How I Accidentally Wandered Into Enemy Territory And Chose Not To Fight

red poison pill

I was doing research a few days ago and I accidentally wandered into “Red Pill” territory.  If you don’t know what Red Pill philosophy is, don’t feel bad.  I didn’t know what it was until 3 o’clock that morning.

I had no frame of reference for this ideology.  My brain for a few moment just had nothing to relate it to.  This happens to me occasionally.  It is the brain’s version of entering the “Twilight Zone.”  This isn’t just my imagination either.  Your brain stores information in layers of relationships to other information. (this is called “Continuous Semantic Space” and it is very cool and hopefully it will get its own post soon.)

It is a group of men who feel that women are given more power and societal advantages than men.

OK, pick your jaw up off the floor and let your brain unknot itself.  Feel better?  I can only assume that your brain processed that more quickly than mine did. My mind is more productive at night, but 3 a.m. is the exact point when it usually decides that it is done for the day.

I started reading a slew of blog posts from these men on subjects relating to politics, law, art, literature and not really surprisingly to pornography… actually pornography had surprise appearances in many pieces where I was not expecting it to show up.

Initially, I was furious at almost everything.  I kept reading though and some of these men I felt real sympathy for.  Some were articulate and intelligent and had some valid points to make… some valid points to make… every last one of them also wrote things that were just so insanely misguided that I couldn’t understand how they came from the same person.

I replied to a post by one of these men.  It was about how women had reduced themselves to sexual commodities and that was how men should treat them.  It was a heartbreaking and nauseating at the same time.  They were paradoxically longing for the type of woman who existed during the era of their grandfathers ( I am not sure who they think these women were, but I am almost positive they are based on characters in movies that were shot in black and white), and bragging about how many “sluts” they could get to blow them at the same time.

I decided not to listen to the inner voice that was telling me to “empty the silos and leave nothing behind but scorched earth.”  Instead I chose to leave them with some sincerely heartfelt advice.  This was the message I sent:

Please forgive the intrusion, but I accidentally stumbled into some links to this area last night while doing research. As you can probably guess, I was quite surprised.

I have been reading quite a few posts out of fascination with a belief system so wildly different than any I have experience with.

I keep seeing a pattern here that I don’t know whether you have considered or not.  Please don’t think I am trying to troll. I am seriously interested in why you think the way you do. I would also, however, like to offer some advice, if it would help.

First of all, please know that I like men. I am married to one and I have built one, I am friends with many and I have many I greatly admire. So, yes, I consider myself pretty male positive.

I think you may be expecting to find a kind of woman that you aren’t “actually” looking for. You seem to be disillusioned at the lack of women of substance, yet you appear to only be interested in interacting with women that specifically don’t have a substantial presence or sense of self worth.

If you look for pretty little empty boxes, you’ll find them. Their only value in their eyes is the same as their only value in yours, they are leveraging their sexual capital. Somewhere in their lives they were taught that this is how interaction between men and women worked. Probably by men who resemble yourselves.

Truth is, an intelligent man will get bored with a pretty little empty box. A strong man will eventually find a weak whimpering partner repugnant. A morally centered man wouldn’t chose a superficial and vapid woman to begin with,but a man who “thinks” he is morally centered, when he is far from it,will and he will end up disgusted with her and himself.

Only women who are strong will be able to withstand hardship with you. Only women who have been taught to value themselves as more than a decoration will be able to value you as more than a source of income and admiration. Respect has to be earned by both sides of the equation, and if either side doesn’t respect themselves this will never be possible.

My husband and I have been married for over twenty years and I am still crazy in love with him. He is stalwart and tenacious and loving and he has a mind like a laser guided nuclear missile, he amazes me. I will put his happiness and my son’s happiness before my own always…

… but that’s only half the reason that our marriage is a fathomless fortress in world full of prefab saltboxes. The other half is that if you ask him, he will say the same about me.

If all you see is shallow… you haven’t looked deep enough.

Thanks for letting me join your discussion.

I am hoping that maybe one of them will read it… and find something he didn’t know he was looking for.

I Can’t Wear My Labels Correctly… I Keep Ending Up “Just” a Person

Let me tell you about my labels.  I have a whole stack of them and I can wear every one of them perfectly… for about an hour or two.  Sometimes I can wear one for a whole day, if I can stay really pissed off.

That’s the root of the problem my labels only fit when I am angry, and I can’t maintain my anger.  If it was a fire in my belly, soul, heart… (pick your favorite anger storage facility), I could keep fueling it indefinitely and that would make it possible for me to proudly wear my labels all the time.  My anger isn’t like a fire, it’s like fireworks.  My beliefs are fairly constant, my righteous dogmatic fury is volatile and has the longevity of a carnival goldfish.i_cant_be_righteously_indignant_about_something_and_think_at_the_same_time-697568

So why do I need the anger to keep my labels on at all?  You see people walking around all the time content and calm with all their labels firmly in place.

The answer is fairly simple.  When my brain is working, it’s examining things from every angle it can find.  While it’s doing this it is creating too many curves and corners and little oddly shaped bits of opinion and belief in me that my labels won’t stick to.  My brain doesn’t like to hang around when I am angry, so instead of working, it just puts everything on auto and hides until it’s over.  When my brain isn’t at work my views and opinions become flatter and more inflexible which means those weird little anomalous parts of me get shoved inside where they won’t get in the way of my labels.

The reason I wrote this down is that I didn’t notice the problem until yesterday.  I started writing a really angry diatribe about a subject and the more I wrote, the more my brain started to interfere and it got in the way of my total justified defense of a couple of my labels.  I’m not sure if I will be able to overcome this problem or not, but I am hoping that my discovery may help others.

If you are having a problem keeping your labels in place… you might not be staying consistently pissed off.  I suggest you spend more time reading the comments section of any article or essay that relates to the label you are trying to display.  Let the vitriolic outpourings of a bunch people you don’t like fuel your fury and allow you to wear your labels with brainless confidence.  Good luck!

i_need_to_return_these_labels-697579

I Do Oral… With Strangers… In Public. This Is Why Everyone Else Should Be Doing It Too.

oral2

I can’t help it.  It’s a compulsion. On the train, waiting in line, even at Starbucks I just can’t keep my mouth closed.

