an excerpt from douglas rushkoff's "generation x reader"


What is GenX? Who are these "slackers"? Just about every newspaper and magazine in America has been discussing this. But the real question is: Who's asking? And you know who -- baby boomers looking for another trend, and the boomer press that caters to them.

You can't define this generation in a paragraph or article. The best you can do, I think, is give examples. Here's what my friends did in ne town (Portland, Oregon) during one period (the late 1980s) before anyone thought about GenX, or what defined it.

We worked hard at low-paying jobs (some arty, some just bad); lived in shared houses; drove old American muscle cars; and shopped at thrift stores. Our hang outs were brew pubs and bars with cheap, strong drinks and funky, dated furnishings, such as the Satellite Room or an old Chinese restaurant called -- and I'm serious -- Hung Far Low. Or we went to rock clubs where good live bands played alternative rock for a three-dollar cover or less.

Later GenXers started a copule of great places with fun, cluttered, ironic decor and good music. The X-Ray Cafe had Twister parties after the last band on Saturday nights. Dot's had a school library rack full of trashy paper-backs, like The Partridge Family and anti-drug books.

My friends played a lot of basketball outdoors (sometimes at night, drinking) and rafter rivers. We bought a $150 raft, made a frame from one-by-six planks and wing nuts, and ran the many rivers close to Portland. There were lots of low-stakes poker games, and pot lock dinners where we'd pick a country and cook its food.

We passed around lots of alternative publications like Factsheet 5, Archie McPhee's catalog, The Clinton Street Quarterly, and Seattle's Rocket. The TV was on a lot, but almost never the networks. We watched old reruns, bad movies, New Wave Theater, then Nick at Nite, and later, The Comedy Channel. My sister and I made public a public access TV show of alternative and punk rock, called Wasted Talent.

And everyone reminisced a lot about the "banana splits", space food sticks, Wheel-Os, "Nanny and the Professor", Goober Grape, "Room 222", etc. On the other hand, few besides punkers went for tattoos and piercings, and Ren and Stimpy were not especially popular.

That was my crowd, but there weren't too many generalizations you can pull from that. Fun but cagey? I don't know. Anyway, who would think that one article or essay could sum up something as big as a generation? No slackers that I've met. And yet, that seems to be the basic idea behind the reigning trend, journalism, written, of course, by boomers for boomers.

One thing is, almost everything we did was cheap or free, because no one had any money. We explored all of the low cost alternatives and spent time on the good ones. If people did have money, they usually travelled overseas or bought music gear and started a band.

It's easier to say what GenX isn't. Mostly, slackers avoid the stupid excesses of baby boomers (baboos) that have filled the media all of our lives. GenXers are almost never shallowly earnest, smulgy triumphant, meterialist, or conformist. Liberal boomer guys often pretend to be sensitive, but few GenXers would be caught dead drumming in the woodsat a New-Age workshop. You might find some Deadheads in a drum circle, but they're baboo fakers anyway.

Slogans, gurus, phony caring and sharing, demonstrations, movements, pop psychology books that tell you how to live your life -- these are rarely found in the younger crowd.

There aren't going to be any silly, defining slacker clothes -- no white go-go boots, granny glasses, or bell bottoms. (Maybe long shorts). The "grunge" look was a desperate attempt to define GenX clothes, and fashion houses lost a fortune on it.

Besides, wearing flannel, jeans, and boots is no trend. Lots of men wear them for casual or work clothes in the Northwest, because they're warm, durable, and cheap. My great-uncle Ben, a carpenter who dies in his eighties, was "grunge" most of his life, but he kept clean and might've hit you if you called him that.

But it's the nature of that older generation to turn everything into a trend. (They've certainly mady plenty of money doing it.) All my life I've listened to baboos bragging to the media that they're going to make peace and love, then revolution, go back to the land, create a disco inferno, and -- in the 1980s -- dress for success and wealth. You know what, boomers? You blew it every time, and you looked like idiots trying. HA!

And talk about conformism -- look at their dances. They started with the sixteen named dances (Twist, Hully Gully, etc.) that everyone had to know, then graduated to line dances (from the disco Hustle to today's country Boot Scootin' Boogie, where everyone marches together like army troops. Aerobics are even worse -- they include the drill sergeatnt.)

Now, baby boomers are not monolithic. Journalists always forget the right wing baboos who supported (and volunteered for) the Vietnam War, fill fundamentalist churches, and ran this country (so badly) in the 1980s. But whether they are fundamentalists, Rush Limbaugh dittoheads, or PC liberals, boomers always look to their peer group for identity and direction.

When faced with a trend, slackers are more likely to shrug and dismiss it with one word: Whatever.

The apex of boomer conformism is mass media news, which, of course, created the whole GenX issue. Baboo writers, editors, and viewers are constantly looking for trends and movements, making them up if necessary. Today's press corps is largely worthless -- a pack of shallow conformists so easily manipulated that it's a joke.

Part of this is the historical coincidence of this huge generation and the mass media themselves: not only the TV networks, but the nationwide chains of bland, corporate newspapers that have sucked all life out of the daily press. Maybe the Pepsi Generation is doomed to shallow group thought and trend-mongering through years of training by MCA, CBS, and Time. New technology for cable TV, desktop publishing, and cheap recording studios arrived just in time for slackers.

So -- what is GenX? There's no answer, because that's an ignorant boomer question. Who knows? Who cares? Whatever.


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