Generation Sorry? Maybe so, or not so much?

From my own personal story, I can’t agree entirely with Darke’s premise in the Sunday Times of London that Generation X’ers are largely self-indulgent and ungrateful (fellow blogger Latchkey Man is even stronger in his disagreement). But Author Darke does reveal an often uncited characteristic of my fellow misbegotten Gen X’ers: a tendency toward self-critical analysis.

I’m a classic member of Generation X. When Douglas Coupland’s eponymous book came out in 1991, characterising a rootless generation that drifted in and out of McJobs and gloried in a general lack of responsibility, I was just leaving university (Oxford, thanks to the private education my parents paid for). I tried a McJob for a few months and decided I didn’t fancy it. Instead, to the astonishment of my father, I packed a rucksack for South America. “Travelling? More like self-indulgence,” he remarked at the time.

…[snip]…

But while, at 27, I was tossing up whether to shell out for a Helmut Lang suit or a weekend’s skiing, my parents at the same age were enjoying quite different luxuries – dates, for example, that consisted of half a pint of shandy and a packet of crisps down the local. For the first five years of their marriage they never took a holiday – and when my dad did have time off, he took extra work to help pay the mortgage.

Purely on the face of it, yes, our youth was certainly a more economically prosperous time, and people my age, in general, had it pretty good compared to today; at least we had jobs, if they were only McJobs. Our 1980s and 1990s were largely our own Roaring Twenties (that’s the 1920s decade, not the 20-something age range, though Tiffanie Darke cleverly could be alluding to both in her article).

Maybe my fellow ingrates and I did have an air of self-satisfaction. However, I’d argue this so-called indulgence was merely a self-reliant desire to make our lot as good as it could be under the circumstances.

We had no war at the time other than the Cold War (“a war with no battles, no monuments, only casualties,” as Sean Connery’s Soviet submarine captain says in the movie version of The Hunt for Red October). Our economic bumps were mere blips compared to today’s mess and especially compared to 1929.  But we were also wedged into an economy that roared for everyone else but us, except for easy credit (which we’re still paying off) to carry us through to what we hoped were bigger paydays ahead. But we were also stuck in jobs with few advancement possibilities, outnumbered in an entrenched Boomer hierarchy. You want to call our reaction to that self-indulgence, fine.

So perhaps our Roaring Twenties really were like the days of Fitzgerald’s flappers and Hemingway’s expatriates, partying like there was no tomorrow after coming home from the War to End All Wars to a country that had banned alcohol out from under them, unaware (as we were in our youth) of the economic meltdown just around the corner.

As far as the concerns that Author Darke expresses about our lack of corporate loyalty, that merely underscores our ability to fully realize Hemingway’s bullshit detector: those companies had no loyalty to us, and that was fairly certain long before the layoffs of these last few years (and especially these last few months).

Getting married when we were closer to 30 than to 20 (or even older) went hand-in-hand with working for different employers throughout our careers. You might see it as an unnecessarily longer gestational period than generations past, but to me, it’s an example of reflecting the reality of life in our time — it was because precarious economic footing required it. It wasn’t for any more selfish reason than personal (and later, as couples) financial stability.

However, while I respectfully disagree with many of Tiffanie Darke’s points, I am thinking her act of self-analysis is spot on. There’s a penchant for self-criticism and self-righteousness that comfortably cohabits within my generation.

Personally, my upbringing was one where self-criticism and a demanding nature seemed to evolve naturally, thanks in part to nurturing, indulgent and demanding parents. But positive upbringing or not, I suspect the end result is somewhat the norm for many in my generation — that our skepticism includes skepticism about ourselves.

Fortunately, that motivated us. But it also had consequences, which I’ll examine in my next post.

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