The important thing to consider when analyzing any generation is that all generations play the cards as they are laid out before them. In a Forbes Magazine article, John Tamny declares, “the generation that had to suffer the death and destruction of war wasn’t so much the “greatest” as it played the hand it was dealt. It was an awful one.”
With that thought, we must realize that any given generation alive today – Silent, Boomers, Gen-X, Millennials, and those born after, if given similar challenges as the Greatest Generation, would likely have played the cards in a similar way. Every generation born, is born with a given set of circumstances and skills. It is unfair to equate a generation better than a previous one accounting for the environment, technological changes and societal characteristics in which they are born.
Consider Generation X as ground zero to the following discussion.
Typically, generations are defined by actual historical events. These definitions can occur immediately or after the passage of time when historians can evaluate objectively, unattached from the events and within the isolation of their own generational bubble. Here is an in-depth look at today’s living generations, with a concentration on the lesser known generations and the author’s choice of members from each generation.
The “Greatest Generation” or the G.I. Generation was tied (for the most part) to the events of World War II. History did not have to pass for their automatic admiration to take hold. Society looks upon them with unconditional praise, regardless of their parenting skills and the unsustainable economy they created after World War II. We cannot forget that members of this military-centric generation led us into the Vietnam War. To their credit, after giving everything to the efforts of World War II during their prime, fighting against Hitler, one of the world’s most seductive and terrifying leaders in modern times; it is natural they would have a psychological immunity to any conflict that came after that tremendous victory.
The G.I.’s were honored because of World War II and any analysis beyond that fact is irrelevant and unimportant according to some. Tom Brokaw, a member of the Silent Generation, revered the G.I.’s as the “Greatest Generation” and was “incomprehensive” to the G.I. experiences putting them high above all others on the generational pedestal. Outside of their sacrifices, we cannot ignore some other legacies they left with us: weapons of mass destruction, unparalleled prosperity for a time and a strong middle-class that produced a large generation with a tendency to suck the air out of the world’s economy, the Baby Boomers.
As a female Gen Xer, I personally honor and thank those who served our country, past and present. However, naturally critical in my own generational bubble, I cannot shy away from analyzing these other less shiny legacies of the G.I.s. Their children, the baby boomers, thrived from their abundance, nurtured to assume the free entitlements established by their parents. In many ways, this is where we should have slowed down.
Noteworthy members of the G.I. Generation: Kurt Vonnegut, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Marlene Dietrich, George Orwell, Walter Farley, Tallulah Bankhead, John Steinbeck, John Wayne, Vincent Price, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Rachel Carson, Peace Pilgrim, Kate Hepburn, Ray Bradbury
We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And someday we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in it and cover it up.
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 – (G.I. Generation)
The Silent or “Lucky Few” is a smaller generation between the G.I.s and Boomers, lucky enough to take advantage of the G.I. Bill, enjoy living wages and buy affordable mortgages and cars. Many would retire just before the 1990’s bubble burst with good pensions, supplemented by social security benefits and other perks of the post–World War II prosperity. This group silently maneuvered through the revolutions of the younger baby boom and were parents of Generation X.
In many ways, the arrival of the Silent Generation places them as back-up singers on the world stage of the generations, similar to, but with a higher status than Gen-Xers. The anonymity of the Silent Generation casts a gray color: their characteristics of not wanting to “rock the boat,” is like a fish going with the flow along a steady stream without having to swim too often. That is not to say that some were derailed from their idealistic coming of age in the 1950s, and drafted during the Cuban and Berlin Missile Crisis’ just before the shock of JFK’s assassination.
Noteworthy members of the Silent Generation: All three men onboard Apollo 11 that landed the first humans on the moon in 1969, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Margaret Atwood, Gloria Steinem, Toni Morrison, Shel Silverstein, Johnny Cash, Sydney Poitier, Bruce Lee, Dalai Lama, H. R. Giger, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Judy Blume
You can know a thing to death and be for all purposes completely ignorant of it. A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension.
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead – (Silent Generation)
The G.I. Generation’s children, the Baby Boomers, are nostalgic of their past, I think, because they were opposed to the military and cultural stagnation of their parents. They saw crumbling, military-driven institutions irrelevant to their idealism. Baby Boomers tend to give themselves a “pat on the back” for the cultural revolutions they set free and they should to a point.
Baby Boomer’s contributions were noble in opposing the Vietnam War, the rise of feminism, civil rights and the push toward all fronts of environmental, humanitarian and other important earth-friendly pursuits. Also, important considerations of the Baby Boomers’ “great awakening” were the proliferation of drugs and pornography and the eventual sexual rot of the AIDS epidemic in the early ‘80s. To be fair, the Silent Generation was also part of this sexual exploration in the Swingers’ clubs of the day. Rick Moody’s, Ice Storm, demonstrates an eerie snapshot of this time in Generation X’s early childhood.
