I'm a sucker for fake trends and the sorts of cool, simple explanations of complex phenomena that have to be mostly false. Generational analysis usually fits the latter category: the idea that all Americans born between 1995 and whenever share traits is a composition fallacy. Some of the "Greatest Generation" were cowards and some of the Boomers were selfless heroes: I don't think you can accurately and completely generalize groups of people by birth year.
But you sure can have some fun with it!
For the reading this week, I have two types of that fun. First, a Gen Xer interviews the bard of Gen X, Bret Easton Ellis. (If you haven't caught the limited-run podcast Once Upon a Time at Bennington College, then add it to your podcast queue right now.) Ellis writes a fiction of perfected autobiography: if this isn't his story, then it's the story of how he wanted it to be. And I think that's what Gen X is all about: your 80s childhood may've been lame, but it's hard not to be nostalgic about the weird freedom of absent parents, pay phones, and cars without seatbelts. It's hard not to be nostalgic about anything from adolescence, even if, to take Ellis as an example, it was a terrible mix of dangerous behaviors and silly posturing.
I also liked the style of this piece: at once it's a narrow point of view interview, sending up those glossy mag profiles, but on the other hand it's exactly a glossy mag profile, right down to the menu item-dropping.
The second piece is much closer to the standard fare in this little roundup: Jon Haidt, a social psychologist whose work I've linked to before, talks a bit about his latest views of how the strange cocktail of social media preening and victimhood status are warping today's youngs. (If you want more Haidt, this conversation with the writer Andy Crouch is worth adding to your YouTube queue.) I don't think Haidt is wrong--certainly you can't discredit the results of endless surveys of people. But I wonder if there are more glimmers of hope around the edges than he sees. The 90s-born people I talk to bear some scars of safetyism and social media, but they're as energetic and optimistic and advancing into life as any of us pre-internet born Gen Yers ever were.
I think we can learn a bit by considering generations, but I'd wager that the exceptions are more impactful than the rules.
Bret Easton Ellis's Great Defense of Gen X
The Shards parachutes us back into the world before teenagers became so sensitive. "We were very, very free to explore things that might hurt us, potentially might damage us."