Whatever happened to Generation X?

Remember all those awesome Pepsi commercials from the 90’s about Generation Next? Some were definitely better than others, but they all had the cumulative effect of making me think that Generation X was the coolest group of hip twentysomethings to ever walk the planet.

Believe it or not, that was twenty years ago. All of those twentysomethings are now fortysomethings. I’m friends with a bunch of them- regular ass people going to work, paying bills, and not drinking all that much Pepsi honestly. Of course, our media’s obsession with youth meant that eventually they would age out of the spotlight (and it’s even beginning to happen to us millennials now that we’re creeping up the thirtysomething ladder). But even in the midst of America trying to figure out why millennials are such homicidal maniacs, there’s a lot of attention that still gets paid to Baby Boomers. We talk about their retirement, their voting patterns, and they seem to simply not want to go away. Meanwhile, we almost never talk about Gen X.

I don’t have any data to back this up, because data collection takes time and money (read: someone fund me to post half-baked ideas on my blog), but I think Gen Xers got caught in a really awkward time. The recessions of the 2000’s have basically destroyed the hopes of most millennials to ever have anything but work and crushing debt for the rest of our lives. While that realization sucks, we were fortunate that those events happened right at the beginning of our adult lives. We could come to terms with the darkening landscape and our future as contract employees forever.

Gen Xers were right in the middle of their adult lives when the world they were promised began to unravel. They looked at their parents and their homes, cars and 401Ks, and built their lives under the assumption that those things would be theirs too. And they were on track until the dot-com bubble burst, and then the housing bubble burst, and we all learned the truth: nothing rises forever, and eventually someone had to pay for all of the outrageous wealth generated during the 80’s and 90’s. That burden is falling on us.

Gen X is now forced to work endlessly to maintain the things they had right before the downturn began. It’s hard to be cool and hip and loud when you’re struggling to make ends meet, and you’re embarrassed about your struggles. Gen X is especially torn between the expectations of their parents to succeed in exactly the same way they did, and the economic reality of millennials where such success is basically impossible.

Those Pepsi commercials remain burned in my memory, so I’ll always look up to Gen X as this cutting edge group of people who were going to change the world, even as it’s apparent that they weren’t really given the opportunity to. The Boomers have refused to let go of the reigns, and the millennials are trying to wrest control away from them. And in the middle are the Pepsi drinkers, too burdened to make any noise.

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