SYNDICATED COLUMN: The New Generation Gap: Gen X vs. Gen Y

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The Gen X-Millennial Generation Gap

Every 20 years ago, Time depicts people in their 20s as “lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow.” This time the target is the Millennial generation (Americans born between roughly 1980 and 2000, with Baby Boomer parents). According to (cough cough) the Boomer-run media, twentysomethings/Gen Y/Millennials are narcissists.

Whatever.

Back in 1990, Time was smearing Gen X as shallow, apolitical, unambitious shoe-gazers.

“[Gen Xers] have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial. They hate yuppies, hippies and druggies. They postpone marriage because they dread divorce. They sneer at Range Rovers, Rolexes and red suspenders. What they hold dear are family life, local activism, national parks, penny loafers and mountain bikes.” (Penny loafers? Really?)

Back then we Gen Xers defended our collective honor by alternating between the “we do not suck, at least not in the way you say we suck” and “anyway, if we do suck, it’s your fault, old farts” arguments. Gen Y is manning its rhetorical ramparts the same way.

Here we go again.

Sort of.

You know what’s wrong with young people today?

Not much. Not according to me or my friends. We’re fine with younger people.

Which is weird.

Gen Xers get along well with people in their 20s and 30s — certainly a lot better than those in their 40s did with us when we were young.

We like Gen Y. We respect them. We don’t chafe, for example, at working under a younger boss. We ask them advice. OK, mostly about tech stuff. I learned about WordPress and Hootsuite and Gawker and Wii from 20ish friends. Mostly, we like the same music and movies. (But they download stuff. Don’t they worry about ephemerality?)

Maybe the Millennials secretly hate us — you’d have to ask them — but if they do, they’re doing an excellent job of hiding it. We hang out. It’s good.

Sometimes, though — it’s not like it comes up a lot, just now and then — my Gen Xer cohorts let slip a complaint about our younger friends and colleagues:

Why are Millennials, um…well, there’s no other way to say it: kind of boring?

Young people today! So obedient. They believe politicians. What’s with that? Millennials go along to get along in corporate America. When they get laid off, they don’t get angry (like we did) — they adapt. They reinvent themselves. Gen Y music, movies, even their clothes: so conservative!

The Generation Gap of the 1960s and 1970s referred to the inability/refusal of “tune in, turn on, drop out” Baby Boomers to relate to their stodgy “we survived the Depression and won World War II so turn down that goddamn rock ‘n’ roll” Parents. Though decried at the time as sad and alienating, the dynamic of that demographic divide was as natural as could be. The young were loud, obnoxious, demanding and politically radical. The old were reserved, quiet and conservative, even reactionary. Kids were kids; parents were parents.

William Howe and Neil Strauss’ landmark book “Generations,” which traces the identities of American generation through popular culture and politics back to the colonial era, depicts dozens of epic clashes between old codgers vs. youthful insurgents. The young fight to be heard. The old yell at them to shut up. The old get older and quieter, the young mature and gain influence and replace them.

That’s how it was 200 years, and 20 years, ago. Just as their parents looked down on them, Boomers looked down on us Xers.

The Gen X/Y divide breaks this pattern.

We’re middle-aged and cynical and our tastes run to smart and sarcastic and anti-PC and antiauthoritarian, Tarantino/postpunk. We voted Green Party and never looked back, or for Obama but never expected much. Millennials are old and naïve and earnest and retro.

Millennial hipsters (who don’t dress hip — their hipsters are dorks) are militant nostalgists. They’ve revived the ancient traditions of our grandparents: martinis, old-fashioned cocktails like grasshoppers and mint juleps and, well, old fashioneds. They golf. They wear clothes from the 1930s. They watch go-go dancers. (Feminist radical lesbian ones.) They grow beards — not hippie beards, but retrosexual Civil War ones, paired with handlebar mustaches. They open restaurants — really good restaurants — whose menus and aesthetics harken back to the 19th century, staffed by waiters who take everything very seriously. You can elicit a dry chuckle. Not a bellylaugh. Certainly not a snide Xer sneer.

Steampunk could never have been a big Gen X thing. We’re scrappy and stripped down. They’re baroque.

Millennials didn’t just expect real Hope and Change. Four years later, they still do. When they got radical, they came up with the blink-and-you-missed it Occupy movement, which had as its centerpiece calls to reenact the Glass-Steagal Act.

Millennial pop culture is about flat affect: mumblecore movies and all-attitude-no-plot TV shows like “Arrested Development,” emo-influenced music, giant dollops of special nostalgia sauce everywhere, every member of every band dressed like they’re showing up to roof your house (but with Taliban beards). Opening concert greeting: “Hey.”

Graphic novels where it takes six pages for a leaf to fall off a tree.

Prose novels about nothing, printed preciously and packaged beautifully, thanks to the influential McSweeney’s empire.

