I am part of Gen X, the most neglected, overlooked, and ignored generation in modern American history. We grew up under the monstrous weight of the baby boomers, a group whose importance is completely outweighed by its sense of self-importance. The baby boomers dominated our formative years. We got their music, their literature, their television shows. And when we did manage to craft our own cultural experiences, they were controlled and curated by baby boomers.1
Yeah, don’t get me started on the baby boomers.2
After us came the millennials, who craved attention and got it. Millennials said what they wanted to read, and the young adult fiction category exploded. Millennials said what they wanted to listen to, and they were spoon-fed pablum by artists like the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and N*Sync. Millennials said what they wanted to watch, and they got to see their life experiences reflected in “Dawson’s Creek,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Saved by the Bell.”3
Now a new generation has emerged, which means Gen X will get shoved further back in the closet. With a sigh, I’ll tell you I’m OK with that because I know nothing will change it. But I have one small plea. Please, please, please don’t call this new generation Gen Z.
One of the few small things Gen X has going for it is that we got to choose our name.4 It comes from a book by Douglas Coupland, one of the very first people to write about the fact that they didn’t relate to the baby boomer values and expectations thrust upon them.
How you identify has always been a big deal. In the late 1980s, I disliked being classified as a baby boomer so much that I had to invent my way out of it; my debut novel, published 30 years ago, was called Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.Douglas Coupland, Douglas Coupland on Generation X at 30: ‘Generational trashing is eternal.’
The book focused on a handful of people attempting to define themselves through the stories they tell.5 The only baby boomer in the book is a yuppie; he helps juxtapose the angst and authenticity of Gen X with the self-assuredness and shallowness of his own generation.
After you’re dead and buried and floating around whatever place we go to, what’s going to be your best memory of earth? What one moment for you defines what it’s like to be alive on this planet. What’s your takeaway? Fake yuppie experiences that you had to spend money on, like white water rafting or elephant rides in Thailand don’t count. I want to hear some small moment from your life that proves you’re really alive.Douglas Coupland, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
Baby boomers had no idea what to do with the book, but it became something of a touchstone for my generation. We finally had a work of art we could see ourselves in. Generation X became our name. Over time, that was shortened to Gen X.
Fast forward about two decades. I remember when people began writing about the generation that followed ours. They were originally branded Gen Y, a name showing a complete lack of imagination. I was relieved when the term millennials emerged.
Now we hear about Gen Z, and I hope the name doesn’t stick. My generation’s name comes from an essential work of literature. We defined ourselves instead of letting others define us. The name Gen Z robs us of that — it steals one of the only things we can take pride in, our nomenclature.
I’m pleading here. Give Gen Z a new name. I’m cautiously optimistic that this may happen: The New York Times found that many members of the upcoming generation don’t like Gen Z either. Post-millennials is one option. Others are iGeneration, the homeland generation, and deltas.
What’s in a name? For Gen X, everything. Let’s use a different name to describe the generation that’s emerging now.
1 Is it any wonder that Nirvana and the grunge movement were popular among Gen X? We finally got an unfiltered peek at our generation’s zeitgeist, and it was wrapped in flannel.
2 I’m very critical of baby boomers in some respects, but I’ll also freely acknowledge the great things they did. They rioted at Stonewall, invented personal computing, and gave us Cher and Star Wars. I even married a boomer.
3 I’m conscious of the fact that I’m writing this post from the perspective of a well-educated middle-class white man. I’d love to hear from people with other points of view.
4 The baby boomers wanted to call us the baby busters. We were also called the MTV Generation for a while.
5 In terms of narrative structure, it’s somewhat similar to The Canterbury Tales.