Part Of The Noise: A Short Interview With Generation X

(Answers to a conversation.)

Q:

A:I just feel like in popular culture we don’t discuss him. Maybe it’s me thinking he’s more important than he was, or the magazines I read… Vanity Fair talks a lot more about Kennedy than Cobain.

Possibly this is because of the differences between Courtney and Jackie O.

Possibly though, it’s because you still can’t talk about it, and you managed to grab hold of print right before it died, so you only talk about what you can talk about.

Q:

A: Characterizing it as my “Problem With Generation X” is sort of rash. I’m DOB 1978, HS class of 1995, so I spent most of high school trying to figure out where I fit into that idea. I liked the eponymous book, took part in all the usual shit; music, pop culture, whatever. But it’s a philosophical ideal, not a timeline, and once I got that, a lot of shit clicked into place. I don’t think it’s a matter of birth so much as a way of viewing the world.

And as far as complaining about it, there’s a certain claustrophobic era that starts right around Reality Bites and ends with, I don’t know, Lady Gaga, that has to do with:

Email spam (don’t care), privacy concerns (don’t care), physical collector objects like vinyl and comics (don’t care).

Your defining shit, based on what you complain about.

Q:

A: No, we care. But we care about each other. And you, we do love you. But never ideas, because you’ve turned that into a pissing contest.

Look, the metaphor is like this: One of the first film events was the Lumière Bros, doing the demo for a crowd where the train pulls into a station. And it was so real that the people were like, leaping out of the way. And Generation X treats the internet, advertising, media, that way a lot of the time: Like something real, that’s there for YOUR entertainment, or there to fuck YOU, like it’s this movie going past. Coming for your face, and yours alone.

And us — whatever you call us next — we know it’s all actually more like an undersea world made up of all human knowledge, that we’re just going out swimming. The internet, media, entertainment, are just a suit you put on.

You already know you’re constantly going to be being sold something. It’s not offensive, because that is always true and has been true forever. Drive down the street, turn on the TV: Selling. It’s like being hit on by old dudes: That’s always going to happen, why let it crimp your shit.

It’s still your choice to buy, which I don’t think most Gen X people really believe, because you’re super worried about whether I’m smart enough to resist. This Generation X obsession with how everybody else is doing. Is everybody else smart enough to withstand the social pressure I have discovered, do they need saving.

Just like your grandparents were worried whether their kids were smart enough to not get pregnant, or our parents were worried about whether or not we were smart enough to not die.

Patronizing is powerful. A powerful feeling. A way of making sense of the world, whether it’s high-fashion photos where the models’ heads are cut off (horrors!) or Facebook’s latest world-ending policy.

And again: You’ve earned it. You’ve earned your immunity to the Matrix.

It just would never occur to you we were born with it.

Q:

A: No! We love you!

Because it makes total sense: The person who designed the spacesuit can never fully trust the spacesuit. They know where the cracks are, and where the vacuum can get in, and how cold space gets. You’re allowed to be paranoid.

But if you look over there, there’s a whole generation of kids, girls and boys, who toss that helmet on without a second thought. And you need to express power over them, because they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.

Which means a lot of stuff gets slowed down, redundantly processed. And a lot of stuff doesn’t matter as much or as fast as it should, because you guys are over there complaining this Klosterman bullshit about how entertainment and media and technology are “taking over our brains,” or commodifying our souls, or whatever paranoid lazy shit that assumes people have suddenly gone stupid. How nobody will ever truly understand life the way you do.

The scorn for anything new, anything popular, this mulish curmudgeon thing you’ve got going on. And when you do win your way through the tangle of irony and what it “says” about you to a place where you’re having an authentic reaction to something, you guard it jealously.

You’re offended by sequels and remakes and covers and remixes and mashups because you still believe things can be broken, or replaced.

The High Fidelity of it all, rather than the Infinite Playlist.

Which honestly we’ve come to expect, given your solipsistic fixation on your own moral superiority. Your having gotten it.

