Gen X was an important facet of the start of my career. I used to write and draw a lot about Gen X. I authored a seminal Gen X manifesto, Revenge of the Latchkey Kids (1996). For a while there, it seemed like we were going to take our rightful place as the third-biggest generational cohort—not the biggest by any means but at least…extant.
“The Silent Generation: Born 1928-1945 (73-90 years old)”
“Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964 (54-72 years old)”
“Millennials: Born 1981-1996 (23-37 years old)”
“Post-Millennials: Born 1997-present (0-21 years old)”
(The so-called “cusp kids” born between 1961 and 1964 are demographically Boomers because of high birth years but culturally Gen X because they share cultural touchstones with younger Americans.)
That’s right, Gen Xers: to CBS News, you’re less real and alive and important than someone who is zero years old. So much for Gen X culture—“Reality Bites,” “Slacker,” “Singles,” “Clerks,” anything by Quentin Tarantino or Richard Linklater, pretty much all indie rock ever, alternative cartooning, oh and the Douglas Coupland book called, um, “Generation X.” To CBS, that stuff matters less than the pee and poo and puke and drool emanating from a zero year old.
The disappearing of Gen X is a genuine widespread trend. A New York Times op-ed by David Leonhardt discusses “the fleecing of the Millennials” by Boomers and attributes not only declining living standards but also the “burnout“ slur as being brand new to Millennials while in fact both of these characterized Gen X first, decades earlier.
When you read it, it’s downright bizarre that the phrase “Generation X” never appears anywhere. Online commenters were baffled.
These days all the conversation in the media is about the supposed stylistic differences and economic clashes between the Baby Boom and Millennial generations. Generation X is ignored; we don’t even get caught in the crossfire. In a recent SNL skit called “Millennial Millions,“ Millennials are offered prizes like free healthcare if they manage to shut up for 30 seconds while a Boomer talks trash about them. The game show host says, “I’m Gen X. I just sit on the sidelines and watch the world burn.” I’m Gen X so I laughed.
Being deemed irrelevant is bad enough. What will it do to our already close-to-nonexistent self esteem to realize that everyone else in the country doesn’t even know we’re alive?
A Philadelphia Magazine article—that came out last year, for God’s sake—feels like the last nail in our once-notable demographic coffin. “Whatever Happened to Generation X?” asks the headline. What happened, apparently, is that we got relegated to “whatever-happened-to” pieces in friggin’ Philadelphia magazine. (It’s actually a good piece, and you should read it, but you won’t because Gen Xers don’t read about themselves and Millennials and Boomers only care about themselves.)
Forbesexplains, I think credibly, that Gen X is far more influential than anyone thinks, though this particular line is unintentionally hilarious: “What they lack in numbers — just 66 million to boomers’ 75 million — they make up with a stellar engine that has quietly been revving over the years.”
“Stellar engine”? That’s the name of my new 1980s retro-synth band. We’re influenced by Soft Cell. Also, “just”? 66 million is “just”? Even compared to 75 million? Anyway, Anna Sofia Martin writes, “a whopping 55% of startup founders are part of Gen X.” So much for slacking. Anyway, who can afford it? We Gen Xers, not Millennials, were the first generation to get crushed by student loan debt. Even so, we have “31% of U.S. income, but just 25% of the population.” So latchkey kids really are having a sort of revenge.
“Masters of self-deprecation,” Martin calls us. She’s right. So, when Millennials and Baby Boomers insist us on pretending that 66 million people simply don’t exist we’re, like…
(Ted Rall, the cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
In Douglas Coupland’s 1991 age-warfare classic novel “Generation X” a young man trashes a car because it bears a bumpersticker with the obnoxious slogan “I’m spending my children’s inheritance.” Like Coupland I launched my career as something like a spokesperson for Generation X, raging on behalf of a demographic cohort perpetually struggling to make itself and its concerns heard in the wake of the older, bigger and wealthier Baby Boom generation. Culturally marginalized by the Boomers, forced to accept transient employment, hobbled by growing student loan debt and buffeted by recessions, Xers feared that they would never be able to save enough in order to retire, much less spend their kids’ inheritance.
The retirement crisis will be worse than we ever feared.
Sayonara, Kurt Cobain. Born in 1961, the oldest Xers are graying, aching, 57. And in trouble. A New School study projects that 40% of workers ages 50-60 and their spouses who are not poor or near poor will fall into poverty or near poverty after they retire.
