You’ve got to hand it to Gen Xers. We have been so ambivalent about everything we have finally been totally forgotten. I saw some nonsense poll on the news about generations and they had Baby Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z. I was like, “Well, holy crap, they’ve just stopped acknowledging we exist.” This should surprise no one, least of all a Gen Xer.

In a world where we are obsessed with defining groups, Gen Xers have accidentally beguiled society by being distinctively vague. Our very definition can be summarized as a noncommittal shrug.

Honestly, it was all fun and games to be the forgotten generation until our teenagers landed their first, “Okay, Boomer” on us and, we were like, “What the hell did you just call me?” Turns out the younger generations don’t even know that Gen X was/is a thing. It got me thinking, what is Gen X even? After careful research, meaning none, I’ve come to this conclusion: Who the hell knows?

The Middle Child of Generations
Society has been too obsessed with the Boomers and the Millennials to notice us and find out who we are. It’s fine. Whatever. We’re used to it. We are like the middle child of generations. We sit quietly at the dinner table, fading into the background, while our smug older sibling lectures the baby of the family for wanting free college. We try not to snicker audibly when the baby rattles our older sibling by citing that they did have free college. Like good middle children, we keep our mouths shut because we know they will both beat the crap out of us.

The Barely Parented Generation
Being invisible is kind of our specialty. Just ask our parents. Unlike the Boomers who grew up under the hawkish eye of parents who lived through the depression (good luck throwing anything out), and long before the advent of the Tiger Mom and Helicopter parent (good luck getting away with anything), Gen Xers roamed the neighborhood freely, mostly feral.

70s car seats
1970s Car Seats – SMH

This wasn’t all bad, mind you. We lived entire lives our parents knew nothing about, lives that involved cigarettes, Lord of the Flies-esque marauding, and abject bullying before there was a hashtag. You know what we called bullies? Popular kids. Simpler times.

I’d argue we were the least parented generation of all time mostly due to our parents’ disinterest in us, coupled with their overabundance of confidence that we’d be fine. Of course, a billion-dollar therapy industry would later prove this untrue. But, in our parents’ defense, they had very few data points on child rearing, that Dr. Spock book, and the one, I guess, on the joy of spankings? “The Wooden Spoon” chapter being especially well-worn.

The Tantric Generation
Despite Freud’s theory, it wasn’t all our parents’ fault we vanished from history. Another curious thing about Gen X is that we aren’t defined by one horrifyingly catastrophic event on the world stage during our childhood years. Boomers grew up in the ominous shadows of World War II. Millennials grew up in the chaotic shadows of a post-9/11 America. Gen Xers? Well, we grew up with that gas shortage…oh, and just the constant threat of world destruction by nuclear war that never ended up happening. Whatever. It’s fine. We were the tantric generation…sustaining anxiety for decades, always on the verge of destruction, but never quite getting to climax. Not as fun as the Sting version.

We don’t talk about it much, who would listen, but flirting with utter doom takes its toll on your psyche, man. That night our entire generation watched the oh-so-uplifting made-for-TV movie, The Day After, that cheerfully explores a post-nuclear war apocalypse, we adopted “whatever” as our collective anthem. Seriously, what was the point?

Cheerful little family movie.

What’s insane is that in 1983 something like 100 million Americans in 39 million households watched this movie at the exact same time. I was 13 years old. 13! Gen X was raised by parents who popped popcorn and gathered their families for the nuclear destruction movie while simultaneously lecturing us for not having any life direction. Trust me, we were thinking, “Okay, Boomer” long before it was cool.

The Generation of Programmed Television
But when I think about what truly defines Gen X, it’s that we grew up watching the same limited TV shows and movies…at the exact same time. Think about that. Our collective pop culture experience is ridiculous. “Must See TV” wasn’t a slogan, it was our reality. Get your shit together by 8pm or, sorry, buddy, no soup for you!

The world is going to blow up, but…Happy Thanksgiving!

Combine our non-parenting and doom complexes with the programmed television of the 70s and 80s and you get to the heart of Gen X…Escapism. We drowned our fears in the comforting problem-solving format that made us believe you could build a golf cart on a deserted island, assemble a motorcycle while temporarily blind, find your soulmate on a 3-day cruise to Acapulco, and outwit Mr. Roper every time. I mean, you can. The guy was super clueless.

