to the the United States Census Bureau as of 2005, 17.2% of the Baby Bust cohort born from 1965 to 1977 (the closest category they have to Generation X) are Hispanic, 12.6% are African American, 5.7% are Asian, 0.8% are Native American, and so on. This may not seem so remarkable, except when contrasted with the Baby Boom Cohort, of whom only 12% are African American, 9.8 are Hispanic, 4% are Asian, and so on. It would then seem that the idea that Generation X was largely born white in the suburbs is then patently false.

Not only is Generation X ethnically diverse and prone to neither slacking or pessimism, but it seems that even the idea that grunge was the music of the generation does not hold up to strong examination. I have addressed this elsewhere, so I will try to keep things brief here. I think there's no denying the popularity of grunge among Gen Xers. Nirvana and Pearl Jam were among the biggest bands of the Nineties. Other bands, such as Alice in Chains and Silverchair, also enjoyed some degree of popularity. For a time grunge was the dominant sound on the airwaves. That having been said, this does not necessarily mean that grunge is the music of Generation X, much as the popularity of disco for a time does not mean that it was the music of the Baby Boomers.

Indeed, it must be pointed out that, comparatively speaking, grunge was only popular for a brief time, for six years from the time it entered the mainstream with Nirvana's Nevermind in 1990 to around 1996. This is a rather brief span of time, especially when compared to the popularity that Heavy Metal enjoyed from 1979 with the release of the AC/DC album Highway to Hell to the fall of the hair bands in 1992. I am not sure that would qualify Heavy Metal as the music of Gen X either. The fact is that Generation X has always had diverse tastes in music, ranging from power pop to country. Much of this may stem from the fact that the Eighties during which Gen X was growing up could well have been the most musically diverse decade in recent history. Heavy Metal had returned to popularity not long before the decade would begin and remained popular until not long after the decade ended. Power pop enjoyed a vogue at the beginning of the Eighties, with Cheap Trick (which had arrived on the scene in 1976) having some of their biggest hits and newcomers The Knack rising to popularity. New Wave entered the mainstream in the late Seventies and remained popular through the first few years of the decade. Electopop in the form of such groups as Soft Cell and The Human League would enjoy a brief vogue. A Second British Invasion would arrive in the form of bands such as Duran Duran, The Fixx, and ABC. Pop oriented dance music would return to popularity with such artists as Madonna and Kylie Minogue. An entirely new genre of music, called rap and later also called hip hop, would arrive on the scene not long after many Gen Xers had entered adulthood. With Generation X exposed to so many different genres of music, it is difficult to peg any one genre as the music of Generation X. Indeed, it must be pointed out that with regards to Gen X, grunge was somewhat of a Johnny come lately. When it entered the mainstream with Nirvana's Nevermind in 1990, the oldest Gen Xers were 29 and the youngest were 13. Ths would seem to give it even less signficance to the generation and skew it more towards Generation Y.

That having been said, this does not mean that grunge was not important to Generation X. As I said earlier, it was very popular for a time, with Nirvana and Pearl Jam numbering among the top bands of the Nineties. And it is significant as perhaps the first rock subgenre wholly created by Gen Xers. Mark Arm of Green River, the band who more or less invented the form, was born in 1962. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam was born in 1964. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Layne Staley of Alice in Chains were both born in 1967. Silents and Baby Boomers could lay claim to creating Heavy Metal and power pop, but grunge was almost entirely a creation of Generation X.

Of course, Generation X's exposure to music was increased by the prevalence of FM radio stations. While the stereotype of FM radio stations in the Seventies and Eighties is of rock stations that played album tracks as often as they did singles, FM stations during that period actually varied a good deal in genre, from country to rock to R & B. Like cable television later, FM stations had actually been around for quite some time. FM radio was first patented in 1933 and the first FM station, W1XOJ (now WAAF), was built around 1937. Various factors would keep FM radio from becoming common until well after World War II. In the Fifties and early Sixties the development of FM stereo would result in more and more FM stations opening until they were prevalent in the Seventies. It was during that decade that they became part of the average teenager's listening habits.

Almost as associated with Gen X in the minds of the media as grunge was the idea that we frequented coffee shops. To a degree I guess this makes sense from the media's point out of view as Starbucks originated in Seattle much as grunge did. That having been said, a bit of common sense would show that this part of the stereotype cannot possibly be true. The fact is that while Starbucks would spread widely and swiftly in the Nineties, neither it nor other coffee shops could be found in every single corner of the U.S. The fact is that the county in which I live, a county of some size, has never had a coffee shop of any kind to my knowledge, let alone a Starbucks. I am not sure, but I think the nearest Starbucks may well be the ones in Columbia, which is thirty miles away! Beyond the fact that coffee shops never did permeate the American landscape, not even in the Nineties, it is simple common sense to assume that not every one wants Raspberry Mocha Frappuccino (a trademark of Starbucks) or even Cafe Au Lait. I prefer my coffee black, and I know plenty of my contemporaries do as well. Besides, the idea of Gen Xers hanging out at coffee houses in the Nineties has always seemed a bit odd to me, given the fact that many of us (perhaps most of us) could hardly afford the prices at Starbucks on the jobs we had then!

