Friday, November 14, 2008

My-My-My-Generation


In my last post, I tried to argue that Barack Obama is not a Baby Boomer despite having been born in 1961, well within the traditional chronological range. Part of the problem is the vastness of the usual definition of the Baby Boom. Anything that spans eighteen years can’t be considered a single entity. Instead I propose the following reclassification:

Proto-Boomers (1938-1946)

While not part of the Baby Boom proper, kids born in this range (which includes my father) set the precedents that paved the way for the Boomers to follow. They invented rock and roll, established teenage rebellion as a cultural phenomenon, and codified the post-war paradigm.

Music:
Rock and Roll - Elvis, Chuck Berry
British Invasion - Beatles, Stones, Herman's Hermits

Politics and History:
Eisenhower
Cold War

Hippie-Boomers (1946-1958)

These are THE Baby Boomers, the drug-taking, free-loving, psychedelic stereotypes that have dominated the cultural landscape for half a century. Admittedly, the years are fuzzy. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were both born in 1946. One I would call a hippie, one I wouldn't. These are the people that don't remember the sixties because they lived them. Call them the Woodstock Generation whether they went or not.

Music:
Psychedic Rock - Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix
Hard Rock/Heavy Metal - Zeppelin, The Who, Black Sabbath
Art Rock - ELP, Yes, early Genesis

Politics and History:
JFK Assassination
Moon Landing

Tail-Boomers (1959-1968)

People just a little to young to have hit the heyday of late 60s and early 70s, myself included, spent all their life hearing how great the sixties were without having any real connection to it. Former hippies are like an exotic extinct species to us. We know they exist, but we've never seen one in the wild.

Us peak-to just-past peak boomers are tough to classify. One recent commenter has coined the term Generation Jones with "Jones" meaning both generic and bland like Mr. Jones or envious like "jonesing". I think that makes us sound like a soft drink or a Cheech and Chong routine. Another name often used is Late Boomers which sounds like we are developmentally slow in some way. I call us Tail-Boomers because we are the downside of the baby boom, as the birth rate began declining again. And we are the part of the baby boom that goes through the door last.

Music:
Disco - Donna Summer, Bee Gees
Corporate Rock - Kansas, Styx, late Genesis
Punk Rock - Clash, Ramones
New Wave - Flock of Seagulls, Human League

Politics and History:
Watergate
Iranian Embassy Take-over

Generation X (1969-1980)

Another ill-defined group that has gotten a lot of undeserved bad press for being cynical slackers that reject the peace, love, and understanding ideals of the baby boomers. Also known as (depending on whose book is being hawked) the 13th Generation or the Baby Bust, they tend to be darker in mood, music and dress.

Music:
Alternative - Depeche Mode, The Cure
Grunge - Nirvana, Pearl Jam
Rap - Beastie Boys, LL Cool J

Politics and History:
Ronald Reagan
Fall of the Soviet Union


And that is where I have to stop. In 1990 I had a kid and entered the Barney Generation, so I'm not qualified to evaluate the generations between me and my son. I'm sure we can dice and slice these groups lots of ways, but I find these spans of about a dozen years each to be a pretty good separation. You either remember Woodstock or you don't. You either had a draft number or you didn't. The name Squeaky Fromme means something to you or it doesn't. And I have only touched on the many, many cultural clues and touchstones that can be used to help you pigeonhole people into a demographic or mindset.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What generation are you and why?

15 comments:

jfruh said...

Part of the problem of periodization is that periods are very clear at their centers but not at the edges. For instance, if you were between, say, 23 and 17 during Woodstock, you were of the hippie generation, no question. But what if you were 30, or 14? That depends more on the type of person you were and whether you were still tuned into the zetigeist.

My mother is a classic boomer -- born in 1946, was actually at Woodstock -- and my stepfather is five years older, which, at this point when they're in their 60s, isn't that big a gap. But it was a huge deal back then in terms of who was a square and who was cool, exacerbated by the fact that my mom went the collge and grad school and my stepfather did two years in the army and was married by 21. When Woodstock rolled around, he was 28 -- still a younger person in my conception, but he had a wife, several kids, a job, and probably thought the long-hairs were living on a completely different planet.

