2017/11/17

Lost Generations

Bible genealogy

Identity politics has increasingly become a hot-button issue. The debate typically centers around matters of ethnicity or religion, but an often overlooked yet just as important factor in setting a person's self-concept is generational identification.

Inter-generational conflict has become so ingrained in contemporary culture that it's hard to imagine a time when people didn't wear their generation as a badge in the political struggles and culture wars that are coming to a head today. But for members of one generation to bring their cohort-specific grievances into the sociopolitical arena as a plank against other entire generations is a relatively recent development that really only goes back to the 1960s.

You had disputes between elders and their offspring before, to be sure, but there had never been anything like the wholesale rebellion of the then-young against all the received wisdom, culture, and traditions of their parents that the West saw in the late 60s.

The generation that won the culture war and is now firmly entrenched in the halls of power, the Baby Boomers, have a general tendency to project their own peculiar attitudes and perceptions onto other generations en masse. They also run Hollywood, academia, and the media, so you get constant color commentary about nihilistic Gen Xers, Millennial snowflakes, and the stodgy, repressive Greatest Generation--who've become noble and heroic now that they've given the Boomers all their stuff.

Another curious phenomenon arising from the current obsession with age-based demographics is the cycle wherein a generational label will be defined and bandied about in the public discourse for a few years before the term is retired and the people it once described are lumped in with another generation--usually alternating between the preceding and succeeding cohorts, depending on the commentator.

Do you remember--or belong to--any of these lost generations?
  • The Silent Generation: too young to fight in WWII, they served in Korea and made most of the contributions to art, politics, and culture that the Baby Boomers identify with. For example, all of the Beatles were actually Silents.
  • Generation Jones: the younger siblings of the Boomers and the older siblings of Generation X. Jonesers' defining life experience is the nagging sense of having shown up just a little too late for the banquet that the Greats set for the Boomers. The members of U2 belong to the Jones generation.
  • Generation Y: younger siblings of the Xers and older siblings of Millennials. The last generation to have personal memories of the Cold War and the pre-internet age. Taylor Swift is at the tail end of Gen-Y.
The current tendency is to throw the Silents in with the Greats or the Boomers, meld the Jonesers with the Boomers or the Xers, and blur the lines between Gen-Y and the Xers and Millennials. But in terms of formative experiences, typical self-identification, and existing generational terminology, this muddying of the waters makes no sense.

Prime example: describing the current crop of youngsters as Generation Z makes no sense without a Generation Y.

To resolve this issue, I did a bit of demographic research. It occurred to me that the old standard definition of a generation lasting twenty years is less relevant considering the rapidly accelerating pace of cultural change. The last generation that this time scale works for is the Greats. After them, I found that categorizing the population by generational cohorts spanning ten years instead of twenty better described the average member of each category.

I based the following generational categories and timetables on likely formative experience, common cultural touchstones, likely parentage, and the general state of the culture when each cohort came of age.
  • The Greatest Generation: 1914-1934
  • The Silent Generation: 1935-1945
  • The Baby Boomers: 1946-1956
  • Generation Jones: 1957-1967
  • Generation X: 1968-1978
  • Generation Y: 1979-1989
  • The Millennials: 1990-2000
  • Generation Z: 2001-2011
By this reckoning, the Boomers are the children of the Greats. The Jonesers are, by and large, the Silents' offspring, Xers are the children of the Boomers, Generation Jones begat Gen-Y, Gen-X spawned the Millennials, and Gen-Y birthed Gen-Z.

Food for thought.

22 comments:

  1. Finally, someone else who recognizes the difference between Millennials and Gen Y. They are as different as Boomers are from Gen X.

    I am Gen Y. I know people who are Millennials. We have no similarities whatsoever in how we process the world, or even how we take in entertainment. Growing up without the internet (and being the last generation to do so) changes a lot in how you take in "progress" and change.

    I saw the changes going on around me. I saw participation trophies start to crop up. I saw the shifting attitudes of the younger kids becoming more and more entitled as their parents gave them things none of my peers would. I saw helicopter parenting take off as I got older, and kids who never spent any time alone with their friends. I even saw schools change their policies to coddle in ways they never would when I was starting out.

    I just missed the cut for all of that, and I'm very thankful I did.

