There’s something special taking place in America – whether we realize it or not – it is the hand-off (or wrenching off) of national political representation from the Boomer generation to Generation-X.
GenX was labeled early on by Boomers as the “Baby-bust” generation. A generation supposedly filled with nothing more than slackers, know-nothings, non-participants, and materialists. We were the first generation in many to have to make due with “less” than our generational precedents.
“In 2000, there was this realization for people my age: Hell, there is a difference between Democrats and Republicans. George Bush proved that,” Armstrong says. It was also clear that the only force that could stop the Bush bandwagon was, for better or worse, the Democratic Party. Third parties were no longer the answer — even though many X-ers had voted for Ralph Nader in the past — and X-ers had never embraced street protests like the boomers. So they turned to the medium most of them knew best: the Internet.
If George Bush introduced X-ers to the value of partisanship, the Internet offered something just as valuable in the jittery aftermath of 9/11: community. “It’s easy to forget how amazing this felt back then. But for many of us there was a feeling of being lost and politically isolated,” Armstrong says. The feeling was not limited to X-ers, but they were a generation that had long been defined by an aversion to groups. “It was more anti-fake community,” says Armstrong. “We didn’t like being controlled or defined by an association with these fake communities like nationality, or religion or [corporate] brands.” The Internet always carried the potential for connection, but X-ers would use it to create a vast array of political and purely social blogs, networking sites and other forms of community, which we now refer to as Web 2.0.
As the “stolen” elections were quickly followed by 9/11, its aftermath and then the invasion of Iraq, X-ers were uniquely situated to create a new form of activism that blended technology with political resistance. “The Millennials were too young to be heavily into politics at the time,” says Armstrong. “But we also understood the technology in a way that baby boomers did not.” X-ers were better able to develop the potential of online activism — from raising money to organizing meet-ups — having been present and intimately involved in the development of the web during the dot-com heyday. To be clear, the X-ers are not the netroots — which includes progressives of all ages — but they are indisputably its creators.
So lets be clear – while Boomers may have invented much of it – the information revolution – the Internet’s astounding growth and establishment into the mainstream of the world – is driven by the passions, aspirations and yes – ideals – of GenX. Likewise it will be Generation Y who determine what the Internet will ultimately mean for society as a whole.
So what are these so called ideals and how do they apply to Obama for President?
I remember when my wife and I saw the Democratic National Convention on TV in 2004, and Obama spoke, and I was crying. Shit. I mean, real tears. I cried. I was like, “Fuck! What’s happening? This guy’s awesome!” My wife said, “I’d follow this guy anywhere. I’d vote for this guy. Who is this guy?” It was just a remarkable speech. And then we thought, “We’ll get burned. We’ll get burned. Let’s face it. Don’t believe in this. You know, he’s a cool guy, but let’s not get all full of hope or anything. Hope is a trick.”
Tell me fellow Philadelphians and GenXers, don’t you relate?
Now its one thing to say you are afraid of embracing Hope and quite another to say you don’t stand behind what you want to stand behind.
In Philly we have (had) a proud tradition of supporting our teams right up to the end, even though part of us holds out on being sappy fans that exclaim “it will be okay – we’ll win if we believe”. Because we think we know better. There is a hard earned pragmatism here. When Tug McGraw told Philly “You Gotta Believe” it was a challenge to most Philadelphians.
Rocky Balboa said “It ain’t about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can GET hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep – moving – forward” – that’s Philadelphians for you. You take a smack, shake it off with a “whatever” and keep on keepin’ on.
That describes GenX pretty well too when you think about it. In the face of so much negative information heaped on it about its future, our reaction is to not panic, to recognize the world will still be here tomorrow, that if you are hearing a message from someplace, you are, more than likely, being sold a bill of goods.
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are GenXers. Think about that and what it reflects upon our relationship to media.
Back in 1999 Ted Halstead in The Atlantic wrote of the political voice of GenX:
Whatever this voice may be, it does not fit comfortably within existing partisan camps. “The old left-right paradigm is not working anymore,” according to the novelist Douglas Coupland, who coined the term “Generation X.” Neil Howe and William Strauss, who have written extensively on generational issues, have argued in these pages that from the Generation X perspective “America’s greatest need these days is to clear out the underbrush of name-calling and ideology so that simple things can work again.” If Xers have any ideology, it is surely pragmatism. In an attempt to be more specific Coupland has claimed, “Coming down the pipe are an extraordinarily large number of fiscal conservatives who are socially left.” The underlying assumption here is that the Xer political world view stems simplistically from a combination of the 1960s social revolution and the 1980s economic revolution. This kind of thinking has led some to describe young adults as a generation of libertarians, who basically want government out of their bedrooms and out of their pocketbooks. As it turns out, however, the political views of most Xers are more complex and more interesting than that.