While the idea that Generation X are slackers who listen to grunge and drink coffee at Starbucks are for the most part untrue, there is one aspect of the media's stereotype of Generation X that does hold somewhat true, and that is the importance of pop culture to the generation. Perhaps more than any other generation, television would be pivotal in the development of Generation X. This is one of the biggest differences between Geneartion X and the Baby Boomers who preceded them. It has often been said that television was an important force in shaping the Baby Boomers. Many times this has come from Boomers themselves. That having been said, I seriously doubt this. According to my sister, our parents did not get a TV set until 1956, when she was 11 years old. This would seem to be true of many Americans during the period. In 1954 only 55.7% of all homes in America even had one televison set. That is only a little over half of the country. Even then television ownership was concentrated in the large cities.

Indeed, in the early Fifties, many areas did not yet have their own television stations. Using mid-Missouri as an example, KOMU in Columbia would not open until late 1953. KRCG in Jefferson City would not open until early 1955. Now TV ownership did increase dramatically in the Fifties. By 1958 83.2% of all homes in the United States had TV sets. The reason for this was simply rapid growth in the television industry itself. In the period from 1954 to 1960, many TV stations opened across the country, often in areas where television stations had not been before. At any rate, I must point out that by 1958 the oldest Baby Boomers would be 13 years old. In other words, the majority of their formative years would have been spent without television. In the end, then, I submit that television cannot be viewed as a strong influence in the early lives of the Baby Boomers. Instead, I believe it can be compared to personal computers with regards to Generation X (the PC arrived on the scene when many Gen Xers were on the cusp of adulthood). Just as the PC was a new technology that many Xers embraced without it being a strong influence on their childhoods, so too was television a new technology that many Boomers embraced without it being a strong influence on their childhoods. It would then seem that Generation X was the first such generation to actually grow up in front of the television screen.

Indeed, not only did the vast majority of homes in America own TV sets just as the first Gen Xers were being born, but the television industry had matured so that it was both vast and varied. I suspect many younger people might question just how much variety there was to television in the Sixties, given there were only three networks and cable would not really take off until the late Sixties and early Seventies. Here I must point out that while there were only three networks and cable was not yet a powerful force in America, the large number of independent stations more than made up for this. The Sixties and Seventies saw the emergence of independent television stations, to the point that many markets could boast one such station and large markets even more. Even in areas that didn't have independent stations of their own, they could often pick up stations from other areas. For instance, I remember watching KPLR from St. Louis and KMBA from Kansas City while still very young. Unlike the network affiliates, the independent stations could not depend on a network to provide their programming, as a result they found themselves relying on syndicated reruns of old network programmes, first run syndicated shows, and older movies to fill their schedules. While growing up, many Generation Xers could watch shows often made while they were in the cribs or even before they were born (I Love Lucy and Gilligan's Island are examples), old movies (Angels with Dirty Faces for instance), and pro wrestling on any given day. It would be on independent stations that many Xers would first be exposed to Star Trek and It's a Wonderful Life. With the advent of the Fox network in 1986 and the creation of the WB and UPN in 1994, many independent stations would give up their independence for network affliliation. As an end result, while independent stations played an important role in the childhoods of Generation X, they would not play such a role in the childhoods of Generation Y.

Even more variety would enter the lives of the growing Gen Xers with the advent of cable television. Although developed in 1948, government regulations would prevent cable television from becoming common until the late Sixties and early Seventies. Once the regulations were eased, the cable industry expanded at an incredible rate. Many areas that previously did not have cable would receive it at this point. I am not sure when cable came to Randolph County, but I am thinking it was probably as early as 1971. At least I can remember it from that time period. The end result of cable television is that Gen Xers, in particular the "Scooby-Doo wave," would be exposed to even more network reruns and old movies than ever before. Between the independent TV stations and the rise of cable TV, Gen Xers would be exposed to the broadest swathe of television history ever. This would give them a knowledge of old TV shows and even old movies that neither the Baby Boom nor Generation Y could ever match.

While discussing the impact of pop culture upon Generation X, it might also be a good idea to discuss Generation X as "the first generation that as children never knew a Saturday morning without cartoons." This might seem trivial to some, but I'm not so sure it is. It is one of the primary differences between the generations before them (who never had the opportunity to watch Saturday morning cartoon blocks as children) and even the generations after them (who still have a Saturday morning cartoon blocks, but who also have cartoons accessible to them at many other times as well). Indeed, Saturday morning cartoons loom large in the reminiscences of most Gen Xers. An entire book was written on the subject (Saturday Morning Fever by Timothy and Kevin Burke). As pointed out earlier, references to cartoons can be found in movies, TV shows, and music produced by Gen Xers. And a search on the Web will reveal numerous web sites by Gen Xers on the subject. Basically, Saturday morning cartoons act as a unifying force for nostalgia in Generation X the way that radio shows and movie serials have for earlier generations.

