By Wil Forbis
My mother and I are always having arguments. Sometimes it's simple things like politics, or who should be running the ACLU (I say Burt Bacharach) but othertimes it's more difficult issues like how I believe my manic depression was caused by her poor potty training or why I should or shouldn't stop selling child pornography. (I want to stop, but she says "the money's good and it's decent, Christian work!") One of the most recurring arguments we've had over the years has been over the concept of generations. What is a generation, what divides generations, that sort of thing. Interestingly enough, my mother and I are from different generations. I'm from the much touted, much vilified and generally overrated Generation X. However, whereas most of my age group's parents are from the utterly miserable Baby Boomer generation (the generation responsible for everything wrong with society including A.I.D.S.) my mom actually goes back one further to what I believe was called the silent generation. This is the generation that kept it's mouth shut and did as society told them because, as was recently documented on P.B.S., they were all robots created by a scientific madman named General Zarcon who was bent on world domination and would stop at nothing to… Anyway, my mother is from this generation in name only, cuz' you can't shut her up. She's always yakking on about I'm her least favorite son (I'm an only child) or how Richard Nixon was all my fault.
As for our argument over generations, it breaks down to this: I've always felt that the idea of dividing people up into generations was a weak one, that issues of race, economics, and social class separate people more that age difference. For example, I believe a I have more in common with, and will act in ways more in sync with, a fifty year old middle class white man, than a twenty seven year old Cambodian American raised in the splendor of Miami's Chinatown. Though the Asian lad and I may be of similar age, we would probably be quite separate on issues of music, politics and general life philosophy. To stick us together as part of unified group solely on the basis of age would be foolish and un-utilitarian. My mother does agree with my general philosophy here, but still persists in a habit that can be found often in society, and that is referencing people by generation, and assuming that they all share the same traits. This is the view, for instance, that if Kurt Cobain blows his head off, then the sum total of Generation X is maniacally depressed and ready to kill itself (i.e. the "Prozac generation.") (I was actually quite ecstatic Cobain popped his lid, thinking the event would free the radio from the painful drudgery of Nirvana's grunge odes, but it actually led to the promotion of a thousand far worse Nirvana clones who's painful noisemaking made me want to join Cobain in the great atonal jam in the sky.)
The problem I have is that popular culture and its caretakers like Rolling Stone and Spin (perhaps I should say its captors ) rely very heavily on the perceived differences between generations, particularly playing off the "us vs. them" philosophy. Hell, it's easy enough to do, Gen X wants to blame everything on the Hippies (and rightfully so) and the Hippies want to blame everything of Gen X. But the problem is, when hip mags like R.S. or Spin refer to, say, the Nineties Generation, they are actually referring to the white, middle class suburban element of "the Nineties Generation." (coincidentally, the majority of their readership.) They are not referring to Nineties Black youth in Southern California, they are not referring to the variety of Asian youths that are populating Middle America, they are not even referring to the Garth Brooks listening, Bible Belt thumping, rural white culture, (though they occasionally make vague salutations to these groups in the interest of appearing politically correct or open minded.) But for most of the media, Generation X means alternative listening, cyberpunk reading, cynically self-loathing crackers. (I'm aware that even those statements are more media based stereotypes than anything else.) But play the numbers game, and that ain't the case. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities make up an ever increasing group that doesn't care whether grunge stars kill themselves or light up their farts, couldn't tell Charles Bukowski from Charlie Brown and are generally pursuing their own cultures and ideas (some of them just as retarded as white culture (cough, Puff Daddy, cough), but at least refreshing in their lack of media exposure.) Fortunately, we're starting to see a rise in the other segments of the current generation, whether it be Chow Yun Fat in "The Replacement Killers" or the fact the real continued music success of the nineties was not punk or grunge but rap and hip-hop (and, in twisted way, Country.) And eventually, the hip media, that is not controlled by withered old white male "fat cats" but rather spoiled and snotty white brats, will have to wake up to the fact that it's only going to keep going in this direction. And if the don't see it, I pray that there are killed by the entire interracial cast of "Stomp."
Of course it's not to say that the new multi-cultural league of hipness won't have their elements of lameness as well. In fact, I'd like to put in a pre-empive "You're Fucked!" on the next generation right now, a statement that can be applied to whatever silly inanity that group will bring up. (Every generation has one whether it be swallowing live goldfish or hippie communes.) But the truth is, American culture is going to be moving away from whiny young white people and right into the hands of whiny young Blacks, Hispanics and Puerto Ricans. It's not the greatest thing that could happen, but it's a got a certain "jennis say kwa" (Obnoxiously arrogant French phrases will also be phased out.). And whether or not the punk-alterna-metal scene that's been morosely yodeling along for the past five years wants to admit it, they're on the way out, and a very different culture is on the way in. A culture that will hopefully contain attributes refreshing enough to pull rock and roll (and hip culture in general) out of the cyclical doldrums it's been in for the past twenty years. Unfortunately, they're going to have to fight a whole new breed of balding, goatee-sporting, Beat-poetry reading comic hipsters intent on keeping their hold on the torch of modern self-aggrandizing cynicism. 'Cuz just as the breed of California, Baby Boomer yuppie scum had to be painfully rousted from their hold of the music business (and thereby, popular culture) in the past several years (a process far from complete), Generation X (by that I mean white Generation X), the "outside" generation, will become the ultimate insiders, and be ever so wary of giving up power.
'Course it may seem that I'm simply replacing one inaccurate segmentation of American society with another - trading division by age for division by race. And certainly, I see the falsehood there - every ethnic group always has a wide range of ideologies, of people, under its grasp. No minority can be seen as a monolithic Borg-like unit, expousing only one set of beliefs. (Though it sometimes seems like the public leaders of these minorities might like to lead you to believe so.) There is as much diversity within any ethnic group as there is within any age group. Ideally it would be nice if we could avoid these divisions all together, but I know that's a foolish proposition. The main American culture (which is white America) depends on an "other" to define itself, and most minorities depend on strong classifications to support various government programs that benefit them. I know that I'm coming dangerously close to preaching hippie drool here, but can't we see each other past a series of predefined categories? Or do we even want to? Perhaps it is because we rely so heavily on prescribed categories to define ourselves that we are so unwilling to relinquish their hold on us. It's simply easier to belong to something, than to create something, it's easier to ascribe to the values already set up by a movement than have to create your own.
Anyway, I have to go now. I hear my mother calling...