Readers have asked me to provide a more complete description of the OGX (Original Generation X), who, as I've argued, were born between 1954 and 1963. So... here you go.
BRAINIAC'S GUIDE TO AMERICA'S RECENT GENERATIONS
Lost Generation The New Kids
Lost Generation Hardboiled Generation
The Greatest Generation Partisans
The Greatest Generation The New Gods
The Silent Generation Postmodernist Generation
The Silent Generation Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation
1944-53: Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers OGX (Original Generation X)
Generation X PC Generation
Generations X/Y Net Generation
Please credit Brainiac/Joshua Glenn whenever you use this guide. Got a beef with my periodization, or different generational name suggestions? Leave a comment on this post or email me. Born between 1954 and 1993 and still unsure about whether you're a Boomer, Xer, Yer, or Millennial? Here's a handy guide.
In their teens and 20s in the Seventies (1974-83; not to be confused with the '70s), and in their 20s and 30s in the Eighties (1984-93; not to be confused with the '80s), the Original Generation X is cynical, ironic, skeptical -- which is not the same as directionless, nihilistic, or depressed! OGXers had a front-row seat for the Reagan Revolution, during which they saw "liberal" become a pejorative term, as many Americans recoiled from the various liberation movements (sexual, feminist, gay, ethnic) of the Sixties and Seventies. The Boomers had Roe v. Wade; OGXers got the anti-abortion backlash and the keeping-my-baby meme. The Boomers had the Apollo moon landing; OGXers got the Challenger explosion. Too young for Woodstock but not Altamont, just old enough for Watergate and the energy crisis, not to mention Three Mile Island, in 1990 Time Magazine dubbed their youngest members "twentysomethings" (i.e., directionless, nihilistic, and depressed); and their oldest members were lumped in, strictly because of demographic considerations (which is foolish), with the Boomers. Whom they tend to resent and despise! No wonder two of their (non-American) cohort -- Billy Idol ('55) and novelist Douglas Coupland ('61) -- independently popularized the anti-label "Generation X."
The OGX is a generation that has brought us punk, post-punk, and cyberpunk, hardcore and hip hop (I borrowed their moniker from Ice-T's "Original Gangsta," did you catch that?), DIY and zines (before they were called zines), "Seinfeld" and "The Simpsons," "Ghost World" and "Love and Rockets," "Master of Puppets" and "Pulp Fiction," "Slacker" and "Do The Right Thing," sardonic "charticles" and impossibly convoluted and footnoted prose. Howard Stern, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Arsenio Hall, Rosie O'Donnell, and Conan O'Brien are OGXers; so are the Hollywood Brat Pack and the New York one. Also: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Steve Ballmer; Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody, and David Foster Wallace; Al Roker, Katie Couric, and Matt Lauer; and Madonna, Prince, Bon Jovi, and Michael Jackson. Plus: Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee.
This generation of latch-key kids and children of divorce were the first American adolescents to be informed -- incessantly, and persuasively, by TV shows and Hollywood movies -- what it's like to be an adolescent. "Lost in Space," "The Andy Griffith Show," "Happy Days," "The Brady Bunch," "The Partridge Family," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "Taps," "Risky Business," "Little Darlings," "Bad News Bears," "The Outsiders," "Rumble Fish," "21 Jump Street," "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club," "St. Elmo's Fire," "Pretty in Pink," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Joanie Loves Chachi," "Family Ties," "Eight is Enough," and "One Day at a Time" all cast OGXers as... themselves, sorta. When Situationist Guy Debord (a member of France's postmodern Generation) wrote that "the individual's gestures are no longer his own; they are the gestures of someone else who represents them to him," this is the sort of alienation he meant. Debord wrote that in 1967, when the oldest OGXers were 13, and the youngest 4 -- and all glued to the TV.
