We were the D.I.Y. Generation. While our elders were buying glossy copies of Vogue and Rolling Stone, we made our own ‘zines and printed them on the photocopiers at Kinko’s. We silk-screened our own shirts and made superstars out of grafitti artists like Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring. We released underground music on cassette tapes and 4-song EPs produced in garages and basements. Our subcultures grew sub-subcultures. We were never a unified cultural movement. Our generation generated an explosion of diversity that propelled the culture into a thousand fragmentary directions.
And that’s where Generation X came in. After we blew up a big chunk of the cultural monolith, they picked up the individual pieces and found fun, irony, and beauty in the rubble. The first time I heard the term Generation X was when the movie Slacker came out in 1990. I was in my late 20s and as much as I enjoyed Gen X culture, I didn’t presume to be part of it. They were our weird, goofy younger siblings who collected Star Wars memorabilia and did cool things with computers. We never looked down on the next generation or held up our own as the center of the universe. Gen X had Lollapalooza and Nirvana. I’d love to claim Tupac, Occupy Wall Street and the dotcom boom, but they rightfully belonged to Gen X. It was the 90s. Our younger brothers and sisters took center stage and were fucking awesome.
That leads me to the question: what is my generation called? We aren’t Baby Boomers and we aren’t Gen X. I’ve seen us called the John Hughes generation, an assertion I won’t dignify with a response. I’ve also heard us called Generation Jones. It was coined by TV producer Jonathan Pontell. It implies the unfulfilled desires—the jonesing—we felt, trying and failing to have the big house, the cool car, the first class health care, and the certainty the Boomers enjoyed that Social Security would be there for them. We were the first generation that couldn’t expect to do better than our parents. Boomers, by the way, raised the eligibility age for Social Security after they got theirs. Typical.
We aren’t surprised by it. When we were in our teens, all the attention was on the Boomers coke-snorting and disco-dancing through their 20s. When we got to our 20s, the media was all about Thirtysomethings, Wall Street, and Yuppies. Now they’re all talking about the Boomers in retirement, ageism, and the need for more geriatricians. At every stage of our lives, all anyone wanted to talk about was our older siblings. In their shadows, we were bashing around, trying to assert our own identity. So, were we jonesing for something we’d never have? Yeah, I suppose we were. We’re the generational middle child.
Don’t get me wrong. Like kid brothers and little sisters everywhere, we will always respect the Boomers. They’re the cool, popular older sibling who gave us their hand-me-downs. We grew up admiring them even if they’re kind of a dick sometimes. We’d just like it if they didn’t diss us in front of company.
Generation Jones. It’s awkward, but it’s about twenty years too late to coin something better. To paraphrase 80s folk singer Bill Morrissey, it ain’t much, it ain’t good, but it’ll have to do.
June 2, 2019