X Remains the Undefined Variable

*** – EVAL: variable X has no value

X is the commonly undefined “thing”, or variable, in math. But now are we to believe there is no value? After the work is done, X does have a value, does it not?

Can the same be said for the generation born between 1965 and 1982, the group author Douglas Coupland coined as Generation X. Are we to remain undefined and a generation of no value? (yes, I am one of them.)

Horrible math analogy aside, we’re still a generation that is kind of, I dunno, vague.

In the past 100 years there have been four defined generations (with dozens of subsets); which I suppose makes sense if we define every generation as being 25 years.

There is the Greatest Generation who begat the Baby Boomers, then Generation X and more recently, the Millennials (or Generation Y).

According to journalist Tom Brokaw, the Greatest Generation had three defining characteristics. They were raised during the depression, experienced World War II and had a propensity to fight for what is right. They were a stoic and fearless lot who helped build the America the majority of us know.

The Baby Boomers had a few more defining characteristics: Elvis, The Beatles, Vietnam, JFK assassination, Pentagon Papers, Watergate, drugs, sex, etc. BUT, just as the baby boomers seemed poised to make real change, along came 1968.

If America lost its innocence on November 22, 1963 then by December 31, 1968 it had been decimated:

  • Vietnam war rapidly accelerates along with the Tet offensive
  • This photograph taken by Eddie Adams:


  • President Johnson announces he “will not seek nor accept” the democratic nomination for president.
  • Three dystopian and divergent benchmark films are released, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes and Rosemary’s Baby.
  • Martin Luther King is assassinated.
  • Andy Warhol is shot.
  • Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated.
  • Richard Nixon is elected president.
  • Secret bombing of Laos.
  • Saddam Hussein becomes Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Council in Iraq.
  • The pope condemns birth control.
  • and on and on…

By the end of the year it was clear the world was moving less in the direction of peace. love and progress, as the boomers wanted, and more in the direction of…something else. Does 1968 mark the point where the country began to crack?

As the 60’s closed, it’s no wonder the Baby Boomers began to splinter, with one side becoming more militant and moving underground with the other acquiescing to normalcy by donning the suit and tie and embracing suburban life. While the 70’s saw the former became a little darker and less peaceful, the latter become undone by swinging, cocaine and disco. By the early 80’s the underground boomers and the suburbanites, led by their narcissism, imploded.

From the Greatest Generation to the Baby Boomers to Generation X, it almost seems as though some sort of generational Moore’s Law that can be gleaned from this.

In technology (see picture below), Moore’s Law states that “the number of integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years”, which has more or less proven true.

mooreslawA generational Moore’s Law would then presuppose that the number of upheavals, be they militarily, financial or social, from one generation to another would then double. We can certainly see this applied between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers, but what about from boomers to Generation X?

Behold Generation X (not really…but kinda):

bites post 2Hollywood movies like Reality Bites and Singles captured the Generation X zeitgeist.

In this generation alone, there has been:

  • Operation: Desert Storm
  • The War in Afghanistan
  • Operation: Iraqi Freedom
  • The War on Drugs (left over from boomers and a continued escalation with Generation X).
  • The War on Terror.
  • Countless subsidized, or secret, wars combating communism in the 80’s and terror in the aughts through today.
  • The Berlin Wall collapse.
  • Communism collapse.
  • The dawn of the Internet age.
  • The financial crisis.
  • The Telecommunications Act of 1996 which led to the aggressive consolidation and constriction of media.
  • The Dot Com and Real Estate bubbles.
  • The ever widening income gap (the wages of the average worker fell from 1972 – 2001 and have remained stagnant from 2002-2012. Income growth among 90% of Americans was an aggregate 1% from 1972-2001).
  • and on and on…

If there was only one word to define Generation X, one might think it to be change. But change for the better? Change for the worse? Benign change?

But change can’t be what defines this generation because every generation has seen change and is peppered with its own foibles.

Did the definition of Generation X define us OR did we let the definition come to define us? In other words, are we still slackers?

My generation, this so called Generation X, was raised to believe the theory that “you’ll be better off than your parents”. And while true for every previous generation, we began to hear rumblings in the mid 80’s that this may not be the case for us. After Black Monday and the obliteration of family farming, among others, by the end of the 1980’s, it became clear that my generation was going to face serious challenges. 

Nonetheless, our determination and optimism told us to forge on, to do as we were instructed. We set out to marry, to procreate, to achieve that 30 year mortgage and two car garage in the suburbs. We even helped spawn the Internet revolution. Ultimately, we played by the rules and yet a large majority of us are not necessarily better off than our parents.

By the most simple, and provincial, benchmark for success, financial, the majority are worse off. Was the aggressive societal programming to be more financially successful than our parents, by any means necessary, too much? Despite witnessing so many cultural changes, were we only programmed to grab more money? If so, we have failed miserably as we are on track to be the first generation in recorded history to be worse off than our parents.