The fact is that the Saturday morning cartoon block evolved just as Generation X was being born. In 1955 CBS debuted Mighty Mouse Playhouse, a collection of old Terrytoons theatrical shorts, on Saturday morning, making it the first Saturday morning cartoon. On both CBS and NBC it would be followed by a smattering of other cartoons. Finally, in 1963 CBS scheduled a two hour block of cartoons on Saturday morning. This bit of scheduling met with such success that not only did CBS expand their Saturday morning cartoon block to three hours in 1964, but the other networks followed suit with their own Saturday morning cartoon blocks. In some respects, the 1964-1965 season featured the first Saturday morning cartoon schedule as Gen X would come to know them. The number of hours devoted to cartoons on the networks on Saturday mornings would only grow as the Sixties became the Seventies. And until the Eighties, when a large number of original cartoons emerged in syndication, the network's Saturday morning schedules would be the primary source for cartoons for children all over America. It should then be little wonder that Saturday morning cartoons would have a lasting impact on Generation X.

Another aspect of the media's stereotype of Generation X that also appears to have been right to some degree is the cynicism of many Gen Xers. Some might be tempted to attribute this cynicism to the Watergate scandal, which occurred while some Gen Xers were still children. I seriously doubt this. In discussions with fellow Gen Xers, it seems to me that the Watergate scandal had little impact on us. There is a very good reason for this. The oldest of us were only 13 when the Watergate scandal unfolded in 1974. The youngest of us had not even been born. For those of us who had been born, we were at an age when it is very rare for anyone to pay attention to political events. Ultimately, the latest album or the newest cartoon was more important to us. Instead I think Gen X cynicism was absorbed from various sources, not the least of which was from our elders. Perhaps the Depression Generation and the Silents did not develop distrust in the government until after the Watergate scandal broke, but it seems to me that the Boomers distrusted government early on. I can only assume that Boomer distrust of government originated with the Johnson Administration's approach to the Vietnam War. This only grew with the Nixon Administration and even moreso after the Watergate scandal. Generation X was exposed to Boomer cycnicism with regards to the government through their older siblings and parents (for those born to Boomers). This Gen X cynicism was made all the more intense with the stagnant economy of the Eighties and what seemed to many of us to be a lack of willingness on the part of the government to take care of such problems as the jobless rate and homelessness. It did not help that the Seventies and Eighties were also a period of rising divorce rates, racial strife, and the arrival of AIDs.

Not only did Generation X absorb some of their cynicism from the Baby Boomers, but the existence of the Baby Boomers may well have been the cause for it in another way. A distrust of Baby Boomers probably varies from Gen Xer to Gen Xer and stems from more than one thing. Some of it probably has its roots in the changing perceptions of the Boomers over the years as created by the media. In the Sixties the media concentrated on the idea that the Boomers wanted to change the world. This manifested itself in protests against the Vietnam War, the campaign to give 18 year old the right to vote, and so on. In many instances Boomers largely made up the Feminist movement. If one had to choose a slogan for the Boomers in the Sixties, it might be more accurate with regards to the media's image of them to say it would be "Make love, not war," rather than Timothy Leary's "Turn on, tune in, and drop out." In the Eighties, however, the Boomers appeared to make a complete turn around, or at least the media would have one believe this. The average Boomer was no longer portrayed as a hippie, but rather a yuppie. Rather than seeking to change the world, they were then shown in the media as purely desiring to make more and more money. Rather than "Make love, not war," their slogan would seem to then be "Greed is good." The complete turn around that the media presented the Boomers as having from the Sixties to the Seventies perhaps affected various Xers in different ways. For many it would lead them to conclude that the Boomers were hypocrites and, worse yet, sellouts. For other Xers the turn around that the media portrayed in the Boomers from the Sixties to the Seventies would constitute betrayal. Among some older Xers, those with some small admiration for the claims the media made in the Sixties that the Boomers wanted to change the world, the Boomers seemingly turned on values that were over all admirable in favour of attitudes that were selfish in the extreme. As I have grown older I realise that this is very unfair on the part of Xers. The portrayal of the Boomers as a generation out to change the world and later as a generation out to make all the money they could was largely a creation of the media. The average Boomer was not necessarily politically active in the Sixties, nor did they rush to fill their pocketbooks in the Eighties. Those potrayals have no more truth than those of Gen X as a generation of slackers.