So, forget being impressed by the Millennials growing up with the internet… or Gen Z having the world’s information in the palm of their hand since birth. The bonds of Gen Xer are far more powerful: A completely skewed view of reality that was utterly destroyed when we emerged into young adulthood.

The Reality Bites Generation
Let’s just say that the Brady Bunch and Happy Days failed to prepare us aptly for graduating college into a recession. Not only did we finally find out the world wasn’t going to blow up and we had to get that life direction our Boomer parents lectured us on, worse, we were not going to be in a sitcom opening montage. Come and knock on our door? Yeah, not so much. I still have never ridden a tandem bike, which is a bunch of BS.

Ayyyyyyy

Yeah, we were pretty lost until the movie Reality Bites came out and explained it all to us. If our reputation is that we don’t embrace anything, screw that. We have been bunkered down in “what’s the pointism” quite impressively for decades.

But now – perhaps now – our time has come as a generation to shed our invisibility cloak and take our rightful place as the generation that invented noncommittal shrugs and perfected the delivery of the word, “whatever.” It might be exactly what the world needs. Before Boomers finally pop that bulging blood vessel in their foreheads, and Millennials rightfully tell us all to go to hell, and Gen Zs make an app to plug us all into the matrix, maybe we can come together and unite the generations to create one incredible supergeneration!

After all, we are Children of the Fonz! We are little bit country AND a little bit rock and roll, we don’t play ball in the house because “Mom always said, don’t play ball in the house.” We survived watching Fantasy Island whilst babysitting. We know the cost of every grocery item in the 70s and 80s from faking sick and watching The Price is Right. We spay and neuter our animals because Bob Barker told us and he was right. We are hots and pepper corporated, or whatever they said on Laverne and Shirley.

We are Gen X, dammit! UNITE!!!

Or whatever.

**********************

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216 Comments

  1. You must have been living under a rock because you forgot the challenger explosion, the gulf war, baby Jessica in the well, Oklahoma City bombing, 1st World Trade Center bombing, Rodney King, Elian Gonzalez, Wako (sp)! Those were some of our “big life events

    1. All of those were certainly big deals, but not exactly the same as a WWII or the beginning of global terrorism killing 3000 innocent civilians on 9/11. Look, I can’t believe I have to keep saying this, but it’s all just my point of view….and hard to cover all the things all the people of my generation thought were important in 1,100 words. It’s why other people can write their own blogs on their own experiences and thoughts on any subject including Gen-X! Also, I wasn’t living under a rock, I was catching frogs in a nearby swamp!!! Ah, the 70s.

      1. LOL touché and spot on. I LOVED THIS PIECE and find it charming and funny and sad and quick witted and accurate af (within the confines of 1100 words) and now I’m going to follow you everywhere. Thanks for sharing your opinions and experiences and writing talent and making my day.

      2. I very much enjoyed the read, thanks for shaing your insights and brining a smiler to fellower GenX-rs. It doesn’t sound to me like you spent any time under a rock. The 70’s were really great. Not a lot of organized sports, not the way they do it these days. We spent more time exploring, creating adventures and catching frogs than repeatdely showing up at soccer fields.

    2. I absolutely had that pink and purple argyle sweater vest from the Thanksgiving picture.

      There’s photographic evidence.

      Uggg.

      Whatever.

    3. P.S.–I forgot to say thank you for such a fun, delightful and clever blog. I was lying in bed (couldn’t sleep…you know, that middle-aged side-effect ?) and you had me laughing hysterically as I read it. So great!!???

  2. Eh, it’s all kind of arbitrary. Generation X was created by advertisers in order to sell products. Kress and Van Leuwen (who did the whole “generation chart”) originally called this Generation 13. Generation X became popular only after Douglas Coupland’s book. But overall, whenever people talk about Generations, they’re talking about a way to divide up market groups for advertising.

