15 Things that Shaped Gen X Today
A nostalgic look at Gen X popculture
The end of a year is always a common time to reflect on the past. Writing a blog that focuses on the evolution of Gen X today also has me a bit nostalgic. Following is a small handful of memories that helped shape us from the start. Join me in the new year and we will explore who we are now.
Douglas Coupland published the novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. Coupland says the “X” came from Paul Fussell’s 1983 book Class, where the term “class X” described a group of people who wanted to hop off the merry-go-round of status, money, and social climbing of modern life. This was a common theme in the novel and became a popular view in the media of what the Gen X’s attitude was like at the time. Soon after publication, the media wanted to deem Coupland the spokesman for a new generation. He refused this roll and denied Generation X as a label. By then however the media and ad industries were off and running trying to reach the “lost generation. To this day I am still not sure if I defined the book or the book defined me.
Music is always an integral part of growing up. If, like me, you are right smack in the middle of Gen X, you remember the 70’s. The BeeGees and Led Zeppelin. You remember that David Bowie and Prince began in the 70’s and went on to huge success in the 80’s. They joined U2, Madonna, The Police and The Cure along with many other great bands of the time. We sang along with them from the back seat of our parent’s cars, heard them in the roller skating rinks or while driving around with our classmates. We listened to them while hiding in our rooms. The artists became our friends, voicing our thoughts and feelings, just as they do every generation.
Fear of War
We didn’t have a World War (thankfully) while growing up so there was no fear of a draft. There was no Vietnam to protest. In school we learned about the Cold War but that’s not the same. What we had was a fear of nuclear war. Movies like The Day After were our urban myths but unlike Bloody Mary or Candyman, nuclear war could actually happen. Fear of “the bomb” had us going for awhile but by the 90s we were apathetic even to that.
…but we did have Star Wars. Waiting for hours in long lines to see our space heroes Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo battle Darth Vader and the dark side seemed perfectly normal. We bought the action figures and the Underoos and we dressed like our favorite characters for Halloween.
Space Shuttle Challenger
Our schools were all prepared to watch teacher Christa McAuliffe become the first civilian in space. Every classroom had televisions set up and ready to watch the broadcast. Instead we were all horrified to see the Space Shuttle fall apart before our eyes.
The AIDS Epidemic
AIDS was seemingly unstoppable. It was game changer. In the beginning we didn’t even know where it came from or how you got it. Later we knew and we were just as terrified. We lost many, many lives before we were even able to downgrade to HIV through prevention and finally medication. We’re still not completely out of the woods but at least we’re getting somewhere.
The Death of Kurt Cobain
Alternative rock icon Kurt Cobain, like Douglas Coupland, was hailed by the media as the spokesman of Generation X. His band, Nirvana, was called the flagship band of our generation. Also like Coupland, Cobain rejected the media and said they had misunderstood. Through his music, Cobain voiced our angst against the world, our parents and what we perceived as a dismal future. A child of divorce, he claimed it caused him to become defiant and withdrawn. These sentiments were expressed in his songs and seemed to resonate with the so many of us. Never able to find peace, at the age of 27 he eventually left us grief-stricken as he left the world behind him.
The movie Reality Bites epitomized our generation. Fresh out of college, the main characters portrayed the so-called slackers that comprised our age-group. They tried to figure out how to fit into a world that appeared to have no room for them while harboring doubts they even wanted to belong. It was like looking into the mirror at that time.
Side note – I had a huge crush on Ethan Hawke. (Always loved him over Brad Pitt.)
The LA Riots broke out in 1992 when police were acquitted of an act of brutality upon suspect Rodney King. Two police were later found guilty and King was awarded $3.8 million. The riots once again brought to the forefront tension between black and white residents of America. “Can’t we all just get along?”, a question asked by King, became one of the most popular phrases of the time. The sentiment seemed to resonate with us all.
We didn’t know it at the time but Hurricane Andrew would be the first of many deadly natural disasters for decades to come. Having not experienced a bad hurricane in decades, Floridians were completely unprepared for the damage Andrew caused. Since then there have been many more hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes and devastating fires, each worse than the last. A once seemingly docile Mother Nature of recent times has awakened and clearly is not happy.
A mere three years after the riots in 1995, the city of Los Angeles was all over the news again when American football hero turned actor OJ Simpson (allegedly 🙄) killed his wife and her friend in the prominent neighborhood of Brentwood. We were all shocked as we watched the now-infamous low-speed white Bronco chase on the 405. The trial seemed to go on for years and found OJ not guilty; however, a civil suit saw him pay millions to the grieving families.
The day after the initial car chase the white Ford Bronco, which had not been selling, was reportedly completely sold out and on back order. Simpson’s guest-house tenant and murder witness, Kato Kaelin, became famous just for being famous. Kaelin unintentionally launched a whole new genre of celebrities and paved the way for the likes of Paris Hilton and the Kardashians.
The late 90s saw Reality TV on crack. The light-hearted Candid Camera, That’s Incredible, and Those Amazing Animals of the 70s and early 80s was replaced by The Real World, a new phenomenon that saw people living in homes where they were filmed all day and night. People began eating bugs and marrying strangers on television to win money.
9/11 was our JFK getting shot. Where were you when you heard the news? I was on the West Coast when I got a 6AM wake up call from New Jersey. I turned on the television just in time to see the second plane hit. It was unreal. I remember the day vividly as LA became a ghost town. No cars on the streets, no people outside. It was just silent and still like some kind of apocalypse movie.
Sex and the City
Sex and the City ushered upper 20-something women and gay men into their 30’s with panache, style and light humor.
Social Networking would change our lives forever in ways in which we are all too familiar. The controversial pioneer, MySpace, would be the first to go mainstream. One thing I’m certain that those my age would agree upon – thank god it wasn’t around while we were in grade school or college.
Saying Goodbye to our Heroes
Everyone started dying. I mean, it was inevitable but it all seemed to happen at once. First we said goodbye to our friends David Bowie and Prince. Then we bid farewell to John Hughes, Harold Ramis and Tom Petty along with Robin Williams and Burt Reynolds. We lost our beloved Princess Carrie Fisher. We got a real double-whammy in the death department as 80+ year old artists were dying of old age alongside their 20 years younger counterparts whose hearts were giving out from all the drug & alcohol abuse. Worse, with the suicide rate among artists climbing we’re saying goodbye to even more of our heroes.
So there you have it, fellow Xers, and there is so much more to come. Good or bad we will find our way together.