But it gets exhausting, because the ideals are so different — and to us, so obsolete — that the conversation is completely derailed. It’s irrelevant.

If you’re calling me soulless, what’s the point of talking at all?

Fuck me for knowing exactly what I’m buying, and then buying it. You’re setting up the field of play in such a way that we can’t win. Just like your parents. And theirs. Etc.

Q:

A: No, quite the opposite. It’s not an obsession with self-documenting, it’s an acknowledgment that documentation doesn’t matter. That’s such a Generation X way to go with it.

We don’t tweet about what we had for lunch because we assume that everybody cares what we had for lunch. We tweet what we had for lunch because we know for a fact that nobody cares what we had for lunch.

Your dad bought a video camera to document things in 1982, right? And maybe you started a blog to document yourself in 2002. But for us, the first thing that ever happened to us was The Real World. That fishbowl. For you, I guess it was a turning point. For us, it’s what we were handed. It isn’t a problem.

For you, it’s more personal and essential than that, because you are more personal and essential than that, in terms of relative importance to the noise.

Either way it’s about the differing relationship with technology, and available information, more than anything.

You can’t see the system from anywhere other than your particular position, because it all comes to you through a screen that you think is your eyes, looking at reality. You think it wants something from you; we know it doesn’t.

We know we are just part of the noise. I can’t see that sitting well with you.

Q:

A: No. It’s all consumption. It’s all just a costume you put on. When you say it, you’re just talking about a label you selectively use, to describe others, and make exceptions for your own consumerist obsessions. Because you know better. Because you are a generation of not-sheep, who know exactly who the sheep are.

And if you’re not sure, you’ve got Jon Stewart and Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow and Rush Limbaugh to tell you exactly who the sheep are.

Q:

A: Alphabetically, “About A Girl,” “Been A Son,” “Clean Up Before She Comes,” “Drain You,” “Heart-Shaped Box,” “In Bloom,” “In His Hands,” “Paper Cuts,” “Scentless Apprentice,” “Serve The Servants,” “Teen Spirit,” and “Something In The Way.”

Particularly “Drain You.”

Q:

A: No, we’ll still sleep with you. It’s not that bleak yet.

Part Two, not quite as good.

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9 thoughts on “Part Of The Noise: A Short Interview With Generation X

  1. I wonder if all generational disputes can just be boiled down to, “You don't get it because you didn't have my experience.”

    Which is bullshit. And there's a lot of name calling that obscures things even more. I wish I could lay my hand on an e-mail (how many e-mail addresses ago?) that I wrote to Jeff Zaslow at the WSJ after he wrote this article about Boomers who just couldn't fathom that Xers didn't want mentoring from them. They had all these skills! And experience! And knowledge! And what I wrote to Zaslow was something to this effect:

    “What the Boomers have forgotten was the early 90's when we were just getting out of college. We had been fed trickle-down economics and 'Morning in America' and 'Read my lips: no new taxes' and even if we didn't buy that, we did buy the idea that hard work led to a job. And we graduated and the economy had gone south and the last of the Boomers had pulled the ladder up behind them and were still sitting in the entry-level seats. So, okay – we went and got what jobs we could. We temped and we tended bars and we waited tables. And lots of times we worked more than one job – none of which had health benefits, by the way. We did what we could.

    And what happened when we reacted in a perfectly natural, normal manner to a dearth of intellectually stimulating, remunerative jobs? We were called names, 'Slacker' chief among them. I don't know about you, but I don't call someone working three jobs to make ends meet a 'Slacker.'

    So pardon me if I don't think that someone who denied me opportunities and called me names is someone I want 'mentoring' me.”

    Why my generation thinks we're any different from the Boomers in this manner, I have no idea. I guess since there's a whole fuckload fewer of us than them (and you, for that matter), that might lessen the potential din. I know that I don't presume to know my (mostly Gen Y) students before I actually talk to them and find out what's going on in their heads – because I know they surprise me all the bloody time.

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  2. Well, and I'd expect nothing less.

    I think it's part of the things specific to Generation X that blowing off that kind of thing or not responding to it is seen as an action, rather than an inaction, if you see what I mean.

