Generation Jones Looks At Millennials

I fall at the far end of the Boomer continuum, but I’ve never felt comfortable there. Like others of my generation, I’m stuck in the middle of the bridge between Boomers and Gen X-ers, unable to stake a claim to either side. There’s a name for our group: Generation Jones. The reason for this name is two-fold: We’re trying like hell to keep up with our predecessors yet stuck in a state of eternal longing.

Generation Jones is comprised of people who were born between 1954-1965. We’re a disaffected bunch, jealous of our older siblings with their almost-free college educations and stock portfolios. We attempt to submerge that envy by making fun of their enduring obsession with tie-dyed tee-shirts and the Grateful Dead. Still, while they’re laughing their way to the bank, we’re jonesing for more wealth, time, health care, and security.

It doesn’t help that most of us were children during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Unlike our immediate elders, hatched at the end of World War Two, we weren’t ushered into a magical era of peace and prosperity. The Boomers’ entitled, carefree childhood was not our fate. My earliest memories involve whispered adult conversations about the Bomb. My mother and her friends affected a fatalistic attitude about nuclear destruction, but I could tell they were terrified.

Jonesers have more in common with our successors, the disenchanted Gen Xers, than we do with the smug, older Boomers. We feel bitter, ripped off, distrustful of authority. Though our bleak outlook continues to worsen as we age, many of us felt old before our time.

Already middle-aged by the 90s, Generation Jones was too decrepit for mosh pits. We looked awkward in Doc Martens, like we were trying too hard to fit in with the cool kids. Hipsters spurned us. By age 35, we felt used up, hopelessly out of touch with pop culture. Jonesers were the oldest people at Lollapalooza, the ones who needed to carry portable stadium seats to support our prematurely aging spines. 

Our attitude towards life is schizoid. We’ve internalized the naïve idealism of Boomers and mixed it in a cauldron with the snarling cynicism of Gen-Xers. We don’t fit in anywhere, even amongst our own kind. This causes us deep pain, but we’ve learned to hide it most of the time.

Many people my age have Millennial offspring. Like their predecessors, today’s 20-something adults view their parents as aliens—intolerant, internet illiterate, politically conservative. Due to today’s sluggish economic climate, they consider us privileged, privy to economic advantages that will always elude them. Worse yet, we’re responsible for the state of the economy, having ruined it for our children due to a toxic combination of shortsightedness and rapacious greed.

In response, older Boomers, Jonesers, and Generation Xers have devised a host of epithets for Millennials. The most popular is “snowflake”, a word that refers to the perceived need of Millennials to feel special. Just as no two snowflakes are ever alike, each human wants to be appreciated for her/his individuality. How terribly unreasonable! Only a narcissist would entertain the notion that s/he differs from anyone else!

I’ve always loved both the uniqueness of snowflakes, and their ephemeral nature. An infinite number of miniature patterns, each falling through the sky at a rapid speed, landing in fluffy piles that melt when the temperature increases. This seems a fitting metaphor for the human condition. Why the vitriol about snowflakes? We’re all here for such a brief time, so naturally we want folks to notice us.

I think a lot of it is jealousy. Unlike Merlin, we’re getting older by the second. I look at my hands and face and see lines and wrinkles that were invisible last week. Though I feel like a rank youngster in many ways, society gives me a different message. I turned sixty last week, yet the young cashiers at our local health food store have given me the 65-and-older super senior discount for two years. I look young for my age, but these Millennial kids can’t tell the difference. We’re all just a bunch of ossified old farts as far as they’re concerned.

Maybe we really ARE a bunch of ossified old farts. In my late teens, I wanted only two things: to party hard and rescue the world, in that order. I found plenty of support for the former, but not so much for the latter. In fact, the world seemed to resent my efforts to save it.

In November 1981, many of my cohorts marched in lockstep to voting booths to elect Ronald Reagan. I stared dumbly at my television while polls closed, and broadcasters announced a Reagan landslide. My first election as an adult, and I was already a pessimist. I’d planned to head to the polls and vote for Carter at the last minute. Now it was too late.

Four years later, I sat at a battered kitchen table with three friends and discussed the upcoming presidential election. We drank beer and devoured platters of organic food. Two of them announced their intention to cast their votes for Reagan. Horrified, I demanded an explanation.

One guy shrugged. “Nothing really bad has happened during the past four years, so we should stick with someone we know.” His girlfriend nodded. “We need a strong defense,” she intoned.

The third, Democratic friend and I had spent the day dropping acid and running around Navy Pier, exclaiming about the snowflakes. We wound up at the Billy Goat Tavern, watching Mondale on the overhead television as he did his last-minute campaign stints. Failure was written all over his face. “I can’t believe we’re reduced to voting for this guy,” I complained. “Yeah, I know what you mean,” my friend replied.

At twenty-five, I was already resigned to the inevitability of betting on the lesser evil in a rigged horserace. The next day, reeling from LSD hangovers, my companion and I dragged our weary asses to the polls and pulled the lever for Mondale. Our cohorts voted for the trusted elephant party and won. They never thought much about their choice. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Many folks grow more conservative as they age, but I’m the exact opposite. Radical during my teens, I became a Democrat in my 20s, then a fist-waving anarchist during my sixth decade. Lack of access to affordable health care had much to do with my anger. So did the revelation that Obama had earned the affectionate nickname “Drone King” amongst his political cronies. My fellow Jonesers shrugged and said, “Well, nobody’s perfect. All presidents bomb countries. It’s in their job description.”

If you’re part of a generation that came of age during Reaganomics, it’s not a huge stretch to middle-of-the-road political philosophy. Jonesers wandered into the 1980s with our eyes shut, believing our future opportunities were still intact. After all, our older siblings were doing fine. We just had to copy them, like we’d been doing all our lives.

 By contrast, today’s young adults have no illusions of security. Millennials were born during the middle-class prosperity of the Clinton era, with its endless flow of playdates, hip cartoons, and dialup computers. Sadly, the bill became due before they graduated from high school. By their first year of college—before they were even old enough to drink—they were already mired in financial debt.

Jones and Gen X parents shrugged and refused to take responsibility. “There’s plenty of jobs available,” we insisted. “You’re just lazy! Get out there and pound the pavement, like we did! What are you—a goddamn snowflake?!”

You’d think we’d remember our own disappointment, but we’ve spent our lives trying to deny it. Like Millennials, we grew up in a time of relative prosperity, only to have the brass ring yanked from our hands before we could grasp it. Unlike Millennials, we thought we could maintain the status quo by voting for “safe” politicians—as if there was anything safe about leaders bent upon snatching our meagre share of spoils while bombing other countries to oblivion. We started in the center and drifted gradually rightward.

In contrast, Millennials are the most progressive generation to date. We wrestled with questions like, “Are bisexual people really just gay?”, but today’s young adults are pioneers of an inclusive, revolutionary LGBTQ+ movement. Boomers internalized “Vote Blue No Matter Who” mantras, but Millennials rally for Democratic Socialism. They see through our generation’s bullshit in ways we never could, and I love them for it. Their insistence upon nonviolent communication, trigger warnings and safe spaces only makes me love them more.

Millennials represent our last bit of hope for our dying planet. Even if they become increasingly conservative during middle age, they started out much further left than previous generations even imagined. Can you picture what their children will be like, once they reach adulthood? I wish I could be around to find out, but my star will be extinguished by then.  

Meanwhile, we’re expecting snow next week. I’m going to go outside to look at the snowflakes. I hope to see some of my fellow Jonesers out there. But if nobody shows up, I won’t be surprised.