“Wow, are you studying Farsi?”

“Did you make that jacket?”

“Are y’all on your way to the zoo?”

“Are you lost?”

“Can I ask you a weird question?  If it is too personal, tell me and I’ll understand.  Do you ever have problems because you wear a hijab?”

I am endlessly fascinated by other people.  I talk to anyone and everyone that catches my attention.  I have all the tact and restraint of a six-year-child when it comes to asking total strangers questions… and I am thankful for that.

Every time I open my mouth without restraint, I learn something new.  Every time I give someone the opportunity to teach me about “their” world, “my” world becomes wider and richer, and I get reminded that it is actually “our” world together.

I talk to people who look “scary”.  I am lucky.  For as long as I can remember my life has been filled with hillbillies, hardcore punks,  musicians, artists, bikers, leathernecks, geeks, freaks and people from a hundred ethnic and religious backgrounds who have shown me nothing but love.  I can confidently pass on the knowledge that looks are not a reliable criteria for judging “scary”.

What is “scary” to me is that the oral interaction I am writing about, has become almost as shocking as the one you probably thought of when you read the title of this piece.  So we should use that.

Be a “bad” girl or be a “bad” boy… be scandalous and shocking… do some oral in public.

Generation X the Unknown Variable: Part IV “Get to the Point Already! Who Are We?”

xstoneThis is the wrap-up, people, where all of the final great truths about Generation X will be revealed.

First off though, I wanted to let you in on a couple more things that I learned along the way. I could not figure out where to slip these in, so I am just throwin’ them out there.

The first one is a shocker, so brace yourselves.

The Millennials aren’t our children… Gasp! Well it’s obvious that the oldest Millennials don’t belong to us, they’re only a few years younger than we are, but even most of the younger Millennials aren’t children of Gen X. I spent about 15 hours digging through census reports, birthrate statistics, insurance company tables, medical articles on fertility and every other source I could find. I did not set up links for this clusterfuck, so if you think I’m wrong, go ahead and try to disprove me… I double-dog dare you. I have been juggling stats based on different definitions of Gen X, tables with age categories that split between generations, articles that didn’t take multiple variables into account, and about a hundred other issues. I broke everything up in the only way I could in order to define Generation X as being the generation between 1965 and 1985, and pulled off mathematical maneuvers that I’m not even sure are legal. I may have sacrificed a chicken at one point, the details aren’t entirely clear… that might have been just me making dinner. I am sure it will come back to me in the nightmares. The final number I came up with is .68 children per Gen Xer. Not only are we a tiny generation to begin with, we also managed to pull off negative population growth. We are, however, still breeding but if you take the rates into consideration, it doesn’t look we are going to catch up.

So where in hell did all these Millennials come from? There are a couple answers to this and both of them relate to society’s inability to define the generations. Most of the Millennials are actually our younger siblings and our nieces and nephews. Right now the standard for defining the Millennials seems to be everyone born after Generation X. That means the Millennials cover about three decades, so far. If it seems like people have a problem defining the edges of Generation X, we are a cakewalk compared to defining the next generation. There is a Gen Y/Z concept vaguely floating around, but Millennials looks like it will stick. I would also like to take this moment to point out that not only are we not the parents of most of the Millennials, the world can stop blaming Generation X for that “Helicopter Parent” and “Tiger Mom” shit too that was Boomers with late in life kids. Actually schools have already begun to figure this out.  Meet the “Gen-x stealth-fighter parent”. Generation X is screwing up the few kids we have in new and creative ways all our own.

familycosplay
Second is our finances. For Gen X, there is good news and bad news and more bad news.

The good news is we are working. Right now even though we are at our peak years for employment, we only make up about 30% of the U.S. workforce. Not surprising as we only make up a little over 27% of the entire population. If you think back to my “we leveraged the hell out of it” remark about digital technology, you will not be surprised to learn that although only make up 30% of the entire workforce, we make up 60% of the workforce in what are called the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). We are at about 4% unemployment which is actually considered full employment.

The bad news is we have no money, and the more bad news is we have less than no money. We get the honor of being the first generation in the U.S. to not be more financially well off than our parents. We started to get the shaft in college. Tuition rates more than doubled between the years of 1981 and 1991 which is when we started to enter college, and have been rising ever since. We are the “generation of lifetime learners” about 10% of us are still full time students (that group includes yours truly) and about 50% of us are enrolled at least part-time in a formal education setting. We are already the most highly educated Generation in U.S. History. Over 30% of Gen Xers have at least a bachelor’s degree and another 10-13% have post-graduate degrees. Can you say “student loan debt”? Then we bought homes… at about five times the prices the Boomers paid, and as soon as we did, the bubble burst and we all took a bath. This means we don’t get to buy the Harley for our mid-life crisis, and sorry Millennials, but we may never retire. Are we panicked? Not really. We grew up expecting the economy to bottom out every 10 years or so. It happened when we were kids in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it happened again when we entered the job market in the 1990s and then again in the mid-2000s. We are not surprised when this happens. We’re not happy about it, but we’re definitely not fucking surprised.

“Fun facts I picked up along the way” time is over. This is the part where I am going to let loose with my own truth about Generation X.

Generation X mostly gets ignored, we are a small demographic that doesn’t swing much weight politically or economically. The reason for this is easy to understand, while we do share a number of social and cultural characteristics, we are all over the map when it comes to political affiliations, religious identity, financial planning, ideology and every other aspect of existence that anyone would want to manipulate. I am not saying that media and advertising are not trying their best to get into your head; I am just saying that as an age group demographic we make a lousy target.