Gentle, chatty movies and TV shows, not a series of scenes, but rather riffs of tone and mood.

Even their taste in cars is boring. And kind of dumb.

Boomers’ countless faults aside, let’s give them this: they knew what they wanted. They loved. They hated. They wanted revolution. Which was one of the things Xers hated about Boomers (Xers hate a lot): they came so close to revolution and they friggin’ gave up. Gen Y revolution? It’s hard to imagine such an — oblivious? unaccountably satisfied? — generation shooting anyone or blowing anything up. That, I think, gets close to the mystery of the Millennials. They’ve been horribly screwed — even more than us Gen Xers, and make no mistake, we were hosed big time.

Millennials are mired in student loan debt.

They will never make much money or get any government benefits or get much of anything out of the system.

After decades of warnings, the planet is finally, really, irreversibly, ruined. Their planet.

Why aren’t they pissed off?

(We need them to be. We’re too busy holding down four jobs.)

Parents, they say, shouldn’t have to bury their own children. It ain’t natural. Know what else is wrong? For the old to see the young as uptight codgers.

Not that Xers blame Yers for being uncool. Gen Xers, a self-deprecating generation from the beginning (what do you expect? society, politics, even the movies hated us — remember all those evil child horror movies like The Omen and It’s Alive?)

Writing in The New York Observer, Peter Hyman argues that Gen X and Gen Y shouldn’t be as cozy as they are. That it’s our (X’s) fault that Y hasn’t made its own mark:

“The old generational identities that once defined us have broken down, and the net result is a messy temporal mashup in which fortysomethings act like skateboarders, twentysomethings dress like the grandfather from My Three Sons, tweens attend rock concerts with their parents and toddlers are exposed to the ethos of hardcore punk.”

And it’s up to Gen X to fix it (like everything else, apparently):

“I know guys whose style of dress and off-duty interests haven’t changed a lick since college. They devote their free time to movies about comic-book heroes, to video games and to fantasy football. No, they aren’t hurting anybody. But perhaps what we really need to do is put on suits and take our wives out for expensive dinners, like our dads before us.”

That burns. I’m wearing skinny black jeans and a (vintage! from back in the day!) Dead Kennedys T-shirt as I write this. But I can’t afford a suit or an expensive dinner, thank you very much, Boomer scum.

Anyway, I don’t buy Hyman’s argument that passing the torch of our old cool (the Ramones, Beastie Boys) to the young “shortchanges” the young and “infantilizes” us oldsters. My fogie parents prosthelytized about Benny Goodman and Benny Hill and the Four Tops and guess what? It didn’t take.

One problem with writing about generational politics is that it requires sweeping generalizations. You can point to million exceptions. And of course there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. These things simply are (if you believe, many many do not).  Another is that you risk pissing people off…people you like.

To be clear, we Xers think you Millennials are awesome. We just wish you’d act your age.

Like, young.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

Ted Rall

6 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: The New Generation Gap: Gen X vs. Gen Y

  1. Millenial Meme: “I have too much college loan debt!”
    Fact: Nothing has ever changed with respect to how loans are made, but Millenials have everyone believing they’re somehow different. That they’ve been uniquely duped. If you’re too fucking dumb to know what a loan is, then you shouldn’t be taking one out. YOU took out a loan. YOU pay it back. I make sure to contact my Congresspersons regularly: “NO College Debt Relief”. Period.

    – exkiodexian

    ***
    You are a complete jackass. Student loans now are so goddamned high, they act as a drag on the consumer economy because John or Jane Graduate can’t buy a car or start planning to buy a house, thanks to the fact they have to pay off Sallie Mae. Doesn’t help that you can’t declare bankruptcy to get out of the loans, or that the Dept. of Ed. actually makes money off defaults. IT ISN’T 1986 ANYMORE, YOU CLOD; you can’t work the summers to pay for everything (at most you can save up for your books, which will be used and probably unsalable.)

    Let me guess, you probably believe in financial austerity too.

    • To me the obvious point is that 17-year-olds – the people who sign student loan agreements – are financial idiots. How on earth could they possibly understand that they are going to be in deep financial trouble when they graduate with all the debt that they’re taking on? Especially when parents, guidance counselors and the colleges and universities are telling them that going to college is necessary to get a half decent job? They don’t really have a lot of choice. Not to mention, the amount of student loans and their interest rates have increased disproportionately over the years even since the 1980s when I was a student.

      Back then, it was not at all unusual for people to graduate with student loan debt between $10,000 and $15,000 at interest rates ranging between 5% to 9%. Now it isn’t at all uncommon for people to come out with debt loads of $100,000 or more at interest rates of over 10%. So the real problem is that the student loan industry, which is deeply invested in by the colleges and universities themselves, help allow the same institutions to increase tuition even faster than the rate of inflation. Which only leads to more student loan debt. It really is not the students’ faults.

