Generation Wrecks

     Somewhere in 1987, my friend Chuck and I were hanging out in his unfurnished apartment, waiting for that evening’s episode of Webster to begin, when we saw a TV news broadcast profiling “Generation X.” This was a new media buzzword - a label for the upcoming batch of young adults, who were, as usual, completely different in their values and priorities from their parents. Gen X, it was said, was a disillusioned bunch. They had little or no faith in the future, they had an ironic relationship with our corporate-run culture, and they were emotionally unprepared to cope with the struggles of adulthood. Rather than becoming the next wave of innovators, Generation X, they told us, were far more likely to be found watching the Brady Bunch and thumbing through old comic books. Chuck put down his copy of Richie Rich #118 and looked at me sheepishly.
     “Where did this ‘Generation X’ stuff come from?” he asked.
         Having absolutely no knowledge of the subject, I quickly expressed my expertise. “We’re past the cutoff age for that,” I claimed. “It’s a term for kids much younger than us.” Hearing this, Chuck felt secure in his manhood again, and put in his Barbie and the Rockers tape.
     It’s no surprise that I tried to convince myself that Generation X had to be somebody else. I was a rebellious soul, and I had been actively rejecting all of society’s labels: Juvenile Delinquent, Punk Rocker, Arsonist (they couldn’t prove it), Productive Member of Society – I was none of these things. I may have been emotionally unprepared for the struggles of adulthood, but there was no doubt in my mind that I was destined to be a Unique Individual. After all, I had been waging war against the Rambo films and Jackie Collins novels of mainstream culture for years. Hey, I had Eno records. I was a radical.
     But of course, waging war against mainstream culture is one of the defining characteristics of Gen X. And what misanthropic dorks like Chuck and me couldn’t know was that, simply by pursuing our natural interests in indie labels and avoiding employment, we would continue to inhabit the characteristics of this slacker generation for years to come.
     For example, as a rejection against the branding efforts of Nike and Adidas, I decided at that time to wear nothing but Converse high-tops. It would honor my white boy heritage (even the Little Rascals wore high-tops), and it would save me the trouble of shopping for shoes. At the same time, every other Caucasian in my age group made the very same decision (no other shoe could be seen at a They Might Be Giants concert). Likewise, the loud and ironic sports jackets I soon felt compelled to collect came from the same Goodwill stores where the rest of my maturity-challenged peers shopped. I even had a few of those Sinatra-style fedoras. I looked like the wacky best friend in some ‘80s teen comedy. And every one of these fashion missteps I made in the name of individual expression ran parallel to the same decisions made by my “alternative” peers. It’s as if we had collectively decided to devote a lot of careful attention to looking like we didn’t care.
     Generation X was the first wave of what became known as the “hipster,” and this was yet another label I rejected. After all, my beard has always been neatly trimmed, I have no tattoos or piercings, wear no flannel, I drink neither Pabst nor espresso, and I think Philip K. Dick was an idiot. Not to mention, being a student of classical Beat culture, I hate what’s become of the word “hip.” In the Kerouac era, hip used to mean something. It meant you didn’t swallow the Big Lie, and that you intended to protest the button-down plastic hassle industrial complex by becoming one with nature and developing a smack habit. Now, being “hip” simply means you have a tongue stud and smile knowingly when Man or Astroman covers “Riverbottom Nightmare Band.” It’s all about running pop culture through the ridicule filter.
     And there’s the other Gen X attribute I unwittingly embodied: Irony.  Like the rest of my snotty contemporaries, I naturally gravitated toward Ed Wood movies, tabloids about Bat Boy, and musical acts that performed Yoko One covers with an Elvis impersonator (“genius!”). At the time, embracing irony seemed like the only sane response to a crass, commercialized culture. But sneering at a rerun of Falcon Crest is one thing; actively seeking out Heino records is something else. Generation X believed that ludicrous spectacle deserved more attention than genuine talent, and that’s why we’re the generation that made Mr. T famous.
      I had to accept that I rode a float in this Gen X parade. I believed my personal identity was developing under strict guidelines of individuality, as if no one else was listening to Mrs. Miller LPs, buying retro furniture, collecting Chick comics or watching the director’s cut of Manos, Hands of Fate. But it turns out the rest of my generation seemed as preoccupied with Russ Meyer and Pez dispensers as I was. I’m a product of Nick at Nite hipsterism just like the rest of them.
     And so it’s time to rebel again. No more wallowing in these subgenius splendors. No more listening to Wesley Willis on a Close N’ Play while knitting Hello Kitty caps and forgetting to vote.  I’m ditching the high-tops, losing the kitschy cardigans and bowling shirts. I’m throwing out my Roger Corman DVDs and my Huggy Bear action figure. I’m getting a proper haircut, an expensive suit and a job in corporate accounting. I’m going to be the “after” photo.
     And then I’ll go to a place where this new me will guarantee my individuality. I’m moving to Seattle.


James Robert Smith said...

I have a paperback from 1965 entitles GENERATION X. And, yes, it's about the new generation of young, worthless people.

Tonyefa Oyake said...

Move to California instead, it's a way cooler state ( in my personal biased opinion ), plus we can hang out again!

Zina said...

Hahhah! "It's all about running pop culture through the ridicule filter"!

I'm a baby boomer, but I'm ashamed to say that I did (and still do, to the extent of my choice in footwear) fall prey to many of the conceits of Gen Xers. My head hangs.

Amy W. said...

I do actively seek out Heino records. What's worse is that now I've gotten somebody else to do it for me!