  3. Hey…I’m going to delete this comment. It’s just not in the spirit of my blog or my site. I think millenials are awesome and my kids are Gen Z. I even know some pretty great Boomers. Not that they don’t spank us…they’re pretty cool. 🙂

  4. Younger people think I’m a boomer, even though I’m not quite old enough. I think I missed it by three or four years.

    1. I’m learning a lot about the Gen Tweens…Boom Xers and Xennials or something like that. Interesting stuff.

  5. Thanks for the well-written and witty article. As a Gen Xer, I enjoyed it a lot and would like to follow you on Fb, if only you were to write under a realistic pen name (just M. doesn’t cut it for me, I’m afraid).

    1. That’s literally the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard on here. And I was called stupid earlier. You don’t deserve me. Have a nice life, “Charles.”

      -Signed, M. Blazoned (I can’t with these people.)

  6. One correction: our parents were not the Boomers. Our parents were the silent generation. They were born during the Great Depression and were too young for WWII. Their war was Korea, the forgotten war.

  7. What blows my mind is that Generation X was the name of the book that contained interviewed with a bunch of Baby Boomers in 1964 with an emphasis on distrust of authority and religion.

    So how did we get stuck with *their* label?

    1. That’s so interesting. I did not know that. Honestly, I never research on blogs because I don’t want to accidentally take someone else’s thoughts, but I would really love to read a good researched article on Gen X now that I’ve given my take. Thanks for sharing.

  8. “ build a golf cart on a deserted island, assemble a motorcycle while temporarily blind, find your soulmate on a 3-day cruise to Acapulco…”
    I really need you to cite your sources here as I vaguely recall all 3 but can’t quite.

    1. Gilligan’s Island, Happy Days…the Fonz went temporarily blind and assembled a motorcycle, The Love Boat! 🙂

  9. Spot on in every way (including the cigarettes!). I sometimes look back and wonder how the heck my parents managed to be so completely hands-off. Being sandwiched between Boomers and Millenials is a tough place to be.

    1. Tough for my kids to understand about the cigarettes since they rarely see people smoking. I told them the smoking age to buy cigarettes was 16 and there was an outdoor place at my high school for smoking. The Smoking Lounge. I didn’t officially smoke, but in the 70s and 80s lots of people smoked a little bit. Different times!

  10. I swear if I could only write like you. Default parent is like my life anthem right now and then I found this perfectly well written take on our generation and geesh, can we best friends? Ok so weird but truly I love your writing. Thank you for making me laugh so hard as I lay here in bed with a kids sharp heel wedged in my ribs.

    1. It’s actually German for “rabbit stew” and no…I’m not kidding. *Shoulder shrug* Not sure why they chose it, except that the syllables fit and it is kinda fun to say. Thing is, my son has a cute little bunny for a pet, so even thinking about this totally grosses me out! Oops, there’s that Gen X’er talk slipping out! Oh well, whatever.

  11. This was 100% spot-on. Thank you for articulating what I’ve been trying to say for ages. Always felt ‘oh well, whatever, nevermind’ summed up my generation quite nicely. 🙂

    1. apropos of everything i never really paid much attention to nirvana until after kurt died
      he was one of us for sure.

  12. I have never read anything that explained my life so perfectly. Thank you for explaining why I have felt lost all these years. You are an amazing writer. And us Gen X’ers need to stick together. or not. Dude. Whatever. Let Mikey decide. He likes it!

      1. Thanks for a great explanation of one of these terms. Now, can you tell me where I fit in? I was bit. In 1944,,,.my son in 1968 and daughter in 1970. All did well and were well educated and successful. Me, well, I’m just confused. I have a 28 yr old staying with me who has no idea what a slide rule is or a getto blaster. Can’t cook! No idea who the Fonz is.
        Where is this generation going? They can only google and can’t read or write cursive! Take away cell phones, tv, fast food, cars and they will perish!
        Love your blog. Keep it up!

  13. The perfect toast to us ‘70’s kids.. who raised each other by the clock of the street lights. Funny how I never let my teenage son get away with “whatever” as a reason!

  14. Hey… what about Chernobyl and the end of the (original) Cold War???? We did have our events, but I guess we didn’t care too much about it. ??‍♀️?

  15. I think this is the best thing I’ve ever read on Gen-Xers… and I used to have to read info on this for work. Well done!!

  16. I have to laugh. As I’m reading this spot-on article, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit comes on the radio. Feels like a serendipitous moment.

