It is the generation without a name. Generation X. For those born before and after, there are fully descriptive monikers that tell a full story in just a few words. The Greatest Generation. The Baby Boomers. The Jones Generation. The Millennials. But us? We get slapped with a big, mysterious, meaningless X.
Just for fun, I slipped over to the Wikipedia article about Generation X, and apparently, it’s a label that stuck for all the wrong reasons: No one knows who the hell we are. I think it’s time that we take a look at ourselves as a generation — those born from 1965 to 1981. Yeah, there are those who want to say the latter half of that is Generation Y, but I’m going to let someone else tackle that.
If we were siblings to other generations — Jones and Millennials, we’d be the middle child. Stuck in the middle. Being a middle child myself, I know of the awkwardness that being an in-betweener can be to a kid. Now imagine a whole generation of people that are in between.
Our parents — the Boomers — are a fine bunch of folks, still holding on to what was taught to them by their parents, the Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw labeled them. Still holding on to traditions, ideas, hopes, and dreams that they knew when they were children. The Boomers still remember fondly the Christmas classics like White Christmas and go back in time to those golden years for inspiration. I say all of this with great adoration and love — because they are deeply rooted in values that were simple in their application, and honest to their core.
The Generation X version of the Christmas Classic — are either A Christmas Story (You’ll shoot your eye out, kid), or Home Alone (AUUUUUUUUUUUGH!). Both of them have their fair share of mayhem, and both illustrate our different sensibilities to that of our parents.
We can look at ourselves as the kid who got his tongue stuck on the flagpole, or begin to look at the things that identify is — not only as a group, but as a culture. Part of that process is by looking at the years before we came along.
As a rule, most of us arrived into the world after the traumatic years of the Civil Rights Movement. For us, we were always accustomed to being around our black neighbors, racism bing something of a foreign concept that we only read about. We went to school with each other — black and white. There were no “white only” signs. Interracial marriages were long since legalized.
We only heard stories of figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. We didn’t watch the first moon landings. In fact, they were rarely talked about at all. In short, the innovators of our world — had already come and gone.
Our childhoods of the early to mid 1970s were filled with visions of Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Mr. Rogers. Cartoons were Super Friends — and we still played outside. Most of us still remember getting our first hookup of Cable TV, or remember pulse dialing on our telephones. Fashion in the 70s was a holdover from the 60s with plaid, earthtone colors, and those godawful bellbottoms. But even then, things began to change — and in a big way.
We were the first generation to not only grow up with early computers, but to embrace them. How many of us remember programming a silly text game in BASIC on that old Apple ][ computer? Or going to a friend’s house that had a Commodore Vic-20 or a Commodore 64? We had the Atari 2600 and if we wanted real graphics, we got an Intellivision. Today, all of that technology would be laughed away even for a pocket calculator. But they were cutting edge of the time.
By the time of the 1980s, we began to see the world get a little smaller. We now had 24-hour news channels, and a space shuttle that was the first reusable spacecraft. We grew up with vinyl, and now we had these new compact discs. Boom boxes. Camcorders. We had more computers. And more TV channels. And we wanted it all.
Even then we were still in the frigid years of the cold war. It was a time where the Russians were still the bad guys, and Bill Cosby was the number one TV star. Action was the way to go — with The A Team and Knight Rider. Everything was big, funny, and explosive.
But our world was about to change overnight. We had already embraced the change of technology and communication. We were about to be confronted with parts of our world to turn into dust. First was that space shuttle. The Challenger exploded in January of 1986. Just a few years later, our entire worldview would be altered with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But something happened — we adapted. We looked at the Shuttle and realized our own failures. We never lost hope of exploring. And we saw the Atlantis, Discovery, Columbia, and the new Endeavour breach the skies once again.
With the Soviets gone, we saw Russia as a friend once more — awkward, yes, but they were no longer the “red commies,” but people who had been oppressed. The world had changed. And we wanted more.
Every time we turn around, something else happens. We learn of another earthquake, or another volcano. And we move forward. When Michael Jackson was no longer black, we just figured he was strange and moved on. And still bought a crapload of his albums. Now, he’s no longer.
Our generation is a generation that has not only endured some of the greatest changes of the last 40 years, but we have embraced them. We embraced technology. We embraced a worldview that became smaller and smaller.
We embraced those who were a little odd. We began to see women as equals, racism is looked down upon by our generation, and we are the first generation to show majority support for LGBT equality.
We’ve seen the world change. We’ve seen it get smaller. Yet even still, we are the first to buy the new cell phones, big screen TVs — not because someone else has a bigger one, but because we just want to bring in the new tech. We’re not interested in keeping up. We’ve done that. We’re looking to set the pace.
We’ve had our whole world come at us — and we’ve embraced it. We’ve adapted it. We’ve stood for our principles that were taught to us by our Boomer parents — but we’ve made those principles our own.
Most of us were trained in one way of doing our jobs, but we’ve seen technology change it into something entirely different. We’ve seen the old and the new — and we’ve embraced both.
We are the leaders of today. We see the past and the future. The torch is now ours. As we enter our middle age years, it’s time for us to stand and take hold of who we are. We look ahead with hope and confidence and we hold on to our past with referent honor.
We must remove the X. For we are The Janus Generation.