Noteworthy members of the Baby Boomer Generation: David Lynch, Steven Patrick Morrissey, Ian Curtis, Bono of U2, Jello Biafra, Amy Tan, Alice Walker, Annie Dillard, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, Danny Elfman, Tim Burton
The baby boomers are getting older, and will stay older for longer. And they will run right into the dementia firing range. How will a society cope? Especially a society that can’t so readily rely on those stable family relationships that traditionally provided the backbone of care?
– Terry Pratchett – (Baby Boomer)
Generation X lives in the foggy aftermath of history and the emergence of virtual realities. When Generation X came along, there were no major cultural revolutions, wars or anything noteworthy to define us. This is why Generation X is such a mysterious bunch as a whole. Our elders misinterpret our divergent paths and our slow-to-conform indifference to the corporate job environment as negative and apathetic. But really, Generation X, with its mystifying pluralism has everyone’s best interest at heart, for we see the coming destruction and desperately want to put on the brakes before our pretty green and blue planet dies.
The sheer numbers of the Baby Boomers tend to overshadow any cultural relevance to Generation X, smaller in comparison and positioned to take the full brunt of the declining economy. Where the boomers dusted off their ideology and turned their focus on monetary pursuits, Generation X picked up that torch and it took us into some necessary, but dark places. However, where things are rotten and destroyed, there is growth. An attempt to understand the needs and desires of Gen-X: this survivalist, immigrant and cynical group, would find it just as necessary to question the values of the G.I. Generation beyond the victories of World War II.
As a member of Generation X, I can honestly say that if I was drafted in World War I and survived, I would be part of the DADA art movement that countered the senselessness of war and if I was part of the G. I. generation, I would enthusiastically support the cause against Hitler, and in the Silent Generation, I would be willing to march alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., and if I was alive in the Vietnam era, I would oppose a war that should never have been fought and if I tested better on the ASVAB, I surely would have fought in Iraq. And yes, hindsight is 20/20.
Generation X is not a cohesive generation and we cannot be funneled into a specific set of experiences or historical moment. Our lives have been boiled down to Kurt Cobain’s suicide, latchkey kids, bad movies in the 1990s and other negative associations that denigrate us before we have the chance to define ourselves. It’s very likely that we will be similar to our Silent parents; we will make things happen along the edge of culture, moving stealthily through history.
I think Generation X, despite its envy of the Millennials, is willing to do what is necessary to act as this next dynamic generations’ wingman, provide guidance and support to move us toward a better balance. The world’s future rests on the shoulders of Generation X and how it leads the succeeding generations. This is especially true when looking at the world’s economy today.
Many of today’s corporations aren’t interested in ideas and improvements in the long view, only as it relates to short-term profit margins. Today, the job market is going downhill and Generation X, if they have not locked in those middle management “bulldog” jobs, are forced to carve a path through the thick concrete of a bleak economic landscape. The only thing we can do now is change the whole system by dropping out of it.
Our story is still in progress. We are late bloomers. The cards that have been dealt to us have restricted our ability to grow up, going from one recession to another, and we have no sense of entitlement because of our own existential depression. The desire to just survive is our entitlement.
Noteworthy members of Generation X: Henry Rollins, Ian McKaye, Douglas Coupland, Chuck Palahniuk, Chuck Klosterman, David Gahan and Martin Gore, Tori Amos, Trent Reznor, River Phoenix, Brandon Lee, Jon Stewart, Laurie Halse Anderson, Alanis Morissette, Janeane Garofalo, Helen Bonham Carter, Queen Latifah, J. K. Rowling, Heath Ledger, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christina Ricci, Jack White
…We’re just bodies to you. We’re just bodies and shoulders and scarred knees and big bellies and empty wallets and flasks to you. I’m not saying something cliché like you take us for granted so much as I’m saying you cannot… imagine our absence. We’re so present it’s ceased to mean. We’re environmental. Furniture of the world.
― David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest – (Generation X)
Generation Y, also known as Millennials, are outpacing Generation X when it comes to competition in the current job market. This is probably due to the increase in top and bottom jobs but no middle-range jobs, another bad timing feature of Generation X. Those Millennials born of vibrant Boomer parents were raised to believe they could do anything, even beyond landing on the moon. This exuberant and naïve bunch will certainly need the help of Generation X.
Millennials are still growing up, defining themselves and yes; they are the most prolific generation in numbers as I write this synopsis. Let’s give them a chance to make their presence known on the world stage, for it is a truly challenging one. We must give them a chance to grow up and find their place. To be continued…
Noteworthy members of Millennials: Avril Lavigne, Emma Watson, too be named…
As always, the world goes faster than we can actually interpret it, so please keep checking on this post, for I have future plans to add succeeding generations. There is lots of space to define, because our generation, Generation X, never had the chance to define itself – we were dubbed Generation X before we were eating solid foods and for that, I will allow time for the Millennials and all who come afterwards a chance to sort things out. As a last parting note, I want to thank all the generations, for we are in this together, this world, and we must understand one another and learn from our collective experiences and within our isolated bubbles, for we have much to do and must stick together in order to do it.