There was one time in our lives that the media was absolutely obsessed with our generation, and the name Gen X hadn’t even stuck yet. We were called “The Busters”, “Thirteens” and various other less-flattering titles. In the first half of the 1990s the Baby Boomers had an insane media-fueled panic attack over our generation. We were the monster under the Boomers bed for about half a decade. It started in 1990 when two Boomers, David M. Gross and Sophfronia Scott, at Time Magazine wrote an article titled “Proceeding With Caution: The Twentysomething Generation is Balking at Work, Marriage, and Baby Boomer Values”. The article threw around a lot of nasty, unfounded, unresearched speculation about Generation X. They said employers found us “overly sensitive at best and lazy at worst” and that we were ushering in an “era of hedged bets and lowered expectations”, and later in the piece they called us “culture vultures”, and it also spit out the two terms that stuck to our collective ass and have followed us ever since… apathetic slackers. This was a Time Magazine cover story and it set off a print media shitstorm about Generation X. We got called the “Whiny Generation” the “New Petulants” the “Why Me? Generation” and we hadn’t even gotten out of the gate yet. [1]

Time x cover
So Gen X got slapped with a lot of nasty labels [2] most of which weren’t even close to the truth. The problem with these pieces was that they were written by Boomers stereotyping us based on pop-culture depictions also created by Boomers, and throwing in the occasional random quote from one of us for “credibility”. One of the worst effects of this is that even “we” started to believe some of it.

So, was any of it true? As in most cases of media run amok, there was a small kernel of truth buried in a huge pile of bullshit.

They managed to get close to couple of characteristics of Generation X that have some legitimacy.

The first was expressed as Gen X being cynical, misanthropic, sarcastic, alienated, and mistrustful. We were essentially group diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder. Luckily for us, and the rest of the world, this was a misdiagnosis.

It is easy to identify where the misconception came from. Some of the environmental factors that contribute to antisocial personality disorder are: deficiencies in emotional bonding, parental absence or divorce, inadequate supervision and erratic or inappropriate discipline. Sound familiar? The first weird little pothole in the road of our development is that most of our mothers were actively dissuaded from breastfeeding, so that bonding possibility was lost to most of us. It was ok though, we could have gotten past that. The next issue was one that couldn’t be fixed; when families started to fall apart during our childhood, it was uncharted territory. The parents of Generation X did not know the “rules” of divorce. They didn’t know their kids would blame themselves, they didn’t know that if they used their children as “bargaining chips” or “tug-of-war trophies” those kids would end up insecure, angry and self-destructive, they didn’t know that if they used toys and bribes to try to buy their way out of their guilt that their kids would end up cynical and jaded. They learned from their mistakes, but the problem is that our generation was the one that they learned on. It wasn’t all roses for those of us whose parents didn’t split either. Alcoholism, drug addiction and domestic violence were not recognized and treated the same way they are today, we had our own version of “Don’t ask Don’t Tell” at the time. Many of our family structures were less than optimal and quite a few were actively antagonistic. All of this, along with being abandoned to our own devices for much of our childhood, left a large part of our emotional needs unmet. So we were doomed to become an entire generation of aggressive sociopaths… right?

Oh... Warriors...
Oh… Warriors…

Wrong! Gen Xers are problem solvers. We turned to each other to fill the familial void. Our friends became the family that we built for ourselves, and like any loving family we are fiercely loyal. In our twenties and thirties this system was reinforced by economic necessity. Multiple roommates were often required just to support a one or two bedroom apartment. The really interesting thing is that even now as fully functioning adults who have families of our own, we still cherish those self-built families. If you claimed someone as “one of yours” in 1984 or 1994, chances are you still consider them “one of yours” in 2014, these connections are deeply seated, and they aren’t restricted to just other Gen Xers or to our early life experience. We still do this today. When we bond with someone and come to trust them, we essentially psychologically “adopt” that person. We aren’t antisocial. We are actually pretty damn close to tribal. What we don’t do well is fake it. Forced collaboration and superficial social interaction just make us uncomfortable. I have seen “Gen X are not team players” written in a hundred different ways. Gen X are amazing team players… when we build the team.

Sometimes a little too tribal.  Gen X also invented LARPing.
Sometimes we are a little too tribal. Gen X also invented LARPing.

The second thing that they almost got right about us, and I hate to admit this, is the dreaded “A” word. Once again, they got close but not close enough. We aren’t apathetic but it might have seemed that way from the Boomer perspective because we are… calm? No… laid back? Not exactly… imperturbable, unfazed, composed? No, no, and no.

We need a new word that means: almost impossible to surprise or shock because the occurrence of the unexpected has become what’s expected. You all start working on that and I’ll try to explain how it relates to Generation X.

Our world has been in a constant state of fluctuation since we were born. Every time we adapt to some new life altering shift in our existence, something else shifts in a new life altering way. We have no normal. Ok, I need to say that again really loudly. GENERATION X HAS NO NORMAL! The Boomers coined one of the most overused business idioms ever “Think outside of the box.” Gen X has no box. Do you know what horribly overused expression was conceived by Gen X? “Shit Happens.” If we were given any amount of true security or sense of permanence in our lives, then you would see us freak the fuck out, because we are not equipped to handle that. Adapt is our default setting. Shifts in education, social interaction and expectation, financial circumstance, family structure, culture and environment have been at maximum acceleration our entire lives, and that brings us to the elephant in the room: technology.

At the exact time that Gen X was coming into the world, technology began to change at a rate humans have never seen before. There have always been advances in technology that sped up the development of civilization. Things like development of agriculture, writing systems, movable type, industrial revolution, electrification, the second industrial revolution, but these changes took place over centuries or at least half centuries. You could take all human technological advancement from the invention of the printing press (1400s) to the wide-spread home use of electricity (1950s), jam it into the last forty years and still have room left over for anything that was developed in the Middle Ages. Sometimes we’ll wax nostalgic about memories of three TV channels, card catalogues, or road maps and we get a giggle from it but we aren’t amazed by it.
Right now, I want you to concentrate on this list: VCRs and videotapes, dot matrix printers, pocket calculators, cassette tapes and portable cassette players, pagers, fax machines, BBSs, photocopiers, answering machines, and floppy disks. If you were concentrating, you probably realized that these are all forms of technology that not only didn’t exist when Gen X came into being, but have also become obsolete. Now consider this list: DVD players, DVDs, CDs, devoted GPS systems and mp3 players, laser printers, and laptop computers because they are in the process of joining the first list. That is the speed at which our technology moves, and most of the time we don’t even notice it.

There is one more thing that contributed to Gen X’s… indifference? Still not quite the right term.