  17. I’m on the older end of the GenX spread, but this fits me pretty well anyway. I work with Boomers at my day job, and have to deal with Millennials on the weekend. I’d tell them all where to get off, but….meh.

  18. The most empowering lesson I’ve learned working with women of all ages, in all stages of life is Gen X women are the first generation where “the pause” is being celebrated with fulfilling our dreams and ambitions. By this time in our live’s we’ve learned life is not fair, nor is anything guaranteed. The combination of being just young enough to be savvy with technology and just old enough to know who we are and what we want, gives us an advantage that no other generation has had. Do you realize we are changing the changes for our daughters and every generation thereafter? That’s a pretty powerful movement that we all are taking part in and giving to ourselves, one another, and to the world.

  19. You captured gen X’ers perfectly! I hardly ever leave comments. I had to express my thanks for helping explain parts of myself that I never understood, a gnosis which you articulated so well!

  20. Great article, very well written, I loved it! No wait…super loved it! It was like, totally the awesomest at explaining our generation in a quick read! Sad part is, now you’ve got me missing my childhood. Especially all the great TV shows and movies…oh wait! I can pull these up on Netflix, duh! Ahh, the great ones; Dukes of Hazzard, The Love Boat, Gilligan’s Island, Happy Days (Speaking of which, I watch reruns of The Andy Griffith Show on TV Land and even though that came along before we did, it makes me happy); hey, does that mean that in my mind I’m crossing into Boomtown?! Yikes! Oh well, life sure was simpler back then or perhaps our brains were, you know, pre-exposed of today’s technology that does a lot of our thinking for us? Math problems, talking maps, hell, a chick named Alexa will tell you absolutely everything there is to know in a nano second and you cannot piss her off…it’s infuriating! Hmmmm, maybe I’ll ask her what she knows about us Gen-Xer’s….but I’ll be nice and give it another 10 mins until hubby’s alarm goes off at 7am; after all, Alexa does sleep on his side of the bed. Whatever.

  21. I LOVE this.. I have a teenage son whom, when I miss something he says (Gen Z), he calls me a boomer. And I’m hardly slow, stupid, or a Boomer! But when I try to explain Gen X he literally throws his hands up saying his peers already feel we don’t or won’t count historically. It amazes me, but like, ok, whatever. What he does acknowledge is that He considers me tougher than most other parent’s. While I’m a single mom (& his dad), he must earn every dollar. He knows he’s on his own at 18. And while I’m here for him, more than he expects or realizes, yeah, he won’t be treated as some snowflake, living at home, entitled bum.

  22. I’m a tweeter. My early childhood was the Beatles, high school was the 70s and college the 80s. I experienced the boomer and gen x life all at the same time. I grew up with Vietnam but it ended just as I became an adult. Happy Days was on during college. Weird time to grow up.

  23. As an older Gen Xer, I agree with most of this, except that we weren’t defined by a catastrophic event. To me, the AIDS crisis was pretty damn scary and possibly generation defining.

    1. Yep I was getting ready to write the same. AIDS. it was a reality watching friends die and somehow discovering sexual freedom lost its mystic and thrill.

      And then there’s the shared anxiety and lack of solidarity behind a cause … maybe because we watch a generation sell out and then graduated I to the aftermath of a massive recession. Unlike millennials no one cheered and mentored is into our careers .. nope we were a threat to aging boomers unwilling to give up their youthful stage branded X.

      Also unlike boomers and millennials Who were coddled in their childhood years. We grew up ´latch&key’ alone.

      And there was new threat the world wasn’t safe anymore – series killers gained fame and without t access to cell phones, blogs, or computers all communication was one way – a cacophony of fear as boomers running news agencies followed if it bleeds it leads’

      We watched as Regan deregulated and busted unions. We watched and witnessed hypocrisy and the idea of social kindness deflated.

      From all that we are the generation that fought to end apartheid, navigated the uproar and fall out of bra burning women rights and brought in LGBTQ….

      we took an idea of the internet and made something of it. We managed to integrate the radical idealism of the Me generation into the social fabric of our grandparents world. And we did it all without the fanfare that the boomers and Millennials require .

