Smile Politely

Generation Exxay

Though I was too young to understand and articulate my objections, I was annoyed to discover at age 20 that everyone in my age range had been declared “slackers” by the ruling generation, the Baby Boomers. I hadn’t even been given a chance to excel in life, and already I was indicted by a blanket statement that declared me apathetic and unambitious. “Generation X” was not exactly flattering either — the seldom-used twenty-fourth letter, the algebraic variable X, implied alienation and emptiness.

By calling us slackers, was the preceding generation trying to falsely claim as tenacity or integrity the coincidence of their good fortune as people who rode the roller coaster of postwar American prosperity from the bottom, where they were born, to the top, where they would be the last people to cash in on a soon-to-be-dismantled private and state retirement apparatus? (And, incidentally, which generation fucked that up? I’m pissed.)

What I am discovering is that “slacker” means “principled.” We witnessed our elders’ arc from unrestrained idealism (1967) to burnout (1969) to grotesque self-indulgence (1976) to unapologetic materialism (1980); from cannabis to LSD to cocaine to imported wine; from psychedelic pop to mustache jam-band rock to disco to new age; from “Don’t trust anybody over thirty” to “Fifty is the new thirty.” Against the backdrop of this circus, X inherited those progressive ideals (and great songs) from 1967, and the stewardship and advancement of the environmental, civil rights, and feminist ideologies. And so we found ourselves all but paralyzed with the Boomers’ cast-off responsibilities: the fear of becoming self-centered, obnoxious materialists, or just totally lame; and the imperative to find meaningful work in an economic system driven by greed, waste, and consumerism.

The slacker attitude was epitomized for me recently in the comic Buddy Does Jersey, by Peter Bagge (available at the Urbana Free Library). Buddy Bradley, if you can ride out his cynicism for 100 pages, turns out to be a mature, ethical person trying to make his way in a world offering no place for him. No wonder he is so often depicted as yelling until his tonsils extend from his throat, his eyes screwed into curlicues, accent marks of anxiety radiating from his head. Over the course of the comic, he goes from being repellent to sympathetic. I get him.

Thanks to Facebook, I’m becoming reconnected with all the people in my thirty-something age range that I’ve ever been friends with. It’s an exhilarating paradox that compresses time and space. And, I like these people. I like our sense of humor about ourselves, our complex relationships to music, our fluency in everybody else’s vernacular, our sprawling cultural references and means of processing them, our struggle to find authenticity in a world that has more images of trees than trees. We grew up on TV, sure, but isn’t it adding insult to injury for the people who wrote those shows and then sat us in front of them to blame us for that? I don’t know how happy we are that our subconscious imagery is crammed with cartoons, sitcoms, and commercials, but we are able to deal with that with a certain dignity. We are supposedly distrustful of authority — as if that’s a bad thing. In my early twenties, I was too tortured to appreciate my acquaintances. I am glad that the internet has given me a new lease on a social life.

I was in a Chicago record store talking about Obama with the 50-something owner. He said that the election of Obama made him hopeful because “finally Generation X will get up off their ass.” Generation X, as far as I know, was off our ass campaigning heavily for Obama. I was insulted but said nothing, because whether or not those of my generation are slackers is an argument that was over before we were old enough to have it. A few months previously, I had been thumbing through the new arrivals when I came across a record I was curious about. I announced it to the owner: “Victor Jara. Chilean folksinger. After Pinochet’s CIA-sponsored coup on September 11, 1973, Jara was taken to the stadium. Soldiers cut off his hands and commanded him to sing while he bled to death.” Hearing that the musician had been cruelly executed by CIA-backed assassins, the record store owner took it out of my hands and announced that he was going to raise the price.

Queen is reforming without Freddie Mercury, which is already wrong — dead wrong. But add to that that their new music sucks. It’s an aBoomination. These people are abusing their established position. They aren’t even trying. Fucking slackers.

“… a dream is like the waves a fly makes struggling on the surface of the water.

When the fly stops … so does the dream.”

– Naomi Wallace, Slaughter City


If you enjoyed this article, Smile Politely also recommends:

+ Twelve-bar news: Roy Zimmerman at the IMC
+ Piatt County at 4800 Feet: flying high with the Illini Glider Club
+ Ageless Smoking Popes reel ’em in at Courtyard
Honoring Chimesmaster Wood and the Altgeld Bell Tower
Steel Wheels, Green Fields: A Day on an Illinois Freight Train

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