Thursday, August 30, 2001

‘Generation X’ has come into its own

Looking at where we are today (and by “we,” I mean those of us born between 1961 and 1981), sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that only a few years ago, the term “Generation X” was used interchangeably with “slackers.”

Personally, I always thought the name “Generation X” was kind of cool-sounding, edgy and Gothic -- qualities that I prized and emulated during my junior college days. But I always thought “slacker” was grossly undeserved.

I felt keenly aware, and resentful, of my “outsider” status when people in positions of authority made sweeping statements about my entire generation. Take something as personally significant as musical preference, for example: The suicide of Kurt Cobain in 1994 was supposed to be our equivalent of the Kennedy Assassination.

This pronouncement, on a Santa Rosa Press Democrat opinion page, was accompanied by a caricature of the former Nirvana front-man -- tattered, dirty clothing, disheveled hair and vacant expression complete with “squeans” (in cartoonists’ lingo, those little bubbles over characters’ heads that indicate a chemically-altered state of consciousness). The message of the overall package was clear: the hero that we had “chosen” was grossly inferior to the heroes belonging to the previous generation.

Only problem was, Cobain wasn’t my hero, and I wasn’t willing to have him or an accompanying value judgment “assigned” to me. Attention paid to Nirvana may have brought the Seattle music scene into the national spotlight, but my favorite artists were The Chieftains, Talking Heads and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Music was just a very specific tip of the proverbial iceberg. Again and again, a variety of sources portrayed Generation X as a group of lazy underachievers who were politically apathetic. In a word, “slackers.”

Let’s face it, though -- there’s no way my generation is homogeneous enough for anyone to have successfully assigned it a “hero or values system. No stereotyped group ever is.

And now we’re the ones who hold positions of authority. The terms “Generation X” and “slackers” no longer appear together in the media or in the national consciousness. At the same time, we are the media. We’re also the peace officers, the civil servants, the elected officials, the parents and teachers.

My husband and I are “sir’d” and “ma’am’d” when we go to the grocery store and the music we listened to in school is endlessly being hawked in “Best of” compilations. Silver hairs have appeared on my head, and my husband just got his first pair of prescription reading glasses.

I find that some things stay with me, however. It’s hard not to have learned something from having been on the receiving end of gross overgeneralizations.

From time to time, I notice myself or someone else making an assumption about members of a particular group, and I remind myself that people are individuals, first and foremost. Their individuality is much more significant than their membership in a group, however that group is defined.

To try to categorize a broad group of individuals with the traits of an isolated few would be ludicrous. For that reason, I consider myself fortunate to have been a member of a stereotyped group because not only do I know it’s morally wrong, I also know it’s just plain wrong.

Stereotyping is an insidious cancer that, along with bigotry, eats away at understanding. Hopefully my generation has learned something from being its victims. Like the old saying goes, “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Published circa Aug. 30, 2001 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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