Sunday 8 May 2011 10.59 EDT
Generation X is 50? Whatever
We Gen-Xers are getting too old to wear ironic T-shirts or pine for Winona Ryder. And that includes you, Douglas Coupland
Generation X is generally defined as those born from 1961 to 1981, which means – I can scarcely bring myself to type these words – that the first Gen-Xers turn 50 this year.
God, I feel ill. The only social tribe I’ve ever identified with is over the hill, or at least on the cusp of it. Forget that I’m four years older than Jesus was when he founded a major religion; forget that my beard is getting more grey than John Major’s famously monochromatic underpants. Xers are turning 50, and that makes me feel old. And while I’m near enough to the centre of the Gen-X timeline that the dreaded Five-O won’t arrive for a while, I’m also near enough to the start that I can make it out, just about, in the distance. Middle age: looming before me like a neon road sign for the Bates Motel.
To compound matters, Douglas Coupland’s era-defining novel, also called Generation X, was published a full two decades ago. I loved that book, with its hip design, thoughtful stories-within-the-story and wry neologisms: air family, veal-fattening pen, recreational slumming. It spoke to people like me: the sarcastic, lethargic, vaguely disaffected legions drifting from McJob to McJob, mainlining pop culture and pop philosophy, pessimistic about the future (theirs and the planet’s), feeling used-up and tired of life before it had even really begun.
I wanted to join Andy, Tad and Claire in their desert retreat, their plastic hideaway; to express my disgust with inauthentic society by withdrawing into dreams and fairytales. But I couldn’t do that now, could I? Andy and pals would be in their 40s by this stage, probably married with kids, holding down jobs, not reading as much as they used to, beginning to suffer from ill-defined ailments, forgetting who they once were and reluctantly accepting that life doesn’t turn out how you thought it would.
Generation X is officially old. Sorry, when did this happen? It seems like five minutes ago we were young, we were the future, the people for whom anything was possible. More than possible: inevitable. Now we’re the middle-aged bores pottering around in slippers, fretting about how our savings scheme is doing in an unstable market and, saddest of all, “getting into” things: expensive coffee, Booker-nominated novels, obscure types of pilates.
You don’t rage against the machine anymore because you are the machine. You are the person that kids look at and think: “that guy is so old and so uncool”, just like you used to do. It’s all quite depressing, especially if you itemise some key indicators of existence: the things you really should have given up by now. You’re too old to wear jeans, geeky spectacles and ironic T-shirts (but many of us cling on, stubbornly).
You’re too old to care about sports results, and you actually make that decision: I will not let the result of this hurling match affect my mood. I will be mature and grown-up, though I don’t really want to be.
And you’re too old to be cool but also too old to care if you’re cool, because caring if you’re cool is trés uncool but caring whether you’re uncool because you care about being cool is even less cool. And Xers never cared about being cool anyway.
Perhaps the worst thing about getting older, though, is that your heroes get old too. We’re all aware of the inexorableness of ageing, and even accept it on some marrow-deep level. But the people you admired and wanted to be: they were never supposed to age. They were meant to remain young and beautiful, bristling with promise, forever. ‘Fraid not. Douglas Coupland celebrates his 50th birthday this year. Johnny Depp is 46, Ethan Hawke 40, Elizabeth Wurtzel 43. Most distressing of all, Winona Ryder is 40 in October. How is this even possible, Noni? Weren’t we supposed to meet in our mid-20s, fall in love and form a grunge band? .
Here’s the last problem with ageing: bloody memory loss. Now I can’t remember where I left my Kopi Luwak Indonesian coffee beans, and damned if I know what time my Fletcher Pilates class is on. Oh well, whatever. Nevermind.