Generation X children were told repeatedly that we were going to be the “last” generation. In a hundred different ways they told us that we were going to die. The Soviet Union and the United States were going to destroy the world and if the blast or the radiation poisoning didn’t kill us, we would die in the nuclear winter. If we didn’t get nuked, the hole in the ozone layer was going to destroy the planet (back in the 1980s, we were led to believe that this was a much quicker process than it turned out to be) [3].  Then AIDS came along and that was “definitely” going to kill us all within a few years. The violent crime rate was just going to continue climbing until our civilization collapsed at the hands of “super predators” and we reverted to savagery. We were going to run out of oil and that was going to trigger World War III. Acid rain was going to kill off all of the vegetation and sea life along with poisoning all the drinkable water, and I am sure there were a few other forms of doom that I’ve left out. The point is we were “all” supposed to be dead by now. Certain death… that’s what we were promised and they didn’t even try to put a mask of hope on it. Then, they had the nerve to look at our generation as we hit our twenties and call us apathetic. We are not apathetic, and we have never been apathetic. What we are is fucking fearless. I think that deep down inside of each one of us is a deranged little berserk Viking Kamikaze pilot that spends their day playing Russian roulette and laughing maniacally because they are convinced that we are indestructible, and nothing short of an actual world ending apocalypse is going to change their mind.

If your little maniac voice is anything like mine, they also think we will survive the apocalypse and battle mutants.
If your little maniac voice is anything like mine, they also think we will survive the apocalypse and battle mutants.

…and that is what people really need to know about Generation X because it effects almost every aspect of our behavior. We problem solve at a local level and devote our energy to putting out the fires right in front of us, because it was repeatedly drummed into us that the bigger problems were already beyond help. Let’s hope that our Millennial siblings didn’t get the same playbook we did.

I have a few things to say to the Boomers and the Millennials [4].

To the Boomers: We were really pissed off at you for a long time. We are starting to get past that, and accept that you at least tried to do some good. We forgive you… for the moment. I do have to point something out though. You still have control of about 90% of the Federal Government, all three branches of it, and if you don’t find a way to get that shit under control and make it work, you’re going to piss us off all over again. Warning: we are a lot more dangerous now than we were in our twenties.

To the older Millennials: We are your older siblings and as such we are entitled to be jealous of you. I have read a ton of articles recently calling you the “everybody gets a trophy generation” and the “entitled generation” and you even got one of our hand-me-downs the “whiny generation”. I am lucky in that I go to school with a lot you and there are many of you that I consider “my own”. Don’t buy the bullshit that gets said about you. You are smart and creative and capable and Gen X needs you and you need us. We are amazingly good at fixing the problems that are right in front of us, and we will take care of the immediate emergencies and keep putting out the fires as they spring up. We’ll cover you while you take the wider view and start going after the big stuff. We’ll be the pragmatists, you can be the optimists.

To the younger Millennials: As a mom, I say that you are not old enough to read something with this much foul language in it. Go find a good book to read!

And with that said, I am done! There are a few notes at the bottom but this subject is “Game Over.”

finished

[1] I ran across a really interesting paper called “Constructing the Other X” by a woman named “Kristin Miller” that was written 2000. I found it as a random PDF because her professor at The University of Washington in Nebraska was using it as a sample paper. I haven’t been able to trace it any farther than that. She had a theory that the negative media onslaught in the early to mid-1990s was fed by an underlying fear that the Baby Boomers had of being replaced by Gen X. If you think back to the time from about the mid-1980s through the early 1990s there was quite a bit of panic about new technologies and a lot of Boomers were worried that they would lose their jobs because they weren’t computer literate. Since we were a bunch of kids who were willing to work for less money and already had tech skills, we probably were a little scary. Not only was this paper interesting and useful for what I was researching (her citations led me to some great sources), it is an amazing example of the electronic trail we are all leaving behind every day. I am just bummed that her name is so common. I would desperately love to contact her and let her know that some random person read and enjoyed her research paper from almost 15 years ago.

[2] I mentioned this in my note to the older Millennials, but it deserves repeating. I have read a slew of articles on the different American generations recently and I have noticed Boomer and Gen X writers trying to slap a lot of the same negative labels onto the Millennials that they slapped onto Gen X, sometimes in the exact same terms. Stop it! If you want to complain about the Millennials you can’t just pull shit out of thin air. Do some research, find some reputable sources or write about something else.

[3] Since 1987 the National Science Foundation has been tracking Gen X (1961-1981 as opposed to my mid-60s to mid-80s) with a project called the LSAY and every year or two they release statistics (yes, lies, damn lies and statistics) in the “Generation X Report.” When they release one of these, the media will commonly latch onto one feature and write about it for a couple of weeks. A couple of years ago one triggered an avalanche of “Gen X is Unsurprisingly Apathetic About Climate Change” articles.  All I can say to that is “We are a tiny generation that pulled off negative population growth, so our carbon footprint is smaller than yours, feel free to bite our collective asses.”

[4] I left an important generation out of the messages loop because I was positive that almost no one would recognize the name, and that is depressing because they are our kindred generation.

I have read multiple sources that explain why Generation X is so small compared to the other generations of Americans. Most of them agree that the low birth rate from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties is due to a positively seismic shift in reproductive rights, specifically the introduction of oral contraception in the early 1960s and Roe v Wade being decided in 1973. So our parents had more options and fewer children. I believed that this made our generation an anomaly, a little tiny anomaly that everyone ignores but who has way more impact than most people are aware of. It turns out that we are not alone in our unrecognized awesomeness, there is a tiny generational predecessor with whom we share a special kinship.

After the “Greatest Generation” and before the “Baby Boomers” there was the “Silent Generation” aka the “Lucky Few” this was the tiny generation born between the mid-1920s and 1945. That means most were born during the Great Depression and World War II. In a couple ways they actually were lucky, first that they were born at all, their generation is almost exactly the same size as ours and that is without the benefit of birth control, and second they entered the job market right during the post-World War II economic boom. Things were cheap and money was plentiful, so economically they made out pretty well. The Silents were, supposedly, the perfect buttoned-down 1950s conformists, but in reality… not quite as conformist as people would have you believe. Remember when I said our parents were “Beatniks”, “Black Panthers”, “Flower Children”, “Feminists”, “Freaks”, “Squares”, “Protestors” and “Militant Radicals”? Well they were, but they were a cultural explosion that was primed and detonated by the Silent Generation. If you do a roll call on the influential figures of the Silent Generation, you get a pretty damned impressive array of rebel genius. Elvis, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kerouac, Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinem, Malcolm X, Abbie Hoffman, Michael McClure, Lenny Bruce, Truman Capote, Johnny Cash, Hugh Heffner, Gore Vidal, Alan Ginsberg, Andy Warhol… and it goes on and on. As amazing as this seems, ask almost anyone on the street about the “Silent Generation” and chances are they won’t even recognize the name.

