Dissecting some Generation X cliches

Posted On February 3, 2020

What does it mean to be Generation X?

Are we forever doomed to be the quintessential middle child, overlooked between the Baby Boomers and millennials? Are we the slackers described in the Douglas Coupland book that spawned the name? Are we the Forgotten Generation?

Last year, the New York Times took a stab at defining Generation X by shooting down some long-held preconceptions about it.

We’re not slackers, author Alex Williams says, and we were never cynical and disaffected. The oldest among us were in our mid-20s when the country pulled out of the mid-‘90s recession, and we actually had it pretty good afterward. Wealth may mean less to us than to our parents, but Williams argues that grunge was a fad that was even more short-lived than most of us seem to remember and that it was we Gen-Xers, and not millennials, who actually invented “woke.”

We are more bent toward pragmatism than ideological ideals, Williams argues, quoting consultant David Rosen’s contention that we are the original “socially liberal, economically conservative” generation – possibly a nod to the independence many of us learned as latchkey kids. We are also sell-outs, with emerging computer technology and the eventual explosion of the internet spawning a generation of entrepreneurs and disrupters.

As a Gen-Xer myself, I can say I recognize some of myself in some places in the article and not at all in others. Would you consider yourself a sell-out if you never considered yourself a slacker? Do you have to turn in your Gen-X membership card if you always preferred New Orleans funk over grunge?

I suspect I’m not alone in this.

Some of us, like author Sarah Vowell and journalist Garance Franke-Ruta, were always hard-working and looking for ways to improve the world around us. Some, like Jay-Z and Elon Musk, were always looking for opportunities to build an empire. Some, like Elliott Smith, would have greatly preferred remaining unknown.

Like any other group of people, Boomers and millennials included, the clichés can’t define us. And neither can the rebuttals to those clichés.

Categories: Blog, Generation X