Happy birthday, Generation X, 50 looks good on you.
No need to call you “slackers” anymore.
As Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, transitions into middle age, it's become very apparent that they're hard workers who have become successful in economic status, entrepreneurship, the arts and more.
Still, they tend to get overlooked. Reality does seem to bite, after all.
“They are the forgotten generation,” said Angela Woo, head of Los Angeles-based Woo Brand Research. “You go from Boomers right to Millennials.”
Gen X is between the older Boomers and the younger Millennials.
“A lot of it is population (size) but you don’t think about Generation X,” Woo said. “They have a huge power in society as they’re taking care of the Boomer generation, who are living longer, and especially with the pandemic happening right now they’re taking care of their Boomer parents and also the Millennials, who have moved back home, and Generation Z.”
It's a numbers thing. There are 71.6 million Baby Boomers (ages 56 to 74) in the United States and 72.1 Millennials (24 to 39). There are 65.2 million Gen Xers (40 to 55).
“Boomers are staying longer in the work force, staying longer in political circles, the Millennials are aggressive and rightfully so because of the platforms and opportunities where they can flourish at an earlier age,” said Adrion Porter, host of the Atlanta-based Gen X Amplified podcast. “So being squeezed between these two dynamics are (Gen Xers) and it's challenging.”
That squeeze includes 66 percent of Gen X leaders receiving only one, or less, promotion in the past five years, according to a study by Development Dimensions International. Meanwhile, Boomers and Millennials have received a higher percentage of promotions.
Still, Gen X industry heads like Elon Musk of Tesla; Jack Dorsey of Twitter; and Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google have shown Xers’ ability for innovation and business savvy.
“We didn’t want to be like our Boomer parents, we felt like we were ignored and we didn’t want to be like, oh, let’s get rich, or what society expects us,” Woo said. “But when we grew up we became independent and a lot of Gen Xers are entrepreneurs. That's one of the key things. We started the Internet and when Internet companies came up, we were there and we were a huge part of it and that plays into the entrepreneurship.
“We wanted to do things the way we wanted to do things with the understanding that it’s hard work and nothing is given to us easily.”
That includes the presidency of the United States.
“You have four years from now possibly a Millennial will be looking to run for president,” Porter said. “You wonder because Boomers are living longer and Millennials are more successful earlier — it does put Gen X in a very tricky situation.”
If a presidency isn't in the cards, how about the kings of culture? The Gen X-powered ‘90s saw a golden era of hip-hop that included Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, and the emergence of Jay-Z; the last three great eras of rock music, grunge, emo and Brit pop; and the emergence of musical movements that remain hitmakers to the day: R&B girl groups, boy groups and electronic music.
Add in reality TV, gaming culture and selective TV watching, which all started in the ‘90s, and you can say we're living in a world shaped by Generation X’s talent and taste.
“When you think about the music of Gen X, it was the advent of hip-hop, the advent of boy bands, that was the era of true musical superstars, i.e. Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna,” said Porter, who added that he was not putting down other generations, just emphasizing the Xers’ talent. “We had idols. We went to school wearing one white glove on our hand and the women dressed like Madonna and we wanted to be Prince. We had the advent of MTV and the entire new genre of music videos. So hip-hop, grunge, Tupac, Biggie, Michael Jackson, boy bands — when you think about Millennials and Gen Z, is it trap music? Not to belittle them but the musical soundtracks of our generation had so many genres of their peaks during our years.”
Why? It was the last era of creatives growing up versed in musicianship, said music industry insider Michele Roy.
“We had great producers who were real producers, they weren't sampling,” said Roy, whose clients have included Jaheim, Eric Benet and Bow Wow. “The artists were saying something. Biggie was telling a story, Tupac was telling a story and it wasn’t so offensive that you had to turn it off when you were in front of people. ...
“It was commercial ready music.”
And you can thank Gen X for video games.
“We were the first ones who were able to play games at home instead of going to the video arcade,” Woo said.
There are several Gen X anniversaries this year. “Star Wars,” a Generation X standby even though Boomers created it, celebrates the 40th anniversary of “The Empire Strikes Back,” which was first released in 1980. It's also the 15th anniversary of “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” which came out in 2005. The original “Star Wars” came out in 1977, when the first Gen Xers were 12.
The year 1995 was a big one for albums — when albums came out on CD. Radiohead's “The Bends,” Alanis Morissette's “Jagged Little Pill,” Smashing Pumpkins' “Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness,” and Tupac Shakur's “Me Against the World” came out 25 years ago in 1995.
In gaming, the PlayStation 2 video game console turns 20 in 2020. It came out in 2000 and sold more than 150 million units.
It's a generation with flags planted in two distinct worlds.
“We are the generation of people who were at the tipping point between analog and digital, not a lot of generations can say that,” Porter said. “We were the first generation to actually learn how to look at a computer. My grandparents, when I was 13, brought a Commodore 64 and that was the first time I was around a computer at home and learning programming.
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"Then you had the video games, the Ataris, then you had to shift and learn in our young adult lives the world wide underground, the information superhighway and it became the World Wide Web. We had to learn about AOL, and we got the disc in the mail, and we had to learn about Internet Explorer and Netscape. So we have seen everything from Point A to Letter Z. We’ve seen analog in its truest form and we’ve seen the web 2.0, or 3.0 now.”
And Gen X seems more equipped to handle life in a pandemic. Many Gen Xers started to be become socially active at the time when AIDS made hooking up a game of Russian roulette.
“We're in the middle of a pandemic which is an invisible terror,” said Anna Sofia Martin, editorial director of Sparks & Honey and author of “Gen X @50.” “If you’re a Gen Xer, you’ve gone through things before."
“ ... When a lot of Gen Xers were graduating college there was a recession and they watched their parents’ financial fortunes crumble, a real estate crisis, 9/11, so I think there’s a sense of we can bounce back.”
A new generation is in the spotlight now, Generation Z, who took the streets in the midst of the pandemic calling for the end of systematic racism in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd as he was arrested by Minneapolis police on May 25.
It’s a worldwide movement. They are the children of Gen X.
“Gen Z has been shaped by their Gen X parents, so there’s a level of relevancy Gex X has now by being reintroduced as the parents of this new, very socially conscious Generation Z,” Porter said. “I think that bodes well for us.”
Gen X barely got a glimpse of the spotlight. But the good work is getting done.
“We're the ones who say let’s look for common ground and let's make a great impact together collectively,” Porter said. “I think we can because that's how we're built.”
Chris Jordan, a Jersey Shore native, covers entertainment and features for the USA Today Network New Jersey. His multiple awards include recognition for stories on both Bruce Springsteen and “Jersey Shore.” Contact him at @chrisfhjordan; firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Generation X at 50: Kings of culture, innovation