Gen X is ruling the world – and no one even realized it
Last weekend’s Super Bowl halftime show confirmed what most of us have known for some time. Generation X is winning the culture wars. It’s not even close.
The pissing match erupted on social media shortly after epic performances by Snoop Dog, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem and Dr. Dre. It started when NBC News tweeted: “The Super Bowl halftime show taps into millennial nostalgia.” Many agreed, sharing inflammatory comments like, “We needed that, Millennials. I like that for us.
Gen-Xers were mostly unsurprised by the lightness. “The Gen X erasure is pretty wild because it’s the generation that created hip-hop,” tweeted filmmaker Bree Newsome.
Another one joked: “Boomers take all the money. Millennials take all the credit. #GenXLife.
Millennials trying to claim ’90s hip-hop icons as their own is patently absurd, of course. Not only were all of the performers (except for Lamar) Gen X by age, but they were also setting records when most millennials were in kindergarten. It would be like Gen Xers trying to claim Bruce Springsteen as one of their own because he released “Born in the USA” when they were in high school.
But the X-ers are used to being ignored or forgotten. When We Get Credit It’s For Being Strangers – “Coronavirus Quarantine?” a 2020 headline praised. “Generation X was made for this” – but most of us are dismissed as failures. As the New York Times noted in 2019, “Gen X is a mess.”
It turns out that the opposite is true. We slowly took over the culture for years. 2022 is shaping up to be a big year for Gen X nostalgia, from reboots of “Scream,” “Party Down,” “Jurassic Park” and “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to the return of Boba Fett and Gen-Des. X comedy titans like Kids in the Hall and “Mr. Show” with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross.
But it’s not about nostalgia. Gen-Xers does not seek to look at the navel of our past. We celebrate our cultural victories.
“I think there’s a quiet confidence in our generation that we were right all along,” says John Moe, Gen-X writer and host of the Depresh Mode podcast.
Artists like Rage Against the Machine, Pavement, Fugees, The Lemonheads and Bikini Kill have all come together and are on tour this year celebrating (and in some cases playing in their entirety) their 90s albums. Even “Rent” , which most of Broadway’s Gen X musicals, is hosting a 25th anniversary farewell tour.
“These iconic albums are our trophies for doing everything right,” Moe says. “So going to see them play live is a photo album, a showcase of trophies and a quiet victory lap through history.”
According to Nielsen, the top 10 mainstream rock radio songs of the 2010s — from 2010 to 2019 — are all from the ’90s. These are Gen X staples like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Metallica, Stone Temple Pilots, and Sound Garden. For all the baby boomers and millennials who brag about their superior music – please, my God, I can’t watch another hour of The Beatles fart in the studio – they’ve clearly all listened to Xer music in place.
This is happening even with the once-derided Gen-X pop culture. “Jackass Forever,” the latest sequel from the injury-seeking Gen-X stunt performers, now in their 40s and 50s, has been called “eerily poignant” and “just what the world needs.” Beavis & Butthead, who are receiving a new series and feature on Paramount+, are now being hailed for their “brilliant zen simplicity.”
We used to be thought of as tasteless idiots, but looking back, we were ahead of our time.
Gen Xers aren’t really the “forgotten middle children” that the media often portrays us as. In 2022 alone, the biggest stories in pop culture revolve around whether Dave Chappelle (48) has overly controversial views, whether Joe Rogan (54) should be canceled, whether Tom Brady (44 ) should retire and why Kanye West (44) is having such a public meltdown over his wife dating a millennial.
For a so-called “forgotten generation”, the world speaks of us one parcel.
The truth is that we have Keyser Söze’d the world. We run the whole show and no one noticed. And yes, I’m referring to “The Usual Suspects,” a film written (Christopher McQuarrie, 53) and directed (Bryan Singer, 56) by Gen-Xers. To paraphrase Söze’s most famous phrase, “The greatest trick Gen X has ever pulled off was convincing the world we don’t exist.”
Eric Spitznagel is the editor of The arrowan AARP digital newsletter created by and for Gen-X men.