To say that Xers are fiscal conservatives is to miss half the economic story; the other and equally powerful force at play can best be described as economic populism. In fact, the Xer consensus represents a novel hybrid of two distinct currents of economic thought that have rarely combined in the history of American politics. It might well be called “balanced-budget populism.”
…Fiscal prudence, economic populism, social investment, campaign reform, shared sacrifice, and environmental conservation — this constellation of beliefs transcends the existing left-right spectrum. It should be immediately apparent that this generation’s voice is not represented by any of the established leaders or factions in the political mainstream. And Xers seem to recognize as much — 61 percent agree with the statement “Politicians and political leaders have failed my generation.” So how would American politics change if the voice of Generation X were suddenly heard?
If we parse these three paragraphs we can see the call from our generation for a Barrak Obama.
Lets break it down.
Addressing the the Boomer driven Liberal-Conservative war
Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one. Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America–finally–past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us. So much has happened in America in the past seven years, let alone the past 40, that we can be forgiven for focusing on the present and the immediate future. But it is only when you take several large steps back into the long past that the full logic of an Obama presidency stares directly–and uncomfortably–at you.
At its best, the Obama candidacy is about ending a war–not so much the war in Iraq, which now has a momentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade–but the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam and that shows dangerous signs of intensifying, a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war–and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama–and Obama alone–offers the possibility of a truce.
Being a pragmatist when it comes to economic policy
So I asked Obama whether he thought he had been able to tell an effective story about the economy during this campaign. Specifically, I wondered, did he think he had a message that compared with Reagan’s simple call for less government and lower taxes.
He paused for a few seconds and then said this:
“I think I can tell a pretty simple story. Ronald Reagan ushered in an era that reasserted the marketplace and freedom. He made people aware of the cost involved of government regulation or at least a command-and-control-style regulation regime. Bill Clinton to some extent continued that pattern, although he may have smoothed out the edges of it. And George Bush took Ronald Reagan’s insight and ran it over a cliff. And so I think the simple way of telling the story is that when Bill Clinton said the era of big government is over, he wasn’t arguing for an era of no government. So what we need to bring about is the end of the era of unresponsive and inefficient government and short-term thinking in government, so that the government is laying the groundwork, the framework, the foundation for the market to operate effectively and for every single individual to be able to be connected with that market and to succeed in that market. And it’s now a global marketplace.
“Now, that’s the story. Now, telling it elegantly — ‘low taxes, smaller government’ — the way the Republicans have, I think is more of a challenge.”
Abroad a greater task is already evident: welding the new emerging powers to the West. That is not just a matter of handling the rise of India and China, drawing them into global efforts, such as curbs on climate change; it means reselling economic and political freedom to a world that too quickly associates American capitalism with Lehman Brothers and American justice with Guantánamo Bay. This will take patience, fortitude, salesmanship and strategy.
The final argument for the presidency of Barack Obama is the enormous competence he has shown in running his campaign. He has demonstrated unprecedented ability to motivate people, to gather support for his vision and his programs, and to surround himself with people who can execute on that vision. For the past two years, he’s managed what you could easily think of as the fastest growing and best-funded startup in America, and as CEO of that startup, he’s come through with flying colors.
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain’s presidential bid, insisted that the presidential race will be decided more over personalities than issues during an interview with Post editors this morning.
“This election is not about issues,” said Davis. “This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”
GenX recognizes sales pitches from 500 meters away. To say that this election is not about the issues – that it is about personality is a dodge to sell something. My bet is we’re not going to fall for it. That GenX is part of the reality based community. That’s where we live and breathe.
“Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what’s needed to be done. Today we are called once more–and it is time for our generation to answer that call,” declared Barack Obama, uttering the word “generation” no fewer than thirteen times in his speech announcing his intention to run for President. There is no mistaking his campaign theme: it’s time for the old to move over and make way for the new.
How we introduce our children to the culture that made us – us – is a complicated thing. It’s far harder then I thought it would be.
The Baby Boomers didn’t seem to fret that their culture, which glorified counter-culture, was the mainstream, while Gen-Xers were growing up. Reduced to a series of insidious marketing messages that taught us to spend our youthful energies consuming goods that made us look rebellious, and feel rebellious.
They hypocritically fretted over the lyrical content of Prince, W.A.S.P., and Metallica, when The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin, laid it all down twenty years before. And it was broadcasted to Gen-X wherever we went.
It’s always do as I say, not as I do. Isn’t it?
We live in the age of niche media now. Broadcast doesn’t have that kind of access to our children it once had. Chances are my neighbors kids listen to different music then the neighbors next to them.
So we have decisions to make.
Right now it’s what is appropriate music for a baby?
