Generation R.I.P.

The Village Voice pronounces Generation X as dead as Kurt Cobain and as irrelevant as a Cheesy Poof. Plus: Alternative health stories that don't suck.

By Jenn Shreve
July 9, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Village Voice, July 7-13

"Generation Ex" by Eric Weisbard

We can all rest more easily in our media-prescribed personal identities. Just when quasi-intellectual generational think pieces seemed to be falling by the wayside -- "Teen culture! It's hot!" and "Are the '60s over? Never!" -- along comes Eric Weisbard to tell a whole generation who they are and what they mean. It's not pretty.

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Weisbard bemoans his fellow Xers' alleged failure to make a mark on American pop culture that meets with his approval and decries being sandwiched between powerful baby boomers and en vogue teensters. Of course, failure is an inevitable conclusion when you base your assessment of an entire generation on Adam Sandler's last movie and the demise of Nirvana. By the time Weisbard gets to bitching about how "The game of references as quasigenerational markers never ends," he's already made approximately 57 pop cultural references (not counting the contrived appellation "Generation X"). This, not even halfway through the piece, which lurches from incoherent rant to incoherent rant without the benefit of a unifying thesis or clear definition of what Generation X means other than that group of people born between an undisclosed year in the '60s and 1973, who apparently won't be capable of making movies, writing books or anything else once they've turned 35.

Frankly, after reading this twice through, I didn't know what to make of it. Can you really sum up an entire generation's importance on the basis of a few movies, CDs and Web sites? Are my peers and I really wasting our genius on trivial pursuits, like writing media columns about other media columns instead of making the world a better place through love? Puzzled, I queried some ACTUAL GENERATION XERS about what they thought of Weisbard's cover story. Their responses were more brilliant than Weisbard seems to think us capable of, so I share them with you now.

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"The author appears to be hitting 30, realizing he hasn't learned, much less said, anything useful during the period where he was buying into generational marketing and is panicking as he watches his legitimacy waft away with each turn of the calendar. In so doing, he writes a desperate story striking the same old, wrong themes as Rock the Vote efforts, Tom Frank riffs in the Baffler and other faux concern for the soul of one's young, fragile peers: Demographics not only is destiny, but ought to be, they argue. Well, that's bullshit, facile and cheap. He's grasping because there's nothing being said but more essentialist identity politics, desperately trying to prove that, say, a Puerto Rican guy in the Army in Kosovo is in some significant way the same person as a white female lawyer in Scranton, Pa., as long as they were both born in 1970. Bah. Get this writer a job covering forest fires and tell him he can't use personal pronouns in print till he's at least 50 years old. He's blown his chance."

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"How is it that he criticizes and wallows like a pig in his own culture? He's acting like he's trapped making references to his own culture that, in his own opinion, don't mean anything. His argument is circular. He's trying to make a point about a generation he says has no point."

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"The article is itself an example of his less-than-well-defined point (presumably, that Xers are somehow less important because they defined themselves as a group through their ironic take on the generation(s) that preceded them and that they never actually believed in anything, and furthermore, their attempt at counter-culture has been co-opted by the mainstream so it's all now totally disingenuous anyway) by caroming around the cultural landscape like a pinball, bouncing from one Xer celeb to another, barely touching on tech industry and other generational milestones, always keeping his tone ironic, and never actually giving any of his examples the benefit of depth beyond their two-dimensional representations in the media.

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"It's total bullshit. There should be a 25-year moratorium on any attempt to sum up Xers. I don't think it's possible to define a generation via its own lexicon. It's like trying to divine the nature of a barrel of water by closing your eyes and sticking your head in."

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"This writer is way too concerned with pithy pop culture references than actually talking about Generation X. So much has come out of Generation X: Teach for America, Americorps, Yahoo, Excite and a bevy of other Web companies ...

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"The people who were once Generation X -- those born between '62 and '72 (roughly) -- are now moving on with their lives. They're getting married or finding life partners, many are now parents. They've been exposed to awful disease (AIDS) and political corruption (Iran/Contra), feast ('80s conspicuous consumption) and famine (Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Somalia). And you know what? Amid all the cynicism and despair, I've known some of the greatest people I ever will. I'm part of that group (born in '69) and I feel lucky to have been exposed to both the horrors and pleasures of a pre-millennial world."

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"Ultimately the author is misguided for trying to say anything meaningful about the Gen X conceit: It has never been well-defined, so how do you critique it? The author takes on pop culture as some kind of archeological evidence and finds scorn and ambiguously directed mockery. What is the society that created these artifacts? he wonders. He falls into the same trap of those that he tries to describe: Without knowing what to do about the subject, he vaguely describes it and mocks it along the way. It's just that same subject -- us, himself -- devouring itself again."