Resentment of the Boomers on the part of many Gen Xers may also stem from the attention that is often paid to Boomers in the media. From the Sixties to the present day, the Boomers are arguably the most covered generation in the history of the United States. When the Boomers turned 50 in the Nineties, it was featured on the cover of Time. When the Boomers turned 60 in the Naughts, it was also featured on the cover of Time. There was no such cover for Gen X when we turned 40. To make matters worse, in the Sixties it was generally Depression Generation and Silent journalists who covered the Boomers. Now the news stories are largely written by the Boomers themelves, which could be construed as a conflict in interests by many. Due to the extensive coverage the Boomers (who have appeared on more than one Time cover) have received nearly all their lives, many Xers perceive the Baby Boomers as wishing to insure that their world view and their pop culture artefacts dominate those of any other generation. Put more simply, Gen Xers believe that the average Boomer thinks Howdy Doody is superior to Birdman and The Lovin' Spoonful better than Guns 'N' Roses. Indeed, I have seen this expressed not only in forums and web sites created by Gen Xers, but even in books. In Saturday Morning Fever the Burke brothers make the statement that nostalgia often gets a bum rap because "...the members of Generation X are accustomed to the baby boomers and the so-called Silents running around acting like they're the last group of people on Earth to have experienced anyhthing meaningful..." To a small degree I think this might be true, as I'm sure most Gen Xers can testify to statments made by Boomers in the media and elsewhere to the effect that "kids today don't (fill in the blank)." That having been said, the Depression Generation said the same thing about the Silents and the Silents said it about the Boomers. As pointed out above, it may be natural for older people to sometimes view younger generations as foolish or misguided and their pop culture as inferior. That having been said, while it might be understandable for Generation X to resent the Baby Boom for the occasional attack on us, it is perhaps a bit unfair given this is what most generations have done. Indeed, I have often heard Gen Xers accuse members of Generation Y of being rude, inconsiderate, and altogether too eager to conform.

Of course, Generation X cynicism did not simply rise from political events, social issues, and the Boomers, but from the pop culture that Generation X seems to love so dearly. In Saturday Morning Fever Timothy and Kevin Burke noted that Gen X approaches pop culture with a mixture of affection, knowing cynicism, and ironic distance. This has also been acknowledged by other Gen X observers as well. The Burke brothers concluded that this mix of affection, cynicism, and irony even to the pop culture we love stems from knowing the conditions under which it was created. Even as children we knew that the Saturday morning cartoons we watched were often subpar products created primarily so advertisers could sell things. Indeed, they note that this mixture of affection, cynicism, and ironic distancde constitutes part of a "hidden code" known only to Gen Xers. This code constitutes a sort of pidgin, whereby Gen Xers can make pop culture references to each other in a strange brew of love and cynicism that only Gen Xers will completely understand."

By attacking the stereotype that the media created for Generation X it then seems possible to define us. Generation X is not a generation of pessimistic slackers who listen to grunge and drink at coffee shops. Instead, we are an ethnically diverse generation who entered adulthood in difficult economic times, with diverse tastes in music, who were reared on the mass media and developed not only a love of pop culture as a result, but a healthy streak of cynicism as well. Not only is Generation X not a generation of slackers, but we have produced entrepreneurs who are largely responsible for the World Wide Web as we know it today and who have worked as hard as other generations before us, even in jobs some would call menial. And while given good reason to be pessimistic about the future in our youth, we are hardly pessimistic, but tend to look at things a bit more realistically. It is notable that this image runs counter to the one that the media developed for Generation X in the Nineties. But then it seems to be a truism that stereotypes almost never hold true. Of course, the ultimate question may be whether any of this really matters. How important is it to be part of a generation?

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Defining Generation X Part One: Generation Jones Does Not Exist

About ten to sixteen years ago the media was talking a lot about Generation X. This was the up and coming generation that was, at the time, roughly in their twenties. Madison Avenue seemed intent on selling products to Gen X. Hollywood was intent on making movies for Gen X (more often than not failing--just look at Reality Bites). If the Sixties was all about the Baby Boomers, it seemed as if the Nineties would be about us.

Unfortunately, there were a few problems with all of this. First, no one seemed to know exactly what Generation X was. Different sources would cite the generation as being born between 1961 and 1972 to being born roughly between 1965 and 1980.There was absolutely no consensus as to when Generation X was born. In fact, there still isn't. Second, the media seemed to be intent on fitting Generation X into a preconceived stereotype that simply did not fix the average Gen Xer. Worse yet, they seemed intent on marketing to that stereotype instead of the actual members of Generation X! Already knowing that Gen Xers were slackers who dressed in flannel, listened to Nirvana, and were hip when it came to pop culture, they fashioned commercials and movies around that stereotype, never stopping to think that this may not be the way that Gen Xers really were.

Of course, the third problem that the mass media had with regards to Generation X was the generation themselves. As the first generation raised in front of the television from birth and exposed to more mass media than any generation before it, one thing that has seemed to hold true about the media's stereotype of Gen X is their knowing cynicism. Not only does the generation tend to look upon mass marketing and even such commercial products as television and movies with a bit of scepticism in my experience as an Xer, but we tend to dislike any kind of label. This is a natural extension of the generation's cynicism, tending to view labels as simply another means of Madison Avenue, Hollywood, and other groups to peg someone as something they might not be in order to simply sell them things.

Given the fact that no one is quite sure what Generation X is and that Generation X themselves have resisted being pegged, defining Generation X is then a very difficult proposition. Indeed, the question must be raised as to whether any generation can be defined. Does any generation have a set of defining attributes that characterise the generation as a whole? Ultimately, it would seem that such things as family background, gender, ethnicity, religion, where was one was born, and many other factors would seem to be more important to shaping individuals than when they were born. Indeed, while many may be aware that, going by when they were born, they are Baby Boomers or Gen Xers, but they generally don't use that to define themselves. In some respects, then, it would seem that generations really aren't that important when it comes to defining individuals.

