On Safire, Obama and naming the Joshua GenerationPosted: Sunday, November 30, 2008
William Safire takes his unique lexical look at the ongoing generation-naming debate, sparked by the election of our first Generation X President (more here and here, too). (And I love the lede of Safire’s column: “Welcome to the socio-literary parlor game of ‘Name That Generation.'” Of course, I am a fan of most things Safire writes. But I digress.)
Safire begins with the Gertrude Stein-coined, Hemingway-cited “Lost Generation,” which appears as one of the two epigraphs that opens “The Sun Also Rises.” Safire also quotes Neil Howe, of Strauss & Howe fame and co-author of the groundbreaking book Generations, and whose work obviously heavily influences this blog.
Safire reminds us of a couple of once heavily used generational names that look a little hazy in the distance, but at the time, were quite popular in their usage: the Beat Generation and the Me Generation. Best as I can rationalize, those names now appear to be better suited to the period they were used in, or at least appearing to be a subset of the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers, respectively.
Where Safire really hits home is his use of the term “Joshua Generation” to apply specifically to African-Americans like President-elect Obama — those who came of age after the great Civil Rights battles of the last century, and are now reaping the rewards of the work of those in the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and later (actually, Safire cites Obama citing the Rev. Otis Moss Jr. who reminded the president-elect to “look at the story of Joshua because you’re part of the Joshua generation.”
Safire notes the Biblical analogy of Moses, who led his people out of Egypt, but was not allowed to lead them into the Promised Land. Instead, that task fell to Moses’ successor, Joshua.
Will the name stick? Who knows, as even Safire admits:
Though the spirit of an age is best defined in retrospect, and religious allusion is not currently considered cool, the Joshua Generation — unlike all its era-naming predecessors — does have alliteration going for it.
And as as co-pilot and perhaps successor to the Generation X label, it sounds good to me. As I’ve often said (and I agree Safire, but, like the author and lexicographer, I digress), only time and history will tell.