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Will Gen X save the world?

Posted by Joshua Glenn  March 12, 2008 07:11 PM

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Back in April 2006, Details editor-at-large Jeff Gordinier contributed an amusing essay to that magazine titled "Has Generation X Already Peaked?"

By Generation X, Gordinier meant those Americans born, like he and I apparently both were, between 1966 and 1977. These dates are, of course, within spitting distance of the parameters that I've suggested for Generation PC (1964-73, mistakenly labeled Xers back in the Nineties). Unlike the majority of journalists who sound off about recent American generations, then, Gordinier is in the ballpark. So I'm inclined to pay attention to what he has to say.

In his 2006 essay, Gordinier grumbled that the MSM was completely fascinated with our generation when we were directionless slackers in our 20s, and it became fascinated with us again once we kickstarted the New Economy in our 30s. But in 2006, when we were turning 40, the MSM seemed only interested only in our elders and juniors... that is to say, the Boomers and their children, variously labeled Millennials or Generation Y.

Like any good PCer -- we learned to disrespect the Boomers from our cool older siblings, the Original Generation X -- Gordinier claimed to be exasperated with the MSM's endless fascination with the Boomers' collective 60th birthday. (Although my own periodization claims that the Boomers were born from 1944-53, demographers usually claim that the baby boom began in 1946... so the oldest Boomers were turning 60 in 2006.) He wrote:

You see this stuff everywhere, and you just know what's coming. David Crosby's face transplant. The James Taylor-Carly Simon remake of On Golden Pond . Woodstock IV: Return to the Garden, cosponsored by Nike, Botox and Ben & Jerry's. The Brown Acid line of tie-dyed Depends. It's only a matter of time. Those insufferable boomers are tucking into another gluttonous, cheek-smeared smorgasbord of self-importance. Don't even try to escape.

Gordinier, who moonlights as a columnist for the Poetry Foundation's website, also expressed disdain for Generation Y, based on the kvelling we've heard about them (so polite! such good workers! and consumers!) for a decade:

They just love stuff. They love celebrities. They love technology. They love brand names.... They're happy to do whatever advertising tells them to do. So what if they can't manage to read anything longer than an instant message?

As lame as "Gen X" (read: PCers) may be, he concluded, we were better than these guys.

Entertaining stuff, for what was a (mostly) tongue-in-cheek manifesto of generational consciousness. And then something funny happened. Gordinier landed a contract to write a book about our generation. And while doing so (over the past year or so), he decided that... PCers really aren't lame, after all. In fact, we might save the world.

In the publicity video clip below, Gordinier explains what his forthcoming book, "X Saves the World" (Viking), is all about.

I have no idea if I'll like the book or not; I haven't read it yet. But I empathize with Gordinier when he says, "The title of the book is 'X Saves the World.' That's meant ironically, of course. It's meant in a comic-book way. And yet, to paraphrase Johnny Rotten, 'I mean it, man.'" Because the only possible way to write about generations is half-ironically, half-seriously. Everyone else is a joker or a snake-oil salesman.

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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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