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The Gen X/Gen Y Generation Gap

GT032014Every 20 years, Time magazine depicts people in their 20s as "lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow." This time the target is the Millennial generation (Americans born between roughly 1980 and 2000, with Baby Boomer parents). According to (cough, cough) the Boomer-run media, twentysomethings/Gen Y/Millennials are narcissists.

Whatever.

Back in 1990, Time was smearing Gen X as shallow, apolitical, unambitious shoe-gazers.

"[Gen Xers] have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial. They hate yuppies, hippies and druggies. They postpone marriage because they dread divorce. They sneer at Range Rovers, Rolexes and red suspenders. What they hold dear are family life, local activism, national parks, penny loafers and mountain bikes." (Penny loafers? Really?)

Back then we Gen Xers defended our collective honor by alternating between the "we do not suck, at least not in the way you say we suck" and "anyway, if we do suck, it's your fault, old farts" arguments. Gen Y is manning its rhetorical ramparts the same way.

Here we go again.

Sort of.

You know what's wrong with young people today? Not much. Not according to me or my friends. We're fine with younger people. Which is weird. Gen Xers get along well with people in their twenties and thirties—certainly a lot better than those in their forties did with us when we were young.

We like Gen Y. We respect them. We don't chafe, for example, at working under a younger boss. We ask them advice. OK, mostly about tech stuff. I learned about Wordpress and Hootsuite and Gawker and Wii from twenty-ish friends. Mostly, we like the same music and movies. (But they download stuff. Don't they worry about ephemerality?)

Maybe the Millennials secretly hate us—you'd have to ask them—but if they do, they're doing an excellent job of hiding it. We hang out. It's good. Sometimes, though—it's not like it comes up a lot, just now and then—my Gen Xer cohorts let slip a complaint about our younger friends and colleagues:

Why are Millennials, um, well, there's no other way to say it: kind of boring?

Young people today. So obedient. They believe politicians. What's with that? Millennials go along to get along in corporate America. When they get laid off, they don't get angry (like we did)— they adapt. They reinvent themselves. Gen Y music, movies, even their clothes: so conservative!

The Generation Gap of the 1960s and 1970s referred to the inability/refusal of "tune in, turn on, drop-out" Baby Boomers to relate to their stodgy "we survived the Depression and won World War II so turn down that goddamn rock 'n' roll" parents. Though decried at the time as sad and alienating, the dynamic of that demographic divide was as natural as could be. The young were loud, obnoxious, demanding and politically radical. The old were cover stuffreserved, quiet and conservative, even reactionary. Kids were kids; parents were parents.

Neil Howe and William Strauss' landmark book "Generations," which traces the identities of American generations through popular culture and politics back to the colonial era, depicts dozens of epic clashes between old codgers vs. youthful insurgents. The young fight to be heard. The old yell at them to shut up. The old get older and quieter, the young mature and gain influence and replace them.

That's how it was 200 years, and 20 years, ago. Just as their parents looked down on them, Boomers looked down on us Xers.

The Gen X/Y divide breaks this pattern.

We're middle-aged and cynical and our tastes run to smart and sarcastic and anti-PC and antiauthoritarian, Tarantino/postpunk. We voted Green Party and never looked back, or for Obama but never expected much. Millennials are old and naive and earnest and retro.

Millennial hipsters (who don't dress hip—their hipsters are dorks) are militant nostalgists. They've revived the ancient traditions of our grandparents: martinis, old-fashioned cocktails like grasshoppers and mint juleps and, well, old fashioneds. They golf. They wear clothes from the 1930s. They watch go-go dancers (feminist radical lesbian ones.) They grow beards— not hippie beards, but retro-sexual Civil War ones, paired with handlebar mustaches. They open restaurants— really good restaurants—whose menus and aesthetics harken back to the 19th century, staffed by waiters who take everything very seriously. You can elicit a dry chuckle, not a bellylaugh. Certainly not a snide Xer sneer.

