Since the news has become All Michael Jackson All The Time, it was inevitable, no matter how I tried to resist, that I would have to put up a Michael Jackson post. But this won’t be the one you expect.
Full disclosure, I was never a huge fan, so my mind is free to roam, when the subject is Michael Jackson, to other tangentially related topics. Today, it’s Generations. It all started when a self-identified Generation X blogger I read reprinted an article about how the deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett were a great loss for Generation X. Yet, she was focussing only on the Billie Jean years. I know she’s young enough that she probably has no memory of Michael as part of The Jackson Five and bopping out to Rockin’ Robin and ABC, especially since Michael burst on the scene in 1968, a year after this blogger was born. Now me, I remember those songs, because I am exactly Michael Jackson’s age. (Well, at least chronologically. The latest news is making it clear he was a very different physical and mental age.) But are Michael and me Generation X? What generation are we? I’ve always been confused on this point.
Let’s get some ground rules down. Although some reports have the Baby Boomers born from 1945 to 1965 and others peg Gen X from 1961 to 1981, I categorically reject that. If a generation is defined as a group of people, who by birth time, have a set of shared experiences, cultural and historical references and rituals, how can a generation encompass a group where the eldest could have given birth to the youngest? No, for me a generation can’t be more than 10 years — Zeitgeist Siblings, if you will. Maybe in some periods it extended a bit beyond ten years, maybe in other times of rapid cultural shifts, it’s a bit less than ten years. But ten years is pretty much the standard. That lets those who were born in the eleven years between 1916 and 1927 qualify as the Greatest Generation. They came of age during the Great Depression and were all of them old enough to have fought in World War Two. That lets my parents out of that group as both were in early high school and junior high by 1945. So, even though my parents remember the Depression and World War II, they weren’t trying to gain employment during the former or fighting or waving off a contemporary to fight in the latter. That makes a big divide between them and people a little bit older. I’d say that dividing line marks the end of one generation and the start of another.
Likewise, I don’t see myself as a Baby Boomer. I remember Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Ina Gadda Davida. My baby sitters used to play those songs. I remember Viet Nam. But it wasn’t a war my contemporaries fought. My father did. I knew someone who joined the SDS. She was the much, much older sister of a friend and when she came to our house, she sat with the adults. My brother, her sister and I sat at the children’s table. So I’d say, that generational divide was pretty clear.
Just as the Baby Boomers like to claim they invented everything from Rock to Civil Disobedience, Gen X, at least in many of the articles I’ve read, screams loudly that they brought down the Berlin Wall. They also claim Grunge as their music. Desert Storm was “their war”. If those cultural touchstones define them, let’s figure out who was 18 to 29 around that time. Well, the youngest veterans of Desert Storm would have to have been born in 1973 to be 18 at the time of the war. Grunge hit it big in the early 90s, so lets cap the generation at those who had not yet reached thirty by 1992 — the year after Nevermind hit it big and Nirvana played the MTV Awards. That’s people who were born no earlier than 1963. So can we peg Generation X at roughly 1963 to 1973?
So if Gen X is 1963-1973 and the Baby Boomers are 1945 to 1955 — old enough for the Summer of Love (1967), Woodstock (1969) and still in danger of being drafted (the Draft ended in 1973) — where does that leave those of us born between 1955 and 1963?
Wikipedia has an answer. We are Generation Jones.
“Jonesers were the people who as teens in the 1970s made this slang word [Jonesing] popular, but beyond this historical claim, many believe the concept of jonesing is among this generation’s key collective personality traits.Jonesers were given huge expectations as children in the 1960s, and then confronted with a different reality as they came of age in the 1970s, leaving them with a certain unrequited, jonesing quality.”
Yup, that’s us. Remember the Recession and the Gas Crisis? Yeah, we couldn’t tune in, turn on and drop out then come back from the Peace Corps or a commune and walk right into a good job. And we were struggling out of college for that first professional job in a tougher time than a later generation that could leap from barista to Vice President in the Dot Com era. Apparently we always were and still are jonesing for a better deal.
But I’ll tell you what, Generation X. Michael Jackson, for better or worse, is OURS. You might have been just old enough to go to the roller rink and skate to Billie Jean and Thriller. Yeah, we did that too. But we were also in elementary school and junior high boppin’ to Rockin’ Robin with a similarly aged Michael, who at that time was a Black kid sporting a purple pimp hat and a polyester jump suit.
And you know who else we have in our camp?
It’s a bit late, but, as Generation Jones, we’re finally coming into our own.