That having been said, while the generation in which one was born may not be as important as one's family background and so on, I think it is possible to say that each generation does have characteristics that generally define it. If human beings are largely shaped by their environment, then it would seem that we as people are then shaped by the events occurring around us, the things we experience as children, and so on. If that is the case, then it would seem to me possible that the events at any given time and the various pop culture artefacts then prominent in society could give a generation a set of very general characteristics that help define that generation. That having been said, it then becomes possible to define Generation X.

Here I must add a bit of admonition. If generations are largely shaped by cultural influences (the media, events at the time, et. al.), then I think it is safe to say that what holds true for a generation in one country may not hold true for others. That is, Generation X here in the States (and perhaps Canada as well, the two nations being so intertwined) would not be the same as Generation X in the United Kingdom, if the United Kingdom can even be said to have a "Generation X." What I say here then hold trues only for the United States and perhaps Canada as well.

Of course, it might be a good idea before even trying to define the generation to examine the origins of the term "Generation X" and other terms for the generation. As I said before, it seems to be true that most Gen Xers do not particularly care for the term Generation X. Indeed, my best friend absolutely abhors the term. He prefers to call us "the Star Wars Generation". That having been said, "Generation X" has become the most common term used for our generation. As it is, the term did not start with us, but was coined even as we were being born. The term was first used in a study conducted by journalist Jane Deverson in Britain for Women's Own magazine. Deverson's study was ultimately rejected by the magazine, but Deverson went ahead and published her study in collaboration with fellow journalist Charles Hamblett. Entitled Generation X: Today's Generation Talking About Itself, the book was essentially a collection of interviews conducted in an 18 month period from January 1963 with young people in Britain. As to the nature of Deverson and Hamblett's "Generation X," they largely engaged in premarital intercourse, tended not to believe in God, didn't like the Queen, and distrusted their parents. Sound familiar?

Even in Britain "Generation X" would not become the dominant term for a generation (born roughly between 1925 and 1944) that in America would come to be called "the Silent Generation." It would become the name of a popular punk rock group. In 1976 Billy Idol and Tony James formed a band which they called "Generation X," no doubt appropriating Deverson and Hamblett's term for themselves. As the name of a band and not a term for a generation, "Generation X" was not yet applied to those previously considered late Baby Boomers and members of what has been called "the Baby Bust (after the decline in births following 1963)."

This brings us to a Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland. Coupland used the term "Generation X" in his book Generation X: Tales for an Accelarated Culture, first published in 1991. There he applied the term to a generation following the baby boom, born between 1960 to 1965, which was at that point coming into its own identity but at the same time feeling overshadowed by the Baby Boomers. Coupland did not take the term from Deverson and Hamblett (he was apparently ignorant of their work), but rather developed it based on a term from the 1983 book Class by Paul Fussell. In that book Fussell used the term "Category X" to refer to a group of people who ignore social strata and simply drop out of the class system to live life according to their own rules. Coupland felt that this was the primary characteristic of "Generation X." Coupland's term caught on with the media, who expanded upon his definition of "Geneartion X" to stereotype it as a generation of slackers.

While "Generation X" has become the most popular term for the generation, from the beginning it has co-existed with other terms. The term "MTV generation" predates "Generation X," being used as early as the Eighties. It comes from the cable channel, MTV (short for Music Television), which was launched on August 1, 1981. It always seemed to me that many have objected to the term "MTV Generation," not the least of all Gen Xers themselves. While MTV was an important pop cultural development at the time, I know of no Gen Xer who believes that it was a transformative event that changed the entire generation. Another similar problem is that technically the oldest Gen Xers had already entered adulthood, albeit very recently, at the time of the channel's launch or were about to enter adulthood. Its overall impact on Gen X would then seem to be minimal.

Another term used for Gen x was "the Baby Bust," for the dramatic decline in births that followed the Baby Boom. This term rapidly fell out of use, probably because for many the oldeset Gen Xers (born 1961 to 1964) would technically have been born in the final years of the Baby Boom, hence the term could not be applicable to them. William Strauss and Neil Howe called the generation "the 13th generation." I'll discuss that in detail later, but let's just say that it never caught on. Another term used of Gen X has been "the Slacker Generation," from the generational stereotype of the average Gen Xer as a slacker. I won't go into why this is untrue at the moment, but the sheer negativity of the term is probably why it never caught on. For better or worse and even though Gen Xers generally hate the term, "Generation X" has remained the most popular name for the generation.

Initially Coupland placed "Generation X" as being born between 1960 and 1965, although he also said that his book was meant to demonstrate a lack of a single description for the group more than anything else. He has also said that Generation X is not a chronological age, "but a way of looking at the world." That having been said, since many people born in approximately the same period of history often tend to have a shared sense of values and world views, I think it is safe to say that when they are born does play a role in determining when the attitudes of the generation. This presents a probelm for Generation X, as no one seems to be able to agree as to when they were born.