Steampunk could never have been a big Gen X thing. We're scrappy and stripped down. They're baroque.

Millennials didn't just expect real Hope and Change. Four years later, they still do. When they got radical, they came up with the blink-and-you-missed it Occupy Movement, which had as its centerpiece calls to reenact the Glass-Steagal Act.

Millennial pop culture is about flat affect: mumblecore movies and all-attitude-no-plot TV shows like "Arrested Development," emo-influenced music, giant dollops of special nostalgia sauce everywhere, every member of every band dressed like they're showing up to roof your house (but with Taliban beards). Opening concert greeting: "Hey."

Graphic novels where it takes six pages for a leaf to fall off a tree.

Prose novels about nothing, printed preciously and packaged beautifully, thanks to the influential McSweeney's empire.

Gentle, chatty movies and TV shows, not a series of scenes, but rather riffs of tone and mood. Even their taste in cars is boring. And kind of dumb.

Boomers' countless faults aside, let's give them this: they knew what they wanted. They loved. They hated. They wanted revolution. Which was one of the things Xers hated about Boomers (Xers hate a lot): they came so close to revolution and they friggin' gave up. Gen Y revolution? It's hard to imagine such an—oblivious? unaccountably satisfied?—generation shooting anyone or blowing anything up. That, I think, gets close to the mystery of the Millennials. They've been horribly screwed—even more than us Gen Xers, and make no mistake, we were hosed big time.

Millennials are mired in student loan debt. They will never make much money or get any government benefits or get much of anything out of the system. After decades of warnings, the planet is finally, really, irreversibly, ruined. Their planet.

Why aren't they pissed off?

(We need them to be. We're too busy holding down four jobs.)

Parents, they say, shouldn't have to bury their own children. It ain't natural. Know what else is wrong? For the old to see the young as uptight codgers.

Not that Xers blame Yers for being uncool. Gen Xers, a self-deprecating generation from the beginning (what do you expect? society, politics, even the movies hated us—remember all those evil child horror movies like The Omen and It's Alive?)

Writing in The New York Observer, Peter Hyman argues that Gen X and Gen Y shouldn't be as cozy as they are. That it's our (X's) fault that Y hasn't made its own mark:

"The old generational identities that once defined us have broken down, and the net result is a messy temporal mash-up in which fortysomethings act like skateboarders, twentysomethings dress like the grandfather from My Three Sons, tweens attend rock concerts with their parents and toddlers are exposed to the ethos of hardcore punk."

And it's up to Gen X to fix it (like everything else, apparently):

"I know guys whose style of dress and off-duty interests haven't changed a lick since college. They devote their free time to movies about comic-book heroes, to video games and to fantasy football. No, they aren't hurting anybody. But perhaps what we really need to do is put on suits and take our wives out for expensive dinners, like our dads before us."

That burns. I'm wearing skinny black jeans and a (vintage! from back in the day!) Dead Kennedys T-shirt as I write this. But I can't afford a suit or an expensive dinner, thank you very much, Boomer scum.

Anyway, I don't buy Hyman's argument that passing the torch of our old cool (the Ramones, Beastie Boys) to the young "shortchanges" the young and makes us oldsters infantile. My fogey parents proselytized about Benny Goodman and Benny Hill and the Four Tops, and guess what, it didn't take.

One problem with writing about generational politics is that it requires sweeping generalizations. You can point to a million exceptions. And of course there's absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. These things simply are (if you believe, many do not). Another is that you risk pissing people off—people you like.

To be clear, we Xers think you Millennials are awesome. We just wish you'd act your age.

Like, young.

