I popped open the Reader today and saw a post here on My Friday Blog that was an open letter to Millennials about generational labels. I know the post was just some lighthearted ribbing (it was lighthearted, right Josh? Right?) but it got me thinking about the labels that we have come to use to describe different generations of (mostly) Americans. So I wrote my own “open letter” to Millennials. With the utmost respect to Josh.
Do you remember when you were called Gen Y? Yeah, I thought so, it was in 1993, and it stuck around until 2005. That was the year that Advertising Age had to eat some crow about calling your generation Gen Y. The 1991 book “Generations” had already christened you Millennials. Apparently there were two competing schools of thought on who you really were. The book won out. I think Millennials is much better.
Did you know that there was a time when Gen X was called the “Baby Bust” generation? That was what they first called people born right after birth control became widely available. Birth control was a contributing factor in ending the post-WW2 baby boom. The Gen X label wasn’t applied till later, and the term Gen X has a really long and convoluted history.
The term Gen X first appeared right after WW2 in a photo essay about people who were coming of age at that time, in what is now called the “Silent Generation”. They were too young to fight in the war, so they aren’t considered part of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”, but they were too old for the “Summer of Love” and Woodstock. Sucks to be them, they missed out on all the good stuff. The Silent Generation is the generation responsible for the Civil Rights movement. Boomers just inherited the racial equality thing, but they weren’t the authors. They were too young. And too stoned. The Silent Generation folks are in their late 70’s to late 80’s now. In Arizona and Florida. Some might be voting for Trump. I think Bernie is part of that generation. So are my folks. Couldn’t be more different.
The term Gen X next appeared in a 1964 article that morphed into the 1965 book “Generation X” about the British “Mod” youth culture (watch the movie Quadrophenia, and look for Sting as the “Bellboy”). Then Billy Idol was looking for a band name in the 1970’s and nicked the book title (I think he also nicked Sting’s look from Quadrophenia, you be the judge). Then Douglass Coupland wrote a book in 1991 called “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture,” from which the Gen X peeps got the Gen X label. Phew, that was a lot.
So what’s the point of all this babble? Generational labels are recent inventions by our Corporate Overlords and their marketers to provide convenient ways to talk about us when they are in meetings about “market demographics” and “ad campaign targeting.” Boomers and Gen X and Gen Y are as arbitrary as Jocks and Freaks and Geeks were in high school (if you were in an American high school, at least). I was a freak. Later a geek. Now I’m not sure what I am, but that’s a different post. Labels lead to stereotypes, and we know what that leads to, right?
There are Millennials and Gen X-ers and Boomers who are in the trenches together, who get it. It’s us against inequality. I also know Millennials and Gen X-ers and Boomers who have quaffed of the corporate Kool-Aid and are now part of the Corporate Overlords (hey, that could be a gang name). I’m thinking of a one who just graduated with an MBA from Northwestern and is working as a hedge fund manager. He might be 23 by now, the little snot. I’m sure he has our best interests at heart when he closes down a factory and forces all the worker bees into poverty. By “our” I mean the 1%. He wants to be in the 1% with all his being.
So remember, we’re all in this together. Keep your stick on the ice (hockey talk for be prepared for anything), keep your eye on the puck (more hockey talk for pay attention to what’s going on), and keep moving (more hockey talk for don’t get complacent). The revolution will not be televised! It might be on Twitter. Or Snapchat. I don’t think that’s been decided yet. It definitely won’t be on Facebook. Our mothers could be watching!
Yours, well aged, rudyblues (yes, he’s a Boomer, ugh!)
PS: Here’s a good article on generational labels, in case your interested.