It's a good thing they didn't meet until 1990, or else they probably would never have gotten along.

yellojkt said...

jfruh,

Very right. The fringes do overlap widely.

So much is attitude rather than age. My uncle who was born about 1944 is very much the hippie despite being older than a lot of squarer people.

watching trends said...

Several thoughts:

1) The old defintion of Boomers('46-'64) is 19, not 18 years

2) Your suggested birth years are way off base, and don't reflect the actual history and sociology of the last 60 or so years

3)You obviously don't get the connotations of the moniker "Generation Jones" (it certainly isn't about blandness, and the Cheech&Chong element is a very minor part of it)

4) "Tail-Boomers"?! You're kidding, right? Can you actually imagine anyone referring to themselves as a "Tail-Boomer"?!

5) When you say Generation Jones will "never make it", you seem to be completely out of touch with the reality---Generation Jones has already "made it". Many prominent individuals, organizations, and media outlets use the term now, and as a result, it is filtering down to the grass roots. This specific term "Generation Jones" is brought up regularly now on many national TV shows, the bible of demography--American Demographics Magazine--did a cover story on it, top pollsters include it as a seperate generation now, Obama hinself has said that he personally relates to it. My friends and I and many other "real" people now regularly use the term.

6)Numerous other monikers have been suggested for this lost generation between the Boomers and Xers, and none of them...none, has ever gotten any following at all...at most, maybe one or two little articles somewhere obscure and then never heard of again. Like "Tail-Boomers", which has about as much chance of catching on nationally as I have of having dinner tonight at a cafe on the moon.

7) Whether you or I happen to like the name "Generation Jones" really doesn't matter, because that has become the name for this generation. If we have any chance of seperating ourselves from the Boomers, this is that chance, given that after all these years, this is the only time we've ever finally had a name for us stick at all, and gain a nationwide following. Viva Generation Jones.

VE said...

I've been called a bummer but never a boomer. Plus, I'm the same age a Obama and it's true, I felt like a fringe entity at the tail end. Calling the tail end clear out to 68 is certainly a long tail though. Good post!

Sor Cyress said...

I'm, uh. Nineteen. I was born in '89 --nine years after the end of when you classify genx. I consider myself to be just at the older end of the internet generation --kids who grew-up with e-mail, web browsing, and IM easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

(I say older end because I didn't start regularly using the internet until I was twelve or thirteen --my younger brother and sister were screwing around on Neopets and the like when they were only nine or ten, and the six year old I used to babysit for could navigate YouTube to watch his favourite videos like a pro)

But the real reason I'm making this comment is because you referenced Squeaky Fromme, who I recognize. Not from history, but from the musical Assassins. Ah pop culture, you bring us so many good things...

~Sor

Flasshe said...

I was born in late 1960 and prefer the term "Silver Age Generation" (based on the comic books of the era).

I had never heard of "Generation Jones" before the term came up on this blog. Damn, I must have let my subscription to American Demographics Magazine lapse.

yellojkt said...

Sor,
Welcome. My son was born in 1990 and the name that seems destined to be attached to his (and your) generation is The Millennialists because they came of age around the turn of the century.

The Squeaky Fromme reference is a direct rebuke to Machael Cavna who wrote in his Comic Riffs blog that Fromme is way too obscure a reference for perpetual forty-year-old Ted Forth to know. I called bullshit. Everybody about my age should know who Squeaky Fromme is. If a nineteen-year-old can recognize the name from a Sondheim musical then there is hope that the Ford Administration will not be lost in history forever.

yellojkt said...

I had never heard of Generation Jones until a week ago, but they seem to be pretty effectively spreading the meme. They have a Wikipedia entry and everything.

I dislike the term because it is so non-descriptive and unless it is explained to you it makes no sense whatsoever.

I coined Tail Boomer, because in the graph of the baby boom births, it is the downhill side of the curve. I guess I could call them Backside Boomers instead.