[more after the jump]
Zinester Candi Strecker once dubbed her fellow post-Boomers the "Repo Man Generation." Directed by an elder OGXer, Alex Cox, the 1984 cult movie stars OGXer Emilio Estevez in his finest role -- as a punk 20something disillusioned not only with American society and culture, but with the empty rebelliousness of his fellow middle-class suburban punks. Note that Otto isn't un-idealistic, just baffled and skeptical. (So why not gravitate, as he does, toward an apocalyptic alien cult?) As I've written elsewhere, while OGXers were in their teens and 20s, socialism as a doctrine and a movement no longer seemed capable of addressing the insurgent political, economic, and cultural doctrine that during the market-worshiping Eighties would come to be called neoliberalism. Neoliberal triumphalism, globalism, the dominant discourse: what were OGXers supposed to do about them?
Postmoderns offered up theories of how social control was now exercised not through class domination but increasingly subtle mechanisms. The modern liberal state, OGXers were informed -- at the same age that Boomers had been when they righteously demanded that the modern liberal state live up to its own ideals -- was nothing but a neototalitarian apparatus designed solely to optimize the economic utility of recalcitrant individuals. Giving up on the workingman and college students alike, Postmodern and Anti-Anti-Utopian intellectuals cast about for a new revolutionary subject: the psychotic, perhaps; or the criminal, the part-time worker, maybe the unemployed? In a 1977 interview, Michel Foucault (a French Postmodern) said he was looking for "someone who, wherever he finds himself, will pose the question as to whether revolution is worth the trouble, and if so which revolution and what trouble."
OGXers are to be praised for taking such difficult, complicated questions seriously; but to do so is, of course, to find one's political will compromised, even paralyzed. No wonder that many OGXers have found it more copacetic to become conservatives (remember the Reagan Youth?); or instead to embrace what Baudrillard (a French Postmodern) would call the "soft ideologies" of ecologism and antiracism, instead of, say, social justice. But don't call OGXers "slackers," unless you intend it as an obscure, Linklater-esque compliment; because they're not apathetic or nihilistic. Instead, if we think it's possible to reclaim this pejorative, let's call OGXers "slacktivists."
OK, here they are, the OGXers -- organized not by profession, this time, but year.
1954: Howard Stern, Oprah Winfrey, Alex Beam, Kurt Andersen, David Greenberger, Roz Chast, Bill Mumy, Luc Sante, Christie Brinkley, Steven Pinker, Matt Groening, John Travolta, Al Roker, Bill Buford, Bob Weinstein, Patty Hearst, John Doe, Ron Howard, Larry Summers, Dennis Quaid, Bruce Sterling, Ellen Barkin, Andrea Barrett, Jerry Seinfeld, Jeffrey Sachs, Jake Burton, James Belushi, Freddie Prinze, Barry Williams, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Michael Moore, David Lee Roth, Allison Anders, Chris Noth, Condoleezza Rice, Joel Coen, Jermaine Jackson, Denzel Washington. Elsewhere: Bobby Sands, James Cameron, Ang Lee, Elvis Costello, Alex Cox, Tim O'Reilly, Adam Ant, Annie Lennox.
1955: Jay McInerney, Kool DJ Herc, Kevin Costner, Eddie Van Halen, Michael Pollan, John Grisham, Arsenio Hall, Jeff Daniels, Kelsey Grammer, Steve Jobs, Ray Ozzie, Charles Burns, Penn Jillette, Dee Snider, Gary Sinise, Bruce Willis, Susan Orlean, Barbara Kingsolver, Dave Winer, Mark David Chapman, Debra Winger, Dana Carvey, Sandra Bernhard, Laurie Metcalf, Glenn Danzig, Tullis Onstott, Billy Bob Thornton, Mike Huckabee, Bill Gates, Katharine Weber, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Nye, Ray Liotta. Elsewhere: Rowan Atkinson, Nina Hagen, Chow Yun-Fat, John McGeoch, Topper Headon, Tim Berners-Lee, Green Gartside, Mick Jones, Steve Jones, John Kricfalusi, Bela Tarr, Billy Idol.
