- The Washington Times - Friday, May 2, 2008

In last year’s hit comedy “Juno,” the teenage title character played by Ellen Page discovers that the thirtysomething man to whom she has agreed to entrust her baby is himself an overgrown baby and, what’s worse, likes tuneless alternative rock bands such as Sonic Youth.

Yet another dis of a generation — X — that has gotten used to being dissed. (“Slackers,” anyone?)

Jeff Gordinier, editor at large of Details magazine and the author of “X Saves the World,” feels it from both sides: from baby boomers and Generation-Yers, or “millennials,” such as Miss Page’s Juno.

Mr. Gordinier’s slender, neo-gonzo manifesto-cum-memoir is a comic salvo at a culture he sees dominated by a pair of demographic cohorts that are, in their different ways, chronically self-obsessed.

If boomers aren’t celebrating their past, they’re trumpeting their still-vital present. Or they’re biting their nails about what will be left of Social Security. Indeed, every stage of their lives, from the Summer of Love to Sunrise Assisted Living, is by definition momentous.

Though it may be unfair to associate an entire generation with the outlandish behavior of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, one doesn’t detect a high value on privacy in the hyperconnected universe of Facebook and Twitter.

In between lie Gen-Xers, smaller in number and short on accolades.

“What I wanted to do with the book was validate Generation X’s contributions to American culture,” says Mr. Gordinier, 41. “They are legion and largely impressive. I think we’ve accomplished a lot.”

“X Saves the World” argues that while boomers hog the glory and millennials hog the spotlight, Gen-Xers are, in reality, saving American culture. At least, those aspects of the culture that Mr. Gordinier — no fan of commercialization, gentrification or “American Idol” — thinks are worth saving.

Bracketed by nostalgic, overfed hippies and the straightened organization kids of Generation Y, Mr. Gordinier says Gen-Xers have created a thriving “head space” to compensate for the physical decline of what Greil Marcus called “old, weird America.”

Hippies chanted about the need to “come together,” but such companies as MeetUp.com actually bring all manner of people together, he says.

Indie bookshops have declined, but there’s a bustling used-books marketplace at Amazon.com.

In place of MTV, college radio and underground rock fanzines are audioblogs, the Music Genome Project and YouTube.com, which Mr. Gordinier calls a veritable “pop-culture Library of Congress.”

“Can you imagine your life without Google?” he asks. “Google is arguably the most important company in the world. They’re hiring at this amazing clip; they’re redefining the way we absorb media, the way we consume things, the way we find things, the way we see the planet, the way we travel.

“Xers are changing the way the world does business, and everybody else is trying to catch up.”

Generation-based social analysis, of course, has its skeptics.

The late survey researcher Everett Carll Ladd, writing about Gen-X commentary in particular, said such analysis is “persistently wrongheaded.” “This literature abounds with hyperbole and unsubstantiated leaps from available data,” he wrote.

However, businesses and market researchers must believe it’s real because they’re willing to pay money to learn about what Chuck Underwood calls “generational dynamics.”

Writer Lisa Chamberlain, in her forthcoming book “Slackonomics: Generation X in the Age of Creative Destruction,” looks at how the go-go economic culture of the ‘80s affects how Xers do business today.

“Between birth and the time that we Americans enter adulthood, we will form most of the core values and beliefs that we will embrace for life,” says Mr. Underwood, who runs the Cincinnati-based consulting firm the Generational Imperative Inc. “We’ll still change, and we’ll still evolve, but those all-important core values will remain intact.”

The precise beginning and end of Generation X varies among researchers. (Mr. Underwood pegs it from 1965 to 1981.) However, all agree that the Gen-Xers were affected by high divorce rates and permissive, dual-career parents who had yet to master the so-called work-life balance in vogue today.

Moreover, Mr. Underwood says, Gen-Xers came of age on the cusp of a newly mobile economy in which promotions meant relocations.

Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, there also came wave after wave of scandals in government (Watergate), religion (Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker) and sports (steroids).

All this led to a generation that became more skeptical and less civically engaged than either their parents or young people today.

“I do think that people born in the ‘60s and ‘70s share a sensibility,” Mr. Gordinier insists. “You’re brined in the same media from the time you were born.”

Living in the shadow of the baby boom, constantly changing schools, all the while immersed in an endless loop of TV reruns — Mr. Gordinier says there’s a sense of detachment and “after-ness” reflected in Gen-X culture.

Small wonder that, in addition to fashioning the very multimedia world that so infatuates millennials, Xers are responsible for the comedy centralization of culture — the jaundiced, irreverent take on public life and institutions found on “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” and “South Park.”

Critics say such entertainment is corrosive.

Mr. Gordinier says Gen-Xers have a legitimate ax to grind.

For him, he says it feels like “healing.”

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