Gen X Was Born for This Shit

A public service announcement

Remember this CBS News graphic, from last year?

The great joke, of course, is that everyone forgot about Generation X once again. That generation, my generation (I was born in 1975, have seen every Richard Linklater movie multiple times, and am currently listening to Pavement), is the one that got skipped over.

The Baby Boomers are living longer than any other generation and have refused to let go of any of the power, and the millennials and post-millennials vastly outnumber us. Having grown up in the internet and smartphone age, they are the ones with all the buying power that corporate America is obsessed with reaching. Us Gen Xers? People briefly cared about us during the 1990s, the most peaceful decade, in which the only real global controversy was oral sex in the White House — but then Sept. 11 happened, and everybody stopped thinking about us all together.

Until now. Looks like you need us now.

Generation X has long been waiting for its national moment, as presidential candidates in the age group get bounced early (sorry, Beto) and the music of our time has been all but forgotten (it’s like no one cares about Built to Spill anymore). And it turns out that the coronavirus pandemic is it. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we’ve been training our whole lives for this moment. The rest of you generations can’t get your shit together. But we’re here to fix it for you. With a shrug, of course.

The central key to slowing the spread of this deadly virus is social isolation, a willingness to be by one’s self for extended periods of time — as we used to say before it became “Netflix and chill” — to “veg out.” This was, of course, the central skill we developed as latchkey kids, propped in front of the television by the first generation of two-income parents, narcotized by the after-school parade of Saved by the Bell and Fresh Prince of Bel Air. If there is one thing we are absolutely terrific at, as writer Lauren Hough pointed out on Twitter, it is “keeping our asses at home without being told… the generation used to being neglected by fucking everyone.” We’ll sit here with our can of SpaghettiO’s and our old version of Cranium, listening to our Wilco.

We’ll even continue to master being affectionate and spirited without clapping hands!

When you kids are done spreading the virus in restaurants and bars, and you boomers are finished calling this a hoax, we’ll be here to clean up the mess. (Oh, by the way: We invented hating boomers, you kids. Those people are our parents! Hating them growing up was our job.)

And as for being suspicious of every institution and thinking the whole thing is bullshit? That was our single driving viewpoint on everything. The Boomers dropped acid; the kids now go out hyped up on Molly and dance all night. Us? We sat in our corner and smoked our joints and tuned out. Our emoji is a sarcastic shrug. You keep working yourselves up into a lather over there. We’re a loser, baby. Why don’t you kill us.

Here’s the thing, though: Being in between means we end up responsible for everyone. Because our lives have stakes now. We’ve got kids of our own, often young kids (because we waited so long to get married, because so many of our parents got divorced), and we fret and worry and helicopter them because we remember being left alone with Zach and Screech by our parents, and it sucked. This pandemic is the scariest thing that has happened in our lifetimes. We’ve been reading about the coronavirus for weeks because it was yet another threat to our children we’re always dreading coming around the corner. You didn’t need to ask us to take it seriously. We take all of it seriously.

But we get it at the other end, too. Our parents are in their sixties now, their seventies, even their eighties. They are the precise group that are in most mortal danger from this pandemic. We worry about our children, but we worry about our parents as well. And like our kids, they ignore everything we try to tell them. They roll their eyes at us like we just tried to explain to them (again!) that Pulp Fiction was so much better than Forrest Gump. Will Smith was right in 1988 and he’s right now: There’s no need to argue, parents just don’t understand.

So we’ve spent weeks growling at those kids out partying and grousing at our parents for pretending that there’s nothing going on. And, at last, now, now that it might be too late anyway, everyone is listening. Now it’s time to stay inside. Watch some TV. Maybe smoke a joint. Veg out. We’ve been doing this for years! Be like us, and just stay the fuck inside.

Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of four books, with fifth, “How Lucky,” coming May 2021. https://williamfleitch.substack.com

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