2008-11-18

The Lost Generation

I like to speculate about generations to come, so it follows that I am typically annoyed by the assessments of others. The latest generation label is "The Millennials", or Generation Y: people who were born between either 1979 and 1995 or between 1982 and 1998, depending on the source. This new group is the successor of Generation X, typically defined as those born between 1965 and 1981.

Generation X, the children of Baby Boomers, have been defined by a supposed angst and cynicism about life, particularly accomplishment and the accumulation of status symbols. There was also sort of a second sexual revolution (minus the peace and love, natch) that happened during the early nineties with the push for safe sex, particularly condom use and other methods thought to prevent the spread of disease. What I have seen and heard of Gen Y defines the group as self-entitled and lazy, and desperately seeking an individual identity in a world of overwhelmingly inefficient bureaucracy and heavy standardization. And let's not forget the mark of the beast: 9/11 happened during the formative years for these blackberry-toting thumbsuckers.

I was born in 1980, which places me right at the cusp of these two stereotypes. Too young to have gone to a Nirvana show, too old to find MySpace anything but a depressing meat market. All of us, I think, in our late twenties to maybe 30 or 31 are really neither generation, just a fringe group used to support the cultural speculations of crackpots, advertisers, and anxious, tech challenged middle management teams. We are the Lost Generation, stuck in the middle, the true casualties of the post post-modern world: too hard to define and thus forgotten.

When I was 20 years old, I was in a thrift store in East Village that I frequented at the time, when the woman who owned the place struck up a conversation with me. She was about 40, with short, messy-stylish hair and a toned down punk look. I was the only person there at the time, and I can't remember how it started, exactly; she asked what I did, I told her I was a film student, yadda yadda. I remained about half removed from the conversation out of suspicion that she may have been hitting on me, even though she did nothing to indicate it. Being gripped by paranoia concerning people's motivations was and remains to be nothing new to me.

After shooting the sh*t for about 10 minutes or so, she said something to me. It was one of those weird moments that is so insignificant and objectively so silly but it hit me and has stayed with me to this day. She abruptly and enthusiastically stated that she thought people in my generation, people who were at the very tail end of Gen X and thrown into the world about a month too early to be Gen Y, are the ones that are going to change everything, that we could redefine culture and counterculture; she likened the effect to that of the Beats on the Hippies, putting forth a raw, genuine movement to set the ball in motion for the next cultural explosion. Of all the things that anyone could ever say to me, through luck or through a genuine collision with destiny, she managed to say the one thing that I wanted to hear more than any other, not just for that moment, but ever. Just hearing someone utter the words was like live magic, like liquid hope.

There isn't a single day that goes by when I don't think about those words. I am the quintessential non-believer, stuck in a perpetual quagmire of nihilism, and yet I pray, I pray that those words are true. And I hope beyond all hope that wherever and whenever that spark ignites, I just get to be there.

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