Retirement specialists from the political left and right concur: big segments of whole generations of the elderly will soon be impoverished, some homeless or even starving. After the Xers, the Millennial deluge; old age looks even bleaker for today’s young adults.
Experts vary on how much you should have saved by the time you retire. Fidelity advises a $75,000-a-year worker who retires at age 67 to squirrel away at least $600,000 in present-day dollars. Following the traditional rule of having 80% of your salary for 20 years pushes that desired minimum to $1.2 million.
The problem is, the average savings of 55- to 64-year-olds is a piddling $104,000. According to a 2015 study of people 55 and older by the General Accounting Office, 29% have nothing whatsover.
It’s a joke, but it’s not funny. Yet neither political party has much to say about the looming retirement crisis.
The rapidity and scale of downward mobility among the elderly will shock American society, precipitating political upheavals as dramatic as those we saw during the 1930s. Political and business leaders are in denial about this issue. But the desperation of our grandparents and parents — not to mention the children charged with caring for them since they won’t be able to provide for themselves —will make voters vulnerable to demagoguery of all stripes. Instability will be rampant. Democracy could be in danger. It isn’t hard to see how we got here.
Old-fashioned defined-benefit pension plans have been replaced by defined-contribution benefit plans like IRAs and 401(k)s which are problematic for many workers. People don’t contribute enough. Employers pitch in less than they did to pensions, or nothing at all. When workers suffer a setback like a job loss, they borrow against their accounts. They make poor investment decisions. When the stock market suffers a downturn, accounts lose value. High administrative costs suck away returns. The average 401(k) has never been bigger — but still, we’re talking total savings of $104,000.
Try living on that for 20 or 30 years.
Baby Boomers enjoyed the last vestige of an economy where you might hold one or two jobs throughout your most of your working career. They grew up in two-parent households and enjoyed the fruits of the postwar boom.
By contrast, many Generation Xers and younger Millennials have divorced parents, which reduced their financial security. Gen Xers got slammed by the 1987 stock market crash as well as the 2000 dot-com collapse; both Xers and Millennials lost jobs and savings during the 2008-09 Great Recession. They work in the gig economy. Younger workers might not have to drive for Uber or rent out a room on Airbnb but their work lives are highly mobile and frequently disrupted. They get laid off and outsourced. They must go back to school or move to adjust to employers’ demands. Their real and net incomes are significantly lower than the Boomers’ and their savings rate reflects that. Paying average monthly benefits of just over $1300, Social Security is a supplementary, not a primary retirement plan. Even if they’re content to live modestly, cash-poor Xers have a gaping wound for which Social Security is a Band-Aid.
Although many older people enjoy working, too many cannot. A record 19% of Americans over age 65 currently work at least part-time; of course, that means that 81% do not. Older people are prone to failing health. And it’s hard to find someone to hire them.
Hillary Clinton ignored the distress of downsized working-class whites in flyover country to her own, and her party’s peril. Donald Trump won his surprise victory partly because he acknowledged the rage of Rust Belters long neglected by both parties. The outcome might have been different had Democrats maintained their traditional 20th century focus on labor and the Midwest by promoting job-retraining programs and other attempts to get industrial workers back on their feet.
Now we’re looking at a problem as big as deindustrialization. If one of the two major parties is able to get ahead of the coming retirement crisis by putting forth some meaningful solutions now, before dystopia arrives, they will reap the benefits at the polls. Conservatives may want to support GRAs (Guaranteed Retirement Accounts) in which workers are required to withhold a portion of each paycheck in order to invest for their retirement. Liberals may prefer shoring up the Social Security system in order to increase monthly payouts.
Or we can do nothing as we marvel at the sight of our grandparents fighting over Dumpster scraps.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Like many other Americans this week, I have been impressed with the poise, passion and guts of the Florida teenagers who survived the latest big school shooting, as well as that of their student allies in other cities who walked out of class, took to the streets and/or confronted government officials to demand that they take meaningful action to reduce gun violence. As we mark a series of big 50th anniversaries of the cluster of dramatic events that took place in 1968, one wonders: does this augur a return to the street-level militancy of that tumultuous year?
The Sixties were the Decade of Youth, an era that ended when Baby Boomers aged out of flowers and free love into jobs and suburbs. Adulthood makes everyone put away childish things — not that agitating against war and fighting for equal rights is kid stuff — and to be fair to the Boomers, they were driven off the protest lines by hails of government bullets at places like Kent State University. For my money the Sixties died in 1972, the first year 18-to-20 year-olds got the vote and either didn’t show up or used their new franchise to reelect Richard Nixon.
