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

Sunday, August 19, 2001

‘Paradise, Piece by Piece’ by Molly Peacock

Encountering an uncorrected proof of this book at a local Friends of the Library book sale, the selling point for me was the author's statement that she began writing this book because she wanted to tell the story of why she decided not to have children.

Saturday, August 4, 2001

‘Jezebel feminist’ supports First Amendment

Honestly, what’s a feminist to do?

Yes, it’s true – I consider myself a feminist. I could go on at length, and often do, with my opinion on the Equal Rights Amendment and other “women’s” issues.

So when confronted with such a blatantly misogynistic viewpoint as expressed by Mr. Darrell Watkins in the July 31 Record-Bee, I couldn’t help but get angry. Really angry.

After using various expletives and obscenities to express what I thought of his attitude, I could only conclude that the man has a deep-rooted and misplaced hostility toward women.

“Right on, Shirleen!” I exulted, as I read the first few paragraphs of Lakeport City Councilwoman Shirleen De Rezendes’ rebuttal in the Aug. 2 Record-Bee. I found myself nodding in agreement – until I got to her last three paragraphs.

“This is why I believe that the Lake County Record-Bee might take more care and diligence when deciding what articles/letters to publish,” Ms. De Rezendes wrote. “If such an attacking and derogatory article is allowed to be published we still have a long way to go.”

Immediately, my agreement with Ms. De Rezendes evaporated, as the enormity of what she was proposing – nothing less than censorship – sank in.

Nor was she alone. A short time later, another writer, Sissa Nelson Harris, also questioned the Record-Bee’s wisdom in giving Mr. Watson’s latest epistle a public forum.

Therein my dilemma: I don’t agree with Mr. Watkins. I find his attitude entirely repugnant but I’m afraid I’m going to have to take his side in this argument. My belief in his freedom of speech, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is much stronger than my opinion of what he wrote in a letter to the editor.

As a writer, and an avid reader, I can’t afford to be neutral about the First Amendment. I am a wholehearted proponent. In fact, I’m a fan! In my opinion, the First Amendment rocks!

So I can’t help but feel that, for an average citizen to propose abridging the right to free speech, is disturbing. For an elected official to do so, is dangerous.

To be fair, Ms. De Rezendes is not the only elected official proposing a restriction on free speech. At the federal level, Congress is considering – and by now, may even have voted on – a modification to the Bill of Rights that would ban “desecration” of the U.S. flag.

Don’t get me wrong – I have a lot of respect for the flag. It holds a place of honor on a bracket outside my home. I have a brother in the armed forces, and I don’t take his contributions lightly. But I have even more respect for the Bill of Rights. Polite, inoffensive speech doesn’t need protection – obnoxious speech, like Mr. Watkins’ letter or the burning of a U.S. flag in protest, does.

And honestly, I feel that some things are better off out in the open, rather than being allowed to fester in secret. Mr. Watkins might learn something from the eloquent writers who responded to his letter. Then again, he might not. In any case, the opportunity for dialogue is there.

Ms. De Rezendes said we still have a long way to go if opinions like Mr. Watkins’ are allowed publication – and I agree. And it’s a road we don’t have to travel. Public speech needs less restrictions, not more.

If attitudes like Mr. Watkins’ are confronted openly, then maybe Ms. De Rezendes’ vision of a society with “an ability to appreciate and accept the differences amongst all of the different groups of men and women and races within our society” will become reality.

Published Aug. 4, 2001 in the Lake County Record-Bee