One More Essay about My Generation

Dissed by The Fresno Bee in Summer, 1993

There's no future no future no future for youuuuu!
      -- Sex Pistols "God Save the Queen" 1977

Around the same time the above song was first scandalizing 'em over in the U.K., the newspaper at my high school ran an editorial dissing my freshman class. The gist: we were the worst class ever, and if we continuned our terrible behavior -- centered mostly on partying, promiscuity, and a general bad attitude -- we'd never make it to graduation. We'd all be kicked out of school.

With many of our high schools now needing metal detectors, the behavior of my class now seems almost quaint. I don't think anyone was bringing firearms to class. Nevertheless, that behavior -- at a private Catholic school -- was the first noticeable rumbling that a new generation had officially entered adolescence. A different sort of generation than the Baby Boomers who preceded us. A generation of trouble. By the time my classmates and I were seniors, the faculty didn't even let us have a school paper. We never even got to explain ourselves. That's what it's like to be part of my generation.

My generation is still the unnamed generation: the one which is so disorganized we'll never name ourselves, and so ornery we'll reject whatever others come up for us. This is both a cause and symptom of our collective lack of focus and explains why so many handles -- "Baby Busters," "Post-Boomers," "Slackers," "X Generation" -- seem either inaccurate or insulting. Indeed, the latest currently making the rounds, "Twentysomethings," is inane. After all, it completely misses the point: this generation runs the age gamut from George Stephanopolis to Chelsea Clinton.

Who? Michael Jordan and the guys who killed his father; Nirvana and Amy Fisher; The Huxtable kids and the Simpson Kids; Bevis and Butt-head. A generation not united by any one culture, yet sharing the same attitudes. A generation of four-parent mall rats and one-parent drug lords, growing up at Warp 10 while constantly bombarded by ever-changing technology disseminating countless variations of the same message: the world is falling apart and there is nothing you can do, dudes.

So we sigh, get callused, and snag our little pieces of the action, hardly stressing over long-term consequences. It's difficult at best to worry about the future when even the most prescient and talented of us see a huge black hole sucking what little opportunity may remain. That's what it's like to be part of my generation.

Think about it. Those now in high school can look forward to skyrocketing college fees for fewer and fewer classes. This will only exacerbate the trend that those who can afford college will stay in for 5 or 6 or even 10 years, especially if they have to work and save their own money to pay for their education. And why not? The Job Market is terrible. Those of us who have graduated are often using our degrees waiting tables or renting videos. It's like we graduated specifically to thank our parents for letting us move back home all those times. That's those of us who grew up relatively well off. For those who grew up in the urban war zones, it must seem as if the entire breadth of the American Dream can be stuffed in a crack pipe and smoked.

Sound depressing? Well, it's the reality of our youth. The overall tenor of our lives seems to be affected and controlled by decisions we have no input in; created by circumstances out of our control. Which is not to say we're ducking responsibility for our personal decisions, it's just that others should realize the zeitgeist in which those decisions are made is way way different from when they were young.

In our lifetime, we've seen love equalling divorce; goverment equalling corruption and sex equalling death. Entertainment? Desperately clicking through 500 channels searching for a show or song we haven't experienced a thousand times before. And doesn't suck. Meanwhile, those of us who still bother to read can't pick up a newspaper or a magazine without seeing an article or essay or editorial scolding us for being too dangerous; too promiscuous; or too alienated. That's what's like to be part of my generation.

Call it fatalism, if you will. Only it's not a grand apocalyptic fatalism. More like personal fatalism: nothing I do really matters. Oh well, whatever, nevermind. It's this fatalism which causes so many of what should be our best and brightest to not even try, seeing no outlet for our talents. It's this fatalism which causes so many to cocoon ourselves in technology, whether it be computers, nintendos or virtual reality -- each of which is often preferable to the real reality we face every day. It's this fatalism which leads to "I know we should use a condom, but neither of us probably has AIDS" or "Lemme try some of that" or "Let's go off those mother-----."

Time out. It's not entirely bleak -- we aren't all raving oversexed junking criminals, becoming ever more jaded as we waltz through the minefields of our own behaviors. Of course not. But enough of us have taken at least a leisurely stroll on the wild side to make it seem that way. And there are degrees to this -- after all, every storm drops different amounts of rain in different places. I'm sure young people do exist who sailed through college in four years; married as virgins; never stole even a candy bar; and stayed away from debilitating drugs -- legal or otherwise. I'm sure there are people like this in my generation, there must be. I just don't know any. And actually, I don't want to.

Which is what a lot of people perceive as The Problem. I don't. Life is here to be lived, and since we're being denied Opportunity, at least we can have Experience. Hey, if nothing we do really matters, let's at least have fun. So we take chances. Spur-of-the-moment road trips with no idea where we are going to end up. Maybe credit-fueled jaunts to the ends of the globe -- disrupting our jobs; our educations; our very lives just to say we've been there or done that. Many times we've seen the sun rise under strange and wonderful circumstances. And why not? If Plato or whomever said that the unexamined life wasn't worth living; then my generation counters with "Oh yeah? The unlived life isn't worth examining, so there."

