The Ramblings of a Gen Xer

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Dystopian World of Gen X

Was recently asked what books am currently reading, and, after consideration, could not come up with a single book to offer. The simple excuse given was that I didn't have time to read; I lied. The truth is that nothing has been intriguing to capture interest or truly speak to me. 

I also lied. 

Quickly confessing that the latest was Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy was met with a strange look until an explanation of my longtime fascination with dystopia. 

All in favor of living under an authoritarian government raise your hand

Yes, the writing style is geared towards young readers and, yes, these 9 chapter books won't challenge those in pursuit of intellectual literature satisfaction. The truth is that this story of a futuristic North American country of Panem reveals a dystopian reality that has become part of my generation's cultural DNA.

Gen X did not grow up with the promises of luxury rocketships to Mars, flying cars or the automated world of George Jetson. Gen X was never spoon-fed Ronald Reagan's phony Pax Americana later saved for the self-absorbed, entitled to everything and tech obsessed generation following them. 

We were never promised anything.

Optimism was being replaced by cynicism as we were growing up in a country becoming disillusioned with the American Dream. Once prosperous Gothams were now blocks of slums, race & campus riots were tearing the nation apart, unchecked pollution destroying lakes & rivers, and one of the greatest military forces was defeated by a nation the size of California. For us, the future was the past and the future seemed to be a mess. 

We scoffed at the nostalgia representation of Happy Days, but reveled in the recklessness antiestablishment of Animal House. We read George Orwell's 1984, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451,  Aldous Huxley's Brave New World which sealed our mistrust of the government, acceptance of dysfunctional family structures and the recognizing of class warfare. Our love for Star Wars and the story of a happy ending rebellion in a "galaxy far, far away" was replaced by images of futuristic dystopia on Earth found in Ridley Scott's dark & dreary Blade Runner, Terry Gilliam's (with Tom Stoppard) bizarre Brazil, Richard Fleischer's horrifying Soylent Green and de-evolution of the human species in The Planet of the Apes.

Luke, I am not your father.

Our music was not 60's peace & love or the 50's golden oldies, but sharp angst driven, counter-culture sounds of The Clash, Dead Kennedys, The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Butthole Surfers and The Violent Femmes. We listened to these albums from the first song to the last on the LP in attempts to gain some meaning into the disfunction surrounding us. The songs then become battlecries we shared with one another through cassette tape mixes. 

The technology Gen X grew up with was simple, rudimentary compared to the generations following us. We played our warbled cassette tapes on bulky Sony Walkmans, listened to scratchy LPs through analog wired speakers, communicated through land-line telephones, video cameras were devices for rich kids, and we lacked the luxury of downloading instead went to Blockbuster Video and Record Theatre to buy entertainment.  

We outgrew comic books with superheroes saving the world and found ourselves turned onto graphic comics like the Hernandez brothers' Love and Rockets, Robert Crumb's Zap, Zippy the Pinhead by Robert Griffith, The Watchmen, and the illustrated works of Bill Sienkiewicz and Ralph Steadman. These comics reflected the cynicism and reality of a world around us as we recognized there were no real superheroes who would save the world from corporate greed, pollution and deteriorating social values. 

80's dystopia as provided by Jamie and Gilbert Hernandez 

All of this contributed to the dystopian world of Gen X. 

So here we are in 2016 and many Gen Xers are nearing the half-century mark of their lives. Some have bought into the system and move among society accepting status quo and reaping the benefits of corporate greed. Some have burnt out years ago and are either in the cemetery or retired teachers. Many of us still see the world through the cynicism, mistrust and dysfunction that shaped us as young adults. The same reasons why we crave the next episode of The Walking Dead, unashamedly read The Hunger Games  and hold onto distain for the Millennials. 

Gen X has never seen the promise of a brighter future, and we have come to terms with that fact. Hell, we've embraced it and quite content to be in this Land of Misfit Toys and do what's best with whatever pile of oatmeal that has been served. Because through the past three decades, we've seen society take the bumpy ride to dystopia and we simply nod our heads, shrug our shoulders and sardonically say been there; done that.