Despite the fact that Coupland would say that being "Generation X" is more about a way of looking at the world than an actual, chronological age, he would revise the general age of Generation X to include anyone who was in their twenties between 1987 and 1991. This would include everyone born from 1958 to 1971. It seems to me that for the most part that the media would generally skew Generation X somewhat younger. I have seen the media state that the first Generation Xers were born in 1961, 1963, and even as late as 1965.

It would seem that to make sense of all this that it would be a good idea to turn the United States Census Bureau for help in determining precisely when Generation X was born. The United States Census Bureau tends to use the term "birth cohorts" rather than "generations," but the concept is roughly the same. The Census Bureau also tends to ignore such commonly used terms as "Silent Generation" and "Generation X," preferring to use their own terms. The exception to this is the Baby Boom, which they see as being born from 1946 to 1964. They divide the Baby Boomers into Leading Edge Boomers (born from 1946 to 1957) and Trailing Edge Boomers (born from 1958 to 1964). Those born from 1965 to 1977 are part of the Baby Bust (II) cohort. The Census Bureau's birth cohorts would seem to be based entirely on the number of births at any given time. It is true that a baby boom took place from 1946 to 1964. It is also true that this boom peaked in 1957, allowing the Bureau to divide the Baby Boom cohort into two periods (one being pre-peak and the other post-peak). The problem with this is that it ignores the shared experiences common to people born around the same time. Baby Boomers born in 1946 would have become adults before the advent of Saturday morning cartoons. In the Sixties some of them would have taken part in the protests against the Vietnam War and some of them would take Dr. Timothy Leary's advice to "turn on, tune in, and drop out." On the other hand, those born in 1964 would grow up watching Saturday morning cartoons, never knowing a world without them. And while some might have "turned on, tuned in, and dropped out," none of them took part in protests against the Vietnam War (I don't recall seeing any five year olds taking part in the protests in the old news footage...).

More useful is the book Generations by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Strauss and Howe eschew the term "Generation X" in favour of the term "13th Generation," so called because it is the 13th generation to live under the United States flag (going back to the first generation, that of Ben Franklin). Rather than simply look at birth rates as the Census Bureau does, they look to cultural trends as well. They saw the influences on the 13th Generation as being an increase in divorce, an increase in women in the work place, declining birth rates, and what is sometimes called "devil child films (movies such as Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and It's Alive that deal with children as demonic antagonists)." They place the 13th Generation as being born between 1961 and 1981. While I don't really care for the term "13th Generation," I cannot argue with either Strauss and Howe's reasoning (as the movie Fight Club observes, with reference to the increase in the divorce rate, we were a generaton of men raised by women--not true of myself, but of many of my comtemporaries) or the age range they give for the generation. And that age group does generally have the same cultural experiences in common and hence similar viewpoints.

In an article entitled "Proceed with Caution" in the July 16, 1990 issue, Time Magazine posited the existence of a generation following the Baby Boomers. They did not give this generation a name, simply referring to them as "twentysomethings." The article notes that many of these twentysomethings were born in what was usually considered the tail end of the Baby Boom, but actually had very little in common with the Boomers and had much more in common with other twentysomethigs. They place the age of this generation in a range spanning from 18 to 29 years of age. In other words, this generation would have been born between 1961 and 1972. According to the article, a dominant force in the lives of the twentysomething was the poor job market, economic strain, the rising divorce rate, the centrality of televison as a medium, drug use, and homelessness. At the same time the article offers what could be the earliest stereotype of Generation X as slackers. It claims that the generation shys away from 70 hour work weeks and have no desire to change the world. It posits that the generation has a desire to keep life simple and do things in modest ways. It does offer some things positive to say about the generation, positing that they hold family life and local activism dear.

Here I should also offer my best friend's view of Generation X, a generation he prefers to call the "Star Wars Generation." My best friend is not a sociologist or historian, nor has he ever been published as a writer (he doesn't even have a blog, being somewhat computer illiterate). But he is an expert on pop culture whose knowledge of the subject is as labyrinthine as my own (We have our specialties. He tends to know more about movies than I do, but I know more about television. I know more about Golden Age comic books, but he knows more about Seventies comic books.). My best friend believes that the Star Wars Generation was roughly born between 1960 and 1977. His acid test for whether one belongs to the generation is whether one was old enough to have been present in a theatre when Star Wars made its debut in May 1977, even if it was only as a baby. Admittedly, this is hard to take seriously, but my best friend has other reasons for choosing this age range as well. Namely, we all came of age in an era when the economy was under strain and jobs were difficult to find. Even those who completed college were hard pressed to find any job, let alone one that paid well. The Star Wars Generation was the first generation that was literally overwhelmed by pop culture. It came at us through such media as television (finally in its prime as we were born), independent TV stations, FM radio, the movies, and video games. For my best friend the pivotal pop cultural event was the premiere of the film Star Wars, which transformed pop culture the same way that The Beatles' arrival in Amrica (which he views as the pivotal pop cultural event of the Baby Boom) did 14 years earlier. I find it very difficult to argue with my best friend's reasoning...