      And then there’s the carob…

    2. Thank you for this. I got an “Ok boomer” a few weeks ago. I explained that as the generational middle child…I’ll cut you.

      This was amazing.

    3. Great article! I have been thinking this myself lately as I see so much talk about Boomers and Millennials. I do agree with the above comment though, the AIDS crisis was the catastrophic event of our generation.

  24. Here’s the thing: we never learned to properly complain or nag and browbeat our communities, governments, entertainments, schools, colleges, or other institutions with exaggerated, I dignant caterwauling. Generally speaking, the boomers changed some things that needed to be changed and then kept going once they got them ; then got bored and just took it too far. Millennials have created a potential art form snd new science out if being offended.

  25. We made apathy cool…. And that may be what’s destroyed our Republic. If only we actually cared what the Third Way Democrats, the Council on Foreign Affairs, the National Prayer Breakfast types, and the Tea Party funders were actually up to then we might have found our collective ire and actually Rocked the Vote.

    1. I think we thought it would never get this bad. Like John Mayer’s, “Waiting on the World to Change.” I’ve been an activist though, so no regrets here.

    1. It’s “Hossenfeffer” Inc. It’s a German recipe for cooking rabbit and actually came from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. You forgot to mention as generation we all got up at 6:00am on Saturdays to watch cartoons!!

  26. Great piece. Loved the lined about roaming the neighbor “mostly feral.” We are also the last generation to experience true local TV programming. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, one never missed Creature Features on a Friday night (recently revived on Youtube).

  27. Love this article SO much! Obviously, I’m a Gen-Xer, born in 1974. Your comment “I still have never ridden a tandem bike, which is a bunch of BS.” Had me literally laughing out loud, not “lol? ing” . I laughed out loud for awhile, because that was a “totally awesome” statement.
    You rock! Thanks for the great article:)

  28. Great article! I think one of the reasons we are a forgotten generation is because there is less of us. We are a much smaller cohort than the Boomers and the Millennials. We are The Few, The Proud. We are GENERATION X! THE BEST!

  29. We didn’t create any of the current situation because we never had the power. Part of what defines us is being born into a demographic trough, sandwiched between the boomers (hence their name) and the current millennials. We didn’t just graduate into a recession, we graduated into a world where boomers had already taken all the damn jobs and weren’t letting them go. We adopted this ‘meh’ attitude as a coping mechanism, not the other way around.

    NB: We are not the children of boomers. We were born from the previous cohort, called the silent generation. Now they’re getting erased just like us.

    1. That depends on when you were born and when your parents were born. But, thanks for joining the conversation!

  30. Enjoyed the read and yet, it hadn’t occured to me that we were forgotten until you mentioned. I’m a product of my birth, 1974 living in a world not of that time!!! lol Good read!

  31. Love it! The middle kid generation. To make it better I’m the middle kid, girl with two brothers, in gen X. Older brother is a Boomer. So yeah. Whatever. LOL

  32. AND, when we watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on Friday night, we watched the baby zebra get eaten by the Lions. We didn’t Like that part, but no one felt we should be shielded from the reality it. We learned to process uncomfortable, not nice things.

  33. Add “Jaws” as a defining moment in our childhood. I never liked the ocean after that stupid movie. I watched it recently. It’s actually really good, but it warped me.

    Also add “latch key kid” to the list. I roamed all over our small town after school until my parents got off work. Never a dull moment.

  34. This also explains all those shows where the parents are cluelessly unconcerned and the kids go about fighting government agencies or disappearing. Think “Stranger Things” or “ET” – people think, where the hell were the parents? We just shrug and think, that’s just the way it was! I am still shocking my mother with things we used to do – and I even got caught doing a lot of stuff as it was!

    1. Yes! My father to this day says to me ” you were smart, i never thought you were in danger ever, i knew you knew to call me if things got really bad and I knew your friends were too, I did crap my parents would die if they knew I just knew you were ok, like the time you were 17 and went to Mexico to drink and your friends couldn’t drive back because they were too drunk, ok I grounded you for a couple of days but it was a relief knowing you knew to ask for help”

  35. I love and relate to every word of this article. Maybe I will unite with you…or whatever. I always thought I was a go with the flow kind of girl because I was a military brat and now you have me questioning everything!! 🙂

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