Compared to the heyday of the anti-Vietnam War movement, when every little town in America had protests pretty much every day (even just sad little clusters of hippies huddling under umbrellas in the traffic median) for years on end, the activist left has been on hiatus ever since. There were Solidarity Day in 1981 and the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and marches against the Iraq War in 2003 and Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and, recently, a pair of anti-Trump Women’s Marches. But those events were intermittent, exceptional, spasmodic. Generation X — discriminated against, passed over for good jobs, marginalized by culture and media — was too busy working multiple crappy jobs to organize, protest and effect change.
If anything, Millennials have proven even more politically apathetic — or perhaps it would be fairer to say hapless. More than other generations, Millennials believe volunteerism and growing local businesses can change society. The issue they care most about is transparency. There’s nothing wrong with helping out with a community garden, buying organic food or demanding that charities show where donations go — but what about climate change or the fact that capitalism is inherently an engine of inequality?
The last four decades have been characterized by somnolence; that’s why we now call people who are different than that, who actually pay attention and care about the state of the world, “woke.”
Which is the good thing about Trump: he woke us. President Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have provoked nearly as much activism against sexism, misogyny and gun laws that allow 18-year-olds to buy AR-15s.
What we need now is a post-Millennial generation of activist youth — because revolutions require passion and rage, i.e. lots of energy.
The post-Millennial generation, now teenagers and college-age, are so freshly-minted that the best name demographers have assigned them is Generation Z — a riff on their parents the Xers. (Millennials are Gen Y.) So far their no-nonsense “since no one else is fixing the problem we’ll take care of it ourselves” fits neatly into the Strauss-Howe generational theory model. As Gen Z heads into their twenties in the 2020s, the “Generations” authors predicted they’ll be challenged to respond to some major American crisis. If the young Floridians who stood up to establishmentarian right-wingers Senator Marco Rubio and President Trump are any indication, they’ve just begun to fight — and we’ll be in good hands.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out now. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
I never thought I’d live to be this old (52). I never thought that, if I lived to be this old, I’d still be so scared.
I’m white, male, able-bodied, educated, tall. Got a solid resume. I’m relatively adaptable. I started out as one of hundreds of professional political cartoonists. Now there are fewer than 20. Yet I’m freaked out.
I’ve survived poverty, getting mugged and being shot at and managed to remain pretty calm. But I’m more worried now.
Given how relatively good I have it, I can’t imagine how freaked out everyone else must be. Like, for example, black people when they get stopped by cops. Or Tamir Rice’s parents.
There are countless anxiety-inducing news stories tailor-made for this news junkie with a special interest in economics and the Middle East. This week alone, the Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Yemen widened into a full-fledged Sunni-Shia diplomatic rift over the execution of a Shia cleric. Scary. Then there’s the falling stock market, which controls me, over which I have no influence, and against whose effects I am unequipped to protect myself. The boom-bust cycle of capitalism is giving us bigger, more frequent troughs punctuated by shorter boomlets whose benefits all go to the top 1%.
I can’t believe anyone likes capitalism. Most people are a paycheck away from homelessness. Jobs are scarce. Jobs keep paying less. Bosses keep getting meaner. Everything gets more expensive.
Capitalism is so depressing it makes one nostalgic for Soviet-era queues for toilet paper.
In what is in danger of becoming a pattern for me, I have to apologize to the Baby Boom generation, specifically for rolling my eyes when Boomers whined about turning 50. That’s when you lose your job, can’t find a new one, struggle to care for aging parents while feeling your own body start to fall apart. They were right. The fifties are a bitch. (Though fiftysomething Gen Xers have less cash than they did.)
To mangle Hunter S. Thompson, last year got weird. I’m trying to go pro, but I’m not sure what that means.
2015 was the year when what used to be my boring safe job, drawing political cartoons, became more dangerous than my other job, part-time war correspondent.
Psycho gunmen slaughtered my colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, making France the nation where a journalist was most likely to get murdered in 2015. More psycho gunmen tried to shoot up a right-wing anti-Muslim cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, only to get themselves killed by the local SWAT team. There were always death threats; now they’re scarier and more specific.
