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Whatever Happened to Generation X
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Whatever happened to Generation X?

 

Douglas Coupland defined a new generation in his 1991 novel, Generation X. But how are those cynical, anti-establishment kids going, now they’re in their 40s? Lindsay Baker investigates.

It’s a familiar and ongoing feud: baby boomers in one corner and millennials in the other. It seems the two generations are constantly at each other’s throats. Less familiar, though, is any mention of that other generation, the one born in between the boomers and the Millennials. Whatever happened to Generation X? Where has it been, that lost generation of people now aged between 35 and 55, first identified back in 1991 by author Douglas Coupland? How has it evolved, and what, if anything, can we learn from it today?

Those were the questions that occurred to British Gen X-er Tiffanie Darke, whose book Now We Are 40: Whatever Happened to Generation X? has just been published. Working in the media, she would attend regular meetings with advertising agencies. “They were completely obsessed with these two groups,” Darke tells BBC Culture. “The job-for-life boomers with good pensions, who are rich in both time and cash, and the anxious millennials who are financially less secure, but tech-savvy.” After a while, she began to think: “Hang on, what about me? What about the in-between generation?”

 

Back at the start of the 1990s, Darke was doing a ‘McJob’, working in a pizza restaurant to raise money in order to travel around India. Coupland’s book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture “articulated exactly who I was,” she recalls. The book characterised the Gen X-ers as listless, cynical and anti-establishment – characteristics that resonated not only with Darke and her friends but millions of others around the world. The ‘loadsamoney’ culture was seen as uncool and uncouth by the Gen Xers, who went travelling to broaden their minds, favoured jobs in creative industries over the more ‘yuppy’ sectors, and gave birth to rave culture, the movement fuelled by techno music and – in part but not completely – the drug MDMA, that swept through Britain in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. It was the “3rd Summer of Love”, declared the magazine I was working on at the time, The Face – with waifish newcomer Kate Moss on its cover.

Ravey days Darke was at the centre of that culture, and remembers it primarily for its loved-up, hedonistic joyfulness and sense of inclusivity – it appealed across all boundaries of class, race, gender and sexuality. She was even present at the impromptu, now notorious all-weekend rave at Castlemorton, Worcestershire, which was eventually shut down by police. It was a cool, rebellious culture, and one based on a “liberal, egalitarian mindset” she says: “At a rave you would talk to anyone, everyone was equally valid – crusties and travellers would be there, plumbers, homosexuality was celebrated, black music was celebrated. And it evolved organically and slowly,” says Darke. 

It was a pre-digital time, so in order to meet up you had to actually be there physically – Tiffanie Darke 

“It was a pre-digital time, so in order to meet up you had to actually be there physically, at that bus shelter, in that field or warehouse.” In 1994 the UK government passed the Criminal Justice Bill, which made the spontaneous gatherings illegal. But this just spawned more organised, monetised events, says Darke. “The scene became very mainstream, it tore through the whole country. It was even credited with putting an end to football hooliganism once it had reached the terraces.”

View image of The Face

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