Monday, December 08, 2003

Generational clichés

Today John Quiggin is having another go at putting out the fires of resentment against baby boomers. No dice, John, although I largely agree with this concluding para of the AFR article you link back to:

A combination of circumstances in the late 1950s and the 1960s created a generational moment for those who were young in that blissful false dawn. For that brief moment, the distinction between the young and the old seemed fundamentally important. Generational cliches took root and have become part of our culture, but they have outlived their usefulness. The winners and losers in a world of globalisation, attacks on the welfare state and resurgent market forces cannot be neatly parcelled into age groups, however often commentators on both sides of the debate attempt it.

GenX resentment is only starting to hit its straps – and this time, it’s not about the young vs the old – it’s going to be a case the Middle (well, today’s 30-somethings and their children) vs the Rest. The kids of boomers are perhaps still an unknown quality in the doing-it-tough stakes, but I suspect that the looming inter-generational wealth shakedown will see a lot of money funnelled straight into their multitudinous cargo pockets, before any of those kiddies have to otherwise face up to being broke and on the dole at 40.

Talking of false dawns, and with John Quiggin’s article being laden with popular music references, it occurs to me that the day that Kurt Cobain died (5 April 1994) would be a good day to mark the end of GenX as a generation (kids born after that are unambiguously the children of Gen X). Also, The Day That JFK died theoretical start of GenX surely resonates here in the “Where were you when?" stakes (‘cept of course that they took three days to find Kurt’s stinking corpse). Further, these thirty-odd years can be fairly neatly split with another kind of death – the election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979, as spelling the true start of the “me” in “Me Generation”, and so a fitting last day for a GenXer to be born.

I was driving on a country road outside Canberra when I heard the Kurt Cobain news on JJJ. Immediately and for the rest of the day, the station was turned into a sort of giant, on-the-run suicide counselling room. Whatever the death of JFK may have symbolised about the death of the postwar dream, Kurt’s death was of at least comparable meaning and magnitude. In particular, Kurt’s death marked the end of the GenX “alternative” project, in which by sticking to its ideals – in the face of the ever-growing encroachment of economic fundamentalism (/yuppie-dom, call it what you like) – we thought that we would eventually prevail. In this respect, 5 April 1994 marks the end of the whole Enlightenment project of cultural melioration, and the start of a grab-it-while-you-can Dark Age.

That GenX never really ranted against those over 30 when we were under 30 is now an ironic tribute to our patience, and to our trust that the 80s would one day be shown up as just a bad dream. It’s taken another ten years to slowly realize how totally and utterly we were wrong, and how much we have been betrayed in the process.

Memo to everyone under 30 – ask for it first, but if you don’t get it, steal it. You aint ever gonna get it any other way.


These job stats underscore the dire plight of today's 30-somethings. Among men aged 25 to 44, the proportion with a job has decreased in recent years, to 86%, while among men aged 45 to 54, the proportion with a job has increased to 84%.

When these figures soon overtake each other (as appears likely), perhaps Australia's leaders will finally turn their attention to the problem. The social injustice here is compounded by an unemployed/NILF 30-something being far less-likely to be a home-owner than an unemployed/NILF person aged 45+. The difference is that the latter merely lives in poverty and on the social "scrapheap" of premature retirement, while the former lives in something far worse.

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