By Stu Salkeld The Stettler Independent
Spending two years in college studying journalism was an eye-opening experience for me. I grew up in a small Alberta farming town that gave me the social and moral foundation I still possess. But living in Calgary for two years offered me the ability to learn things I never would have learned at home.
One of the biggest classes I took was advertising theory, a large class that virtually everyone in the communication arts department had to attend. It was held in a large amphitheatre-like room, with the seats rising up the back wall like an opera theatre, just like the college classes you see in movies.
The one thing I remember more than anything about that class was the term “demographics.” Essentially, marketers define all of us in terms of numbers and classes. In the class I was required to attend they spent a lot of time talking about the Baby Boomers, North Americans born after World War II and who grew up with all of the benefits and advantages of post-war prosperity (according to my instructor). These marketers say that Boomers were born between the years 1946 and 1964. Hmmm, thought I, pondering my birth date of Feb.27, 1971.
What generation am I?
Well, turns out, according to my advertising theory instructor, I’m part of the most infamous generation there is, Generation X, a wave of potty-mouthed, lazy complainers.
X’ers came along between the years of 1965 and 1982 and were the first generation of North Americans to grow up with phenomenons like the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, two working parents and probably, most importantly, the “divorce explosion” of the Seventies (for example, by 1980, when I was nine years old, divorce rates in the United States had peaked at all-time highs). Because of these factors, I and my classmates were referred to as “latchkey” children, because we were the first generation to be born without a lot of parental supervision, and also the “MTV generation,” because TV had evolved from Archie Bunker and 6 ‘o’clock news to a satellite-powered babysitting service.
The more I heard about my generation, the more I disdained it. Apparently, throughout the Seventies North American society turned from a “children-first” society into an “adults-first” society, with Boomers focusing on their careers, their businesses and their own happiness. The Boomers had given rise to a Generation X full of sad, sullen, depressed slackers who spent less time with their parents, instead seeking strong bonds with their schoolmates and friends to make up for it. Ever seen The Breakfast Club?
The more I pondered this judgment about me and everyone I grew up with, the more I rebelled against it. I’ve always seen myself as a creative, energetic, responsible and helpful person with nary a thought of doom and gloom. And the more I pondered it, the more these labels seemed like bunk.
It reminded me of a form of common fraud called “cold reading.”
Cold reading involves a psychic, a fortune cookie or other medium providing a number of extremely general statements or leading questions, followed by the subject filling in the blanks, making it apply to him or her. People from every generation could be described as lazy, indolent and whiny.
It looks like social scientists have also discovered their error. A Stanford University study found that, studying three generations including Gen X, by 1991, all three generations were reporting cynicism and increased unhappiness, not just the Gen X’ers.
A good example that shows Gen X’ers aren’t anymore disaffected than anyone else is the fate of United Airlines 93, that was hijacked by Islamic terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorists apparently intended to crash the plane into the White House, but crashed it earlier because of a revolt led on the plane by passengers who realized what was going on.
The majority of leaders who led that revolt were members of Generation X.
Stu Salkeld is editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.