Comments (27)Add Comment
no helicopters
written by chulavistano, September 23, 2014
I'm right in the middle of X, born in 1972, loved grunge and riot grrl before they were so labeled, and often agree with the description of Gen X, though simultaneously feel typecast. And I don't agree with some things in this article. But I do agree that many of us didn't have that "parental helicopter" hovering up above... though I did grow up in a blue-collar neighborhood regularly visited by "ghetto birds". My hippie high school teachers in the late 1980s told us that we were screwed... that their colossal generation was going to eat up everything, and we should become exceptional, and brace ourselves. It was the boomers who pointed the finger at themselves when I was a still-impressionable age. We were latchkey kids since the 2nd grade. My older (beat/early boomer generation) parents believed that the best thing parents could instill in their children is self-sufficiency: get a driver's license as soon as we turn 16, so we could get a fast-food job and pay our parents rent. We ended up becoming very independent, sometimes to our detriment, e.g. working in an office but reluctant to ask for help from the office assistants. And this business of "Millennial" tweens being best buds with parents... that's gotta be a stereotype... how is that even possible?! My parents feared their parents. And I fought with my parents, even though they are awesome people for whom I have a lot of respect. It's a rite of passage in order to become who we are, n'est-ce pas?
...
written by Jaxarack, September 06, 2014
Gen Xer here. I get along great with gen Y and X and have some boomer friends too, but i hate to generalize and i'm not saying all boomers are like this, but....... The majority of baby boomers have got to be the most self righteous jerks i've ever seen. Alot of them like to put down younger people without even knowing their situations. Alot of "GET A JOB" and "Back in my day we used to walk both ways in the snow" Again, not all boomers are like this but alot of em seem to be grumpy hate filled vitriol spewers. Kinda funny seeing how they grew up through the hippie age of free love and peace.
There is no generation gap
written by Gen-Who, August 14, 2014
This article makes no sense to me. I was born in 1978, and I have nothing in common with the author, who is pretty pathetic. I'm 35. I'm a young person. I'm not old, so I don't subscribe to the ageist BS that that author writes here. I have friends of all ages, from 18 to 88, and there are no issues. I think the idea of a "generation gap" is created by those who are in the corporotate world or unhappy, miserable and looking to place blame. It's not a healthy way to live. We are humans. We are a colletive species. Stop drawing lines in the sand.
I am a shit.
written by Thomas Ericson, August 09, 2014
I am in this gap, and I am a shit.

Maybe they are wrong about X and Y
written by Savel, August 05, 2014
Everything I read about the characteristics of X versus Y rings really false and does not make any sense, at least to anyone born after 1972. According to experts like Howe and Strauss, I am part of a generation that started in the early 60's and my parents belonged to the Silent Generation. I am technologically illiterate and hate politics. I never vote either. Oh, and now that I'm 39 I am an old person.

Except: My parents were born in 1946 and 1952, which makes them Boomers. My dad went to Vietnam. My mom protested the war. They wore matching John Lennon glasses at their wedding in 1973. Millions of so called Generation Xers can tell you similar stories about their Boomer parents. The same Boomer parents who raised all those millennials raised us too. In the same house. If our parents got divorced, our millennial siblings were just as impacted.

In other words, pretty similar childhoods to all those Gen Y people born between 1977 and 1984. I've dated people ten years older and ten years younger. The younger ones grew up more like me than the ones born in 1964. There's a world of difference between someone who enjoyed watching Star Wars at the theater on a middle school date and someone who grew up stealing her cousin's Han Solo for a date for her Glamour Gal doll.

When I read that I came of age in 1988-1992, I laugh. I was in high school then and did the typical things a teen age girl does. But I didn't come of age if they mean grow into adulthood or something meaningful like that. Coming of age seems to be something that is gradual and it seems to be something that starts in college. During my college years: I listened to a lot of indie music and went to a lot of shows that were very DIY, went online, wore vintage clothes, scoured thrift stores, and collected vintage tea towels while reading Mary Oliver poems. We hung out in coffeehouses, never dated but hung out, and all my friends loved to talk about politics and theory. One thing we did more of was take road trips but hey it was 99 cents!