Generation X the Unknown Variable Part III: “Culture… We Don’t Even Know Ourselves”

green x

I swear, if I had known how deep this rabbit hole was, I would’ve stayed by the stream. I have done so much research on this topic, I could write a book at this point.

I started this whole circuitous path with one simple idea. I was going to do a quick, cute and humorous piece on the culture of Generation X. It was going to be a nice little nostalgic skip down memory lane. A little punk rock, a few “Married… With Children” references, and maybe a couple of pictures of really great eighties hair (I firmly believe we had more fun with hair and clothes in the 80s than in any other decade in U.S. history.) But instead, I ended up trying to explain who we are.

Now that I’ve circled back around to Generation X culture, I am not interested in talking about the culture that we grew up with, there are about a billion sources on that subject. I want to talk about the culture we created.

Everybody, including ourselves, thinks that we created culture that we didn’t and that we didn’t create culture that we did. I know that is a confusing statement. If you just soldier on with me, everything should become clear.

We did not create punk rock.

We did not create hip hop or rap.

The punk rock movement was up and pogoing in the early 1970s before even the earliest Gen Xers were old enough to hit the pit. Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, the Clash, the Ramones… were all “late in the game” Baby Boomers.

The same thing applies to hip hop and rap which got their start in the mid-1970s. Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang … were also all Boomers.

One of the reasons we often get credit for these genres is that many of the bands and artists most associated with them were Generation X. For instance Gen X punk bands include: Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, Descendents, and S.O.D among others (weirdly though, Billy Idol’s band Generation X, were not). Hip hop and rap Gen Xers include: Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, The Notorious B.I.G. , Run DMC, LL Cool J, Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Eminem, Queen Latifah, 50 Cent and on, and on, and on. So yeah, a lot of the time, we get credit for creating these genres.

I said, we didn't create it... I never said, we didn't participate.
I said we didn’t create it… I never said we didn’t participate.

Musical genres we did create and do usually get credit for are post punk crossovers like grunge, alt rock, and death metal. Musically speaking, Generation X is incredibly well represented. Some of my personal Generation X favorites are: Green Day, Nirvana, Jet, Nine Inch Nails, Pink, Pixies, Rage Against the Machine, Beyonce, OutKast, Daft Punk, Ani DiFranco, Offspring, and Linkin Park… I could keep going for pages.

Our influence in movies is not nearly as widespread as in music. Ok, there are a ton of good Generation X actors, and a handful of great ones, but I am talking about the creative forces behind the camera. Most of our favorites are Boomers. Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Tim Burton, James Cameron, Ron Howard… yep, they’re all Boomers (Tim Burton sits really close to the line and I am tempted to claim him). Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Ben Stiller, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are all ours. (If you don’t recognize these names, you make me very sad and you should go and look them up now.)

Quotation-Kevin-Smith-intelligence-diversity-interesting-Meetville-Quotes-212036For a long time we were also under represented in television. We were “C.S.I.ed”, “Law and Ordered” and “Simpsoned” right out of the T.V. picture. It seemed that the only Gen Xer allowed to create for network television was Joss Whedon. “Buffy” managed to make it for a few years, but they cancelled “Firefly” before they even finished the first season (I think the FOX network’s slogan might be “You name it, we’ve cancelled it!”) Seth MacFarlane is Gen X and somehow managed to break his FOX curse, so “Family Guy” and “American Dad” both ended up sticking around for a while, but Generation X didn’t really start to get a fair shake in television until original programming in alternative T.V. venues rose in popularity. Yes, our generation was “too depraved” for mass consumption. Gen X has created “Supernatural”, “Breaking Bad”, “The Walking Dead”, “Game of Thrones” and “American Horror Story” just to name a few.

My vote for Generation X’s pinnacle of achievement in television is… drumroll please… South Park.  I know what you’re thinking, but I didn’t choose it because of its exalted status as a brilliant expression of artistic refinement.  I choose South Park because Trey Parker and Matt Stone have created a show that comes from a brutally honest Generation X point of view and it is hilarious and vulgar and deceptively intelligent all at the same time. It is Gen X layered on top of Gen X. Let me explain. The children in South Park, despite being set in the present day, think and behave like Gen X children. The adults in South Park think and behave like Gen X adults. If you really want to poke around in the psyche of our generation, examine the two groups closely and you’ll see that they are pretty much the same roles being played out under different expectations. Apart from that, the references and depictions of cultural icons and institutions are a direct reflection of our generation’s attitude toward the status quo, to sum it up “We aren’t impressed, and your shit doesn’t really apply to us.” and that attitude is doled out unbiasedly in all directions.

southpark wisdom
I left Gen X’s cultural leviathan for last.

Generation X did not create digital technology.

We did not create the Internet.

We did not create the video game industry.

If you want to see the birth of “modern” information technology you have to go all the way back to the 1930s and find Konrad Zuse. If you want to know where the Internet began, you need to look at various networking projects in the early 1960s. If you look at the core companies of the PC and Video Game industries, Sony, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Compaq, Dell, Apple, Microsoft, Nintendo, etc… even the babies (That would be Microsoft and Apple for those of you who were wondering.) have been around since the mid-seventies. So if digital technology was conceived by the Greatest Generation, and produced by the Baby Boomers, where does Generation X come into it?

Generation X owns that shit! We leveraged the hell out of it. We turned this…

historical camp

Into this…

futuristic

When people hear Microsoft and Apple they think Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. They don’t even consider that since the late eighties Gen X engineers and programmers have done most of the creating behind the scenes. What isn’t behind the scenes is that Generation X developers and entrepreneurs dominate most of the industry.

