Reality shreds myths about Gen X

by Jennifer Jochim, Outpost Contributor

In this package:

Defining a generation

Facts & figures

The stereotypical definition given to Generation X by the media is one that leads society to believe that it is made up of frustrated, cynical, hopeless and unmotivated slackers who have McJobs, still live at home, wear grunge clothing and listen to alternative music while hanging out in coffee shops all day because they have nothing better to do.

After Douglas Coupland wrote the fictional book Generation X in 1991, the media, made up of mostly Baby Boomers, began to look at young people in a different light. They saw aspects of Coupland's characters in America's youth and gave them the title Generation X.

"I might fit into Generation X because I sometimes wear grungy clothing and make the most out of my leisure time but I work just as hard as many of the Baby Boomers who classify me as a slacker," said Tara Ray, 24, an office clerk in Carson City.

Coupland, who enjoys creating definitions, does not want to take credit for defining an entire generation. What started out as a fictional novel has become the defining characteristic of a generation, and even the author doesn't buy it. All of the negative attributes of Generation X are forever stuck with people born between 1965 and 1980.

"Their (generation X's) protestations became 'whining,' being mellow became 'slacking' and the struggle to find themselves became 'apathy,'" said Coupland in a June 1995 interview with Details Magazine.

In that same article Coupland said that X is over.

Generation Xers, like Jennifer Volk and Mike Tchudi, are hard to define. Photo by Art Pines.

"I'd like to declare a moratorium on all the noise, because the notion that there now exists a different generation - X, Y, K, whatever - is no longer debatable," Coupland said. "Kurt Cobain's in heaven, 'Slacker's' at Blockbuster and the media refers to anyone aged 13 - 39 as Xers."

The definition of Generation X is not clear either. Depending on who is asked, Generation X is made up of people born between 1965 and 1980, 1965 and 1975, 1961 and 1981, 1964 and 1979 or since the mid-1960s.

"You can't put a label on such a diverse group of people," said Heather Davis, a 21-year-old student at the University of Nevada, Reno. "There are no limits to what we can do, but the term Generation X places unnecessary obstacles in our course."

Generation X is surrounded by myths that add to the stereotype and negative definition of the generation.

Myth 1: Gen Xers are slackers and don't want to work hard at anything.

Reality: "Slacking is impossible," said Greg Gentolizo, 20, a sophomore and criminal justice major at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). "You see poverty and homelessness and you don't want it so you work your ass off to be better than that. Generation X likes to hang out a lot, to get together with friends and do fun things, but that is during our leisure time."

According to a 1997 article in the Arizona Republic, of the 5 million businesses started last year, nearly 16 percent were started by people under age 25; 30 percent by people under age 30.

"Generation X has to work twice as hard as Baby Boomers," said Chad Lahren, 19, a sophomore at UNR. "We (generation X) are constantly being downsized by Boomers and have to work double to prove ourselves."

Generation Xers are not afraid to challenge authority. Unlike Baby Boomers who stuck it out at work even if they were unhappy, Gen Xers are very willing to pick up and leave a job that does not satisfy them.

"Baby Boomers are more interested in materialistic objects, physical objects," said Jackie Shelton, vice president of Minor Advertising in Reno. "Generation Xers are looking for peace of mind and leisure time."

Myth 2: Members of Generation X do not care about themselves or their future.

Reality: "That's B.S.," said Brian Jochim, 17, a senior at Carson High School. "If we didn't care about ourselves or our future, we wouldn't try so hard to go to college and get good jobs."

Generation X also cares about the future of the earth and environment. "Generation X is more environmentally, economically and socially conscious than previous generations," said Ian Waters, 22, a network administrator in San Jose, Calif.

Another trend surrounding Generation X that dispels this myth is the fact that Generation X is more health-conscious than previous generations. According to a Wall Street Journal article on June 28, 1996 discussing the lifestyles of generations, 42 percent of 18-34 year-olds use vitamins or supplements or try to eat mostly organic foods, 59 percent almost always read labels to find out about content of food and 71 percent have checked their blood pressure and cholesterol in the past year.

"I think Generation X cares about their future," Gentolizo said. "Exercise, the environment and a healthy body and mind are all ideas that we care about."

Myth 3: Gen Xers hang out in coffee shops all day smoking cigarettes with the post-college blues because they have nothing better to do.

Contrary to popular myth, Gen Xers don't call the mall home. Photo by Art Pines

Reality: "Most of the people in Gen X that I know have better things to do than hang out in coffee shops and smoke cigarettes all day," Davis said. "I will agree that people in Gen X get the post-college blues more often than before because there are less jobs being offered for the amount of individuals attending college, but they don't mope around in coffee shops because of it."

According to the Wall Street Journal only 17 percent of 18-34 year-olds smoke more than a half a pack of cigarettes a day and 15 percent drink more than three cups of coffee a day.

Myth 4: Gen Xers live at home longer.

Reality: There is a difference of opinion whether or not Generation Xers live at home longer than previous generations.

"Gen Xers stay at home longer because their parents believe in a strong sense of family," Waters said.

On the other side of the spectrum, some believe that Xers want to break away from their parents constraints. "Gen Xers are going away to different states for college," Gentolizo said. "They want to get out of their parents house to experience more stuff."

Myth 5: Gen Xers are frustrated, hopeless and cynical.

Reality: "We're frustrated and cynical because of Baby Boomer's censorship and unwillingness to understand what were are about," Waters said. "We are angry at the system that created our anger. Because we are intelligent enough to realize that it is unrealistic to directly confront these issues, we use our minds to get around them by lobbying, etc."

Generation Xers are more realistic than pessimistic when it comes to issues such as hate, crime, violence, poverty, pollution and disease. It is this realism and ability to deal with issues rather than ignore them that creates some uneasiness in Baby Boomers and gives Generation X a bad name.

"We're not hopeless," Gentolizo said. "A lot of us now aren't as cynical because we don't have to deal with the draft. We can look to the future and live longer."


copyright 6/1/97 Nevada Outpost http://www.jour.unr.edu/outpost


Related sites:

Death of Generation X

Wall Street Journal



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