  2. Ted,

    About the young people. I think they’ve been screwed over by the technology. They’ve been “coached” into believing that they have to multitask and do lots of little things simultaneously. The end result? A lot of them simply don’t have the attention span necessary to do complex things or to comprehend complex ideas.

    Their great, shining accomplishment so far? Facebook. A site that allows everyone’s ego to be master of the universe and which then delivers all the information to advertisers and government agencies.

    I feel nothing but pity for the college students today. They are going out into a world that is changing. Climate instability, electrical grid that’s long overdue for repair and upgrade, a government morphing toward totalitarianism, food supply uncertainty, etc., etc.

    If they don’t die in a flood or a tornado, if they don’t end up collapsing on the 12th day of a blackout as they try to walk the 34 floors to their apartment, if they aren’t disappeared into a room for protesting police brutality concerning forced DNA collection of jaywalkers, if they don’t starve when the crops fail, they can sit around looking for work that will allow them to make enough money to live on.

    They’ve been so conditioned with the “use your indoor voice” bullshit, that they don’t even know how to get angry. It would have been kinder to lobotomize them all at birth.

  3. ” It’s not a mistake that Ted feels a kinship with It’s not a mistake that Ted feels a kinship with Millenials. He’s spent the last several years Millenials. He’s spent the last several years whining about how everything is all someone whining about how everything is all someone else’s fault.”

    Apparently you LIKE the whining, or you wouldn’t keep coming back here day after day, week after week, year after year, to experience said whining.

    Oh, and Ex, when you finally lose your job to the foreign dude who will eventually replace you, you will have answered your own question as to how someone can survive unemployment for five years. But I will be merciful and give you a hint: Rentboy Dot Com. Better start lubing up, bending over, and taking it for the team.

  4. ” It’s not a mistake that Ted feels a kinship with It’s not a mistake that Ted feels a kinship with Millenials. He’s spent the last several years Millenials. He’s spent the last several years whining about how everything is all someone whining about how everything is all someone else’s fault.”

    Apparently you LIKE the whining, or you wouldn’t keep coming back here day after day, week after week, year after year, to experience said whining.

    Oh, and Ex, when you finally lose your job to the foreign dude who will eventually replace you, you will have answered your own question as to how someone can survive unemployment for five years. But I will be merciful and give you a hint: Rentboy Dot Com. Better start lubing up,

  5. This is wrong and as out-of-touch as could possibly be. This statement alone is absurd: “we Xers think you Millennials are awesome”. No, not true. Maybe you do Ted, but you don’t speak for everyone. Frankly, it just sounds like you want them to start a “revolution” for you and you’re mad that they’re not. Hence, all the attention to how complacent they are. Ted wants them mad. You can’t kill bankers on your own you know. And so why aren’t Millenials helping?!?

    But, what’s really notably missing from Ted’s drab and uninteresting commentary is the REAL reason Millenials have no spark, and the reason they trust authority. It’s as plain as day if Ted had researched even the most basic facts. And here it is:

    Most Millenials are living with Mommy and Daddy.

    That’s right. Adults no longer think it’s their obligation to support themselves. Nope. Just complain that there’s no jobs and live with Mommy and Daddy for the duration. Hey — it’s not a problem! Millenial parents are hip! They want to be friends to their kids! Not parents, friends!

    Here’s the list of Millenial Memes and Facts.

    Millenial Meme: “There’s no jobs!”
    Fact: Yes, there are jobs. Millenials believe they are entitled to the job of THEIR choice, usually based upon some bullshit degree they overpaid for, and are now upset they can’t find work in. Every generation in the past took the work they could get and ran with it. Not good enough for the entitled Millenials.

    Millenial Meme: “I have too much college loan debt!”
    Fact: Nothing has ever changed with respect to how loans are made, but Millenials have everyone believing they’re somehow different. That they’ve been uniquely duped. If you’re too fucking dumb to know what a loan is, then you shouldn’t be taking one out. YOU took out a loan. YOU pay it back. I make sure to contact my Congresspersons regularly: “NO College Debt Relief”. Period.

    Millenial Meme: “The American Dream was ruined for us!”
    Fact: The ultimate whine which really says this: “I deserve a free college education, the job/career of my choice, a McMansion in the exurbs with a Lexus — all right out of the gates. Because this doesn’t exist, the American Dream is dead and I’ll just pout and live with my parents”.

    Millenials are the most incredibly whiny and entitled generation — bar none. THOSE are the facts.

    It’s not a mistake that Ted feels a kinship with Millenials. He’s spent the last several years whining about how everything is all someone else’s fault. His message aligns with theirs. No wonder this grossly inept op-ed is a disgusting love letter to their whiny and entitled nature. So — run to your beloved Millenials Ted, and see what happens. The fact they they’re the ones that think what you do should be available for free, I think you’ll really come to not feel so lovey dovey about them in the long run.

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