1956: David Caruso, Bill Maher, Geena Davis, Nathan Lane, Judith Butler, Steve Ballmer, David E. Kelley, Lynda Barry, Andy Garcia, Bob Saget, Adam Gopnik, Randy Jackson, Tom Hanks, Marky Ramone, Tony Kushner, Legs McNeil, Tony Millionaire, Tom Drury, Mickey Rourke, David Copperfield, Linda Hamilton, Bo Derek, Randy Rhoads, Mike Mills, David Sedaris. Elsewhere: Mel Gibson, Johnny Rotten, Peter Hook, Steve Harris, Judy Davis, Lars von Trier, Ian Curtis, Kim Cattrall.
1957: Nicholson Baker, Katie Couric, John Lasseter, Steve Harvey, Russell Simmons, Madison Smartt Bell, Robert Townsend, Cindy Wilson, Michael Kelly, LeVar Burton, Vanna White, Spike Lee, Christopher Lambert, Judge Reinhold, Scott Adams, Richard Thomas, Cameron Crowe, Robert Pollard, Gilbert Hernandez, Melanie Griffith, Richie Ramone, Caroline Kennedy, Denis Leary, Ethan Coen, Fran Drescher, Bernie Mac, Dan Castellaneta, Jon-Erik Hexum, Christopher Knight, Donny Osmond, Steve Buscemi, Ray Romano, Matt Lauer. Elsewhere: Luis Guzman, Mario Van Peebles, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Osama bin Laden, Nick Hornby, Mark E. Smith, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sid Vicious, Siouxsie Sioux, Gloria Estefan, Billy Bragg, Hamid Karzai, Shane McGowan.
1958: Grandmaster Flash, Ellen DeGeneres, Charlie Kaufman, Ice-T, Sharon Stone, Robert Kagan, Holly Hunter, D. Boon, Alec Baldwin, Andie MacDowell, Michelle Pfeiffer, David O. Russell, Rick Santorum, Drew Carey, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Annette Bening, Prince, David Remnick, Rick Bass, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Jello Biafra, Kevin Bacon, Mark Cuban, Bill Berry, Madonna, Angela Bassett, Jim Hogshire, Belinda Carlisle, Steve Guttenberg, Tim Burton, Michael Jackson, Thomas Dolby, Tim Robbins, Viggo Mortensen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Charlene Tilton, George Saunders, Nikki Sixx, Bebe Neuwirth. Elsewhere: Andy Gibb, Gary Numan, Wong Kar-wai, Gary Oldman, Simon Le Bon.
1959: Susanna Hoffs, Kyle MacLachlan, Tom Arnold, Flavor Flav, Matthew Modine, Perry Farrell, David Hyde Pierce, Brian Setzer, Sam Raimi, Kurtis Blow, Steve Stevens, Amy Pascal, Ira Glass, Vincent D'Onofrio, Richie Sambora, Suzanne Vega, Kevin Spacey, Mark Newgarden, Jaime Hernandez, Joe Elliott, Rosanna Arquette, Todd Solondz, Danny Bonaduce, Jonathan Franzen, Rebecca De Mornay, Marie Osmond, William T. Vollmann, Emeril Lagasse, Richard Roeper, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Neal Stephenson, Judd Nelson, Val Kilmer. Elsewhere: Sade, Nastassja Kinski, Aidan Quinn, Robert Smith, Ian McCulloch, Steven Morrissey, Hugh Laurie, Simon Cowell.
1960: Michael Stipe, Valerie Bertinelli, Jennifer Grey, Jeffrey Eugenides, James Spader, Brewster Kahle, Willie Aames, Timothy Hutton, Chuck D, George Packer, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Michael Azerrad, Jaron Lanier, David Duchovny, Chuck Lane, Richard Linklater, Sean Penn, Joan Jett, Stanley Tucci, JFK Jr., Daryl Hannah, Ethan Canin, Mike Lookinland. Elsewhere: Michael Hutchence, Adam Clayton, Chester Brown, Bono, Allen Kurzweil, Antonio Banderas, Joe Sacco, Hugh Grant, Jean-Claude Van Damme.
