Armagideon Time

Journalists and marketers love to emphasize generational tags for their own nefarious (or just plain lazy) purposes, but blanket descriptors such as “boomers” or “millennials” tend to be a whole lot of hogwash.

At best, these designations are useful in the way terms like “new wave” or “electronica” are useful — a handy little bit of shorthand to get the gist across in cases where nuanced breakdowns aren’t required. They’re simply not equipped to bear close scrutiny, no matter how desperately some folks want them to be.

I’m technically a middle-phase Gen X’er, old enough to have clear memories of much of the Seventies but young enough to have gotten into shit like Transformers and G.I. Joe. While I might share some historic or cultural touchstones with, say, a black woman from Chicago’s South Side or gay Latino from LA County who were also born in 1972, it’s absurd to ascribe any but the most general assumptions about our experiences and aspirations. “Gen X” is just a median derived from a vast pool of individuals.

Even though I fit the media-scripted Gen X stereotype — scruffy, alt-cult leaning, retro-obsessed, slacker mindset — in many ways, I never considered myself part of any larger demographic organism. I hated the folks in my peer group who leaned bought into the generalization. As a punk rocker, I was a willful anachronism. When that bastion was breached, I quit the field entirely rather than be associated with that image.

Most of stuff I appreciate about the Nineties was an after-the-fact deal, looking back from the new millennium and thinking “yeah, maybe that wasn’t so terrible.”

Going back over the archived record of the era has been a mixed experience for me, where remnants of knee-jerk disdain war with sentiments of nostalgic melancholy. The familiar feels contemptible while the unfamiliar might as well be the undeciphered transmissions from long-dead alien civilization. Nowhere was that as acutely felt than when I was going over the results of the Readers’ Poll published in the June 1992 issue of SPIN.

The results are a wealth of damning embarrassments, but none as damning or embarrassing as the “most racist” results. David Duke was an easy shoe-in, but do you notice…something….about the three runners up? In a year when Pat Buchanan was running for president and Daryl Gates was in charge of the LAPD and Jesse Helms held a senate seat?

It doesn’t shock me, because I remember this shit unfolding on the streets and in the campus hallways and around the family dinner tables. It was the test environment (or untreated canker) from which the current hyper-virulent strain of the “white persecution” myth sprung. Seeing it in print, from the present vantage point and with the benefit of hindsight, is just a reminder of how complicit the white segment of my generation has been in the process, no matter how hip or enlightened or ironic we thought were were.

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3 Responses to “You’ll get the message by the time I’m through”

  1. Mitchell Hundred

    I watched a remake of ’12 Angry Men’ from the ’90s a couple of years ago, and the thing that dated it most definitively was the fact that they made the vocally racist character a Black American Muslim. The casting people probably thought that they were being edgy.

  2. Jon H

    This poll has to have been based on suggested nominees, right?

  3. Chris Wuchte

    I’ve always found the moment when a music magazine starts weighing in on trends and fashion is the moment it starts to become irrelevant (at least as a music magazine, Rolling Stone seems to keep sputtering along). Hadn’t realized as early as 1992 that Spin was dealing with such weighty issues as “Coolest Hairstyle” and “Favorite Headgear”.

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