On Being On The Generational Cusp

Ruminating on my position on the generational cusp started this summer, but the spark was planted when I entered Antioch over 3 years ago. I was talking to a fellow student, one day my senior, about how I was finding how little I could relate to the other 1st years, 3 years my junior. I said that maybe it was the just-out-of-high-school thing, but it seemed more than that- after all, I’d related to just-out-of-high-school kids at City Year for the past 2 years- they who were 1 and 2 years younger than me. This gap seemed to specifically be with people born in or after 1984.

The fellow student said that the generational shift occured in 1984, that kids born that year technically came from the generation after us. These ’84 babies (strange irony of “1984” intended or not, I don’t know, but it can hardly be ignored) were the children of ’80s yuppies or faux-hippies, and grew up with the Internet much more than me (I got online in ’95, when I was 14, and that was early for kids my age). She said that she felt that bridge with the ’84 babies more than with other younger students herself. I always meant to look more into it but never did. I kind of got used to it, being the older one, when in most other places I was the baby.

Fast forward to this summer, the term before I returned to campus to greet a group of 1st years now 6 years younger than me. My mom had cable and I got addicted to all those VH1 and E! list shows on the ’90s, child stars of the ’80s, etc. Not to mention the whole Anthony Michael Hall thing and rediscovery (or in some cases, discovery) of the John Hughes films that I so remarkably did not really grow up with.

The day I spent watching “I Love The ’90s” on VH1 was the beginning and in many ways the most telling and significant. Each year was given its own hour- I did not leave that couch except to occasionally get food or check my email during the commercial breaks for most of the day. I was quite vocal about it, reminiscing about things I hadn’t thought about in years, singing along to songs I thought I’d forgotten, frightening my mother who came and went several times during my stationery pilgrimage (gone for several hours and then: “You’re still here? It’s only on 1994?”).

The telling part was how I began to lost interest starting in 1996 or so. It wasn’t because I was bored or sore (my backside can handle sitting on a couch all day on occasion, as Adrian LeDuc so eloquently put it), it was because the pop culture items covered were now bringing me back to high school years which, though a fair chunk of my life behind me, failed to offer the enchanting nostalgia of a forgotten childhood. Sometime during 1997- which also marked the time period I began to opt out of pop culture almost entirely- the TV was turned off.

So it was these early years that, fascinatingly, I was fascinated by. And these are the years when even a few years’ age difference- say, 3- make a huge difference in one’s consciousness of the environment and particularly- my particular area of fascination- the entertainment directed at one. And so it naturally stands that while the New Kids On The Block do not necessarily continue to influence my life and my character (if they ever did to a substantial degree), I will feel somewhat alienated from people who do not remember them- them that I have taken for granted as an unequivocal part of the formative years of myself and them who I have traditionally thought of as my peers. Forget something like “The X-Files”, which, though was certainly on long enough to catch younger kids later on, they will not remember when it premiered. “The X-Files” was hugely significant in my life, and I bet it helped to shape my character, and a big part of that was as my self-given title as one of the original X-philes (if not the original- it was, after all, infamously, my favorite show even before it came out- which is another story entirely. But it’s true).

It works the other way too, obviously. But not getting the references of my older friends is nothing new to me. When I was 17 my best friend was 25 and so not relating to her relationship to ’80s alternative music was a given. More recently, one of my closest friends is 4 years older than me- and though the age gap has narrowed, many of the references remain foreign. Even more recently, this year in fact, a 28-year-old friend- in reference to my blog post about “I Love The ’90s”, went on about how hooked he was on “I Love The ’80s”. Four years and yet our cultural identity is divided by a decade.

But again- that is nothing new. The other day I was talking to a friend who was born in 1985. She did not remember the New Kids On The Block. Or even later things like Sublime which brought me through high school. She told me that instead, her NKOTB was The Spice Girls and her Sublime was Britney Spears. Musical tastes aside, it’s the fact that I was too old to consider her things anything more than teenybopper stuff that we found interesting.

I’m sure it’s to do largely with my having older friends growing up, but not many younger ones. I have often been friends with ’82 babies, but my first (and only) friend any younger than that before entering college was when I was in 11th grade (’97-’98) and she was in 9th. I never did ask her if she knew the New Kids On The Block, but maybe I should have.

This was all reinforced by my purchase and reading voraciously of “Generation Ecch!, which all happened during my holiday in between these past summer and fall terms. I remember when the whole Gen-X thing was happening, though I knew I was too young for it and my attempts to identify with college-aged and college-graduated people at the age of 14 was futile.

But this book made me refine my relationship with the “twentysomething” “slackers” of the ’90s (after all, I loved OK soda and called 1-800-I-FEEL-OK daily): I was the kid sister of Gen-X. I was an only child with a single parent who intentionally did not bring me up with any particular ideology because she wanted me to “just be myself”- so naturally I had to look into the world-at-large for influence, especially when compounded with being such a loner and moving too much to have much steady influence in my immediate environment. So it was all about TV. And movies. And music. And magazines. And these were filled with the phenomenon of the Gen-X’ers. They were it, they were making it, but I was being nursed on and raised by it. It was that that ultimately shaped my life and my character. This is something that proper Gen-Y/Millenials cannot say.

These is no consensus about when Generation X ends. I have seen the years 1978 through 1984 given as the “official” end. But most commonly I see the year right in the middle- 1981- which also happens to be the year I was born.

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