Or maybe the risk-taking manifests itself closer to home, in the use of drugs and alcohol. This is no less a druggy generation than the Boomers who paved the way. We've drank, snorted, inhaled, dropped and shot various substances into our collective systems, often for no other reasons than experimentation and ennui and usually with prior knowledge of the possible consequences.

Same goes for sex. On the heels of the sexual revolution, and despite HIV looming -- much like Mutual Nuclear Destruction once did -- as huge, unknowable, and possibly out of our collective control, we are still having sex. It's beyond frightening, because the risks of driving too fast, committing crimes or overdosing are understandable in pure cause and effect terms. Not AIDS. Especially when maybe the one time of giving in to the purely human desire for a tad more pleasure can spell doom. But which time? Surely not this time? As much as safe (or no) sex has been preached to us, I doubt it's practiced every single time. A killer (retro-)virus prevented by responsible behavior may kick serious ass on a generation priding itself in behaving irresponsibily. It's way possible my generation is goint to pay dearly for feeling youthful, rebellious and indestructible.

All of this discussion for our proclivitity for sex and drugs and violence is neither braggin nor condemmation. It's just the facts, ma'am. It's how we are living our lives. Just looking for some fun, somewhere. Self-destructive? Undoubtedly. Bravado? Undeniably. Stupid? Undisputedly. Necessary? Unfortunately. That's what its like being part of my generation.

There is a toll; we are losing too damn many along the way. Yes, it hurts, but they knew the risks -- they gambled; they lost. Harsh, I know, but losing friends and family to AIDS or crime or suicide or drugs hardens us. It has to. One of the things the myraid parts of this generation has in common is the toughness which not only comes from surviving the beanballs society has tossed at us, but surviving our own self-destructive tendencies.

As if this toughness, or anything else, is enough to unite us. We are split into so many sub-cultures -- from the bohemian slackers to the hip-hopping B-boys to the computerized cyber-junkies -- generational unification is nigh-on impossible. Any attempt, whether well-meaning (Perry Farrell's Lollapalooza travelling festival), or otherwise (the Fox Television network), is doomed. Why? 'Cos what we do have in common -- cynicism, attitude, a healthy distrust of authority -- is exactly what divides us. So we end up having intragenerational squabbles, when we should instead focus on our real enemies: The Boomers.

Why the Boomers? For one thing, we are awfully sick of their grafting of the 60's onto everything they do. Yo, ancient history, ok? Get the 60's out of my face. I was born in the 60's. I'm sure it was a wonderful time and everything, but face it, all the 60's did for my generation was give us the laissez faire attitude about sex and drugs and pop culture for which we are so roundly criticized. As our death toll from AIDS rises, the same Boomers who bequeathed to us the sexual revolution now scream "Its your own damn fault!"

Not entirely. After years of years of the nudge nudge, wink wink of "if you remember the 60's, you weren't there," it's a little late for the moral superiority implied by "didn't inhale," "didn't enjoy it," "don't do it." They are appalled, appalled we are acting like them then, not them now, since they've proven for us how terrible all the things are which made their youth so great. They had too much fun, but we shouldn't even try.

Which makes us try all the harder. Duh.

They've been able to get away with this for our entire lives by dint of sheer numbers and media attention. They've been controlling pop culture for so long -- first as consumers, now as producers -- that if something comes along they don't like or don't understand they automatically assume it can't be Very Important. Indeed, they've been attacking my generation's art -- novels and film and most especially music -- from the get-go. They can't understand why we'd maybe want our own lives, not theirs.

That's why the Boomers. They cannot understand we are a totally different generation, born and bred under totally different circumstances. We will never be as they see themselves: unified and out to change the world. Yet we never the combination of a stupid war (and the draft) to unify us as a generation -- to us, Vietnam is mostly cool movies. And as far as changing the world . . . sorry, but we aren't sure if it can be changed, especially since we've seen so many erstwhile world-changers become either burnouts or sellouts. We'll do what we can, of course, but we'll be happy simply to survive the world, thank you very much. And the scary thing is, a lot of us will be surprised if we do. That's what its like to be part of my generation.

Ok, so its kinda depressing. The Bee rejected it outright, no explanation. I'd just finished reading Neil Howe and Bill Strauss' 13th Gen when I wrote this essay. I hated my job, I wasn't in a band anymore, my love life was non-existent (though I did have a great designated fuck who ended up being more), and I was drinking bigtime. Nevertheless, there is a lot of truth in this essay, and it kinda sums up everything I had to say about my star-crossed generation. Naturally, a lot of these ideas and themes (and even some actual words) have turned up in my other writing. A newsgroup that explores a lot of this, but is kinda huge, cliquey and hard to get a grasp on is alt.society.generation-x.

So, what do you think?

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I was listening to Meat Puppets -- No Joke