In Which I Get Totally Generational Again
Look, I helped write two books on this stuff. You should listen to me. Unless you think that any talk about American generations is hopelessly generic and paints with such a broad brush as to be patently misleading – but since that describes everything I write on here, you should ask yourself why you keep coming back for more punishment.
Here’s the scoop: I’ve oft moaned about my particular generation’s relatively pathetic contribution to the arts, especially given that we were supposed to be the next great creators. The Baby Boomers were batshit and changed the game, sure sure, but us Generation Xers were supposed to take it all in, remain fascinatingly introspective, and create the kind of Masterpieces the Silent generation had done before us.
Not clear? Here’s a simple guide:
Silent Generation, born 1925-1942. You got your Beatles, Stones, Brando, Woody Allen, etc.
Baby Boomers, born 1942-1961. You know these motherscratchers.
Gen X, born 1961-1981. That’s us. Unless you’re under 28, in which case IT’S YOUR BEDTIME
ANYWHOODLE… generational behavior, like recessive genes, tend to skip generations. We were supposed to be more like the “Silent” folks, who grew up in the rigidity of the 1940s and 50s and became the storytellers. Sure, the Baby Boomers freaked out and danced badly, but they didn’t actually create any of the art from that time – that was the folks a decade older than them.
Neil Howe and Bill Strauss predicted the same thing would happen to us: we would be a “reactive” group of people, a cohort of Americans who would look at the carnage wracked by the Boomers, call bullshit, and then write our novels, make our movies, etc… but the eldest of us are pushing 50, and we really haven’t stepped up to the plate.
Who are our writers? We already lost David Foster Wallace, leaving us with some very good writers like J. Lethem, Z. Smith and the like, but are there any Updikes, Fitzgeralds, Vonneguts and Roths? In pop music, do we have anybody that can stack up against the oeuvre of the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Elvis Costello, U2, R.E.M. or even Duran Duran?
Sure, the marketplace is entirely different now, and plenty of writers, musicians, journalists, painters and other artists aren’t allowed the time to flourish the way they did in years past. But would you call Generation X a cultural juggernaut?
I think I understand why we’ve failed ourselves. Every generation has a fatal flaw. The Silent Generation had one of the worst ever: they went through the “sexual revolution” at the same time as the Boomers – except the Boomers were doing it at 18, and the Silents were doing it at 38 with their spouse and kids at home. It was just bad luck for the Silent Generation; awesome sideburns, finding your G-spot, and having sex with your neighbors just came around too late for them to partake without fucking up us li’l Gen Xers.
As for us, it ain’t rocket science. Here’s Gen X’s problem in a nutshell: the internet appeared in the world at EXACTLY the right time to ensure we would never dive into our Masterpieces. As we were winding up to slap the world upside the ass with our lusty, groundbreaking works, we were fucking sidetracked by that “I KISS YOU!!!” guy from Turkey.
Since then, we have deviated from, digressed over, and forgotten completely about our Greatest Works in the face of the most overwhelming onslaught of Attention Deficit Disorder entertainment since the Roman Vomitorium. We have so much cool shit now, from the Wii to the Shuffle to YouTube (and prøn, of course) that asking us to concentrate on Art is like distracting a fat kid from cherry frosting.
There’s something poisonous afoot here too; the easy access to videos from our youth, to Facebook friends from third grade, to ironic T-shirts with Grape Ape on them… it retards our growth and throws us into a toxic soup of nostalgia, irony and snark. All three elements can destroy creativity – nostalgia begets preciousness, irony promotes cliché, and snark snuffs out the light.
They say narcissism is as viral as the flu, but it doesn’t have a thing on ADD – if you don’t have ADD yet, you aren’t trying hard enough. Shit, I’m amazed I’ve kept this blog for seven years, given how badly I get shoved off-course (during the writing of this, I also accidentally researched J.D. Salinger’s girlfriends, looked at all the recent pics of Duran Duran’s drummer, read some notes from 1992 about “13th-GEN”, and then learned how to make an “ø”).
I write televisions and movie scripts by forced sabbatical; it’s the only way I can do it. Give me 36 hours, and I can give you anything. But not everybody has that luxury, and god knows it drives my wife bonkers.
Already, I can hear the emails and comments: What about hip-hop? What about the Art of video games? Why do you always present these ideas in generational terms? Aren’t you just describing your own problems and extrapolating them to us?
Perhaps that’s true. And perhaps so much about American culture has shifted that nobody is allowed to be a superstar in their field anymore, because that space is now being taken by thousands of people basking in the fifteen minutes afforded them by the internet. Or maybe the jury’s still out on Gen X, and we’ll get it done – we’ll be known for more than just excellent writing on “The Daily Show” and “30 Rock”.
It’s just that I’ve always been mindful of that great Aimee Mann lyric:
I should have seen the cracks in the ceiling
and the mirror covered up with dust
But I was busy talking on the phone