The X files – care factor zero


Fickle and apathetic (‘whatever’), self-obsessed (‘who “ you mean me?”), options-driven (emphasis on the short term). The Me generation; the Now generation. Who else could it be but Generation X?

Since birth, no one in public life has been all that kind to X. We’re constantly ridiculed for our constant preoccupation with self, our financial irresponsibility, our dangerous anti-family tendencies and political insolvency. Since we could crawl, boomers have held it all over us. They still cling proudly to anti-Vietnam protests, as a generation that brought down Nixon, bought their own house, produced 2.5 kids, delayed their nervous breakdown/midlife crisis to their mid 50s, all to the accompaniment of The Rolling Stones and The Doors.

As for Xers, what hope was there ever going to be for a generation raised in the ‘greed is good’ decade? With the birth of CNN, bubble skirts and shoulder pads – and not a decent political cause to be found, amid the froth of the resurgence of new romantic pop and Spumante champagne?

But just stop and reconsider the Xers plight.

‘Xers are very unlucky,’ coos Bernard Salt, author of The Big Shift: Welcome to the Third Australian Culture: The Bernard Salt Report. ‘Where boomers had free education, Xers got HECS; where boomers had free love, Xers got AIDS’.

This sort of ‘non-event’ sentiment hearkens back to the stream of reviews that greeted Canadian Xer Douglas Coupland’s seminal book Generation X, published in 1992.

‘Too young to remember where they were when Kennedy was assassinated, too old to operate anything computerised, Generation X was born some time between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ last LP,’ yawned David Harris in the Glasgow Herald.

Even Coupland, the man who named our lives, puts in the boot. Where did he come up with the title for Generation X? He doesn’t know “ can’t recall.

Does it really matter? After all, it’s only Generation X.

Researching a recent story on Xers for the Australian Financial Review Magazine, my efforts to access the X files were met with more ‘care factor zero’:

‘You know baby boomers are the only generation to score an official title that’s recognised by the ABS,’ the boomer ABS statistician taunted. ‘So, we don’t recognise Generation X as a title.’

He continued: ‘You still want to know what dates the generation that comes after the boomers were born?’ (Sigh. Yawn. Pause. Sound of shuffling paper.) ‘I don’t know. I’ll have to ask my colleague. Can I get back to you “ next week?’

Is it any wonder that Xers have failed to replicate boomer life? We’ve had nothing but mixed messages since our first strawberry and mango daiquiri:

‘When I was at uni, we were all being told: forget unions, forget a job for life “ face up to market reform,’ says a world-weary 32-year-old associate partner in a big deal city law firm. ‘Now the bosses turn around and bark at us for being fickle and lacking loyalty.’

Raised on the smell of smoking bras, Xer women decided early on that gender equality was our birthright. We all know how that ended up:

‘When I was at school, everyone praised me for being smart and clever,’ says a successful single Sydney architect in her mid 30s. ‘No one warned me the day I turned 35, the only things anyone would ever ask me again is: Why aren’t you married – and do you want a baby?’

Clive Hamilton, director of Canberra think tank the Australia Institute, delivers the final body blow:

‘In a way, Generation X is the blank space between the baby boomers and Generation Y.’ His voice trails off. ‘Do you want to talk more about Y?’ he begs. ‘They really are far more interesting.’

Dudded, confused, jaded. Mortgage-free and babyless. Xers are not selfish, immature or even greedy for ‘me time’. No, really. We’re just trying to work out what the hell happened.

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.