After Charlie and Garland, you’d think newspapers and magazines would have rallied around what’s left of American editorial cartooning. There is zero, zip, nada support for American cartoonists by editors or publishers. Post-Charlie, they all wrote passionate editorials defending free speech. They said nice things about cartooning. While they fired more cartoonists. Refused to hire any. Stopped printing them.
The cowards didn’t even reprint the Charlie cartoons so their readers could see what the fuss was about.
The annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in Columbus inaugurated the new normal: police police police, police dogs, police snipers on the roof. When I went on tour to publicize my book Snowden, security became a routine part of the equation — for the first time in nearly 20 books.
No wonder no one under 30 wants to become a political cartoonist. Not only is there no work and no respect, your impoverished ass might get shot with an AR-15.
So then a few weeks ago I looked at my chest. I probably do this more than you do, because a wart on my chest once nearly killed me. I noticed a new bump. A growing new bump. I found myself in the somewhat ridiculous role of the first male in three weeks to pass through the automatic doors of the rhodamine-pink special Breast building at my hospital. I’m anti-sexist. Still, it does something to a man to be quizzed about his menstrual and lactation histories. Not to mention worrying about the possibility of becoming one of the couple of thousand American men who get breast cancer each year — you just know the system isn’t set up for that.
A bullet that hit me square in the chest last year, albeit metaphorically, was fired by Nick Goldberg, an editor at The Los Angeles Times. He accused me of lying in his newspaper, a grave offense in journalism unless your name is Bill O’Reilly, and fired me. I hadn’t lied. He was wrong. After I presented proof that I’d told the truth, the Times — under pressure, since the Internet was going crazy due to their disgusting refusal to reconsider — didn’t issue a retraction or hire me back. Presumably fearing a lawsuit, they doubled down. Goldberg still draws a salary. Not me.
I used to be a sound sleeper. Head hit the pillow, I was gone until morning.
No more. Insomnia is my new normal. I’m jittery, nervous, distrusting. Lots of nightmares. If you can be so totally wronged, libeled by a corporation that’s literally trying to destroy your career because of its opaque conflict of interest with outside parties (the Los Angeles Police Department), and it doesn’t make any difference when you prove you’re innocent, where common sense and human decency no longer hold sway, well, that’s a weird, unsettling world where you can never relax. If I get four hours a night, that’s better than most.
The thing that surprises me most about workplace shootings is that there are so few of them.
Under the doctrine that 2015 sucked so hard, 2016 has got to be better, I’m cautiously optimistic about the coming year. Yet anxiety remains.
My new graphic biography Bernie is about Bernie Sanders. Sales figures will be directly proportionate to the senator’s performance in the primaries. There’s cause for optimism in New Hampshire but the South is a challenge and now you’ve got The New York Timesskewing expectations by suddenly claiming that the Iowa caucuses are do or die for Bernie, even though no one thought he was going to win there before. It’s Hillary’s campaign to lose. I knew that. But it was hers to lose in 2008, and she did.
What if Bernie crashes and burns? Then my book dies. Or what if Bernie becomes the nominee, and the book gets huge — will there be enough security? If not, I die. Anxiety turns everything into a lose-lose.
Behind all that anxiety, of course, is money. Not enough of it.
Every month that I manage to pay all the bills is a miracle. I move money around, scare up just enough extra work, hustle hustle hustle. My colleagues marvel at my energy. What’s my secret? Being tired all the time, and depressed, and not knowing how I’ll be able to eat in 10 years, much less retire. Probably like you.
Like most Americans, I don’t have substantial retirement savings. If I don’t work, I live maybe a year or two before moving to the great outdoors.
I fantasize about a soft landing. Maybe some magazine or website or newspaper will take me on full-time. Maybe with benefits? It’s OK, I don’t need benefits.
Or an academic gig — teaching journalism or cartooning or history somewhere. It would be fun. I’d be good at it. But where? How? You can’t apply to a college or university; the academic job application process is insanely time-consuming and the reply is always a rejection. An offer has to come to you.
One must trust in the universe. The philosopher Eckhart Tolle says the universe will provide what you need.
Unless it doesn’t.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net and SkewedNews.net, is the author of “Snowden,” about the NSA whistleblower. His new book “Bernie” about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, is now available for pre-order. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2016 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Ever notice how those who complain about being victims are themselves at least as likely to be perpetrators of the same offense? Examples that come to mind for me include the United States and Israel, two countries that portray themselves as targets of terrorism while carrying out wars of aggression whose death tolls far exceed their own losses. You’ll no doubt think of your own examples.
