The Wrong Side of the Generation Gap
By Wil Forbis
June 1st, 2019
Being born in 1971, I am a member of Generation X. While growing up I was distinctly aware of a still simmering feud between the two generations previous to mine, the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation. The Baby Boomers came of age in the 60s and are associated with all of that decade's controversies and excesses. The Silent Generation came several decades before the Boomers, fought in World War II and are often portrayed as folks of grit and fortitude. These two groups, according to popular culture, hated each other. They had tussled in the streets during the Viet Nam era. In the movies and television of my youth, Boomers were painted as young, dreamy hipsters who struggled to gain respect from their dour, conservative, Silent Gen parents.
To anyone who thought about it, this portrayal of that generation gap was too simple. There were hip, liberal people born before World War II and there were stodgy, conservative folk born after. And everyone is aware that a lot of the Boomer dreams died a brutal death as hippies turned to yuppies in the 80s. But still, this cliché was alive during much of my youth.
As a member of Gen X, I was somewhat removed from the battle. From my generation's perch, both Boomers and their parents seemed kind of comical. Hippies were ridiculous with their groovy platitudes of peace and love (as well as their narcissistic love affair with their own achievements - we get it already: you stopped a war) whereas the Silent Generation seemed, well, silent. During the 80s and 90s, Gen Xers seemed content to stand at the sidelines and watch our predecessors battle each other.
At no time did it occur to me that my Generation might get caught up in a similar intergenerational skirmish. But now, over the course of the last five years, I feel like battle lines are being drawn. In this case it's more of a multi-generation war; on one side we have Boomers and Gen X and on the other side Millennials (born between 1977 and 1995) and Generation Z (born after 1996).
I don't think it's a hot war - we all mostly get along - but I've definitely felt the tensions simmering. The younger generations have wasted little time labeling much of the television and movies of my era as racist, sexist, and homophobic. (There's undoubtedly some truth to these complaints, but, still, I'd like to watch Friends without feeling guilty about it.) And one can easily dig up articles like this one from Vice* which offer a robust list of Millennial complaints of Gen X (some, I will say are quite astute. I never understood my generation’s gloomy mood during what were times of peace and booming economics.)
*Vice is pretty much the official media source for Millennial and Gen Z complaints about anything.
This bad blood flows both ways. I'm sure I'm not the only Gen Xer to look at the younger generations and think, "When did they turn into such pussies?" They can't read Huckleberry Finn without a trigger warning, they flee to safe spaces at any discomfort, and they seem to yearn for a culture of censorship. They also seem addicted to social media even though it's clearly wrecking havoc with their psychological health.
My generation took heat for being jaded and cynical. I think those charges were overblown, but we did strive for a certain toughness, a certain attitude of, "there's nothing the world can do to me that I can't laugh off." One can question how psychologically healthy such an attitude is but I still admire it. And I don't see it on kids these days. (Now get off my lawn!)
However, recently I began thinking a little deeper about this perceived fragility in Millennials and Gen Z and I started to understand why it may have come about. Millennials, as often noted, entered the workforce at about the worst time in human history. The economy was tanking and jobs were drying up. The first waves of automation and offshoring were assaulting the middle class. On top of that, higher education, often touted as a ticket to the good life was becoming more and more expensive. After being hit early on with such a double whammy it’s not surprising that Millenials are struggling to keep up with previous generation's rates of income and home ownership.
Secondly, I do think the internet had a substantial impact on the mental and cultural health of the generation born into it. My generation made millions (well, I didn't but some people did) fine tuning the first iterations of the commercial internet but we did it with little understanding of what we were unleashing. Millennials and Gen Z came of age when the internet was embedded in day-to-day life and kids were pushed to establish themselves as digital personas. (It's no coincidence that the 2000s birthed the Kardashians and other "famous for being famous" celebrities.) On one we older generations denounce youth's narcissism, on the other hand we handed their adolescent selves mirrors with no instructions.
Thirdly, the modern generations have been handed the great existential crisis of our times: global warming. My generation will probably blissfully die off right about when things get really bad. But Millennials and Gen Zers are looking at living their middle and senior years on a baked potato of a planet (with no sour cream.)
I should be clear, I don't stay up nights wracked with guilt about all this. But I do wonder if, in coming decades, Millennials and Gen Z will start to demand political solutions to these problems. Will they push for carbon credit reparations from generations before them? Will they purposefully stop reproducing and deny my generation the tax base Social Security will need when we get old? Or will they cut to the chase and convert members of my generation into some kind of Soylent Green style food paste?
I only hope I stay alive long enough to see what Millennials and Gen Z's kids think of them!
Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy, he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.