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The Myth of Generation X: Film, Media, Lterature, and The Evolution of A Generation

In a 1995 interview with Details magazine, Douglas Coupland, the individual commonly credited with "naming" Generation X, declared that "Generation X is dead" (R. Owen 1). Perhaps he is right. Perhaps, however, it would be more accurate to say that the media frenzy which surrounded the generation for almost a decade is over, and if not at the time of Coupland's comment in 1995, then definitely in 1998, as the media has begun to focus on the "Echo Boomers," the generation following X. Generation X is not dead; the individuals who make up this phenomenon called GenX still live and breathe and have moved on from angst-ridden youth to jobs, marriage, and families as all generations do. In some cases, Xers still encourage media stereotypes as they lounge at corner bars and coffee shops, occupy their time with "McJobs," and lament the social legacy left to them by the baby boomers, but nobody—not their fellow Xers and certainly not the media—is listening any more. The love/hate affair between the media and the generation has ceased. On Wednesday, March 4, 1998, the San Diego Union-Tribune featured a story which named the generation following Generation X the "Echo Boomers," signaling a shift in the attentions of Madison Avenue and cultural critics to the next generation—Generation Y, Generation.com, Generation Next (Zaldivar par. 2). Now it is the task of these teens and young adults, as it was that of Generation X and the baby boomers before them, to learn to exist within the context of the deluge of generational media and advertising which has by now become so familiar in American society.

It is at this point, with the shift in media emphasis, then, that perhaps scholars and members of Generation X alike can take a deep breath and, having sufficiently composed themselves without the benefit of the limelight, look back at the history and culture which contributed to the formation of Generation X and produced the films which both reflected and impacted their lives. Prior to an examination of the films themselves, because each individual who comments on this generation holds a slightly different perspective or even definition of the generation, it is necessary in Chapter II to begin this study with a working definition of the generation, which will serve as a foundation for the chapters which follow.

Using works written specifically about the generation and primarily by Xers themselves. Chapter II, then, precedes the discussion of Generation X film with a social, economic, and political examination of the factors which influenced the development of the generation in an effort to defineGeneration X through its cultural roots. This chapter highlights those events most commonly deemed by cultural scholars and members of the generation to have played an important role in the formation of the generation's character. Commencing with a demographic approach to the children of the baby boomers. Chapter Two examines the characterization of the generation as first the "baby busters" and later as "Generation X." Working birth years for the generation are established, followed by a discussion of the social and cultural influences which contributed to the "bust" in the birth rate. Much time and space is devoted to the issue of family, including the popularly held views on parenting in the 1970s, the role of divorce in the American household of the 1970s and 1980s, the plight of the single-parent household, and the socioeconomic factors affecting the families of the young generation. This emphasis on family is consistent with the generational statements made by members of Generation X in film, literature, and non-fiction works in the early 1990s, in which family is often credited as the single most influential factor in both the teen and adult lives of the individuals.

The purpose of Chapter II is not to present a decisive definition of the generation but rather to serve as a point of reference for the chapters which follow and to define terms and situations referred to in the subsequent discussion of the generation. Additionally, because the "history" of the generation chronicled in Chapter II is compiled from works written specifically about Generation X and primarily by members of Generation X (rather than from broader treatments of the history of the nation), the perspective presented is that popularly associated with the generation, based on its own nonfiction statements about itself. These works include Geoffrey Holtz's Welcome to the Jungle: The Why Behind Generation X (1995), Douglas Rushkoff's The GenX Reader (1994), and Jason Cohen and Michael Krugman's Generation Ecch (1994), among others, written primarily by individuals who would fall into the appropriate age for Generation X. That this information, and thus Chapter II, is biased in favor of Generation X and to the detriment of the baby boomers is without doubt and is recognized by the author. However, to fully illustrate the extent of the rift between the generations, brought on largely by Generation X itself and fueled by the media, this biased perspective is retained. Because of the rather limited availability of substantive sources dealing with Generation X, either popular or scholarly and, in turn, the rather narrow scope of those sources which are available. there are undoubtedly historical factors affecting the generation not recognized by the works written about Generation X, and, in turn, this study. To present a "history of the history of Generation X," the scope of this chapter has been deliberately limited to those factors repeatedly recognized by the media and GenX alike as the most influential in the lives of the generation. The benefit of this approach is that it situates the definition of the generation within the context of Generation X studies; in effect, it is the definition that the generation has written and claimed for itself in retrospect. Correspondingly, the limitations of such a definition is acknowledged, as a member of Generation X noted "No generation can define itself" (R. Owen 4). Chapter II is a summary of the widely-publicized representation of Generation X that has been self-selected by some members of the generation, a fact which is important to the discussion of the media/Generation X relationship which is the basis for Chapter III.

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The Myth of Generation X