Culture  /  First Person

My Generation

Anthem for a forgotten cohort.

It seems, now, that the historical meaning of Gen X’s famous aversion to selling out cannot really be understood without considering the world that was being actively created by our parents in the years of our generation’s formative experiences. We were, it seems to me now, doing our best to preserve postwar youth culture (and even interwar youth culture, as we’ve seen) against the rising force that would, soon enough, cast us into whatever came next: the world whose most important narratives are shaped by algorithms, and in which the horror of selling out no longer has any purchase at all, since the ideal of authenticity has been switched out for the hope of virality. We tried, and we failed, to save the world from our parents—that is, to reverse or at least slow down the degeneration of the hopes that they themselves had once cherished. And because we failed, we have been written out of history.

It is often remarked that there will never be a Gen X president of the United States. No one wants us to lead, or cares what we think. In political polling, American news outlets frequently move right from the boomers to the millennials. Though Coupland certainly could not have anticipated this meaning of X in 1991, it turns out that our name, or our lack of a name, fits perfectly with our general condition of invisibility. Generation X is the generation that someone might get around to assigning a real name later. Except that it’s already been more than thirty years, and the world has moved on. (Coupland himself has always been a trickster. Born in 1961, he is a youngish boomer, and does not seem to share in any of the authenticity-mongering that, alongside its partner irony, are the twin pillars of Gen X identity. At the time of our breakfast, he had recently completed an artist’s residency at something called the Google Cultural Institute in Paris, a concatenation of words that practically guarantees an eye roll from a Gen X-er like me. He doesn’t care. He’s aging well, making bank, and it’s all good.)