Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Talkin' Bout My Generation..."

Who were The Who talking about in the song title above? You know and I know that they were referring to those born within three to five years of the band members. I may be a little conservative with my three to five year estimate, but you get the point. When we speak of "my generation" or "our generation," when does this generation end? It seems that when we speak of our generations, we mean the time of our childhood, up through our teenager years, and perhaps into our early twenties. Why do we stop there? In yesterday's class lecture about the impact of America's "Roaring 20s" on the world at large, I began speaking about the classic "Saved by the Bell" episode in which Jessie Spano freaks out with too much studying to do and starts taking speed pills. "I'm so excited...I'm so...SCARED!" (C'mon, you know you remember this episode...) It's a logical connection to make, right, between a formulaic 90s teen sitcom and an American cultural movement of excess?
While this episode aired often in rerun form during my early teenage years, a surprising number of my students, most of whom were born in 1995 and 1996, were familiar with this episode, thanks to TBS and Nick at Nite. The episode aired for the first time in 1990, when I was nine, so can I even claim this Jessie Spano soundbite as part of My Generation?
Well, even those who cannot expand their minds enough to see this connection can see a big reason why we think of Our Generation as that time when we were "young" (what a loaded word). Was the rise of hip hop in the 80s and 90s my generation? Partly, as I was born in 1981 and came of age during the days of NWA, Nas, and the Wu-Tang Clan. But the question is, when did music stop being of my generation? Did the rise of 50 Cent and Kanye West, which took place starting around 2001-2003, coincide with My Generation, or did it come slightly after? Was 9/11 (I was a 20-year-old college sophomore when it happened) the defining event of My Generation? When does another generation wrest control of this event from the preceding generation, in the same way as the Baby Boomers claim November 22, 1963, and April 4, 1968? In our world, youth is king and queen, and the fact that between the forty-year-old and the eighteen-year-old transfixed by the horrific events of September 11, only the latter seems to claim the event as of his generation, tells me enough. Youth is one's entree into generation ownership; the others are just jealous.

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