Updated: Oct 21, 2019
Every generation has distinguishing characteristics, faces unique challenges and blames the previous generation for their problems. I don’t know who decides when one generation ends and another begins (there are many conflicting opinions about the exact years) or who assigns the defining qualities to each one (there have been many books written on the subject that I haven’t bothered to read) but I enjoy reducing people to stereotypes in order to feel superior and to make fun of myself. So let’s take a brief look at the most popular perceptions of the six generations living today, in search of some sociological insights and a few laughs.
“The Greatest Generation” was born between 1901 & 1926. But their name wasn't coined until 1998 in a book by Tom Brokaw. Which is funny because I thought that’s what they were always called. (Shows what I know.) Before that book was published they were simply known as “The G.I. Generation” or “The World War II Generation”, which was not nearly as catchy. Now we like to glorify them for surviving the Great Depression and making the world safe for democracy. But let's face it, not all of them survived the Depression and not everyone was a war hero. Let's not forget that there were many who opposed our
involvement in World War II, who threw innocent Japanese Americans into internment camps, and who openly practiced racism and misogyny in and out of the military. I’m just saying, not everyone in “The Greatest Generation” was all that “Great.”
Generally speaking, they did have many admirable characteristics that defined them, such as a strong sense of patriotism, religion and morals. They set high standards for work ethics, financial savings and waiting until they were married to lose their virginity. (I’ve heard there are still people like that today but other than that guy on The Bachelor, I don’t know any. And even he must have gotten laid by now.) Most of them grew up before electricity was everywhere. So they lived without air-conditioning, refrigerators or television. (I can’t even imagine.) Compared to them, every generation since has had it easier than Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin’s kids getting into college.
“The Silent Generation” was born between 1925 & 1945. No one knows for sure how they got their name. Some people speculate it was because they were raised during a time when children were meant to be seen and not heard, or because they did not speak out during the McCarthy era, or because they comprised the silent majority. Either way, it wound up being a fitting name because they are the least talked about generation of all and a lot people never even heard of them. Which is completely unfair. They fought in both the Korean War and the Viet Nam War, and still had time to give birth to rock ’n’ roll and the civil rights movement. So the generation that was overshadowed by "The Greatest" and "The Boomers" actually shook up the country more than Elvis Presley's hips.
“The Silent Generation” is generally known for being disciplined, self-sacrificing and cautious. They carried forward their parent’s values and built upon their successes. Most women were stay-at-home moms, most men had one job until they retired and most couples stayed married for life. (Whether they wanted to or not.) They came through an era of suffocating conformity to become the wealthiest generation in their retirement years. They’re like the Kourtney Kardashian of generations - the middle child, whose name no one can remember, with lots of money, who stupidly married Scott Disick.
My generation was labeled “The Baby Boomers.” To me, this always sounded like we were infants who liked to blow things up. Which, in a way, was true. Born between 1946 & 1964, ours was one of the largest generations due to all the screwing our parents did right after World War II ended. (That must have been some party.) We grew up on sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. (So we had some pretty good parties of our own.) “Late Boomers”, like me, are sometimes called “The Me Generation” because we made everything about ourselves, or “Generation Jones” because we were always trying to keep up with the Jones’. Except I lived in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, so we were always trying to keep up with the Goldfarb’s. (They always bought the expensive lox.) Our parents worried we were spending too much time in front of the “boob-tube” that was rotting our brains.
“Baby Boomers” are generally known for having abandoned the traditional values of our parents and for being self-righteous and self-centered. We were hippies, yuppies and preppies, who put-down whichever group we weren’t in. We made unprecedented progress towards equal rights for women, gays, and minorities and we ushered in the era of free love. (You’re welcome.) But in our mad-dash to change the world, we pretty much ruined it. We were so busy marching for peace that we helped America lose its first war. Even though we didn’t want 9 to 5 jobs, we abused and depleted most pension plans. We started “Earth Day” but then we polluted the planet, possibly beyond repair. And after all that political revolution, we never did come up with a better government, we just broke the old one. So, on behalf of a remorseful generation, I apologize to every future generation.