My single life before marriage, before motherhood, looked very similar to people who were born in 1972 all the way to people born in the late 80's. I know a lot of forty year olds with those Civil War beards and twenty year olds who like to hang out in coffeehouses and hit rummage sales.

The other unifying factor is 9/11. I was 27. My Y cousin was 22. My other cousin was 13. It had a profound impact on us all and it completely changed our perception of world affairs. Remember the boomers had experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK, MLK, RFK and Vietnam. In contrast, we were raised in relative stability and calm, aside from some residual Cold War thinking that was gone by the time we hit our high school years. Just watching 9/11 on TV caused PTSD. We all knew people who went over to Afghanistan or Iraq. We all still carry this feeling of unease that something horrible can happen at any minute.

When Strauss and Howe came up with their generational theory, it was before Sept 11th. The Greatest Generation didn't exist as a concept until after World War 2. How could it? Maybe instead of Generation X and Y, we have Boomers and then a Generation of children born between 1973 (when American forces left VIetnam) and 1993 (old enough to remember 9/11).


The settler generation
written by Scott0, July 31, 2014
I appreciate the article. As a gen x person, I think that the gen y kids are stuck in an environment that makes them apathetic and kills their drive. What I mean is that they tend to settle before they even begin. Unlike me who followed the boomers, the world still had a lot of opportunity, or at least initially, then that tended to decline but we still had the hope of something. The poor gen y group is coming out at the decline of our society and they realize it. They don't expect things to greatly improve and they realize that they will struggle, thus they settle for whatever they can get. Unlike the boomers who hit the perfect sweet spot in the economic growth of the country, the gen y people can't afford a house. I think their only hope is that when the boomers die, and yes they will die (even those 80 is the new 30), they the gen y group will inherit the wealth of their parents. Time will tell.
Caught in the middle.
written by bookwormwendy , May 27, 2014
I am what they refer to as a bridger myself. I was born on the tail end of the Xers and as millennials were coming on the scene. I relate to both. I have plenty of the Xers jaded sense of things and yet, despite that I remain hopeful. It's an odd state to live in. I think I may actually lean a little more millennial. The most interesting dynamic in our household is our family. My husband and I married straight out of high school and had children. Our children are now teens and having been born on the very tail end of the nineties just as my husband and I were born on the very tail end of the seventies, have one foot in the millennial and one in the upcoming generation, whatever they will eventually be called. We essentially share, to some extent, opposite ends of the same generation. They don't have boomer parents, they have Xer parents but they are turning sixteen and eighteen this year. We have an unusually close relationship, we all get excited over the new comic book movies together, and yet my husband and I, in fact, remain the authority figures in our household. I like our odd, "bridger" household. We don't fit in either generation, us or our children, so we've kind of carved out our own niche and we're rather happy with that.
We don't like the alternative
written by XenoPrime, May 24, 2014
To grab power for ourselves we have to displace those still in power. A damaged, aging, and likely guilt-ridden boomer generation that fucked it's own future up while it was trying to grab for it's own overly ambitious dreams.

They may have screwed us, but we're still their kids. They hurt too much already and we can't really hurt them more for our own selfishness. Instead we're slowly and steadily moving towards a long term goal of fixing our lives that might even help following generations have more then we will ever-have.

Who knows? Maybe well be called the new greatest generation; the one that looked forward instead of one that just looked up. Or maybe well just be the first generation in an endless line that will never see the the American dream outside of our online-magazines.
...
written by Rob80, May 17, 2014
Great article! This is one of the smarter articles on the Gen X/Y distinction I've read lately.

As someone born in 1980, I feel like I was born on the dividing line between the generations. Not quite the last X, not the first Y.

As a teenager in the 90s, it was Gen X that I looked up to. The sarcastic, stars from Reality Bites, or front men from grunge bands, etc. I get that part of it.

But if half my friends were born in the late 70s, the last of the true Gen Xers; the other half of my friends were just a few years younger, graduating from HS in 2000 and afterwards. The first Millennials.