    Or as ADD, rather than a conscious choice: “Why aren't you listening to me talk about myself? You're so self-centered!”

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  3. hah! Yes, but by the same token, the “offers” to mentor the Boomers were making were really just offers to listen to them talk about themselves as well… and they were equally bemused by our lack of interest in such an activity.

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  4. “the “offers” to mentor the Boomers were making”

    – Jesus fuck, but is that syntax just le dernier cri in elliptical writing? Pardon me while I go bang my head against something solid.

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  5. So, after having gotten tired of reading yet another “Your generation does this, but my generation does that” bit in your Good Wife recaps, I decided to go looking to see how old you are, and found this. You are four years younger than I am and you're writing these ridiculous generalizations about people that are your peers, whether you acknowledge them as such or not.

    You are still defining yourself as different than what came before, as every generation has done from time immemorial and guess what: the people that come after you will do the same thing. I've enjoyed your recaps, but I don't think I've ever read such pretentious bullshit as this piece was, and I won't be reading your recaps any longer because you don't deserve my page clicks. And yes, I'm hiding behind an anonymous shield because being online allows me to do so. Huzzah, the power of the internet.

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  6. Okay. I can see where you're coming from.

    This seems really personal and angry — not to mention rude — so I don't know that it would be helpful to respond point-by-point.

    But I can say that when I have come up with so many reasons — even contradictory ones — that something is wrong, or the other words you used, I generally find later that I was responding on a gut level, to something that hurt my feelings. My perspective was being challenged in a way that I felt was personally directed at me, and I responded in like manner. Sort of like a child stomping at the rain because he wants to go out and play: I just wanted the person to shut up, and stop talking.

    Now, I don't know if that's the case for you, but I do think it's fairly bizarre that one line in a very short recaplet referencing intergenerational conflict — in a story about intergenerational conflict — upset you so much that you felt the need to find out more about me, or attempt in some way to prove me “wrong” about my own experiences. It seems awfully disingenuous, as a matter of fact, the way you tell the story.

    You reference previous statements I've made about my own experiences as falling into the same category, so I guess it's been getting under your skin for awhile, and I apologize for that. It's hard, sometimes, knowing what is going to set someone off. Especially if they're dead-set on taking things as personally as you seem to be, which is ironic, considering your gleeful anonymity.

    I don't know that it's the best policy, to use the internet to protest someone suggesting that you could learn to better use the internet, or to be so defensive and ugly with someone who thinks a group you may belong to has a problem taking things personally and getting defensive. I don't know that you're really selling your point. I'm glad you felt moved to say something — although I do wish you had considered it an opportunity for conversation, rather than just an anonymous, nasty attack — and I hope your mood improved afterward.

    So thanks — and keep reading!

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  7. Demographically and cohort-wise 1978 is too far from the boundaries of Gen X to start identifying as a Gen Y/Millenial/whatever.

    I think what you may be responding to is the natural break between the older and younger cohorts of the same generation. Older = memories of schools in the 70's, Silent parents and administrators, boomer teachers, Atari, and pop culture defined by boomers. Younger = memories of schools in the 80's, Boomer parents and administers, some older X'er teachers, Nintendo, and pop culture defined by the older Xers. Same generation, different experiences to some degree.

    Much of the stuff that really defines a generation (i.e. what part of life you experience certain overall trends in culture or events) remains the same but the difference between first half and second half create different sides of the same (generic) charachter trait.

    Boomers are the prime example. The first wave adopted marxist theology, went hippy, and eventually became your generic liberal progressive. The second wave joined the young republicans, found Jesus, and joined the moral majority. Both sides express a black-and-white-take-no-prisoners approach towards the other (shared trait).

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  8. Yes. What I have consciously and specifically tried not to simplify, and discussed how I was consciously and mindfully not oversimplifying, could — and shall — benefit from oversimplification.

    Thanks for clearing my experiences up for me! Way easier than reading or understanding the English words I took the time to use, to describe precisely what I was trying to say.

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