Yet others deny that Geneartion X was born between 1961 and 1981. Around 2000 pop cutlure expert Jonathan Pontell claimed that he had identified yet another geneartion which he termed "Generation Jones." He chose this label because he views the generation as being large and anonymous, and also based his name for this so-called generation on the slang term "jones," which originally referrred to the craving for drugs among addicts but came to mean a craving for anything--in the case of Pontell's alleged "Generation Jones" it refers to the craving for unfulfilled expectations. Pontell places his so-called "Generation Jones" as being born between 1954 and 1965. He points to the rising divorce rate, the women's movement, the civil rights movement, the gas shortages of the Seventies, and the Watergate scandal as events that shaped his "Generation Jones." Pontell's concept of "Generation Jones" has received coverage in the media, in newspapers such as The Denver Post, The Denver Post, The San Diego Union Tribune, on cable networks such as CNN, MSNBC, and the BBC, and on such various outlets as the Talk Radio News Service. Googling the term "Generation Jones" one will find pages on which individuals do identify with the term "Generation Jones." Between the media coverage and the apparent existence of people who identify themselves as "Jonesers," there would seem to be some legitimacy to the concept.

That having been said, I have some serious objections to Pontell's concept of "Generation Jones," even if it is hard to dismiss entirely. I feel that he may be placing too much importance on certain cultural events and too little importance on others. While the rising divorce rate and the women's movement did have an impact on many people, that impact was much, much less on those born in 1954 than those born in 1965. That is, more people born in 1965 are children of divorce than those born in 1954. Furthermore, those born in 1954 came of age when the economy was still fairly robust in the Seventies. They walked into good jobs as they graduated from college, even from high school. Contrast that with those born in 1965 who often found themselves working at McDonalds or video stores even after graduating college! They came of age in the Eighties when a depression was on (okay, I know a lot of historians and political commentators will try to claim there was no depression in the Eighties, but then what do you call economic conditions in which there is low inflation and a very high rate of unemployment?). As to pop culture, those born in 1954 were adults when Star Wars came on the scene and in their first ten years of life there was no such thing as a Saturday morning cartoon block! In their late teens and early twenties, disco was the most popular music form. Contrast that to the heavy metal that returned to popularity just as those born 1965 were in their teens and entering their twenties. Another problem I have with the concept of "Generation Jones" is that Pontell first expressed his theories on this generation in 2000. This so-called generation's youngest members would have been 35 at the time! Contrast that with Generation X, who received their most popular name in 1991 when its youngest members were only 15 years of age. I've no idea when the phrase "Baby Boomer" originated, but the earliest I could find its use in the archives of Time Magazine was a January 21, 1974 article on Bob Dylan. This means that its earliest use could have been when the youngest Boomers were only 14. Of course, this only reflects its first appearance in Time Magazine. It could have been used much earlier; indeed, it's been in use as long I can remember. At any rate, all of this begs the question, "If 'Generation Jones' exists at all, then why did it take so long for someone to discover it?"

A more serious objection I have to the label "Generation Jones" is that while googling the term does reveal individuals who do identify with it, I have yet to meet even one such individual in person. My contemporaries born from 1961 to 1964 tend to identify themselves as either Boomers (which is less common in my experience) or Xers (more common in my experience). Those born in 1965 inevitably identify themselves as Xers. To me this presents a very serious challenge to Pontell's entire thesis. Admittedly, I think we can all agree that there are differences between the older Boomers (those born from 1945 to 1952 and experienced the Vietnam War protests, the Hippie movement, and psychedelia) and the younger Boomers (those born from 1953 to 1960 and experienced Watergate, gas shortages, and disco). In fact, I think we could legitimately speak of a "Beatles wave" of Boomers (the older Boomers) and a "Led Zeppelin wave" of Boomers (the younger Boomers). Despite some differences, both "Beatle wave" and "Led Zeppelin wave" Boomers share a number of important experiences (experiencing network television from its infacy to its maturation, good economic times, and so on), allowing for certain common interests to exist between the oldest and the youngest. In fact, I would dare say that there exists more common ground between "Beatles wave" Boomers (1945 to 1952) and "Led Zeppelin wave" Boomers (1953 to 1960) than there is between "Led Zeppelin wave" Boomers and the oldest Gen Xers (1961 to 1965). Given the profound differences that exist between "Led Zeppelin wave" Boomers and older Gen Xers and the rarity of individuals who identify with the term "Generation Jones," I think it is safe to conclude that Pontell is wrong. Those born before 1961 were just more Baby Boomers. Those born after 1961 were Gen Xers. Quite simply, Generation Jones does not exist.

