Generation X and generational tensions

In the summer of 2017, Rich Cohen wrote a somewhat ostentatiously titled piece for Vanity Fair, “Why Generation X Might Be Our Last, Best Hope”. It describes the “detachment” of Gen Xers, between two “self-regarding waves” of much larger generations, one older, and one younger. 

The essay is well worth reading in its entirety, so please stop over and read it. For our purposes here, though, there are two passages that I’d like to draw your attention to:

Many of the boomers I know believe their parents hid themselves from the action. In truth, those World War II fathers were neither hiding nor settling. They were seeking. Peace. Tranquility. They wanted to give their children a fantasy of stability not because they knew too little but because they’d seen too much. Their children read this quest as emptiness and went away before the fathers could transmute the secret wisdom, the ancient knowledge that allows a society to persist and a person to get through a Wednesday afternoon.


We’d seen what became of the big projects of the boomers as that earlier generation had seen what became of all the big social projects. As a result we could not stand to hear the Utopian talk of the boomers as we cannot stand to hear the Utopian talk of the millennials. We know that most people are rotten to the core, but some are good, and proceed accordingly.

A Gen Xer myself, I’ve always felt a certain alienation from both the ex-hippies of the 1960s (who comprised the bulk of my college professors in the 1980s) and the Bernie Bros of the 21st century.

By contrast, I regard the post-World War II America of the 1950s and 1960s as a stable, comforting (if in many ways imperfect) place.

My maternal grandparents were of the World War II generation. Throughout my childhood, their presence was always deeply reassuring for me. My grandfather has been gone since 1998; and my grandmother passed in 2007. But I still think of them daily, and I miss them as if they had died just last year. 

I remember one of my Baby Boomer professors (in the 1986-1987 academic year) who believed that some form of socialism would eventually triumph, and create a Brave New World. Even to my 18 year-old ears, that sounded like naive twaddle. 

Today I listen to the Bernie Bros, blathering that all we need do is trust this decrepit, cranky socialist to manage our affairs and take care of us. My ears are now 52 years old instead of 18, and such talk still sounds like naive twaddle to me. 

I suppose that members of Generation X were, in some sense, born into middle age. At any rate, I saw little in the way of campus protests during my student years. But campus protests were a fixture of the Baby Boomer 1960s, much as they’re a fixture our present age.

Make of that what you will….Anyway, enjoy Mr. Cohen’s essay.