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Generation Obama?

Posted by Joshua Glenn  March 11, 2008 01:01 PM

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As I mentioned yesterday, an argument that I made over a year ago -- i.e., Barack Obama is not a Boomer, but a member of Generation X -- has in recent weeks and months been advanced (finally) by other journalists, too.

For example: The New York Times called Obama an Xer last month. Writing for The Nation this past December, Lakshmi Chaudhry made the same argument; her essay was picked up by CBS News. And earlier this winter, Andrew Sullivan started writing and blogging about this topic for The Atlantic Monthly.

Please note: I'm not suggesting that any of these journalists are stealing my ideas. I don't think they've read my Brainiac posts about Obama and the Original Generation X (OGXers, as I call 'em). Because if they had, why are they still getting America's recent generations all mixed up? However, there was one funny coincidence, recently.

In my original post about Obama-as-Xer, I used the following iconic image of the Brat Pack, most of whom are members of the OGX:


So it was hilarious to see the image that the supposedly cutting-edge Boston Phoenix used to illustrate David S. Bernstein's belated story about Obama-as-Xer, in this week's issue. Here it is:

Click on image to see expanded view

Many thanks to the anonymous reader who forwarded this to me!

Bernstein's story is a fine description of the ironic, politically paralyzed but not apathetic generation popularly known as Generation X. Unfortunately, although Bernstein imagines that he's writing about Obama's generation, he's actually writing about his own: PCers. Typical journalistic ham-handedness when it comes to American generations!

What we need, if you ask me, is a description of OGXer politics. What makes an OGXer tick, politically? How is an OGXer's worldview different from that of a Boomer? These are critical questions. As Peter Canellos -- himself an OGXer -- put it in his Globe column over a year ago, OGXers like Obama "grew up in the aftermath of the huge cultural storm, not the middle. [They] saw a country engaged in the far less dramatic, but perhaps equally significant, endeavor of assimilating social changes." OGXer politics, Canellos ventured to guess, might have something to do with ending the Culture Wars (and the politics of identity) and erasing divisions -- racial, gender, religious -- not just in the United States but around the world.

Heady stuff! Fellow journalists, I encourage you to continue your (recent) efforts to figure out Obama's generational political worldview. Step 1: Stop mixing up Boomers, OGXers, and PCers!

Bernstein was born in 1967 -- like me, then, he is a PCer, not an OGXer. Boomers were born between 1944 and 1953; OGXers between 1954 and 1963; and PCers between 1964 and 1973. Although PCers may have mistakenly been labeled "Generation X" by the MSM, that doesn't mean that we're members of Obama's generation. Sorry!

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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