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There is Hope for Us All

I’m not a huge fan of labels, but I know that people crave categories like bacon. So here I am, whether I like it or not, squarely in Generation X. This term has been around for a while, having been used to describe various disaffected youth subcultures like mods, rockers and punks during the 1950s and 1960s.

However, when applied to those born between 1965 – 1982, it’s snooze-worthy. It’s not an empowering placeholder for an oppressive moniker, like when Malcolm Little changed his name to Malcolm X. It’s certainly not adventurous like “Millennial.” It doesn’t evoke images of setting the world on fire like “Boomer.” Those generations are respectively dubbed “digital natives” and “game-changers.” What do we get? “Slacker” or my favorite, “forgotten.”

I’m sure it was rough for Boomers to hear about their parents being part of “The Greatest Generation” ad nauseum but it seems that disgust has been cast away with glee as they assumed their role as rulers of the roost and never let go.

Jeff Gordinier describes it thusly in his book, X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking:

Generation X has marinated in the fat of boomer mythology for so long now that we’re like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix when he’s hooked up to all those tubes and wires in a tub of gelatin. We don’t even notice. And yet the relentlessness of the juggernaut— really, it’s amazing. Pick up Newsweek and you’ll come across a series called “The Boomer Files,” which presses that creaky rewind button one more time to tell us—to teach us—about all the astonishing changes the disco-and-Brie generation has wrought upon the American lifestyle. Fashion, music, money, food, shopping, parenting, sex—there is no realm of human conduct, Newsweek avers, that remains unboomerized.

But wait! Here come those pesky Millennials, right on Generation X’s heels, ready to claim their rightful inheritance which has been earned without merit because their Boomer parents force-fed them a consistent diet of special sauce and gave everyone trophies just for showing up.

In a study published by the American Psychological Association, lead author Jean Twenge concedes that this group is essentially mired in selfishness:

Popular views of the millennial generation, born in the 1980s and 1990s, as more caring, community-oriented and politically engaged than previous generations are largely incorrect, particularly when compared to baby boomers and Generation X at the same age. These data show that recent generations are less likely to embrace community mindedness and are focusing more on money, image and fame.

See why I hate labels? If you believe the hype, we’re all boned. But that’s a good thing because at least it means we’re  in this together.

If you’re in the arts and culture game, you know that it’s inherently generational. Parents introduce children to museums, who grow up engaged with those organizations, ultimately bringing their own children into the fold. It’s an extremely important cycle. Ignoring or courting one group for the sake of any other is a fool’s game and programmatic suicide.

I urge you to cast all of the stereotypes aside, take charge of your collective destinies and do something completely radical: have real conversations about what you want, what drives your creativity, what fuels your desires, and how cultural organizations can assist you with those efforts.

That’s how change worthy of all generations is made.

10 responses to “There is Hope for Us All

  1. art lust

    frist, well-written. second, it is goes the heart of why i didn’t visit this session at AAM. I am from near the end of the age bracket. I have never felt as I in the same generation as those born at the end. I don’t remember a time before computers, for example. But, I do agree with your charge for those of us working in the museum field, basically, in the middle of our careers, to do it right and real–by communicating in an authentic sense.

  2. JennX

    Art Lust – are you early or late GenX? I’m born in 1976, so I’m definitely late, so I feel identification with GenY as well – but probably more GenX overall. I remember playing my first video games at a library because we didn’t have a computer at home. I remember getting our first Apple IIgs and playing the ‘how to use a mouse’ game that came with it. In college, I had a b/w Mac laptop. I think all of that would be foreign to most GenY!

  3. so love this post, Adrianne! and, yup, to art lust’s point — we all felt this way before, during and after the session…but along the way something clicked. and a couple of people in the session felt a cathartic and real sense of empathy and shared values/experiences. so, to art lust’s point and Jennifer Caleshu’s to follow — yup. Right? Play the soundtrack,

  4. Thanks for reading! Part of the reason I think these generational tags are so flawed is due to what art lust expressed. There’s no way to precisely classify our experiences and birth date spans for Gen X vary so much that I’m either in the middle or toward the tail end of some of them. When you add in the fact that I grew up with parents who were young when they started having children, siblings, and full sets of grandparents and great-grandparents, I have a wide frame of reference that makes it easy to identify with everyone. Even still, It’s much easier to find the things that bind us rather than divide us.

  5. So much of my trouble with the Gen Y and Millennial labels – even as I embrace my Gen X identifier with gusto – is that I think it’s horrifically premature to stereotype a generation before THEY’VE PAID THEIR OWN BILLS. Seriously. Who honestly describes Gen X as slackers these days, and yet this is who they thought we were 20-30 years ago? Bogus.

    • There is evidence that the “slacker” label is *finally* fading away, but I actually heard someone use this term in reference to Gen-X at this year’s AAM conference. So it’s unfortunately still in play. “Bogus” is an excellent response. I’ll also accept, “Take off, hoser.”

  6. JennX

    Janell I love that you said “bogus.” So very Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure!

  7. Pingback: genx says, aam reflections | Cabinet of Curiosities

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