    You can tell a Gen Y from a Millennial in a few simple ways. Gen Y will not have a seizure if you do not agree with their politics (even if they may heavily disagree with you) or social views. They are not on their phones at every hour of the day. They do not blindly believe anything because someone with "authority" told them, and enjoy rational discourse and reasons they should do anything.

    And, most importantly, they are capable of learning, adapting, and changing if they are wrong.

    It is a real generation, and to lump us in with Millennials does a great disservice. There are monumental differences.

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    1. Thank you for expanding on the post from your personal experience. You make a compelling, I would say definitive, case.

      One common characteristic displayed by Silents, Jonesers, and members of Gen-Y is their lack of a strong generational identity and their annoyance with members of generations who wear their cohort memberships on their sleeves.

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but here's how a typical member of Generation Y seems to view the following generations:

      Greats: heroes verging on saints

      Boomers: looked up to them until their lies were exposed. Now learning the Xers' and Millennials' burning hatred.

      Xers: navel-gazing, flannel-bedecked drama queens who take themselves so seriously they lapse into self-parody. But this view is softening as the extent of what they suffered at the Boomers' hands emerges. Their angsty woolgathering has brought true self-awareness, and they seem to be making a good faith effort to fix the damage as best they can.

      Millennials: fucking space aliens.

      Gen-Zed: terrifying in all the best ways.

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    2. From my experiences growing up, yes. Those are all true.

      We were the last generation to deal with the Greats so we saw them as they were being left in nursing homes and never visited by their Boomer children. I still have a soft spot for this generation since I did deal with so many of them who were hosed by their children.

      Also, as you have hit on, Gen Y does lionize those that came before them. Even Boomers to an extent, until the realization that this generation was the first to deliberately throw away tradition and connections with the past hits.

      It comes in to the reality that Gen Y saw social change happen and were at the front of it as Boomers started experimenting on them, and saw those under them spoiled rotten and where that lead those kids.

      I'm hoping Z puts the Boomers in nursing homes and forces them to watch as their entire vile legacy is destroyed.

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  2. Yep. I just turned 32 and I've felt for about a decade that there's a huge gap between me and people just 4-5 years younger.

    I got out of the army at 23, and didn't really figure out how to communicate with the weird Millennials I met in college until I was like 27. Ready access to the internet and cell phones changed everything in their teen years, and then smartphones just stomped what I consider normal social behavior to pieces.

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    1. First things first, happy birthday and thank you for your service.

      You're far from the only one who's noticed the clear divide between Gen-Y and the Millennials, despite the media's attempt to gloss over it.

      Let me know what you think of some other generational signifiers I just came up with off the top of my head.

      Who is Batman?
      Boomers: Adam West
      Gen-X: Michael Keaton
      Gen-Y: Kevin Conroy
      Millennials" Christian Bale

      Who is your president?
      Boomers: JFK
      Jones: Nixon
      Gen-X: Reagan
      Gen-Y: Clinton
      Millennials: Obama

      What is your gaming device?
      Jones: Pong machine
      Gen-X: Ms. Pac-Man cabinet
      Gen-Y NES/Genesis
      Millennials: smartphone

      What caused the Civil War?
      Boomers: slavery
      Gen-X: unresolved question of states' rights
      Gen-Y: complex combination of both and other factors
      Millennials: Hitler
      Gen-Zed: me

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    2. Thank you for your service.

      I have also never understood the media pretending everyone born between 1980 and 2000 were of the same generation. The internet, smartphones, and Boomer parenting experimentation did not affect those of us born in the first half of that time-span.

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    3. My takes:

      World War 1?
      Boomers: The Kaiser was trying to take over the world.
      Gen X: Started over a complicated morass of reasons including nationalism and entangling alliances
      Gen Y: A tragic foot note in history, which lead to world war two.
      Millennials: Why did you misspell WW2?

      World War 2:
      Boomers: Hitler Tried to take over the world
      Gen X: Due to harsh repatriations, Germany radicalized and began expanding. Allying with the soviets was a necessary evil to stop the nazis.
      Gen Y: Actually the spread of communism was the impetus for the rise of fascism.
      Millennials: Nazis were the bad guys because they opposed communism and did the holocaust. Also Nazis are still around and should be punched.
      Gen Z: Hitler did nothing wrong.

