GenX, That Damned Newsweek Editorial, George Michael, and the Twitter Hellscape

GenX, That Damned Newsweek Editorial, George Michael, and the Twitter Hellscape

I’ve realized that what we really need is a GenX emoji that lets everyone know this thing that I just said with absolute certainty is also completely bullshit. — Me, on Twitter

I was nearly a fully-formed version of my ironic, sardonic, sarcastic, media-numbed, flannel wearing, nothing matters because capitalism is just a construct GenX self when Newsweek published its editorial “The Whiney Generation” written by its Baby Boomer “staff” on October 31, 1993.

It was big news when it came out, and—as you might imagine—I was anxious to read what that group of fine thinkers had to say about Generation X. As you might also imagine, I was shocked—shocked I tell you—to find that its main thesis was that my generation was indulged all their whims and fantasies and never wanted for anything so we should sit down, shut up, and be thankful for the world the Baby Boomers left for us.

And you know something? God damned if they weren’t right. I DID feel better about the world after I read that article. And I was thankful. I was thankful to have been given the clarity that comes from a generation that both burned down the existing social structures before them (good!) and then decided cocaine, the suburbs, and greed were the reward (bad!).

I was so thankful that for years I kept a copy of that issue jammed with little care in the ever-growing GenX literature section of my home library. I’d pull it out every so often and read that article as a reminder of why I stopped giving a shit about what the Boomers said about us. Actually, why I stopped giving a shit about anybody who offered up their own personal version of “I alone can solve your problem.” (You can imagine with Twitter how often I have to relive that emotion.)

Eventually, I threw the magazine out. I don’t remember when or why, but I’ve never been able to get away from the damn thing. It reared its stupid head again after I posted this tweet in January.

And I’ve been thinking about Newsweek ever since.

* * *

I was a GenX culture and literature warrior when I was in college and in the years after. I loved growing up in a time when I wasn’t just told to question authority; We were actually handed tools to subvert it in all its forms thanks to desktop publishing, handheld videocameras, and the Internet. (Yes, the Internet existed in the 1980s.)

Newsweek? Fuck that. I read ‘zines. (One of my early favorites was Forklift, Ohio, which is still being published by Eric Appleby and punk rock poet Matt Hart!) I read MIGHT magazine. I read MONDO 2000 (which wasn’t exactly GenX but definitely had the counter-culture techno-vibe). I read boing boing (you know, before it was a website).

And you could keep your bookstore literary readings (save for Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose reading I attended in Cincinnati decked out in my finest black leather biker jacket, combat boots, flannel, red round sunglasses, and middle finger earring). I wasn’t going to chains, I went to the happenings in coffee shops and hole-in-the-wall bars where people read from their self-published chapbooks.

We lived in a time when the gatekeepers were falling (you know, before it all went to shit). I talked with Dennis Banks, who wasn’t a GenXer but founded the American Indiana Movement. I interviewed Rebecca Walker about Third Wave Feminism. I chatted with Amiri Baraka at his literary festival that ran all night in Louisville.

And I found those three—and so many others like them—through the rogue, underground literary world that existed outside traditional outlets.

Look, I’m not trying to say that GenX was purely disinterested in the system. We’ve got our share of folks who cashed in on their GenX-ness, who told their experiences and found a mass market, and who joined the shitty consumer revolution. But here’s the thing: good for them. They found their voice in those places.

Why would that bother me? We had other places we could exist.

We weren’t even close to the first generation to rebel against the shit culture being jammed down our throats, but I have to think we were one of the first to see it, roll our eyes, and think “meh, do what you want” while we went about tending to our local, artistic garden. If you found the thing you wanted and did the thing you wanted, good on you.

But there’s a reason I liked—and still like—Slacker far more than I’ll ever like Singles and Reality Bites.

* * *

I started writing this post while George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90” from Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 was looping in the background. I normally write in silence. (I’d give you the science for why nobody can write efficiently with music and lyrics playing, but I’m not inclined to care whether you believe me. Also: vaccinate your children.)

But I’ve been thinking about writing this post for days and I awoke on Tuesday with this song in my head. I don’t think that’s an accident. When people talk about the musical voice of our generation, the talk invariably turns to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Prince, Madonna, and Michael Jackson.

That’s not who I think about, though. I think about George Michael (who I know is two years shy of being GenX but if you think he’s a Boomer then you’re the worst). And I think specifically about that song, which fucking stopped the needle on the record for me. He wrote, produced, and sang a song that told his fans that his image—the thing he’d sold with great success—was a lie and that he couldn’t do it anymore. He explained how he got caught up in the machine, and he asked his fans to stick with him while he became who he was.

More importantly, I always heard that song as a man reckoning with a culture that told him he couldn’t be gay and a pop icon. His sexuality was the worst kept secret at the time—I mean, come on, Wham!—but our world told him that he couldn’t be both things. And, since he was young when he started, he believed those lies.

He wouldn’t come out for another eight years after that song was released, but every time I listen to it—and I listen to it a lot—I think that’s everything our generation was trying to say. That song wasn’t an anthem. That song wasn’t a call to action. That song was somebody telling you who he was and asking you to accept him for that.

* * *

That GenX tweet I posted in January went viral—immediately.