And yes, it is a long tail, but I used the "at what age would Woodstock have meant anything at all to someone" criteria to set the front end a little further up than maybe it could be.

DemetriosX said...

I actually kind of like Tail-Boomers, which make me think of tail gunner, which has unfortunate connotations with McCarthyism, so I don't know, maybe not....

The real problem with the name is that it still ties us to the Boomers. And I really think we were post-disco. I mean, I listened to every non-disco band you give to our generation (except Human League, I despise synthpop), but never had anything but disdain for disco. Also, Kennedy and his assassination really influenced the core Boomers and we got nothing from that. For us it was Reagan and "morning in America".

We have more in common with those that came after us, musically, politically, culturally, technologically. I know people my age and even a little older who have slacked like no Xer could ever dream.

Another factor to me is the sexual revolution. If Joe Strummer (or was it Sid Vicious?) missed the Summer of Love because he was playing with his Action Man, we missed the sexual revolution because we were playing Asteroids. We are the post-Kennedy generation (even if some of us were born during his time). What came after Camelot? Generation Mordred?

yellojkt said...

d-x,
You've won Comment Of The Year with Generation Mordred. I can think of no better name for the Nixon Administration.

Disco is a tough one because it was so pervasive but so short-lived. The true Disco Era only lasted from '76 to '79 while I was in junior high. So for people just slightly older than me it was very important. For those younger, it's nearly meaningless.

And Tail-Boomers (the tail-gunner allusion is partly deliberate) have to share Reagan with Gen-X. He was that important and influential.

DemetriosX said...

I'm just slightly older than you (2 years) and disco is nothing more than a joke to me. I do know a couple of people from the class of 76 and even they were only vaguely aware of disco, knew some of the tunes and all, but weren't really affected by the lifestyle. Wait, if the current crop of kids are Millennials, are we the (Post-) Bicentennials?

2fs said...

"Watching Trends": Why the vitriol? As for the supposed pervasiveness of the term "Generation Jones": about two years ago I googled the term, and nearly every reference led back to the guy who invented it (who, I'm beginning to think, might be you): Jonathan Pontell, his website "generationjones.com" and journal "Wise Geek" (I've omitted the stupidly trendy capitalization schema). I just googled it again: Wikipedia is the first entry; the next handful all go to one of the other sites I mention above. A term in general use would not display such a narrow range of usage.

I shopped the term around to some friends supposedly of that generation and to my students (I'm 46, my students are in college); only one or two of them had heard of it. Flasshe (above) is one of my friends; he must not remember my rant back then (there've been too many of them); he too is about my age.

"Generation Jones" just sounds stupid. There's no clear connotation (if yellojkt's interpretation is off, then what's the right one?), and it's patently artificial (did not derive from people of that generation using it).

In a neighborhood near the campus where I work, a few years back the city put up signs proclaiming the neighborhood "Trolley Hill" or something like that (apparently, once upon a time a trolley route went along the hill: that's my guess, anyway). No one had ever used the term; no one used the term afterwards; after a while the signs came down.

yellojkt said...

I'm beginning to suspect that Jonathan Pontell has plenty of sock puppets and more than a few detractors. The entire Wikipedia discussion page reeks of self-promotion. As much as I hate WikiNazis, the editors have done a good job of keeping this guy's ego in check.

DemetriosX said...

I just had a thought about Generation Mordred while I was walking the dog. I was wondering what would characterize a generation that really earned that name, other than coming after Camelot. It came to me very quickly. Mordred was a spoiled brat with a sense of entitlement, who smashed everything because he didn't get what he wanted, all the while claiming to be acting out of a sense of justice, right, and the good of the kingdom.

And it hit me: that isn't us. That describes the Boomers to a T!

Flasshe said...

Flasshe (above) is one of my friends; he must not remember my rant back then (there've been too many of them); he too is about my age.

Yeah, I can barely remember to put clothes on every morning, much less a blog entry from four years ago about a weird demographics term.

And frankly, 2fs, your posts are to me like a Michael Bay movie: all explosions and excitement while I'm reading them, but then a half hour later I can't remember what they were about. Whereas yellojkt's posts are like Mexican food.