Could it have something to do with the stock market boom and bust periods, student loan debt, the recent financial crises we have endured, and the older ones like the Savings and Loan collapse, Black Monday in 1987, etc? Or are we simply to believe that all of this is just capitalism and that this is just the free market at work?

Something tells me it’s darker and more sinister than that. Why is the middle class systematically being eradicated? Capitalism, the “boom and bust” markets are certainly part of it, but, and let’s be honest, not all of it.

Could it be pure and unadulterated greed? Did the boomers, currently running the industrial complexes that make up the world economy, forget John F. Kennedy’s quote “A rising tide lifts all boats.”, meaning simply that improvements to the economy will help ALL participants of that economy. According to Harvard Magazine from 2008 “Between 1960 and 1980, the top 1% in the United States took home less than 10% of all U.S. income. In 2006, the best paid 1% took home 20.3%.”(1)

I can tell you personally, that over the past 20 years years, my income has not increased 20%. And my take home pay? It’s flat.*

And how are the Millennials shaping up?

  • On the plus side, they have been raised to feel a certain amount of inclusiveness.
  • The negative is their sometimes absurd sense of entitlement.
  • On the plus side, they’ve been raised to be more health conscious.
  • The negative is an over medicated and drone like existence. Which seems in opposition to a sense of entitlement, but the feeling of entitlement is different from acting on it.
  • On the plus side, they know a world with the Internet.
  • The negative is they don’t know a world without the Internet. They also have an egregious propensity to over share and by all accounts have seemingly lost the ability to think critically.
  • On the plus side, they have embraced advanced education.
  • The negative is, through no fault of their own, they have perpetuated a modern day indentured servitude while pushing student loan debt over one trillion dollars.

But there may still be hope for Millenials, provided they take action. Unfortunately, I am not convinced action is part of their wiring or make up. They’re a little self-involved and, I think, remain a little too diluted, either with pharmaceuticals or with media, to make the necessary changes. Which, unfortunately, makes them prime prey for predators (like the big media companies) who seem exceptionally determined to further devolve our culture and widen the economic gap.

I can’t help but wonder why the movie Network is so seldom on television anymore.

And please don’t reference Mark Zuckerberg, David Karp or Fortune’s recent 30 under 30 shite. YES, they are Millenials. YES, they may not have been born into massive wealth, BUT the majority of them are either brilliant or wired to the ruling class in one way or another (moreso the latter).

As artist Marion von Osten wrote in her essay Irene ist Viele! Or What We Call Productive Forces “…what was once considered in the Fordist system to be external to the concerns of the economy – communication, personalized services, social relationships, lifestyle, subjectivity – today establishes the conditions for the generation of wealth.” (2)

I hate to piss on the parade, but that is not likely to happen for you or I.

Where does that leave Generation X? Are we doomed to be stuck in some sort of undefined cultural and financial purgatory? Will history prove that X = failure?

Was the Greatest Generation truly the last generation to give a shit about the generations that follow? 

The Baby Boomers tried for change and made some inroads towards a better society. Only to learn that under no uncertain terms was change going to be dictated by the populace. ANY change would be pushed down from the ruling classes with a measured force and a systematic co-opting of the local, state and federal governments.

Generation X remains the wild card because we still have the opportunity to work the equation to find the answer. The question remains whether we will or not.

Certainly there are more questions here than answers but there are still things that we can, and should, do to right the ship. And that isn’t a generational thing. Being kind and doing the right thing knows no age, race, gender, economic or religious bias.

The type of education needed to make the necessary changes won’t be found in schools. It requires the study of people, of history and thought; even more than that, the execution of ideas, regardless of outcome. Where the Occupy movement had some momentum they got crushed, But maybe it wasn’t the right message or time. I might argue it was a very healthy combination of a lack of message and poor timing, but it certainly was the right idea

The Greatest Generation understood the difference between right and wrong and, more often than not, stood on the right side. They passed this to the Baby Boomers, who ran with it until the spiritual obliteration of 1968 sucked the wind from their sails.

Therefore it falls on us Generation X’ers and Millenials to bring the idea and discussion of what is right and wrong back. When the whip of history comes down, Generation X and Millenials should want to be standing on the right side of history.

I don’t think anyone wants to, or could, unseat The Greatest Generation, but it sure would be nice to be able to define that X ourselves and leave the world just a little better in the process.

No one should ever live in the past, but sometimes it helps to look at the past to see the future.

But maybe that’s just me.



1- Gudrais,E.”Unequal America”,Harvard Magazine,July, 2008.

2 – Sternberg Press. e-Flux Journal: Are You Working Too Much? Post Fordism, Precarity, and the Labor of Art.

* – I was a waiter and bartender until 14 years ago, so a large part of my take home pay was cash. I WILL say that, generally speaking, I take home NOW what I made 20 years ago. The difference being, I report 100% of my income.