Thursday, August 16, 2012

Generation Ex

My column today for the Daily Banter takes a look at Paul Ryan's age -- and whether his experience jibes with the traditional definition of "Gen X."

Here's the opening shot:

"There’s an entertaining little column currently running at that I have to admit made me do a double-take, mostly because it focuses on something about Paul Ryan that I should have picked up on but which I’ve strangely overlooked: he’s my age. The piece posits that Ryan’s 'Gen X sensibilities' will be an asset to him as he attempts to ascend to the second-highest office in the land and trumpets the fact that he’s the first person of his generation — my generation — to run on an American presidential ticket. Obviously, he won’t be the last since the Baby Boomers are on their way out as the dominant cultural force and, well, we’re next in line..."

Read the Rest Here


Eric said...

There's argument over when "Gen X" begins and ends, but Douglas Coupland (who popularized the phrase) used it to refer to people born after 1960, as have others.

The President, of course, was born in 1961.

If he's a Boomer--if--he's a late one, very late, one who has disparaged the kind of politics associated with Boomers like the Clintons, Newt Gingrich, et al. If he's a Boomer--if--he's a Boomer who is young enough to be my hypothetical older brother (by nine years), close enough in age he remembers the same TV shows, music, movies, events, etc. I do, in much the same context I do (i.e., as a kid, not as something that happened when he was an adult).

Me, if it isn't obvious? I think Barack Obama is a Generation Xer. I don't think the Boomers get to claim him. I get that they do--I've had this argument before and I honestly don't want to rehash it. I will concede it's a close call and both sides can find people whose definitions of "Gen X" and "Baby Boomer" will support their respective claims. But my opinion, nevertheless, doesn't change. Obama is my generation. I wish we could give the Boomers Paul Ryan if they're looking for draftees.

Anyway, that's why the CNN piece lost me in their first paragraph. Their vapid thesis is wrong. Ryan isn't the first Xer to be nominated to a major ticket--there's one of us in the White House already.

Chez said...

Agree completely about Obama being Gen X.

Eric said...

I'm bad at math: he's eleven years older than me, not nine. But that doesn't change my point. I just realized I keep doing that for some reason.


Anonymous said...

". . . since the Baby Boomers are on their way out as the dominant cultural force and, well, we’re next in line."

Thank God.

Jester said...

Dunno, gonna have to disagree with you on this one. GenX sensibilities also encompass obsessiveness, geekishness (along with a certain bent toward geek philosophy), concentration of one's aptitudes on a small subset of interests that may or may not dovetail with those of our parents, and a group that felt we were facing a lot of peer pressure and an ill-defined and hostile future. We're also a generation of slackers that for as long as possible avoid honest work.

Looked at in those terms, I think Ryan qualifies just fine. He's almost ridiculously geeky, focused his aptitudes on his obsessions, was clearly concerned about a hostile and ill-defined future, and slacked off from work so much that he immediately became a politician. You might not agree with the *direction* he took his geekishness and obsessiveness -- I certainly don't! -- but I don't think his choice of direction makes them less valid.

I'm also a GenXer (born within a couple months of you, Chez) and I think he easily fits in our generation.

It's Obama that doesn't. He's Generation Jones from head to toe, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But he's not a GenX'er.

C.L.J. said...

Obama absolutely has key GenX sensibilities:
- Generation X came of age in an era of two-income families, rising divorce rates and a faltering economy. Women were joining the workforce in large numbers, spawning an age of “latch-key” children. As a result, Generation X is independent, resourceful and self-sufficient.
- The first generation to grow up with computers, technology is woven into their lives.

For me, the real measure is Woodstock; for Baby Boomers, this is a major mile marker. I was five; Obama was 7. I don't think either of us was aware of it, or would have cared if someone told us about it on the day.

Nicole said...


Those in Generation Jones (such as Obama) were barely aware of Woodstock, if at all. They were all certainly too young too attend.

Thomas B said...

Paul Ryan probably worshipped at the altar of Michael J. Fox's Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties, is what I'm guessing. I can picture him in the early to mid-eighties, wondering where on Earth he could find a Richard Nixon lunch-box.

pea said...

I dunno - I'm a year younger than POTUS, and I never heard the phrase Gen X till I was 30, which is a longass time to go unnamed. I think we're the generation that needed no defining. And for the record, I was 6 and I knew about Woodstock, but that was primarily because I had a cute 18-year-old boy and Phil Ochs's mother as babysitters.

I always thought of my generation as the betrayed generation, growing up during civil rights struggles including Selma and Stonewall, assassination after assassination of major public figures, the Vietnam quagmire, and exposure of the abuse of power through Watergate. That shit had a profound effect on us as kids.

Gen Xers I always defined as the children that were born in the 70s onward, the ones that missed living through all that awfulness and grew up in a time of national peace. Many of them have a sense of security and entitlement that is thoroughly nauseating, thanks to the culture of greed and acquisitiveness that took root in the 80s. Ryan is classic Gen X, but that's seriously not necessarily a good thing.

Eric said...

Pea: I was born after 1970and I grew up with the energy crisis, Ronald Reagan destroying the social contract, and a strong gut feeling the world was going to end in a nuclear bang before the 80s were done. People living in cars. Farms collapsing. Famine overseas. The start of the AIDS epidemic. Environmental deregulation. The air controllers strike making the effective end of organized labor as anything more than a fundraising machine for Democrats. National peace? Missed the awfulness? A bunch of us thought we were all going to die because a senile jackass couldn't tell reality from the B-movies he made when he was merely the poor director's Fred MacMurray.

Meanwhile, soon as Vietnam ended, almost all the hippies got haircuts, jobs, and voted for Republicans. You want to talk betrayed?

But why am I mad at you? By a lot of definitions, you're an Xer, too, whether you heard the term or not. Your feeling of betrayal is my feeling of betrayal. Okay, you could be a Jones, I'll concede. A lot of people would call you a Boomer, but I'm not buying that.

In any case, I know the people you're talking about, as many of them are my (your) peers. It isn't because they're Gen X. It's that they're assholes.