I’ve always been a bit of a trailblazer, a leader because I hate sitting around waiting for someone else to do something, a firstborn. That’s why I knew, from the first days of 1961 that I was of a different generation, not the one into which I was just born, but a new one. One that was just getting started - Generation X.
Argue with me if you must that I’m just another aging Baby Boomer clinging to the last shreds of my youth by pushing the start date of Generation X back a couple of years. But bear with me for a few paragraphs if you can. Gen-X is more a state of mind than something you need a birth certificate to be a part of. Its end date is defined by the launch of MTV, which was 1981, or 30 years ago this week. Unless you didn’t have cable until 1982, or maybe 1983.
By which time Barack Obama (and me) were in our early 20s. We’d been born when JFK was President, but we don’t remember him, much less where we were when he was shot. (Baby Boomer cred for being a full-fledged member of that generation is awarded by you remembering that it was a Friday, and you were in 6th grade in Catholic School and told the bad news by a nun.) For Barack and me, the Beatles came in cartoon form on a Saturday morning, the Monkees were our first rock band, Batman will forever be played by Adam West and the full-length movie to get excited about is not the stuff Hollywood unimaginatively still churns out, but the one from 1966 when the Batmobile turns into a boat!
The President’s birth certificate has been scrutinized enough and it’s official – he was born 50 years ago today, August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. He’d be a top-of-the-class Gen-X’er to be able to recall the entire plot of the three-part Brady Bunch Hawaii episode shot in his hometown. Like the Bradys, it wasn’t that the real problems of the ‘60s or ‘70s didn’t exist in our day-to-day – it’s just that we were kids, and it was way cooler to watch Marcia get an astronaut to take her to her junior prom than worry about what would happen to our favorite TV show if Greg got drafted. Life got a little too serious for us (maybe) during the Iran Hostage Crisis (I wore a button that said “Iran Sucks”) and if we wanted to represent like the Baby Boomers before us did en masse, we could go to a free “No Nukes” concert. If you hung around long enough you might get to see Jackson Browne singing a song or two.
Gen-X gave us the term “slacker”, as well as the movie of the same name. A slacker isn’t a bad thing to spend most of your 20s and 30s being, if it means you’ll become a U.S. Senator in your 40s, President before you’re 50. Like me, Barack changed colleges (Occidental to Columbia) and jobs (law firm associate, university professor, community organizer) before finding his groove in his 40s. That’s about the time most of us born in this generation get (or will get) a clue about what we really want to do when we grow up.
Not our fault though. We’ve been busy. Spending most of your 20s replacing your Elvis Costello vinyl with CDs and your 30s drinking strong coffee and surfing the ‘Net, seeking something, be it a job or the “Missed Connections” on Craigslist was hard work. We took money out of the ATM and bought a slab of bottled water in case the year 2000 caused a day or two of inconvenience and then we spent the Bush Jr. years getting our shit together. We gave up on the generation that gave us Bush Jr. and two Clintons, the one that spoke to us in bumper sticker slogans and Fleetwood Mac lyrics and exchanged all that for hope and change – sort of.
Douglas Coupland wrote the book that defines the era in which Barack and I came of age called, all irony aside, Generation X. Coupland, like Barack and me, was also born in 1961. The authors of another book called Generations “year-marked” 1961 as the start of the 13th Generation, a period of 20 years. Those born between 1961 and 1981 are believed to be part of a Nomad (or Reactive) generation “born during an Awakening, spending our rising adult years during an Unraveling, struggling through midlife during a Crisis, but getting to spend our old age in a new High” (which I’m really looking forward to, by the way). Potential fans of this book (by William Strauss and Neil Howe) will double, when they learn that the Baby Boom Generation has been wound back to start in 1943. It’s like a fountain of youth!
Less heady, though, especially for us Nomads is the Coupland bible, which has chapter titles like “I Am Not a Target Market”, “Celebrities Die”, and “Define Normal”. There! Not only did I just save you the hours it would take to download and read this under 200-page book on your mobile device, I’ve broken down what Barack and me and all the others in our generation have known for a long time. Reality bites. Pop culture helps. Happy Birthday, Mr. President.