She loves The Ramones. “I Wanna Be Sedated” gets her feet moving and her face lights up as she laughs. And she likes Bon Jovi. Especially “It’s My Life”. You start singing the pre-chorus and you can see the look in her face waiting for the hook to kicks in. She loves the Annie soundtrack, especially “Dumb Dog”, and The Sound of Music soundtrack, especially “Do-Re-Mi”. The bigger the score, the louder the chorus, the better.
Who am I to argue with a smile and a laugh like hers?
Behold the dulcet tones of Metallica, my sweet little cherub-rockers!
Out are the roaring guitars, pummeling drums and howling lyrics such as “pounding out aggression / turns into obsession / cannot kill the battery / cannot kill the family.” In: glockenspiel, Mellotron, vibraphone and chimes.
If you listen closely enough, you might even hear the people behind the “Rockabye Baby” series laughing. They’re totally in on the joke, which they plan on repeating often: Albums of lullabyzed Radiohead and Coldplay songs are also out today — never mind that some of Coldplay’s originals are already soporific. And many more will follow — from Tool and Pink Floyd, both due next month, to Nirvana, the Pixies, Smashing Pumpkins and Queens of the Stone Age.
“I’m laughing the whole time; it’s all tongue-in-cheek,” says Michael Armstrong, who is producing and performing the albums — a process that involves extracting the lyrics and musical teeth from the songs.
It’s not a joke really. Is it? And no – I’m not buying this crap.
The world seems to be going mad like never before and there is no solace in what is to be found online. At at time of world is in clear crisis just a cursory glance at Memeorandum exposes deep divisions, those yearning for blood, others keeping support quiet, or fears silenced to avoid confrontation with commentors. No leadership anywhere. Not one strong voice for peace of any kind. Just birds of a feather continuing to flock virtually together.
Everyone clutching to the marketed versions of reality that they’ve chosen to buy. And worst, that they’ve chosen to sell.
I wonder about the world we are leaving our children. Forget the Left/Right divide – it’s the entire Baby Boomer generation that has failed them, and we are reinforcing that failure. Becoming part of the machine we claim to want to replace.
You know who I’m listening to in my free time? Late 60s, early 70s Rolling Stones. If any song is a song of the moment, it is “Sympathy for the Devil”: Use all your well-learned politesse, Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, um yeah. Timely.
All the while I really just care to think about is the wonder of Emma.
The last three weeks or so have been mind blowing: she has started sleeping thru the night, moved into her nursery, started siting up and standing under her own strength, eaten her first few dishes of solid food (sweet potatoes and oatmeal, not exactly solid, but it’s not a bottle), took her first couple of swims in a pool (well, not swimming, but hanging out with me, Richelle, Mom and Dad).
She can roll over to her belly now very easily, and tries to crawl. She gets frustrated, but man she is determined! One thing that makes us pause is the difficulty she has in rolling to her back. She does it, but sometimes gets very upset while failing to pull it off. She’ll get there and I know I shouldn’t worry, Richelle seems to handle it better than I do, but both of us still check in on her a few times a night. Yeah, I know, we’re amatures 🙂
Speaking of the pool, I’m signing up for swimming lessons. Emma’s grandparents and Richelle aren’t going to be there every day so I am going get over this hump for her.
And speaking of learning things, I need to learn some lullibies on my guitar, which I’ve recently restrung after not playing since Emma’s been born. She loves music and her reaction to a few things I’ve played and sung is just fun.
Emma has spirit and heart. She reinforces mine and reminds me what is really important.
In other news, things have heated up at work and I’ve seen an increase in responsibilities, some of which involve my interests out here. One place to keep an eye on is labs.comcast.net. More on that later.
There is very much I agree with Democratic party on, but whenever some of its leaders find common cause with social conservatives, most likely in pursuit of middle America, it drives me to a place where I find both parties bereft of principal and unworthy of my vote. The 90s seemed to be a time we were past such things, even if I know people who didn’t vote for Al Gore because of Tipper Gore’s involvement in the PMRC. But the echoes in Hillary Clinton’s Family Entertainment Protection Act are too strong to ignore. The legislation Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Joe Lieberman and Senator Evan Bayh is sponsoring would fine the sale of labeled games – it does not propose labeling. No one would argue over the constitutionality of labeling these days. Our view of our constitutional rights has grown far narrower.
Following is Frank Zappa on Crossfire in 1986, debating censorship and rock music. It’s an eye opener. He called himself a conservative. Do you think he still would consider himself one since the fundamentalist wing of the Republican party holds so much sway? Since the non-invasive government, balanced budget, rule-of-law conservative is effectively extinct (they’re Democrats now)? For humor, the exchange between Washington Times columnist John Lofton and Frank Zappa over the “obscenity” of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” is priceless. Or then again, you could find it depressing.
The exchange from 08:45 in the video to 11:40 is as timely today as it was in 1986. Zappa said that America was on a march toward a “fascist theocracy”. Well what do you think?