My Generation?

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Mom was fond of calling me a “Bicentennial Baby,” since I was born in 1976. It’s not a term that I’ve heard very often outside of my family; earlier this year I used it when I was talking with a grocery store worker, who said that he thought I was too young to be wearing the Nirvana t-shirt I had on, when he asked what year I was born, and he just smiled and shook his head. From what I’ve seen of the first two seasons of Saturday Night Live, it sure seemed like America’s bicentennial was being used to brand everything under the sun back when it was happening, but I don’t exactly have that many vivid memories of my first nine and a half months.

I’ve always had an aversion to pinning most labels on myself, even when the labels have kind of fit me. When the term “Generation X” first entered mainstream vernacular, I had a very uneasy relationship with it. Back then, the cutoff for that generation was people born between 1965 and 1975, and so my feelings about being lumped in with those people was kind of a moot point because, at least on a technical level, I wasn’t part of it. At the same time, though, there were enough cool things going on in the middle years of the 1990’s (especially with music) that I didn’t mind being seen as part of that generation. I didn’t call myself a Gen X-er, but I didn’t really try to distance myself from the term.

As time went on, and the term “Generation Y” was coined, I really didn’t want to play that game any longer. I was on that cusp between X and Y (insert about ten million jokes here); in some ways, it felt like the Gen Y label fit my personality a little more, and I was on the Y side of the birth year cutoff, but I still felt like Generation X was a better label for me. Things got more complicated after I went back to college, after taking a few years off to assist the family business and do website design (and generally make a huge ass out of myself online), and most of my classmates were firmly entrenched in that Generation Y demographic. Not that I’ve ever really felt like I fit in anywhere (other than the time I spent at Antioch College), but all this talk about different generations just made it even harder for me to identify who “my generation” was, especially after 09.11 changed the sociopolitical climate in America so swiftly.

I don’t remember when I first heard the term “millennial” to describe another arbitrarily-designated generation of young Americans, but I do remember that it wasn’t long after my first encounter with the concept of millennials that I saw the word use pejoratively by a wide range of people, blaming that generation for everything from restaurants losing business to The Impending End Of The World As We Know It. Although I didn’t fit the definition of a millennial in a lot of ways, I still found myself empathizing with them to a tremendous degree, possibly because of my own history of being put upon by the same people who scorn millennials these days, and possibly because I teach so many millennials. I’ve already written once in defence of millennials, pointing out that most of the people slamming millennials are just narcissistic pricks (to put it mildly) who feel entitled to exploit younger people for their own whims, and I’m sure that I’ll be defending millennials a lot more in the future.

When the first articles about “xennials” came out a few weeks ago, my first impulse was to run screaming from yet another attempt to label different generations. Quickly, though, I found myself romanticizing the term, thinking that maybe, somehow, someone had found a way to marry the different parts of Generation X and the millennial generation that I liked, and that maybe, just maybe, I had found a generational label that I could embrace wholeheartedly.

Those hopes were quickly squelched, though. For one thing, the first defining characteristic that was listed for xennials was “an analog childhood and a digital adulthood.” Ignoring, for the moment, the question of whether or not I’ve ever really been an adult, I most certainly did not have an analog childhood. As I pointed out in a video last year, I wrote my first computer programme when I was five years old, in 1981. Between my family’s love of computers resulting in me having a whole lot of them around me, and not wanting to deal with people since I was almost constantly surrounded by raging assholes back then, I was probably one of the first people to have a digital childhood, albeit in a much different way than those whose childhoods came after the popularization of the Internet in the early nineties (or social media a decade later).

More importantly, though, the time frame for xennials is being defined as those people born when the first Star Wars trilogy came out, meaning people born between 1977 and 1983. Technically, that makes me one year too old to be an xennial, just like I was one year too young to be a member of Generation X when the term was first defined. Those of us who are, for lack of a better term, Bicentennial Babies, find ourselves in a very difficult space when it comes to these labels, and even as much as I shun labels — remember the old Groucho Marx line about not wanting to belong to any club that would have me as a member — being in this strange gap between generations has me feeling more than a little disconcerted.

If we’re free to pick what generation we belong to, rather than let our year of birth define that — and there’s certainly a lot of wisdom to that approach — then I’d have a very strong temptation to define myself as a hippie, simply because I identify so much with the mindset and aesthetic of that culture. (It probably helps that I’m the daughter of hippies.) I didn’t actually own that Nirvana t-shirt, or any plaid flannel shirts, until a couple of years ago; I was definitely much more of a “new hippie” back in the nineties, what with all the folk-rock I listened to back then (and still regard as the best music ever, though the folk-rock of my parents’ era is close behind). That’s not so easy to describe, though, and as much enjoyment as I get by flummoxing some people who try to describe me in their own words, it’s still a pain that I can’t describe myself so easily. Maybe the next wave of “let’s name the generations” will come up with a more adequate soubriquet for people like me, but until then I’ll have to keep working on better words with which to describe myself. Telling people that I’m a Bicentennial Baby doesn’t seem to be helping me any.

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