I wasn't really either Generation all the way, but I am friends with both. I admire both.

I married a Millennial girl 5 years ago, and I am a button down professional. A corporate lawyer actually. But I also just bought some comic books. My wife and I see all the new comic movies on opening night. I still own and wear many of the same clothes I wore in college 15 years ago...when I'm not wearing a suit and tie to work.

We own a house in the suburbs, and want to start a family...but have struggled with infertility. It's been difficult to see Millennial friends younger than me start families already.

In contrast, I still know plenty of Gen Xers in their mid to late 30s who show no signs of settling down, family wise, even as they move into job positions of greater responsibility.

And we are all still friends. My late Gen X friends and my Gen Y friends. We all get together for dinner or drinks, or tailgating for football games. I was always secretive about my nerd side growing up, so I played football and later became an avid fan. When I tailgate, there's beer and BBQ, ...and craft beer. And people talk politics, and football, and occasionally nerdier subjects too. Like, How did that new Spider-Man movie compare to the last? And none of it is weird.

Your article is dead on.
brown
written by jackson, May 10, 2014
Grouping the occupy movement with american culture is shallow, lazy, selfish, and entitled. F*** The Pixies.
...
written by tana, March 31, 2014
Every millennial i know is also holding down 3-4 jobs, myself included. : i don't have time for revolution.
put yourself in our shoes
written by holkish, March 30, 2014
I don't think the gap between generation x and y is a huge one. I can identify with most of them and appreciate our differences. The big thing you failed to do was walk a mile in our shoes. Millineals can hardly (or cannot) remember a time when the war on terror wasn't around. Many of us fought in a war we didn't understand just to come back to broken promises of paid educations and now have mountains of student loan debt. Most of us never thought of another option than college. We did what we were told and have nothing to show for it. You say we should be angry. I'd say we are but we are pacified. We've grown up in the time that a politician could start a global war with lies and whenever a robin hood (snowden, assainge) comes, government tears them down and media makes them a fool. We've learned to sit quietly and start revolution through networks like anonymous because we know they control everything. We accepted Big Brother and NSA because technology is the new opiate of the masses and we are pacified. They defeated our youth before it even began.
Arrested Development
written by Lauren Gilroy, March 30, 2014
This article definitely illustrates the cultural division between Gen X and Gen Y. Did the author even watch Arrested Development? It was packed with major plot points that actually had long-term impacts on the characters, as opposed to Cheers or Seinfeld, which were great shows, but could easily be watched out of order, as the plots were minimal.
You have created art Mr Rall, art I tell you!
written by Micheal Lunny, March 30, 2014
Mr Rall, this is a marvelous piece of writing (with a lovely illustration) and I wish it had been much, much longer.

Someone I know who fits between Generation X and Y said that the early life of the millennials was devoid of meaningful economic or political struggle and that as a result they are both unfamiliar with conflict and suspicious of its efficacy.

The occupy movement begged for change and hoped to shame the political class into action but the idea of actually placing themselves in conflict with the establishment, of fighting for power, was utterly alien to them. They could only ask, not take. Mildly inconveniencing Wall Street was as far as they would go. In a similar vein the huge protests against the Iraq war in the UK were doomed to failure because Tony Blair and his allies never saw the protesters/supplicants as threatening. No fear, no change.

Gen X are equally useless, we grew complacent during the millennials bland formative years and failed to win power in any significant way, happy with our extended adolescence. No onerous responsibilities because we had no real power. Now there is a real crisis with the neoliberal right and the wealthy having control of all the levers of power while generation X is impotent and the millennials are abstinent. Generations ZZZzzzz.

P.S.
Congratulations on making the list of 100 people who are apparently screwing up America. Just four places from Chomsky is a hell of a compliment.

