Obama and Me: Gen X or Boomers?

10 years ago

My fellow marketers are fond of naming age cohorts: The Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, Millenials....  People born in an assigned set of years are given a name and set of characteristics.  No matter if you identify with those characteristics and experiences it seems as if everything you hear tells you that you are locked in, no escaping, demographics are destiny!

In marketing speak however, there is also something called psychographics.  Regardless of what your stats say about you (age, gender, income, etc...) you are also what you think you are.  Attitude and behavior count. 

Recently, 47-year-old New York Times columnist Michelle Slatella declared to her husband that, like Barack Obama, she is a Gen X'er.  Her husband scoffed and said that if she is than he at 51 is, too.  Slatella refused to accept her husband as a member of her chosen generation.  The question is then, who gets to decide.

I am very interested in this question since I am just a year younger than Ms. Slatella and the President-elect.  I am technically at the very tail end of the Baby Boomer generation but I never see myself in the descriptions of Woodstock-loving, AARP-joining, Social Security-receiving, former hippies.  However, nor do I see myself in the descriptions of flannel wearing, grunge and ganster rap-loving, slackers.  Where do my post-Vietnam war, Bicentenial-celebrating, too young to be Exiles on Main Street and too old to be Exiled in Guyville, punk rock and hip hop-loving, Brady Bunch were my homeboys and homegirls peeps fit in?

Jonathan Pontell, is credited with coining the term "Generation Jones" to describe my "lost" generation.  It's nice to have a name and credit for for some cool and powerful trends.

In addition to being computer geeks (According to this article, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Steve Case are all late boomers, early X'ers) apparently we are quite the political powerhouses.  Our generation is considered to be the likely deciders in George W. Bush's 2004 re-election.  And although lots of groups including single women and millenials are given credit for putting Obama over the top in 2008, I'd like to think that we elected one of our own.

And notice I called us "we?"  Don't let that fool you.  I'm not entirely sold yet on loving being part of a named generation.  As much as I generally don't identify when I read about boomer perspectives and though I'm not entirely disconnected from Generation X touchstones, I still tend to think that I belong to a particularly unique generation: Generation Maria. 

There is some real value in naming and defining generations.  Yes, it is easy shorthand, often sweeping generalization and used as a lazy way of trying to sell you stuff.  But in addition to giving shape to pop culture trends and cultural zeigtgeist, it is a tool to help understand shifts in mass psychology, and  economic and political behavior.  Regardless of to what degree you identify with the generational gestalt, and though your individual experiences and perceptions are what ultimately define you, broad or niche, understanding various age groupings are just one more tool to help us understand the big puzzle that we form.

How about you?  Are you a bold boomer? A thoroughly modern millenial? A now firmly grounded Gen X'er? Something in-between or a totally uninterested in labels unique individual?

Related Reading:

Heather Havrilesky at Salon: An open apology to boomers everywhere

Your earnest, self-important prattle has gotten on Gen X nerves for decades. But now we finally get it.

Marian Salzman: Baby boomers out, 'Cuspers' in (those born roughly 1954-1965)

Obama himself has made clear he thinks in terms of generational difference.

He has spoken of carrying on the work of the “Moses generation” — the Martin Luther King Jr. generation — whose successors he has referred to as the “Joshua generation.” His activists rallied under the banner of Generation Obama, and his campaign’s ability to mobilize the youth vote proved decisive in his victory.

Whether we call them cuspers, Generation Jones or Generation Obama, there are enigmas and paradoxes within this generation and its fans. They respond to Biblical imagery, but they’re not dogmatic in their faith.

They value traditional notions of family but see men and women as equals in parenting. They go back to older American values — civility, community, responsibility — yet keenly embrace technology and use the Internet naturally.

In fact, embracing digital technology is one of the telling dividers between boomers and cuspers. It’s no coincidence that leading-edge Cuspers such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Tim-Berners Lee, all born in 1955, helped create the digital universe cuspers and younger generations now inhabit as a matter of course.

Jenny Lyn Bader in The New York Times: In the Eye of the Beholder: When a Boom Begins

Generationality is not just what sociologists or advertisers decide. It is more crucially how one imagines oneself — or, from cusphood, reinvents oneself.

Maria Padhila at Capitol Cougar: Generation Jones and the Doom of the Fourth Estate

Gotta love a paper you pick up in the hangover haze and it tells you you're a member of the the dumbest generation of the past 200 years. OK, maybe dancing with that gangster-looking guy WAS dumb, but give me a break. The Outlook piece uses the Generation Jones tag on us--that undernourished slice of a generation born between the boomers and GenX--and claims we had the worst test scores, the worst education, etc. The Millennialists, he claims, are the really smart ones.

That Generation Jones tag's got trendy Gladwell-wannabe all over it, but I kind of like it anyway, with its shucks-shuffle rhythm and undertone of illicit, unrelieved longing.

We Jonesers were alternately neglected and demonized as children? Check. We were subject to weird educational experiments (at the hands of boomers, I might add) and classrooms depleted by inflation and municipal failure? Check. We were so terrified by our free-lovin', boozin', Ice Stormin' parents that we started dressing preppy and voted for Reagan? Ah, here's where we splinter. A faction of us became obsessive autodidact punks instead.

And we're so dumb? Here's a little test: Generation Jones gave us Henry Rollins. The Millennialists claim Britney Spears. Your witness.

the uppity negro at Uppity Negro Network: So...what generation am I?

I was born in 1984 and the proud kindergarten class of 1990, meaning that I fully grew up in the 1990’s, meaning I’m an 80’s baby, but a 90’s kid. Some people ask me what generation am I, and I have to take a deep breath and tell some convoluted story that I’m too young to be Generation X and that I’m not a Millenium Kid (I almost punched someone that asked that! I mean I’m 23 years old!). I just simply tell people that I am a 90’s kid; that I’m fully a product of the 90’s. A product of the 90’s means that I remember MC Hammer and what it meant to Hammertime just as equally as I remember the Macarena and that our school didn’t want the kids to wear black and red or black and blue because of gangs. As a product of the 90’s I remember Y2K and just how scared we all really were and all the bottled water and canned food products we went through. I also remember what it meant to get your ear pierced, right was wrong and left was right.

BlogHer CE Maria Niles gets her pop culture Jones on at her personal blog Beyond Help

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