Sunday, July 11, 2004

Generation Why?

Carl Sundberg
Pulse Columnist
February 26, 2004

At some point, while cutting high school classes, drinking illegal beers and realizing we didn't fit in, we were assigned a letter. We didn't even get to decide. No one could really cluster us, no one could condense who we were. But we were breaking the old rules, the tired patterns. So they crossed us off the list with a big fat X.

Generation X.

Plain, sad and simple. The first time I heard that phrase, I laughed. I knew someone would have that T-shirt soon. But as soon as I learned of this new human category, Generation X was out of style, a new generation was on its way, and now I had a choice of which generation to associate with. I hoped it would have a better name. Nope. The authors weren't trying so hard anymore; they just moved up the alphabet.

Generation Y, or maybe we should call it Generation Why, took X's place and became the new target market. And what was worse (or better), I didn't belong to this group any more than I did to the other. That's when it dawned on me. It really doesn't matter anymore. Why should we even care about this labeling? We didn't get to vote on the name. We didn't choose this. It was a marketing strategy, designed to sell us crap we don't need. Why should we participate? It's so trivial.

One moment while I fill your head with facts before moving on: Generation X is the 45 million people born between 1965 and 1976. Generation Y dwarfs the country, making up 72 million people born between 1977 and 1994.

OK. I will continue.

In a group or a party, I have never heard anyone who belongs to these categorized lives ever mention Generation X or Y as a description. We are not subscribers. It is the entities, businesses, corporations and media that use these titles. They sit at tables, passing our "name" around, sniffing it, tugging at it, looking for clues. Wondering how they can put it to use. This empty phrase.

All the while we shrink back, deeper into ourselves, so that they cannot reach us. Growing more complex through resistance to the pesticide-like mannerisms of their attack. We are immune. We are ironic. We are lazy. We are genius.

We are a sleeping dragon and we are next in line.

We are not a brand extension.

We live between the borders, in cracks -- shadows perhaps -- clinging to both sides of how we've been defined. Moving in any direction poses a threat, setting off an alarm that announces our presence to the marketers, to the politicians, to the media. We are now a target. A board for darts. Definition darts. For people with beady eyes and weak hearts to take their turn at the board: "Got the bull's-eye! I'm gonna call 'em Weekend Warriors! Sell 'em some hiking boots, catered to their sense of style!"

So we remain in between things, away from the flying darts of definition, clinging to nothing rather than something. Because it seems by making any decision we are almost immediately marginalized by that decision, then defined and sold to the highest bidder.

Our favorite pastime turned into a perfume. Our favorite song is blaring from a car ad. Our slang is selling beer. Our poetry was mutated into a slogan. Our dreams became a Web site. Our friends, they're statues looking into the distance with neat pants on. Our jokes turned into a sitcom. Our passion dammed into a pool.

Now we remain silent, slowly waiting for the opportunity to do something worthwhile. Something that won't be taken and sold to the masses. Turned into another cliché like the rest of everything that meant anything to us at some point.

And all the while those in charge are demanding our support, our constant approval of what they have told us, sold us, passed off as necessity and treating the sacred as a pie chart to be divided amongst the shareholders.

We don't protest, we don't riot, we don't make a fuss. We calmly accept this temporary mold and wait for the right time to stretch out and soar, without the fear of marginalization, stereotyping or being capitalized on. It's not that we don't care what is going on. It's that there's not much any of us can really do about it anyway. The strongest thing we can say is nothing. Our power lies in our secrets.

In the meantime, we play games, disobey and frolic in what we know is worn out and tired because soon enough we will have our say. We will speak in volumes, in poetry, in code, in tongues, separate from those that turned us cold and rigid.

There's hope but no desire to act just yet, as we edge our way into the future, complete with the debts, mistakes and missed attempts of the generation that made us this way.

We inherit the broom of some brilliant party that just missed us, and we're standing around waiting to clean up the mess. Suhweet.

Maybe by the time Generation Z comes around, things will be different, maybe better for them. If nothing else, maybe they could at least pick their own names.


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