Anyhow, given disagreement over the age range of Generation X and even whether there should be a generation placed between the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers (the alleged Jonesers), it is difficult to determine when the Generation began and when it ended. I submit that my best friend may be right, that it began anywhere from 1961 to 1962 and ended in 1977 (I won't be so precise as to say May 1977...). My reasoning is simple. First, I once said that Generation X was the first generation to never know a Saturday morning without cartoons as children. This might seem trivial to some, but it seems an important point to me. Baby Boomers are often apt to start conversations between themselves with "Where were you when JFK was shot?" or "What were you doing when you first heard (fill in the blank with an appropriate song)?" Gen Xers are more likely to start conversations with, "Do you remember the cartoon where (fill in the blank with whatever cartoon you remember)?" Gen X pop culture, whether we are discussing Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith films or various rock songs, are rife with references to Saturday morning cartoons. Second, an experience shared by Generation X is that many had difficulty finding jobs upon coming of age. Taking into account that the depression of the Eighties started roughly around 1981 and ended roughly around 1992, the oldest Gen Xers would have been born around 1961 (making them around twenty in 1981) and the youngest would have been born around 1972. Given that the economy was still a little shaky for a couple of years after the depression's end around 1992, we could perhaps extend the end of Gen X from 1972 to 1977. Third, people born between 1961 and 1977 had greater access to pop culture than previous generations. While there were only three television networks when the majority of us were growing up, the fact that there were a huge number of independent stations made up for it. These independent stations aired an inordinate number of reruns, sometimes dating to several years before our births, as well as movies made decades before we were born. This gave Generaton X more familiarity with films from the Thirties and Forties than even their seniors born in the Baby Boom and a greater knowledge of television shows than their juniors born in Generation Y (independent stations having gone the way of the dinosaur just as the oldest of them were in their teens). Indeed, a complaint that my Baby Boomer older sister has about me is that I prefer "old stuff" when it comes to TV shows, movies, and music! To say that Gen X was born in 1961 and 1976 then allows for the common cultural experiences necessary to any given generation.

Of course, just as there are differences between the "Beatles wave" Boomers and "Led Zeppelin wave" Boomers, there are going to be differences between older Xers and younger Xers. In Saturday Morning Fever by Timothy and Kevin Burke (highly recommended, mind you), the authors note that some pundit (though they don't clarify whom, it was the aforementioned Howe and Strauss) made a distinction between an "Atari wave" of Xers and a "Nintendo wave" of Xers, although they noted that they could also be called "the Herculoids wave" or "Wacky Races wave" and "the Ghostbuster wave" or "Joe Wave," after various cartoons. I tend to agree with them, Saturday morning cartoons being a major part of all Gen Xers' childhoods, although I would prefer the terms "Space Ghost wave (superhero cartoons being dominant in the younger years of older Xers)" and "Scooby-Doo wave (comedies being more dominant in the younger years of younger Xers)." To me, Saturday morning cartoons were much more an experience common to Gen Xers than video games (which really didn't come about until the oldest of us were nearly grown). Whatever term you prefer, there are some differences between older and younger Xers. My best friend and I have noted that older Xers tended to be nostalgic about shows like Underdog and The Man From U.N.C.L.E, while expressing ignorance of Transformers and MacGyver. Younger Xers tend to be exactly the opposite. While they have much in common, they also tend to be very different as well.

That having been said, the "Space Ghost wave" and "Scooby-Doo wave" of Gen X probably have more in common than "Beatles wave" and "Led Zeppelin wave" Boomers do. In fact, I daresay that enough common ground exists among people born from 1961 to 1977 that we can adequately determine the defining characteristics of Generation X. Knowing that, we can go forward and determine what Generation X and, conversely, what it is not.

Monday, 25 June 2007

"One of Us" by....Alanis Morissette?!

Most everyone knows that the song "One of Us" (you know the song, the one with the lyric "What if God was one of us?") was performed by Joan Osborne. Well, it turns out, not quite most everyone. In director and screen writer Kevin Smith's MySpace blog, he talks about finding an error in a brief article on God (the Judaeo-Christian one) in the movies, including Evan Almighty by Anita Modak-Truran, for the Clarion Ledger (in Jackson, Mississippi). The article begins with the words, "'What if God was one of us?' whines Alanis Morissette in a nasal lament. 'Just a slob like one of us.'"

Here I should point out that "One of Us" was first recorded by Joan Osborne on her 1995 debut album Relish. It was written by Eric Bazilian of The Hooters (who would perform it live in concert). The song ultimately hit #4 on the Billboard charts. What is more, looking over Alanis Morisette's discography reveals that no point has she ever recorded the song. One has to wonder how someone could make such a huge mistake. That having been said, it seems to be a common error. There are apparently a number of lyrics sites which mistakenly attributes "One of Us" to Alanis Morissette. As to how this could happen, I can only figure that there are a huge number of people who apparently think that Joan Osborne sounds like Alanis Morissette.

Naturally, Smith emailed Modak-Truran and pointed out her error. Surprisingly she still persisted in believing it that Morissette had performed the song, even after Smith had presented a plethora of evidence that Osborne had and Morissette had not. I have to say that I am still a bit puzzled how a writer for a newspaper could make such a glaring error. As I said above, perhaps some people think Osborne sounds like Morissette and there are certainly a number of lyrics sites that attribute "One of Us" to Morissette, but a quick check of Morissette's discography (and on multiple sites, at that) should convince anyone that Alanis Morissette never performed the song. I do suppose that all of us make errors in writing (heaven knows, I have), and mistaking Osborne for Morissette may be natural for some. At the same time, however, I can't help but think that going to the trouble of double and triple checking one's information is a good idea. At any rate, I do find it odd that attributing "One of Us" to Alanis Morissette is a common mistake...