Generation why? "Microgenerations" and the other social labels we need to ditch
Maxim Boon asks if we really need more reasons to divide our society in a time where we're already more divided than ever?
The Stone Age was an epoch of human civilisation that lasted a whopping 2.5 million years. This was followed by the Copper Age, lasting 1,800 years, the Bronze Age, lasting another couple millennia, and then the Iron Age, another thousand years or so.
In those far-flung eras of the distant past, mankind was seemingly pretty chill about the leisurely pace of the turning wheel of time, eking out the slow and steady ebb of history. But then loomed the 20th century, and suddenly the human race got itself in one big damn hurry. Gone was the stately procession of eons, neatly portioning out the progress of our civilisation a few centuries at a time, replaced by a stampede of generations, each supposedly a perfect reflection of that demographic's values, each diametrically fucked thanks to the selfishness of their predecessors.
There's no denying that inter-generational divides are alive and well in our modern society, perhaps more conspicuously today than they've ever been. But it's difficult to figure out a practical purpose for this great carving up of living memory, the so-called generation gap. Where it might have been an indicator of pervasive, shared political or social values, the upswell of populist rhetoric in the mainstream has revealed that age ain't nothing but a number when it comes to political allegiances. True enough, a younger electorate can broadly be said to have more inclusive, less conservative attitudes. But as multiculturalism, immigration, marriage equality, and reproductive rights have become major campaign currency, factors like race, socioeconomic standing, sexuality, and gender have proven far more influential on political outcomes than the arbitrary circumstance of someone's D.O.B.
It might not hold much sway where it counts, but that doesn't mean generational labels aren't still a social preoccupation. So, why is the generation gap still a thing? Is it to give the world some more politically correct corners of society at which to aim their ire, a kind of wholesome, guilt-free zone to vent some bigotry? "Fucking Baby Boomers, ruining our environment and judging us for eating smashed avo," versus, "Spoiled Millennials, wasting their money on smashed avo and trying to save the environment." Is it to distract us from the very real issues right under our noses? Gaping class divides, dug-in racial inequality, and stagnated gender biases — the social crises that should feel our wrath?
The beef between the house price raising, multicultural fearing, environment polluting Baby Boomers and the selfie-taking, money wasting, avocado smashing Millenials has been exhaustively chronicled in the press, to the point that you could be forgiven for thinking these two demographics are alien species. But let's be honest, if you're in a position to feel irked by another generation, or to even acknowledge that there's enough of a generational difference to give a shit about it in the first place, then you're probably living a reasonably privileged existence. Those whose reality is discrimination, poverty or homelessness aren't likely to have too much spare worrying capacity to chide a 20-something about their choice of brunch.
It's at this point, I acknowledge the irony of pointing out this fact in an opinion piece that does exactly that. But to come to the sharp end of a particular #FirstWorldProblem, a new development in the generation wars has, in this grumpy scribe's opinion, taken our apparent need for unnecessary pigeonholing to new, utterly redundant levels.
Behold, the Microgeneration.
Specifically, the Xennials - those born between 1977 and 1983. While it's been claimed this term, and its variants - Generation Catalano (an obscure reference to '90s TV staple My So-Called Life) and Generation Oregon Trail (an even more obscure reference to an early educational computer game in the US) - have been rattling around for a few years, a slurry of digital dross clogged Twitter feeds and status updates last week, suddenly shoving this microgeneration business into the spotlight. Thanks to an article published by Mamamia, mistakenly declaring Aussie academic Professor Dan Woodman as the boffin behind this great microgenerational discovery, an explosion of content soon erupted, replete with quizzes to test your eligibility to join this new-found clique, and nostalgia porn reminiscing about long defunct websites - pour one out for MSN Messenger, Bebo and Friends Reunited. RIP guys - and the miracle of how the fuck anyone organised their social lives before mobile phones.
I myself fall into this newly heralded niche, and like my fellow Xennials, I am armed with the withering sass of Gen X but with the can-do optimism of those sweet, silly Millenials.
But, as seems to be the way of things in the generational wars, must I now declare those from opposing clans - the Gen Xs, The Millennials, even the grizzled ol' Baby Boomers - my mortal enemies? After all, they've all got it better than me, so I'm told. We were the beta-test generation for the digital age, as those inexperienced '90s webmasters fumbled with the bra-strap of the early internet, clumsily pawing at us poor Xennials with their embarrassing dial-up speeds and dodgy AF chat rooms. After suffering the version 1.0 of every gadget and gizmo that now rule our lives, the lucky Millenials inherited glitch free smart devices, super-fast WiFi, and a smooth, experienced, insatiable world wide web, complete with saucy SnapChat filters, aubergine emojis and right swipes for days.
Can you blame me for feeling a bit sour that today a hormonal teen has instant access to the full gamete of sexual filth the internet has to offer, whereas my generation had to make do with the Bonds catalogue or that dirty mag we found in a skip that one time?
As for our elders, it seems they bestowed us with all their cons and none of their pros. We can't afford a house, but we're cynical and pessimistic enough to feel like, well, that's just fucking typical. And since we've only just been made aware of the deep, divisive differences between us and our other generational foes, we can't even enjoy the scorn of being the angsty, rebellious whippersnappers on the youngest end of the gen-spectrum. We are the poor, deprived middle child - the dowdy, undervalued Jan Brady of generations.
I think it's high time we called a timeout — clearly, we've reached peak generationalism. But, if this is all just pointless generalising, does it actually matter if we bridge the gap or not? Perhaps it is harmless enough to toy with the idea of generational divides, but on a slightly more sober note it begs the question: if there is no practical value to laying down these arbitrary borders, surely it is better to look for unity? During an age where the ruling classes seem determined to persecute and isolate real minorities, why celebrate our generational differences when it's our common ground that makes our society stronger? Put an avocado on that and smash it, you Millennial scum. (Just kidding... sort of).
First published 19 June 2017, for The Music.