Online, Generation X dominates. We get to take credit for the three things that nobody can live without: Google, Wikipedia and YouTube. If that isn’t scary enough for you, we also created Yahoo, eBay, PayPal, Twitter, Skype, Pinterest, IMDB, Shockwave, Upworthy, 4chan, Cheezburger Network, Firefox, Blackboard, and Amazon… along with more than half of the rest of the internet.

Domination
In video gaming, Generation X also dominates. Virtually every major video game franchise that came out after 1990 was created by Generation X: Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat, Crash Bandicoot, Doom, Quake, Tomb Raider, DDR, Pokemon, Metal Gear, Resident Evil, Grand Theft Auto, Fatal Frame, Super Smash Bros., Silent Hill, Halo, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, Kingdom Hearts, Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed, Portal, Minecraft, The Evil Within… and everything else.silent hill signI am a Generation X female gamer. The next time I walk up to the counter of GameStop with a stack of virtual destruction and some 20-year-old dude looks over my shoulder to my 13-year-old son (who isn’t even allowed near the type of games I play), I’m going to let loose on him. Generation X have been gamers since the beginning. We played text adventures that didn’t even recognize fucking conjunctions. We killed 8-bit dragons with a goddamn dot. We raided our way through heavily pixelated impossibly pointy tombs. We fought Umbrella when they only had one virus. We have, as a generation, taken video gaming from dots and lines to visually stunning and almost limitless worlds, and when the mood strikes, we like to enter those worlds and slaughter everything that moves. We are gaming’s OGs and you can fill that G with Geek, Gamer or God, it is all the same to us.8 Bit Dragon Vs Goddamned Dotgddot2
So go ahead and ignore the generation behind the curtain, we have been flying under the radar since the beginning; We tend to do our best work when people just stay the hell out of our way.

Generation X the Unknown Variable: Part II “The Beta Test”

abstract-paintings-x-marks-the-spot-bridget-griggs-art-712x720Generation X has got to be the record holder for firsts and lasts. I believe that we should be awarded a massive golden trophy, in the form of a 3-D model of M. C. Escher’s lithograph “Relativity” (“Crazy Stairs” for those of you who only know it from “Family Guy”) and it should read “To Generation X: In Recognition of Their Service as America’s Goddamned Guinea Pig. We Are Glad That Most of You Survived”, and on special memorial occasions, it should play “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M.

Escher's_Relativity
We were the last generation of kids that could be spanked “in public” and it was still considered socially acceptable. Most parents still spanked, we could still be spanked in public school, and if you grew up in a tight-knit neighborhood, like I did, your friends’ parents could spank you if they caught you getting out of hand. Yes, I know that physical punishment seems to be in direct contradiction to my previous post and its commentary about our parents’ search for spiritual and psychological enlightenment, but it is exactly this kind of weird paradoxical shit that made us who we are.

The reason that I emphasized “in public” is that after researching the subject, I found out that corporal punishment is still practiced by a majority of parents in the U.S. It began to decline sharply in the 1990s and various organizations including the American Association of Pediatrics, The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, The National Education Association, along with a couple hundred others have taken a public stance against it, but it is still there. (Note: I was surprised to find out that corporal punishment in public schools is still legal in 19 states. You could probably guess which ones and get at least half of them right.)

We were the first generation in the U.S. who weren’t ever “officially” segregated. This put us in a really strange position, and we weren’t even old enough to realize it. We were the hope of equality between races. Just roll that around in your head for a minute. When Martin Luther King said “…little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” (he specified it to Alabama, but I am choosing to assume that he meant other states too) , he didn’t know that he was talking about us, but he was. Generation X was the first generation of children in the U.S. who just went to school together, and don’t have memories of it being any other way. We grew up together and were specifically taught that whether you were Girls or Boys, Handicapped, White, Black, Asian, American Indian,” Indian” Indian, Spanish, Middle Eastern, European… It was just all labels and they didn’t matter, because we were all the same… just people. Then, after we had this drilled into us year after year, someone decided that the labels did matter because they weren’t politically correct and we were introduced to “African American” and “Native American” and “Hispanic/Latino” (there is no final ruling on which of these is the right term) and policemen and firemen became “police officers” and “firefighters” and people who were “a little slow” became “intellectually disabled” etc… etc… ad infinitum. I know that the idea of changing the language of how we define each other came from the best intentions, but for Generation X, who were taught that our differences shouldn’t matter politically correct language just drew attention to the fact we had to define each other. This is another of those paradoxical situations that we were asked to maneuver through.

The politically correct terms, we were told we should use, were so stilted, prissy and sterile that every time we used them, it dehumanized who we were talking about and turned everybody into a goddamn lab specimen. We all have different views on how to work our way around this linguistic Catch-22. Like a lot of other Gen Xers, I just call most people “Dude” as in “That dude, over there.” (My husband believes that calling other women “Dude” is sexist. I am a woman, and I am often called “Dude” by other women. Our view on the subject seems to be summed up by “Dude! Just deal with it.” Yes, I know the etymology of “Dude” and yes, it’s masculine, but if we ignore that long enough, it can become gender neutral. ) Before I leave this subject completely, I have to point out that even the designation “politically correct” itself is a pejorative term used to describe something that is overly stilted and prissy and sterile in order not to be offensive. A major problem is that sometimes the line between something that is just “correct” and something that is “politically correct” is blurry at best.