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"Articles about any 'generation' always strike me as talking about nothing but hype. They're supposedly hip, I guess because they're the most abstract way to talk about cultural trends and simultaneously show off how young you are, or used to be."

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"If he wants to reduce a generation to a collection of pop-cultural references and stereotypes, he shouldn't be too surprised when the always-hungry-for-the-New media flit their collective attention on to other vapid space-between-the-ad-filling 'exciting' new trends and fetishes, thereby ignoring this 'generation' he's concocted by ignoring its perceived pet fetishes for the new, brighter, shinier whatever (Hot Actor! Cool new shoes!). The difference between Menudo and the Spice Girls is what, really? I'm not sure there is a difference in any sense that matters."

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"This article was so self-absorbed that I would have thought it was written by a baby boomer, except, of course, that it's written by a whining GenXer who doesn't like it that the younger kids are now getting more attention than his aging self. He doesn't quite realize that time is temporal, and trends come into the limelight as they are adopted by the young'uns. You feel like you're not in the spotlight anymore? Like, the press is supposed to moon over Nirvana for 10 years? Oh, and of course, the things you liked are much more worthy than the things that are popular now? Please, stop whining."

Pittsburgh Newsweekly, July 7-14

"The Feel-Good Solution" by Marty Levine

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In last week's column, I lamented the paucity of smart, insightful coverage of alternative medicine. Lo and behold, as though a higher spiritual entity saw the wounds festering in my pressure points and wished to renew my faith in alternative journalism, a few articles on non-conventional medicine have surfaced that are worth a read. Particularly noteworthy is Marty Levine's extensively reported and clearly written piece exploring the theory that the growing popularity of alternative treatments can be attributed to a need for personal contact no longer granted by doctors and HMOs. Levine talks to experts, believers and skeptics alike and undergoes hypnosis, acupuncture and several other treatments himself. "Alternative medicine for the majority of Americans is not chasing down to Mexico for a faddish cancer cure," Levine writes. "It's looking for the cause of illness in every facet of one's own life. And it is simple human contact. In this HMO-ridden age, that's invaluable. "

Shaila Dewan's disturbing piece in the Houston Press, on a Shiatsu therapist who was penetrating his patients with both fingers and his penis, highlights the need for more scrutiny of this industry, as does Mark Boal's critical report on a growing religious trend called Falun Dafa.

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Austin Chronicle, July 2-8

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"The Score" by Lisa Tozzi

Any writer who can write about sports without making me lose consciousness has accomplished the nearly impossible -- and the Austin Chronicle does exactly that in its freewheeling, unorthodox special sports section. From Lisa Tozzi's introduction advising how to give moral justification to your sports fanaticism to Clay Smith's elegant profiles of five Olympic hopefuls, the writing gets beyond play-by-plays and over-analysis of the players' personalities to basics like why people play sports and why we enjoy them. I particularly liked Robert Bryce's explanation of the origins and usefulness of eyeblack, "the pasty black goo that athletes wear on their cheekbones," which illuminates a mystery of the sports universe that we non-fans tend to ignore. The Austin Chronicle is strongest when covering local music and entertainment; it's great to see the paper applying those sharp critical and writing skills to other subjects.

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Seattle Weekly, June 8-14

"Graduation altercation" by Doug Collins

Mumia madness entered a new stage of absurdity when students at the notoriously granola-y Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., invited convicted murderer and writer Mumia Abu-Jamal to give a recorded commencement address. Doug Collins does an excellent job of illuminating the tensions in the state capital that's both a hotbed of '60s-activist nostalgia and '90s Republican legislators.

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S.F. Bay Guardian, July 7-13

"Roommate Roulette" by Stephanie Groll

There was C. in Paris who never left the room, did all her laundry in the sink and draped it on every available countertop. There was V. in Seattle who was dating two men -- one an obnoxious, racist, chain-smoking trucker -- when she lost her Prozac prescription and started talking to herself. And I can't forget T., the ex-marine, Republican law student who alternated between yelling at me for no apparent reason and trying to get me in bed.

Admittedly, articles about navigating roommate hell are sophomoric -- as in, you really needed to read this your sophomore year of college and if you didn't learn then how to deal, you never will. However, since everyone has at least one tale of the roommate from hell lurking in their memories, it's always a voyeuristic pleasure to read about other people's shared-housing mishaps. Chop off all the tiresome advice, and you've got yourself an enjoyable piece.

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New Times Los Angeles, July 8-14

"Fish Story" by Victor Mejia

Reporter Victor Mejia gives us several more reasons to hate "Titanic." Yippee!


Jenn Shreve

Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

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