Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Generation

Here's the line up of current and potential party leaders, at time of writing

David Cameron (born 1966)
Nick Clegg (born 1967)

Labour contenders
David Miliband (born 1965)
Ed Miliband (born 1969)
Ed Balls (born 1967)
John McDonnell (born 1951)
as yet undeclared Andy Burnham (born 1970) (Update: now declared)
Update: Diane Abbott (born 1953) has entered the fray in a welcome burst of diversity. Actually, not that diverse - she's Oxbridge too. What are the chances that Michael Portillo is one of the 10,000+ new Labour members and planning to stand as well?

With two exceptions, Generation X have well and truly taken over. The original writeup of Generation X was a bunch of nihilists, destined to live forever off the scraps their baby boomer parents had left them - McJobs, shopping, marketing, and the absence of any kind of big idea or cause to fight for. Sounds fine if you're 22 and trying to work off your student debt in the early 90's, not quite so clear if you're 43 and Prime Minister in 2010.

So if Generation X is supplanting the baby boomers, what is my generation like? Beyond a taste (not universally shared) for stadium rock, curry, irony and Have I Got News for You, is there anything else? I found this piece by Patrick Neate very interesting, an attempt to redefine Generation X based on the following characteristics:

- Magpie Tendencies, cherry picking from all sorts of sources, eclectic.

- Enterprising "Faced with new and difficult career circumstances but armed with new and difficult tools, we adapted"

- Instinctive Relativists: "We didn't believe in global communism, but that doesn't make us advocates of global capitalism. We may not believe in God or institutions but that's missing the point; because we don't believe in the absence of God or institutions either. We don't even believe in immutable knowledge. We prefer Wikipedia - a limitless, editable source that's as fallible as its contributors"

- Natural Pluralists - "it's simply not true that we don't believe in right and wrong; rather that we're often not sure what they are. We are governed by uncertainty and, admittedly, this is a dangerous position. But, in the contemporary world, it's still better than many. As a general principle, it must be worse to think you're right and be wrong (ask Tony "Boomer" Blair) than to admit that you're just not sure"

- Mod Cons (moderate conservatives)

- Comfort Junkies "Our Mod Con tendencies will never get in the way of our mod cons and our pluralism will never outgun our desire for comfort. It is the one thing about which we're never relative. And this scares even me."

he concludes (note - this was written a couple of years ago. It also reflects a thoroughly middle class flavour to Gen X, maybe cultural analysts are only bothered about people in their own social grade):
"As Generation X reaches middle age and inevitably takes charge, it's possible to envisage dithering direction guided only by the side its bread (wholemeal, stone ground, from the deli) is buttered (spreadable, Danish, unsalted). But it's also possible to imagine humane and pragmatic leadership that's adaptable to the new challenges it will undoubtedly confront. I would finally suggest that the way this particular cookie will crumble comes down less to the characteristics of the generation than the generation's recognition of the two prime characteristics of its era: unprecedented prosperity and (at least local) peace. We have been very, very lucky."

I recognise a lot of this, though some of it overlaps with Generation Y - todays 20-somethings are much more natural pluralists than the 40-somethings. But it's been a while since I heard/read a decent analysis of the post-boomer generation, and now they/we are in charge, perhaps it's time to find out a bit more. Anyone got any good thoughts/links?

DK (born 1969)


  1. Jeremy Trew20/5/10 8:24 am

    There's a distinct challenge here for those of us in Church leadership amd caring for often elderly congregations. Our approach to personhood & community (and therefore pastoral care) and mission may be distinctive and possibly jarring. We're no longer the curates but the vicars, and some of use will soon become bishops. Will we find ourselves leaving an older generation behind, and yet find ourselves wondering, "why don't they get it?"

  2. MostOfTheTime20/5/10 1:17 pm

    You've got a well-written blog, but I have to respectfully disagree with your idea that Cameron is X. Almost nobody anywhere has referred to Cameron and Clegg as X, certainly no experts. On the other hand, many have said Cameron and Clegg are part of Generation Jones–born in the UK between 1955 and 1967, between the Boomers and Generation X.

    Here is one of several recent articles discussing the importance of Clegg & Cameron’s identities as GenJonesers, this one is in The Independent:

    This site has a good overview of GenJones in the UK:

  3. MostOfTheTime: however you date Generation X - and there are several versions - Cameron falls fairly clearly into it. I must admit I've not heard much said about Generation X recently, as the focus has been more on trying to find a name for their successors.

    The 'Generation Jones' concept isn't one I'd come across. Is it an attempt to re-analyse Gen X by people who realise their characterisation of folks born in the 60's was out of date? The dating of Gen Jones also means that most of the politicians above come in right at the end (or after) of that grouping, so they're marginal at best.

    I must confess that the last website you refer to looks like it's trying a little too hard to persuade viewers that Generation Jones is a mainstream concept. I prefer being Gen X anyway, so I'll keep on choosing that label!

  4. Jeremy - how's life on the Devon coast? We saw your name in lights (sort of) outside Beer church a few weeks ago. Good point: at the moment I'm in a team where there are folk 20 years older than me who can relate more naturally to the over-65's, whilst I do more with families and younger people. We currently have a church leadership team which spans ages 35-70, which I think is really healthy. But I'm aware that my perspective is limited, and that I only naturally connect with certain sorts of people.

  5. I think you're right, David. Billy Idol's older than us, and he was in Generation X. So we must be...

  6. Come on Gary, this is a serious intellectual and sociological dispute ;-)