It’s a Millennial world.
Everything is millenial these days. They’ve hijacked the generational conversation. We’re all terrified what’s going to happen when the Millennials become the controlling generation. It’s as if only they have the power to collectively wind the creaking crank of civilization in reverse to somehow pull us back from the brink of annihilation.
And maybe they do. I hope someone can.
What most of us seem to agree on is that if there’s a single generation to blame for the mess we’re in, we can all point fingers at the baby boomers. Sure, they were the first to stand up and protest an unjust war. But then most of them got older and declared that greed was good and profit and steady investment gains were worth pretty much any cost. Who was taught that mess needed to be cleaned up? Us, their kids. Who made that mess? Not us. Okay, not most of us. There are more than a few Gen X jerks out there who will happily feed society an artificial substitute if it means earning a fraction of a cent per unit more for themselves and their shareholders. But while the 70s and 80s were great for music, it was pretty awful for creating safe and ethical ways to increase yields or profits through chemicals, predatory labour conditions or legal treachery. Our food became unhealthier, the trickle-down effect didn’t penetrate any but the top layers of the social dermis and offshoring jobs turned once-thriving cities built on manufacturing into Instagram shoot locations for urbex accounts.
But I’m reverting to my old emotional ways and repressing this new light-hearted Dad Rock Dad I’ve been claiming exists, though harder here in COVID Times. The title of this post is about why I (in an overblown click-baiting manner) think my generation is the true greatest one. I’m trying to sum it up with a few HOT TAKE statements. Since that’s what kids these days like in their 17-second attention-spanned listicle internet reading.
We were arguably the last resilient generation.
We had no participation trophies. Maybe we were the last one to have bootstraps to pull up, but it was understood that despite being called slackers, we were expected to fill our sails with our own wind. I knew that I wasn’t getting shit unless I worked for it. And sometimes, yes, I slacked and accepted that I wasn’t getting shit due to my inactivity or procrastination. But I was fully aware of the results of this behaviour. When I needed money and my chosen field of work wasn’t offering me any opportunities, I swung a hammer and hauled lumber. I set up ice sculptures, hung displays in real estate sales centers overnight and closed swimming pools for the season. I earned relatively little including a sore body at the end of the day. My circumstances aside, I wasn’t turning to anyone else for help.
We are born adaptors.
We straddled the digital demarcation. Those of us who knew what Radio Shack was also knew that you could use a phone line to connect computers or type weird characters into them to make games. The mouse was the most innovative invention of our time. Not the computer. We were dazzled by the cordless phone, the infrared TV remote and compact discs. We don’t take smart devices, Netflix and Spotify for granted. I only hope that the next huge technical breakthrough is met with similar respect by Millenials.
We were the last generation of makers and doers.
When we took a photo, it didn’t exist until it came back in an envelope from the drug store. We had mandatory woodshop and home economics classes and were forced to make things for grades. Some of us even liked doing it. Others chose to work with our hands as the intimate tools of our careers. We had our own brand of seemingly less immersive distractions, but there were plenty, nonetheless. However, not every pastime was screen-based. Most of my free time was spent playing in my nearby park playing tennis or baseball (or setting small fires), in front of my house playing road hockey (or setting small fires). And I was such a non-jock kid. But that’s what we did. I also geekily built models and dioramas in a thick glue-fumed room, losing brain cells by the minute. I wrote short stories for fun. I found other ways to pass the time and ignore my homework apart from just my Atari 2600 and 29 TV channels of distraction.
We invented ‘woke’.
Generation X had a tough straddle in this sense. We grew up with comedians who all had at least one gay joke and that seemed perfectly fine. Unless you were gay. The villains in our TV shows and movies were brown dictators, black hood bosses and Asian killers played up in extreme stereotypes. I remember buying a simple joke book when I was young. Every single joke targeted everyone apart from straight white men. I’ll admit it, they made me laugh. I didn’t hate anyone, but there was a mentality and shield under the claim “It’s only a joke.” Despite these allowances, Gen X eventually found some sense and rejected the idea that under the guise of fiction or comedy, it was fine to make fun of someone. We learned quick that jokey accents and insensitive Halloween costumes were hurtful. These lessons didn’t change things quick enough but we got to be understanding young adults. We knew we had to change our habits or the Earth and its environment would treat us as hostiles. The first protest I attended was in defence of the environment.
Baby boomers may have opened the door to changing the world through protest. They vehemently opposed the Vietnam War and made their feelings known through poetry and song, through peaceful sit-ins and violent clashes with police. They lost their friends not just to the war, but also to the authorities that forcefully rejected their opposition. They told the world that a just and caring society couldn’t sit on the sidelines. And their efforts proved that the singular and unified voice counts and should never be silenced. They got their way, they ended a war and ousted an unjust president. Then they grew up. They grew out of their tie-dye shirts and flowing dresses. They took the flowers out of their hair and invested them in junk bonds. They took their ideals and traded them for lifetime jobs with pensions. Maybe they would puff a little reefer on the weekends at their lake houses while spinning a little CSN on the turntable, but they voted in Republicans and benefitted from white Conservative economics. Gen Xers? Most of us still practise what we preached 20 years ago. Granted, we thought things were sorta shitty and getting worse, and we were right. So, we didn’t expect the benefits our parents seemed to be handed. We were pretty sure the grease on those gears was going to dry up by the time it was our turn to operate the machine and we’d end up with a face full of acrid smoke. We were right. And today, our voices have united with the preceding generations – the Millenials and the generation we produced, the Z. Hell, even a bunch of boomers joined us all in shouting down a new and suddenly tolerated form of prejudice, greed and intolerance.
All this said, this flag-waving, this horn-tooting, it still feels premature. I, perhaps anecdotally use myself as the sole case study. I make these claims and point my fingers, but I have to ask and answer, can I still be bought? I probably can be bought to some degree. Life ain’t cheap in the big city and admittedly, sometimes those comforts for sale look pretty damn good. However, when I think of my dreams being realized in a superficial way, it’s more often through reward for hard work than as a prize. And as this post dissolves into a colourful oil patch on the surface of water, I wonder if that sentiment even matters. Am I doomed to disappoint Generation Z no matter what? Likely, I assume. And perhaps this unfounded fear is best met by asking if a boomer cares about being in a similar position.
So, really, Mr. Wordsplasher, is Generation X really the true greatest generation? Well, no. Each modern generation has had its times of both glory and shame. There’s no perfection in how we live as a chronological collective. Perhaps the only metric for measurement is how we react and respond to the moments handed down to us, which is soon to be history. And in these epochal days, where all of us living right now find ourselves, here’s an opportunity of challenge to redefine the value of our individual generations. However, the big ultimate test will be how we work together.