We’re seeing this projection at work with Millennial ageism. The Millennial generation is the most ageist in memory, yet the online media outlets they dominate discuss a problem that, if it really exists, pales in comparison: ageismagainstMillennials. But, like American presidents’ assertions that the United States has to protect itself against the world when, if anything, it’s really the world that needs to protect itself against the United States, it’s a joke.
Millennials’ status as members of the biggest generation in history – numbering more than 83 million, they have officially beaten the Baby Boomers – ensures that they will have a lot of power over American politics and the workplace, especially as they get older.
Which, if current experience serves to predict the future, they will abuse.
I call it the old-fashioned kind of ageism because young-picking-on-old discrimination hasn’t been a thing since the “youth culture” of the 1960s and 1970s. Back in their hippie days, Baby Boomers in their 20s were so mean to their elders that they even made a movie whose plot involved putting people over 30 into concentration camps. As they got older, Baby Boomers flipped the switch, deploying their power as employers to discriminate against Generation Xers. Now that the Boomers are finally fading into the demographic mists, their Millennial children are beginning to repeat that half-century-old pattern, marginalizing and refusing to hire Gen Xers.
Ah, the great psycho of life.
While thinking about and researching this essay, I turned my critical eye to myself and my Gen X contemporaries. When we were in our 20s, didn’t we look down on older people? When we got a chance to hire and fire, didn’t we discriminate against those we viewed as boring and out of touch?
Sure, we had more in common with members of our own age cohort than those older than us. But we didn’t look down on older folks…though many of them made fun of us (if they noticed us at all) and would rather let a job go unfilled than hire us.
I remember, for example, working as a staff writer for P.O.V. magazine. Almost all of us were in our 20s and 30s — not because management rejected older writers, but because older writers already had jobs elsewhere. But when editor Randall Lane brought on legendary sportwriter-barfly Bert Sugar as a columnist, not only did no one hold his age against him – he was pushing 60 and looked closer to 80 – everyone thought it was cool to add him to the team. Not just because he was “old school,” which we all admired, or despite his age, but because we appreciated the value that comes with experience. He had stuff to teach us; we wanted to learn, and hoped that some of that glory might rub off on us.
Compare that to the unceremonious departure of Mark “Copyranter” Duffy, 53, from BuzzFeed. Dude was the smartest man in the office; they fired him for being old.
I’ve never been into her music, but the cruel reception of Millennial-dominated media outlets to Madonna’s insistence on continuing to use sex to market herself at age 56 has me admiring her spunk (and, actually, finding her physically hotter than she was back in the 1980s). Also, I have to contrast the viciousness to the way that we Gen Xers treated older pop and musical figures at the same age.
As a record reviewer in my late 20s and early 30s, I can’t recall a single instance of an older rock or pop musician or group being dissed simply because he or she was old. If you sucked, you sucked. If you were good, you were good. If anything, our default mode was to tend to respect anyone who had stuck around for a while. We didn’t exactly respect our elders — as Gen Xers, we didn’t respect anyone, not even ourselves – but we didn’t disrespect them either. For us, it made perfect sense that punk rockers like The Clash admired old glam guys like Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople.
That “rather die before I get old” crap was from the 1960s, not us.
The tendency of Millennials to denigrate their Gen X and Boomer elders is probably hardwired into the demographic reality of belonging to a big, dominant generation. One of the ways you feel good about yourselves is by picking on smaller, weaker groups. No matter what I or anyone else writes, even if every Millennial in the world reads it, there’s virtually no chance it will reduce their ageist tendencies.
Still, it’s sad. I think about my former literary agent and friend Toni Mendez, who died 12 years ago —at work — at the age of 95. She was more vibrant and interesting and outrageous and intelligent than a thousand typical 25-year-olds combined, and I still miss her terribly. Those 30-year-old gatekeepers in Silicon Valley and elsewhere who think that everyone over 35 has nothing to contribute are screwing themselves too, and leaving money on the table.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the upcoming book “Snowden,” the first biography of NSA whistleblower Edward J. Snowden. It is in graphic novel form. You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
It’s too bad, but Baby Boomers continue to belie generational stereotypes. In a recent survey, they overwhelmingly say they either feel too healthy or too financially insecure to retire at the normal age 65. Even to the bitter end, they continue to overshadow Generation Xers and Millennials who need them to step aside gracefully and make room for them.