1961: Gabrielle Carteris, Todd Haynes, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Philip Gourevitch, George Stephanopoulos, Daniel Clowes, Lynn Peril, Henry Rollins, Amy Sedaris, Alexander Payne, Eddie Murphy, George Clooney, Lawrence Lessig, Michael J. Fox, Douglas Rushkoff, Pagan Kennedy, Melle Mel, Kim and Kelley Deal, Jim Goad, Jackie Earle Haley, Stewart O'Nan, Laurence Fishburne, Barack Obama, Chris Anderson, Virginia Madsen, James Gandolfini, Elizabeth McGovern, Scott Baio, Heather Locklear, Lawrence Lessig, Rick Moody, Randy Jackson, Erin Moran, Ralph Macchio, Meg Ryan, Caitlin Flanagan, Mariel Hemingway, Ann Coulter, Bill Hicks, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Sean Hannity. Elsewhere: Andy Taylor, Tim Roth, Michael Winterbottom, Boy George, Ricky Gervais, Princess Di, Peter Jackson, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., Douglas Coupland.
1962: Tyler Cowen, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Axl Rose, Bob Odenkirk, Scott McLemee, Mark Costello, Garth Brooks, Cliff Burton, Sheryl Crow, Lou Diamond Phillips, Lisa Randall, Chuck Palahniuk, David Foster Wallace, Jon Bon Jovi, Matthew Broderick, Marley Marl, Rosie O'Donnell, MC Hammer, Vincent Gallo, Ian MacKaye, Emilio Estevez, Karen Duffy, Bobcat Goldthwait, David Fincher, Paula Abdul, Matthew Sharpe, Anthony Lane, Tom Cruise, Steve Albini, Wesley Snipes, Craig Kilborn, Julie Brown, Scott LaRock, Kristy McNichol, Melissa Sue Anderson, Tommy Lee, Joan Cusack, Flea, Anthony Kiedis, Demi Moore, Jodie Foster, Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy, Rebecca DeMornay. Elsewhere: Jim Carrey, Ian Astbury, Seth, Nick Rhodes, Michelle Yeoh, Ralph Fiennes.
1963: Steven Soderbergh, Alex Star, William Baldwin, Kathy Ireland, Quentin Tarantino, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Conan O'Brien, Johnny Depp, Phoebe Cates, Lisa Kudrow, Coolio, Joe Matt, James Hetfield, Whitney Houston, Steve Carrell, John Stamos, Tori Amos, Eazy-E, Rick Rubin, Elisabeth Shue, Tatum O’Neal, Elisabeth Shue, Ann Patchett, Michael Chabon, Brad Pitt. Elsewhere: Seal, Julian Lennon, Eric McCormack, Jet Li, Andrew Sullivan, Elle Macpherson, Mark Kingwell, George Michael, Mike Myers, Malcolm Gladwell, Jarvis Cocker, Lars Ulrich.
So what do OGXers have in common, besides alienation, cynicism, slacktivism? They resent and despise their immediate elders, the Boomers. I hesitate to quote William Strauss and Neil Howe, but here's what they say about the "Thirteenth Generation" (a Frankenstein's monster cobbled together from OGXers and PCers, in my analysis):
Imagine coming to a beach at the very end of a long summer of big crowds and wild goings-on. The beach bunch is sunburned, the sand shopworn, hot, and full of debris -- no place for walking barefoot. You step on a bottle, and some cop cites your for littering. That's how 13ers feel, following the Boom.
This rings true of OGXers, the oldest of whom were acutely aware of how much fun their elders were having in the Sixties (1964-73), but who didn't get to have the same kind of fun. But it's silly to imagine that Howe and Strauss's 13ers, the oldest of whom were only 13 at the end of the Sixties ('73), and only 9 at the end of the 1960s, would feel the same sort of resentment. Inclined to be suspicious of Howe and Strauss's periodization? This ought to be the last straw.
OGXers -- let me know what you think! Leave a comment on this post or email me.
Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His last article for Ideas was about choosing Congress by lottery.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.