Thursday, February 5, 2009

Generation X

In 1965, the interview-based book Generation X by Jane Deverson and Charles Hamblett profiled U.K. teenagers of its time, who had been born soon after the so-called ‘baby boom’ that followed the Second World War. The book was sufficiently influential that singer Billy Idol named a punk rock band after it in 1976.

In 1991, however, Canadian author Douglas Coupland’s fictional book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture featured characters who, like Coupland himself, were born in the 1960s, a decade later than Deverson and Hamblett's subjects. This book popularized the term ‘Generation X’—among others, like ‘McJob’—for North American readers.

As though these two books weren’t already incongruous in their definitions of a demographic group, subsequent references to Generation X moved it forward farther still.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, for example, cites everyone born “roughly from the early 60s to mid-70s,” even though the latter would not have been adults stuck in dead-end McJobs by the late 1980s, as in Coupland’s novel. CBC’s definition, meanwhile, encompassed “the early 1960s to late 1970s.”

As the term kept being extended, it lost all meaning. It could have been adopted as an intentionally vague reference to the unknown, rather like ‘x-factor,’ but instead it has continued constantly to denote specific age ranges.

On February 4, 2009, for example, an article in The Desert Sun referred to pastors “focusing their efforts on Generation X,” but turned out to be about “junior and senior high school students ages 13 to 18” … that is, born approximately 40 years later than Deverson and Hamblett’s Generation X!

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