Forget terrorism, Ebola or even climate change — the most dangerous threat to this country is an epic retirement crisis.
We will soon see tens of millions of Americans reduced to poverty, bringing an end to the United States as an economic superpower.
Unlike attacks and pandemics, this crisis is an absolute certainty, one with a clear, near start date. But the media is hardly mentioning the imminent retirement crisis. So politicians haven’t even begun to think about it, much less take it seriously.
Actually, “retirement crisis” is a misnomer. The problem isn’t that people won’t be able to retire or will be living on a shoestring, though those things are true. We’re staring down the barrel of an epic old age crisis. For the average American, to be elderly will mean not mere belt-tightening, but real, grinding poverty: homelessness and hunger.
Throughout the last few decades, vulnerable people living from payday to payday have gotten battered by the shredding of the government safety net, a lack of accumulated savings caused by the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism, and a lackluster real estate market.
Now members of the poor and lower middle class in their 50s and 60s are heading into a retirement crisis created by a perfect superstorm.
Later Social Security: Thanks to that lovable wacky Ronald Reagan, the Social Security retirement age was quietly raised to 67 for Gen Xers born after 1960. When you finally get Social Security, it doesn’t pay enough. The U.S. ranks third to last in social security benefits among developed nations.
401ks suck (if you have one). Three out of four workers have no pension plan. What they might have is a 401k. The average Gen Xer who has a 401k — 69% don’t — has a $63,000 balance.
Financial experts say 92% of U.S. workers fall significantly short of what they’ll need to live decently after retirement. “In the decades to come,” Edward Siedle writes for Forbes, “we will witness millions of elderly Americans, the Baby Boomers and others, slipping into poverty. Too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the ‘new normal’ for many elderly Americans.”
This is about you — not some theoretical lazy Other.
“At some point,” Siedle says, “lack of savings, lack of employment possibilities and failing health will catch up with the overwhelming majority of the nation’s elders. Let me emphasize that we’re talking about the overwhelming majority, not a small percentage who arguably made bad decisions throughout their working lives.” [Emphasis is mine.]
America’s army of starving old people will drag down younger people too. “Public finances will be pushed to the limit, crowding out other priorities such as education,” Christian E. Weller predicts in The Hill. “Moreover, economic growth will be slower than it otherwise would be because employers will have more workers whose productivity is declining, while many older families, who could start successful new businesses, will forego those opportunities.”
And the pols?
Useless, Siedle concludes. “Conservatives are trying to pare back so-called entitlements that will mushroom in the near future and liberals have failed to acknowledge the crisis or propose any solutions.”
We can hit the streets to demand action now — or we’ll be living on them later.
America’s corporate media is more ambitious. They’re turning 50 million people into unpersons.
The disappearing of Gen X began about a year ago, when major news outlets began reducing living Americans to two generations: the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1960) and their children, the Millennials (born approximately 1977-2004).
The unpersoning of X takes full bloom in “Wooing a New Generation of Museum Patrons,” a March 19, 2014 piece in The New York Times about how museums like the Guggenheim are soliciting money from “a select group of young donors already contributing at a high level.”
Take your gum/joint/food out of your mouth before reading further, lest you gag: “Several hundred Millennials mingled under the soaring atrium of the Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue one recent frigid February night. Weaving around them were black-clad servers bearing silver trays piled high with doughnuts, while a pixieish D.J. spun Daft Punk remixes.”
According to the Times‘ David Gelles (playing the role of Winston Smith): “Across the country, museums large and small are preparing for the eventual passing of the baton from the Baby Boom generation, which for decades has been the lifeblood not only of individual giving but of boardroom leadership. Yet it is far from clear whether the children of Baby Boomers are prepared to replicate the efforts of their parents.”
Gelles’ piece doesn’t contain any reference to Generation X.
Substitute “1991” for “2008” and everything Smith and Aaker write could be, and was written about Gen X: “Yet since the Great Recession of 2008, they have been having a hard time. They are facing one of the worst job markets in decades. They are in debt. Many of them are unemployed. The income gap between old and young Americans is widening.”
Even in an essay about humanity’s search for meaning — and about the downward mobility that defines Gen X — there is only room for Boomers and Millennials.
It’s like our crappy economy and low wages and student loan debt never even happened.
“No one’s talkin’ ’bout my generation,” notes columnist M.J. Fine, a Generation Xer. “It’s hard to think of an era in which people ages 34-49 had less social currency.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
(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.)
Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.