Monday, March 29, 2010

X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking by Jeff Gordinier

An entertaining book that makes a compelling case for "X" as a sensibility rather than a generation. For the author, it all boils down to your answer to one question:

Do you want to change the world?
A. Yes, and I'm proud to say we did it, man. We changed the world. Just look around you!
B. Yes, absolutely, and I promise I will get back to doing that just as soon as interest rates return to where they're supposed to be.
C. Omigod, omigod, changing the world and helping people is, like, totally important to me! I worked in a soup kitchen once and it was so sad but the poor people there had so much dignity!
D. The way you phrase that question is so fucking cheesy and absurd that I am not even sure I want to continue with this pointless exercise.

If you chose D, Gordinier says, accept: you're and Xer, even if you happen to be eighty years old.

But you don’t have to be eighty years old to remember Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory which, Gordinier also says, tells you everything you need to know about what Xers believe in.

In Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the four bad kids are punished. They suffer. They shrink, swell up, fall down holes, almost drown in chocolate rivers. And you want them to suffer—they deserve it. Charlie Bucket, on the other hand, is rewarded for his honorable behavior: he inherits the candy factory. I saw this movie roughly four or five times a year when I was a kid, as did millions of Xers, if my unscientific analysis is correct. I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to suggest that repeated absorption of these lessons—it’s wrong to sell out, it’s wrong to want to be the center of attention, it’s wrong to be too grasping and transparent in your ambitions—made a deep and lasting imprint on the Gen-X sensibility.

And also why Xers find the millennials so exasperating and cracked.

The millennials seemed to revel in doing exactly what the bad Wonka kids did—who were Paris Hilton and Clay Aiken other than updated models of Veruca Salt and Mike Teavee?—and yet they were not punished at all. They were rewarded. America loved them. Theirs was the infinite jest. Their amusements stretched all the way from Orlando to Burbank like an expanse of monocultural starch. And where did that put Generation X? Well, we were left to look on—not unlike Wonka himself, as played so brilliantly by Gene Wilder—muttering our sarcastic asides and waiting for the brats to self-destruct.

Spot on, Jeff.

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