      Woodstock?
      Boomers: The greatest event of human history. I need to talk about it some more.
      Gen-X: Shut up about Woodstock.
      Gen-Y: No really, shut up about Woodstock
      Millennials: It was just a concert, the bands weren't even that good.
      Gen-Z: So should we just burn it to the ground, salt the earth, or a combo of the two?

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    4. @anonme:
      Brilliant!

      Honestly, what is with the Boomers' Woodstock obsession? If everyone who claimed to be there had been, attendance would've exceeded 3 million, many of whom would've been preteens.

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    5. The "Generation Joneses" I know can't stand or understand Woodstock either. Filthy, dirty hippies being filthy and dirty. Feh.

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  3. Brian

    Interesting because I technically belong to the Jones generation but grew up as a Gen X type. I dunno if It's because I lived in Canada 8n a distinctly different province that skewed my cultural teferences:)
    I also have some European cultural references that tie in with whete I lived as well as my parent's origins.
    So it might be interesting to take into account the 1965 immigration influx in both Canada and the US.

    I smile when my students ask me how old and are stunned to realize that I owned my first computer in my 20s and used the Internet in my 30s. They never heard of dial up :)

    xavier

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    1. Your mileage may vary outside the US.

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    2. Brian
      Here's a tidbit about Canada: when I was born abortion eas totally banned by the time my brother was born 3 years later it waz legal. Also in the province i lived therexwere stull Catholic schools and my Gen faced the Spirit of Vatican II full blast. Lord you can-t imagine what a toxic wind that was that left the rich heritage completely arid. It's hard to articulate what a catastrophe that was right up to the 80s.
      I'm hoping to see green shoots and supposedly theŕe are but I won't see

      xavier

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  4. Very, very satisfying!
    Finally I see a theory that describes what I’ve thought ever since I first read “Generations” and learned about Strauss–Howe theory. “The Fourth Turning” was amazing, too, but I’ve vevet found a good explanation of why I haven’t felt comfortable with the Boomer category everyone wants to put on me due to dates, nor the Xer labor I felt a little closer to.

    It looks like I’m a Joneser. I’d love to dig in deeper to what they might mean.

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  5. Not sure I’m with on the generational signifyers.
    Are you suggesting that this is who each generation had for their Batman? Or that the actor was a m knee of that Gen?

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    1. Adam West was Batman in the 1960s TV program. (Tune in next week. Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel!)

      Michael Keaton was Batman in a couple of movies starting in the late '80s.

      No idea who Kevin Conroy is, unless he's a voice for the animated Batman series that Mark Hamil does the Joker for?

      Christian Bale was Batman in three movies about 10 years ago. (Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy.)

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    2. Kevin Conroy was indeed the voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne on Batman: The Animated Series and the recent Arkham games.

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    3. And we can forget George Clooney. And whoever they have doing Batman for the current movies.

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  6. Birth: Gen-X (1978)
    Batman: Adam West (reruns), Christian Bale a close second.
    President: Reagan/George W. Bush
    Gaming Device: NES/Genesis
    Civil War: Complex Combination
    WWI: Complex factors like nationalism and alliances
    WWII: Harsh Repatriations + Communism. Allying with USSR was a horrible mistake.
    Woodstock: (No, Really) Shut Up.

    By all measures, I am straddling X and Y, a foot in each camp.

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    1. Yeah, you'll have some overlap, especially at the beginning or tail end of a generation.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Delete
  7. D.J.November 18, 2017 at 7:39 AM
    Birth: Gen-X (1978)

    Batman: Adam West (reruns), Christian Bale a close second.


    +1

    WWII: Harsh Repatriations + Communism. Allying with USSR was a horrible mistake.

    I'm shocked the US didn't swing full Red or Axis during that period with as many in the higher levels US government who were leaning Fascist or were flat-out Communist sympathizers in the the 30s and 40s. Not a stunner that FDR wanted an alliance with the Soviet anthill.

    Woodstock: (No, Really) Shut Up.

    Needs to be a felony offense with mandatory jail time if you talk about that event.

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    1. Re: Commie infiltration of the US government, it's a miracle we didn't go full Red-tard, especially with all the moles at State.

      "Needs to be a felony offense with mandatory jail time if you talk about that event."

      You put that petition in front of me, and I'm signing it.

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  8. Woodstock has there ever been a more insignificant, trival concert elevated as if it were Mozart's Requim or Bach's Branderberg concerto
    xavier

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