Generation Nothing

Matt Bors has been laying down some truthbombs about the myth of lazy, entitled Millennials. Go read.

I was born in the 1979-1983 generation gap—a few years short of X, a few years ahead of Millennials. We’re a generation defined by disaster: Columbine, 9/11. We came of age at the peak of the War on Terror, came into the job market just in time to lose everything in the crash.

We stayed up past our bedtimes to watch the Berlin Wall come down, and the fall of the Soviet Union. We spent elementary school learning and re-learning geography. Generation Change.

I don’t know how universal this experience is, but I grew up active in the peace movement, and my early childhood was defined by fear of nuclear winter without the ideological certainty of the Cold War or the cheerful denial of hiding from armageddon under our desks. The monsters in my closet were flashburns.

We never had air-raid drills, because we were born into a world that understood there was no real point to them. Generation Mortality.

We are not the Lost Generation. No great war stripped us of our innocence in a deafening blast; instead, it was eaten away layer by layer in a sandstorm of small atrocities that scattered us as they wore us away. Our apocalypse is one of inexorable decay, not sudden catastrophe. Generation Entropy.

We don’t have a lot of generational identity, my peers and I. We’ve fallen through the cracks of popular culture. By the time we hit our teens, grunge was shrink-wrapped; the defining music of our generation was manufactured pop before manufactured pop was enough of a thing to be violently subverted. We were the last generation to make the transition from tapes to CDs.

We built ourselves on a foundation of scraps left over from our parents and our babysitters, dumpster-diving for cultural detritis we could refashion. We’re old enough to feel we should remember seeing the original Star Wars movies in theaters but too young to actually have done so. Our art is a paradox of self-conscious anachronism and staunch rejection of nostalgia. Generation Remix.

We were the last generation to be told repeatedly that no one would hire us with purple hair and nose rings.

Financially, we’re closer to the Millennials than Gen X. We can’t afford to wait for glamorously nonspecific media jobs. We grew up in the shadow of the dot-com boom and bust: close enough to the eye of the storm to know that we are unlikely to have nice things.

We were the first generation in nearly a century to enter a workforce defined by underemployment and defanged unions. By and large, we don’t know what it feels like to go to work with the power of collective bargaining at our backs.

We’ve seen just enough of the other side to know what we’re missing.

Our American Dream isn’t a house in the suburbs. It’s being able to afford to go to the doctor when we get sick. It’s not getting ahead so much as finally maybe breaking even.

We’re a generation of reluctant entrepreneurs, empowered to make the leap to creative careers and self-employment largely because our “real” jobs have left us with so little to lose. We know better than to trust anyone else to provide us with stability.

We were not issued rose-tinted glasses. We came of age along with Prozac ads and grew up alongside cell phones. We hoarded porn magazines because the Internet was an unreliable novelty, and wrote in actual diaries, and our transition to the exhibitionistic blurring of personal and performed that marks the Web 2.0 has not been comfortable. We are the last generation to guard our privacy jealously. Generation Black Box.

Our cultural narratives mark us as the new Modernists: apolitical not from lack of ideals, but lack of hope; selfish in direct proportion to our collective nihilism.

And in spite of it all, we’re probably the last generation that thought we had a real chance of growing up to be astronauts.


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