Generation X was the first generation of kids raised without parents. Ok, that’s a bit hyperbolic. I need to qualify it, divorce existed well before our generation, but it was a rarity. In a strange coincidence, the rate of divorce in the U. S. hit its steepest rise and highest peak within the same time period that defines our generation. Between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s divorce rates nearly tripled and then peaked and in the same time period, the number of mothers who never married more than doubled, and along with that the number of two parent households where both parents worked full time jobs also doubled. All of this adds up to a lot of parental absence. Our parents had no model to follow for this new set of family dynamics, so they improvised; the results were a bit haphazard.

divorce
We were the last generation in the U.S. who had “real” autonomy while growing up (this is just from my individual observations; if anyone has hard numbers on this, please let me know). When we weren’t in school, we got booted out of the house and didn’t come back until we either heard one of our parents yelling for us, or we saw the streetlights come on. When both of our parents worked, or we only lived with one parent and they worked, we were so autonomous, that they had to invent a whole new term “latch-key kids.” When my son turned twelve, my husband and I both had schedules that left a one-and-a-half-hour window between when our son arrived home from school and when one of us arrived home. We agonized over whether he was ready to spend this hour and a half unsupervised. When I was twelve years old, I was already being paid to care for other people’s children. This freedom went pro and con for Gen X. On the pro side of the equation: We became self-reliant, inventive problem solvers, who were allowed to explore our world on our own terms. On the con side: Our memories of those “explorations” are pretty much the reason that we don’t take our eyes off of our own kids for a second. One of the weirdest aspects of our independence is that we grew up when violent crime in the U.S. was at its peak. When you add that up with lead paint remnants, asbestos, no child proofing, no seat belts, no bike helmets, playing in the street, exposed radiators, metal playground equipment on asphalt or packed sand, and very little supervision, it’s surprising that any of us survived.

penny drop
We were the last generation who were “consistently” taught that life isn’t fair. We can at least partially thank the aforementioned autonomy for this. Let’s face it… our unsupervised group dynamics were less “Peter Pan” and more “Lord of the Flies”. We have heard it a million times “Kids can be cruel”. When left unsupervised we built our own little social hierarchies, we insulted each other, we fought physically, some of us were scapegoats, and some of us were vicious bullies. This is how we socialized. At home our parents did not treat us like the universe revolved around us. When we watched TV, unless we were alone, we watched what our parents wanted to watch. We ate what they wanted to cook or what they wanted us to cook. We were also expected to work around the house, not a short list of “age appropriate” chores in order to build responsibility, but actual house and yard work because it needed to be done. In school, under adult supervision, we competed. We played dodgeball and kickball and had to sit against the wall in terror of being picked last. In class, we had compulsory spelling bees and math competitions where your weakness in a given subject was put on display for everyone to see. We played sports for fun but also to win. Our work was graded on a scale from A+ all the way down to an F. We suffered and succeeded on our own, and it sucked! But what we learned from it was important. We learned that life isn’t fair. We learned how to assess a difficult social situation and create an appropriate strategy (even “run like hell” is an appropriate strategy in some situations.) We learned that we weren’t good at some things and we learned that we were good at others. Every ribbon or trophy or prize that we won had validity, and every ribbon or trophy or prize that we didn’t win taught us to either try harder or move on to something else. We were prepared for the “real” world.

kareem

Generation X the Unknown Variable: Part 1 “Blame the Parents”

xequalsA humorous attempt to wrestle with what it means to be “Gen X”, with just a tiny bit of research, turned into an existential steel cage death match.

Generation X: Who the hell are we?

Did you know that other than the “Baby Boomers”, who the U.S. Census Bureau defines as those born between 1946 and 1964, there are no hard and fast rules for defining the boundaries between generations? For example, I am defining Gen X as those born between the mid 1960s and the early 1980s. I’ve seen articles that widen that range to 1961-1985 and ones that narrow it to 1965-1980 (and if you think that’s bad, Generation Y isn’t even considered a demographic anymore. They were eaten by the Millennials.)

When you consider Generation X (which no one ever does; the Pew Research Center called us “America’s Neglected Middle Child” for fuck’s sake) what are the terms that come to mind? We have been referred to for decades as apathetic, cynical, materialistic, disenfranchised slackers. It is surprising that we weren’t named “Generation Fuck Off and Leave Us Alone.”

Hopefully, these labels are wrong because we are at the point in our lives where we are responsible for everyone else. We are supposed to be taking care of the aging Boomers while at the same time we are nurturing the not yet mature Millennials. Through careful research (well… careful as in a few hours, I’m not writing a damn dissertation here) and consideration, I have come to the conclusion that this means everyone involved is totally screwed. In the U.S. there are about half as many of us Gen Xers as there are Baby Boomers, and also about half as many of us as there are Millennials. They have us surrounded and out-gunned, and they have not the first clue that our entire shared history has made us bat-shit crazy, unpredictable and prone to self-destruction. I now know from experience, that if you sit down and take the time to try to figure out who we are, all the seemingly random insanity of life in the U.S. today will start to make sense (as a bonus, you can scare the shit out of yourself at the same time.)

If you really want to understand what makes someone tick, you have to look at their parents. Let’s see if this applies to the group as much as it does to the individual.

We were born in the middle of the cultural and social equivalent of a nervous breakdown. Just a few of the tiny issues that surrounded our origins are the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Civil Rights Movement, Second Wave Feminism, the Counter Culture Revolution, the Sexual Revolution, the Psychedelic Era, the Oil Crisis and we were born dead center of the Cold War.

sexual-revolution
Our parents were “Beatniks”, “Black Panthers”, “Flower Children”, “Feminists”, “Freaks”, “Squares”, “Protestors” and “Militant Radicals” who “tuned in, turned on, and dropped out” and “stuck it to the man”. They “discovered” eastern philosophies, native American spiritual practices, and neo-paganism. They did this much in the same way small children “discover” sex; they look at bits and pieces of it and try to create a logical pattern from it. It’s not pretty, but from the outside it can be fucking hilarious. (If you don’t have a good grasp on this concept, go and ask a four-year-old child “Where do babies come from?” Be sure to have their parents’ permission first, I am not trying to get you arrested.) When they finally wore themselves out on this track, they collectively fused into the “Me Generation”, and turned inward toward a more psychoanalytic worldview. They learned just enough about Freud and Jung to make themselves dangerous and then topped it off with Tom Harris’ “I’m OK You’re OK”. There have never been more amateur psychoanalysts roaming free, before or since, and hopefully there never will be again. They were busy “finding” themselves, and they either towed us along with them, or let us run wild. They TMed, ESTed, raised their consciousness and primal screamed their way through our formative years.

iokuok
There are two ways we can look at this:

1. Generation X was nurtured by free spirits who were dedicated to forging a new and better world for us, a world where we would be free from the archaic social structures that only served to alienate and subdue us.