“Generation X” was born between 1965 & 1980. They were the first of the alphabet generations where we got so lazy we just started giving them letters instead of names. They’ve also been called “The Baby Bust Generation” due to their low birth rates and “The MTV Generation” due to their bad taste in music. (Although who didn't like Wang Chung, Bananarama and Milli Vanilli?) “Gen-Xers” greatest accomplishment was ushering in the computer age. Along with all those technological advancements, they made it popular to be “geeks” and “nerds.” This made it possible for shows like The Big Bang Theory and Game of Thrones to be hits. Their parents worried that they were spending too much time playing video games that were rotting their brains.
“Generation X” is the last to remember life without household computers or portable phones. They grew up during the transition from the old ways to the new technology, which made them the canaries in the coal mine of the internet age. As a result of increased divorced rates and more women in the workforce they became the first “latch-key kids.” I’d feel sorry for them except that was probably better than being a kid today with a “helicopter mom.” This might account for how some of them became the first “slackers”, who made being lazy and apathetic a lifestyle choice. As adults, they didn’t feel strongly about the institution of marriage, so many became single parents. That, along with a rise in gay marriages, made adopting Chinese babies as trendy as Pet Rocks, Cabbage Patch Kids and Labradoodles.
“Generation Y” was born between 1981 & 1996. They are also called “Millennials”, probably because “Generation Y” sounded like a passive-aggressive question. Since they were so young when 9/11 happened, many of them grew-up feeling powerless. So they popularized the super hero culture, which gave them the illusion of empowerment. (Either that or they just liked seeing big name movie stars dress up in embarrassing costumes.) They were the first to be born with all the advantages of internet access, but they mostly used it to satisfy their sexual urges with everything from online dating to pornography. Their parents worried that they spent too much time on their computers that were rotting their brains.
Among the characteristics that generally define “Millennials” are unprecedented entitlement due to being given too may participation trophies. They’ve been told they’re special so often they actually believe it. They did less drugs and had less teen pregnancies but more academic pressure. They prefer to do everything in teams - work, play, and even date. As the first generation with smart phones they have more pictures of every meal they ever ate than I’ve taken in my whole life. Their intimate relationship with technology also accounts for their poor social skills. They can spend hours interacting with their computers but often have trouble connecting with people. Which is why they got so heavily into “social media”, “sexting”, “catfishing” and “dick pics.”
“Generation Z” was born between 1997 & 2009. They grew up in a world where terrorism was everywhere, school shootings were common, the economy was tanking and we found out that priests were not saints. It’s no wonder they became more cynical and disillusioned than a liberal at a Trump rally. They currently make up around 25% of the American population. So no matter how annoying they may be, there’s no getting rid of them. Also known as “iGen” because they all had a “Baby’s First iPhone.” They wouldn’t know what a rotary phone was if you hit them over the head with one (which I am sometimes tempted to do). Their parents worry that they spend too much time on cell phones that are rotting their brains. Which may be the first time this is actually true since there have been many studies that claim cellular devices held so close to our heads are actually rotting our brains.
Members of “Gen Z” tend to be tech-savvy, entrepreneurial, cynical, cautious and more tolerant of other cultures, races and sexual orientations. These kids don’t have to go out or get together to play anymore. Now they hang-out with their friends in their separate homes on their computers, phones or gaming platforms. On the rare occasions they do see their peers in person and outside of school it’s usually because their parents have made “play dates.” Between the inordinate amounts of homework they get and the excessive extra-curricular activities planned for them, I don’t know where they find the time to watch all those YouTube videos of girls putting on make-up and animals acting like humans (those crack me up).
And with that, I hope I have managed to equally honor and offend each of the six living generations. Someone recently dubbed everyone born between 2010 and 2025 as “Generation Alpha” (we’ll see if that name sticks) but they’re too young for me to start summarizing or satirizing. My only thought about them is (and I know I sound like an old fart when I say this), I’m just glad I’m not a kid growing up in today's world.
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