In less than three days more than fourteen hundred threads emerged. Some were just GIF threads. Some were funny memories. But some turned deeply personal. People were sharing hard stories about growing up. I tried to interact with everyone because that’s how I grew up with the Internet. (I was online in 1984!) Those threads felt like the Internet I knew.

Since I’m a writer, people suggested that I pitch some magazine stories that came from those threads.

I spent the early part of my life chasing down my dream of writing for big magazines. For a time I did okay, but I was never happy doing it. I’m fine with the career I had, but I grew tired of feeding the machine. I missed writing about the ideas I wanted to write about regardless of there ability to sell ad space.

What that means is these days I self-publish my own work, host a little writers podcast, tinker around on my blog, and—at times—jump into the Twitter hellscape.

I do forget sometimes that the little Internet I grew up with is now a giant firehouse of streaming opinions. I post thoughts here and there and sometimes I wake up with three inches of water on my floor.

That happened on February 19 when I declared George Michael the voice of GenX. Of course, no self-respecting GenX person would ever make the argument that any one artist—any one idea—represented the voice of our generation. That’s the kind of marketing bullshit that our generation, if I can generalize us at all, couldn’t care less about.

On any given day—depending on the dumb shit happening around me—I could just as easily tell you that the voice of our generation was Public Enemy, or Madonna, or Pearl Jam, or Nirvana. (Don’t @ me with groups I left out.)

But that doesn’t sell magazines. And it sure doesn’t make for interesting Twitter.

* * *

On Monday, my almost nine-year-old dog developed a pretty severe limp while he was at day camp.

Recently, I’d noticed that he’d been slowing. He couldn’t get up and down my apartment stairs quite as quickly anymore. He paused just a second before he jumped into the backseat of my car. But nothing like the limp he had coming out of day camp.

Obviously, I reacted with the calm demeanor of a forty-six year old, which means I broke down in tears and immediately took him to the vet while I hyperventilated. After a series of tests the doctor sat me down.

“He’s just getting older, which means he’s going to have a little bit of trouble getting started. You understand that.” (We’ll set that last part aside because she was correct and she’s the best veterinarian I’ve ever had. She treats me as much as she treats Maxx.)

We came home, I gave Maxx his medicine for two days, and life was back to normal. Until this morning, when Maxx could barely hobble around the apartment. Without a thought, I shut down my digital world.

I didn’t care about some 1993 Newsweek article, or Twitter, or really anything in those first minutes. I called the doctor, made an appointment, packed up both he and I, and made a thirty-five minute harrowing drive through the ice-and-snow covered Pittsburgh roads. (We got about four inches of snow very early in the morning. Thanks, climate change.)

I talked to him through the whole trip, keeping one eye on the road and one eye on Maxx using the rearview mirror. I wanted to see if he was in pain, or limping as he tried to see out the window, or anything that would help me understand how he was doing. Here’s what I saw: Without a care in the world, my dog walked to the passenger side, used his “injured” leg and paw to open the window (he knows how it goes down), and stuck his knucklehead out the back using his “injured” leg to prop himself up.

I was skeptical about his supposed injury at this point.

We arrived at the Big Easy Dog Hospital, which is housed in an old warehouse along the river. As such, there are large, empty spaces, which today were filled with giant snow piles. My “injured” dog leapt out of the car, sprinted through the parking lot, and dove headlong into a snow drift nearly burying himself. Once he backed out (after about a minute), he started making snow angels.

This repeated for about fifteen minutes before I told the doctor’s office that we didn’t need the X-ray on his leg and that we’d be going home. Sensing he’d been found out, my dog drank in every last bit of snow and car ride. When we got to the house, he knew the jig was up before I said anything.

* * *

Since I got home—I stayed here to make sure my faker dog wasn’t in any pain—I’ve been jamming out to George Michael while I edited various projects for my actual job.

I’ve enjoyed the day in my little small corner of the pale blue dot. I showed my neighbor Maxx’s guilty picture while her little dog hopped through the snow. I helped another neighbor’s kid break down their cardboard boxes for the recycling dumpster. I hopped on a call to help a small start-up figure out how to navigate South by Southwest this year.

It’s been a very small, very quiet, very GenX day in the neighborhood. I think George Michael said it best:

But today the way I play the game is not the same, no way
Think I’m gonna get myself happy

I haven’t figured out the secret to happiness in life. I haven’t figured out how to save the world. I haven’t really figured out much other than I still don’t give a shit what Baby Boomers say about my generation—or me. What I do know is that today was a pretty good day: I woke up, the dog is healthy, I did a little recycling, and I got to play with words.

Oh, and you may disagree with me about the George Michael thing. That’s okay, too.

Keeping in the genx tradition this is very clearly a silly discussion about a topic with no answer, which means all responses within reason are correct. And also wrong. — Me, on Twitter

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One comment

  • David August 22, 2019   Reply →

    By the way, about the “Generation Guidelines” infographic with the not-at-all-conspicuous 17-year gap — I strongly suspect that was done intentionally, by one of us, as a little “wudup” to anyone who would notice.

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This newsletter is the outgrowth of The Downtown Writers Jam podcast. What that means is I will collect information about the authors I interview, book happenings around the Web, and other literary events that I find interesting. Without you, I'm just a crazy guy sitting in his office furiously screaming on the page for no reason.
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