2. Generation X was raised by a bunch of stoned lunatics in an open-air asylum, during a two decade riot.

Depending on your psychological needs, please chose accordingly.

Before leaving the topic of our parents, I would like to express my jealousy of them. They gossiped about and judged each other privately… like nature intended. They did not consider themselves entitled to smugly confront someone over every little character flaw. They smoked (not always tobacco), drank, had parties, wore outrageous clothes and said outrageous things. Much valuable wisdom, imparted to my childhood self by adults, was carried on the scent of gin or beer.

To be continued…

Dear Professor…

Because I have bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder along with symptoms of PTSD, ADHD and OCD (I know, it looks like the whole alphabet is banging around in my head), I occasionally have “issues” that make it necessary for me to miss class. “Issues” is the standard euphemism that everyone who lives with mental illness uses to say, “something is happening that is either too difficult or too embarrassing for me to explain to you.” So when I have to be absent, I send my teachers an e-mail that usually looks like this:

Hi Professor,

Due to emotional/anxiety issues, I will not be able to attend your class today.

I am sorry if this causes you any inconvenience. I believe we were going to cover topic XYZ in class today, and I will be sure to study this on my own.

I would appreciate it if you would allow me to make up any missed in-class assignments.

Once again, please forgive me for being absent.

Thanks for all your help,

—Liz

The problem that has been bothering me about this is that “issues” can mean pretty much anything, and I am not sure that I want my instructors filling in the blanks themselves. So here are some of the e-mails that I wish I could have sent:

Dear Professor,

I will not be able to attend your class today because I lost my “everything is normal” costume.

Let me explain, sometimes I wake up naked with no skin. I am totally vulnerable with every nerve exposed and I’m bleeding all over the place.

I have a costume for days like this. When I put it on, I look just like “everything is normal.” It doesn’t protect me from the pain or keep me from bleeding, but it keeps people from being able to see it.

I’ve looked for my “everything is normal” costume, but I can’t find it anywhere. I can’t come to class without it because everyone will be able to see that I’m damaged and bleeding.

Sorry for any inconvenience,

–Liz


Dear Professor,

Due to the fact I am not worthy to interact with other human beings, I will be unable to attend your class today.

As you know, I am fat, ugly, stupid and a repugnant piece of shit. I ruin everything and I am personally responsible for everything that is wrong in the world.

Normally, I am so self-centered and deluded that I don’t even recognize this, but today the truth is very obvious to me.

I have prepared for class and I even made it to the bus stop, but every person I passed could see how awful I am and my shame finally overwhelmed me. In a panic, I have run back to my house to hide which is a good thing because no one should have to be burdened with my presence.

Thank you for putting up with yet another situation in which I have failed,

–Liz


Dear Professor,

I will be unable to attend your class today because I am pretty sure that I am dying.

Just a few minutes ago, my heart started flopping around in my chest like a bird with a broken wing. I am sweating, I can’t breathe, my extremities are going numb and I have spiking pains in my head and arms.

I have packed a bag to take with me to the hospital and I have my phone in my hand ready to call the EMTs. Before I call them though, I will chew up a few of these little yellow pills that my psychiatrist prescribed for me after the first six times I ended up in the emergency room.

The pills will probably keep me from having to call the ambulance, but I will spend the rest of the day weeping in a drug haze while my body recuperates from the shock.

Thank you for your patience,

–Liz


Dear Professor,

I will be in class today!

I would like to apologize ahead of time, however, for my behavior. I will be talking continuously and laughing too loud. My limbs will be bouncing all over the place and I may or may not be able to stay on topic.

My brain seems to have found a hole in the drug cage that I keep it in and it is running wild. I am able to see an exponential number of patterns and connections between subjects and I desperately want to be able to communicate it because it is amazing!

By the way, have you ever considered that if you relate the wavelengths of light to the wavelengths of sound you could create a system of imaging that would allow the deaf to experience music in a visual format and if you simplified that system… instead of writing music as symbols on a musical staff, you could write it as lines of color where the depth of the tone is represented by the shade of the individual colors and the length of the line indicates how many beats the note is held… how softly or loudly a note is played could be represented by the thickness of the line… this would allow for more specific communication from the composer… it’s a bit more complex than that, you have to consider the other hundreds of variables that define sound… vibrato…staccatissimo… I should probably write this down, but it is all coming so fast that I am losing pieces of it.

Anyway… I will see you in class!

–Liz


Dear Professor,

Due to the fact that I can’t maintain, I will not be able to be in class today.

I am vibrating and all my senses are cranked to the max. I know you won’t quite understand this and I don’t think I can express it very well.

It’s like a low voltage electrical current is running through my blood stream. My world is filled with floodlights and someone has cranked the volume all the way to 11. I can feel every fiber in the clothes I am wearing and even the air is irritating my skin. My tongue is huge and my teeth are slick and my heartbeat is way too loud in my ears.

The world is slamming into me and I can’t stay still. Something is desperately wrong and I need to escape, I need to get out but there is nowhere to go that is safe from this.

I need to be in the most protected and private space possible. I need to be able to pace or curl up in a ball and rock myself.

I can’t leave because there is too much of everything and I will drown in it all.

Thank you for your patience,

–Liz


Dear Professor,

I wish I had a “real” illness.

If I had a “real” illness, the kind that everyone knows about and understands, I wouldn’t always be worried about what you think when I have to be absent.

If I had an oxygen tank or skin lesions or anything concrete that you could see, I could relax and not feel guilty whenever I have to take care of myself.

My illness is not “real” enough. It’s an amorphous mass of enigmatic symptoms that are subject to other people’s impressions and beliefs. The only concrete and undeniable symptom of my illness… is the one that kills you.

So yeah, I wish I had a “real” illness.

Thanks for your time,

–Liz

This is not my life every day. These are the worst days, and they are few and far between. I sacrificed a good portion of my intelligence and my creativity to the forces of psychopharmacology in order to keep these days to minimum.

I don’t need or want pity, and I am willing to work my ass off to prove it. What I “do” want is for my instructors to know that when I miss class, they can be damn sure that my “issues” are valid. I am not missing class because I am “sad” or “upset.” When I am “sad” or “upset” I am right there in front of them and I am probably smiling, and I am not the only one.