Gen.Y Ball'less and Boring
written by Warzone, March 30, 2014
I work with four guys who are from Generation Y and this article is almost spot on. From the Che beards to the blandness but I still get along with them.
much insight
written by stephenD, March 30, 2014
Gen Xer here and I've always been fascinated with our position with the first half half of our lives living in the world of the previous generation and the second half with the next. I too get along great with my GenY friends. Great article.
...
written by Kevin T, March 30, 2014
As a member of Gen Y who wishes there was more action, I don't think articles like this help. You talked about how you hated everything because everything hated you. All we hear is that we're boring and lazy and don't do anything. I'm not saying this isn't a good article, it's a great one, and you probably know that if you had attempted a call to action you'd be written off like everyone speaking to us before, which definitely proves your point. Maybe there isn't anything anyone can do.
the observer effect
written by nope, March 30, 2014
People grow up today knowing they are under constant surveillance, that any moment of their life can be captured an used against them. There has been a great deal of scientific research into the psychological impact of this constant watching, but the gist of it is that the constant paranoia results in conservative behavior. You're less likely to get naked and run into the waves, less likely to scream out your soul, less likely to share your deepest feelings with anyone. It is cultural stagnation, and the more intense the surveillance, the less willing anyone is to go outside the norm.
Also, what makes you think Gen Y aren't also working four jobs?
really don't agree with this at all
written by shaan, March 29, 2014
I was born in 1989 and most of the things you used to describe my peers and I do not fit my lifestyle, or those of people my age that I know, in the slightest bit.
Millenials HATE being called Millenials.
written by Justin W., March 29, 2014
Speaking as one, many of my friends complain about being called Gen Y or Millennial. Why? Those names suck and they get lumped in with a younger generation who has nothing to do with us. The important distinction is that we were born post 1980 from BABY BOOMER PARENTS who were in their 30's/40's. We were the little kids that nobody gave a damn about, and guess what? They still don't care.

You expect us to do something important when we have NO power, NO jobs, NO ANYTHING? Our futures have been entirely destroyed before we could even do anything to stop it. To top off the shit sundae, we are often blamed for all of our problems -- problems which began in the mid 90's when we were still CHILDREN and had absolutely NO POWER TO CHANGE ANYTHING.

That's the only thing I did not agree with in this article. It is very well written and gets a lot of things right, but it misses one critical point:

Just because we can't seem to get out of this hole we've been placed in doesn't mean we aren't pissed off about being stuck in this hole. We're a bit too busy trying to dig ourselves out in order to shout, scream, riot, and start a revolution.
Staying up to date
written by Edgar Guzman, March 27, 2014
I am the back end of Gen-Y and i love this article. I'm really happy that you explained how we feel and how we act
Good read
written by Gen Y 21, March 22, 2014
As a Gen Y reading in your perspective, I'm glad our gap isn't a huge issue. Most of our aggression is aimed towards the boomers and others that surpress our ability to voice our opinion.

Once Gen X fully takes over (in terms of media/politics/etc), I'm sure things will start looking in a positive way.

And no, we (I can really only speak for myself) do not hate Gen X. I believe the feelings are mutual.
Good story
written by JA, March 21, 2014
I'm the oldest of Gen X and noticed the same words being used about Gen Y. What the heck? Well, your article was an interesting and fun explanation. When I hear lazy and self-indulgent to describe a generation, I know who's talking.
Further reading ...
written by GTreader, March 21, 2014
The new book “The Next America: Boomers, Millennials and the Looming Generational Showdown,” by PEW executive vice president Paul Taylor lends interesting insight and info to this discussion.
Amaze balls
written by GenerationXpert, March 21, 2014
This is one of the best articles of read on Gen X/Gen Y in a long time. Thank you for writing it.
-generationxpert.com
...
written by laurao, March 20, 2014
The cover illustration is fantastic!!! I really enjoyed the article too. Nice work Good Times.
You got your names wrong
written by Rachel Burger, March 19, 2014
Neil HOWE and William Strauss
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strauss–Howe_generational_theory

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