The following essay about Generation X, We Are Not A Lost Generation, was written during the late 1990s. It was first circulated via email and then later posted to numerous blogs and websites. The earliest record of it that I could find was a chat board where it was posted in October 2000.
I’ve tried many times over the years to find the author so I could post it with proper attribution. To date, I’ve had no luck. It’s a fun read (if not a bit goofy) with a voice that feels young and hopeful. (“We are NOT a lost generation!”) It also feels a bit contrived and embellished in places and it lacks some of the more bleak touchstones that have defined Generation X: divorce, latchkey kids, the Cold War, high student loan debt and unprofitable college degrees, just to name a few.
Nevertheless, it’s chock full of pop culture references that will resonate with most Gen-Xers across the spectrum, especially those born in the late 1970s (Xennials).
Early Appetite for Nostalgia
The essay was written nearly 20 years ago and thus reveals the early appetite Xers have had for nostalgia. It was written after the publication of Douglas Coupland’s novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, and after grunge had seen its heyday. As such, the writer could not intelligently speak to the influence of both on the Baby Buster generation. (In case you missed it, that was the first name assigned to Gen-Xers.)
I want to make sure the essay has a permanent home on the Internet, so I am posting it without the attribution it deserves. I’ve done some light editing on the piece (grammar, misspelled words) and added some hyperlinks to some of my favorite references. Basically, this piece went viral before we said things went viral.
Basically, this piece went viral before we said things went viral.
If you know the source, please leave a note in the comments section.
We Are Not A Lost Generation
I am a child of the 70s and 80s. That is what I prefer to be called. The 90s can do without me. Grunge isn’t here to stay, fashion is fickle and Generation X is a myth created by some over-40 writer trying to figure out why people wear flannel in the summer.
“When I got home from school, I played Atari 2600. I spent hours playing Pitfall or Combat or Breakout or Frogger. I never did beat Asteriods. Then I watched Scooby-Doo. Daphne was a goddess, and I thought Shaggy was smoking something synthetic in the back of the Mystery Machine. I didn’t like Scrappy-Doo..
“I would sleep over at friend’s houses on the weekends. We played army with G.I. Joe figures, and I set up galactic wars between Autobots and Decepticons. We never beat Rubik’s Cube, unless you count taking off the stickers. I got up on Saturday mornings at 6 a.m. to watch bad Hanna-Barbera cartoons like The Snorks, Jabberjaw, Captain Caveman and Space Ghost. In between I would watch Schoolhouse Rock. Conjunction junction, what’s your function?
“On Friday night, Daisy Duke was my future wife. Did your Dad turn from mild-mannered Bill Bixby into the Incredible Hulk when he got upset? At the movies the Nerds got revenge on the Alpha Betas by teaming up with the Omega Mu’s. I watched Indiana Jones save the Ark of the Covenant. I wondered what Yoda meant when he said, ‘No, there is another’.
“Ronald Reagan was cool. Gorbachev was the guy who built a McDonalds in Moscow. My family took vacations to South Florida and collected Muppet Movie Glasses along the way (we had the whole set). My siblings and I fought in the back seat. At the hotel, we found creative uses for Connect Four pieces.
“I listened to John Cougar Mellencamp sing about Pink Houses and Jack and Diane. I was bewildered by Boy George. I was a “Wild Boy” for Duran Duran. MTV actually played music videos. Nickelodeon played “You Can’t Do That On Television.” HBO showed Mike Tyson pummel everybody except Robin Givens.
“I drank Dr Pepper. I’m a Pepper, you’re a Pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?
“Shasta was for losers. Tab was a laboratory accident. Capri Sun was a social statement. Orange Juice wasn’t just for breakfast anymore. Bacon had to move over for something leaner. My mom put a thousand Little Debbie snack cakes in my Charlie Brown lunchbox, and our world was the backyard and it was all you needed.
“With your pink portable tape player, Debbie Gibson sang back up to you. Everyone wanted a skirt like the material girl and a glove like Michael Jackson. Today, we are the ones who sing along with Bruce Springsteen and the Bangles perfectly and have no idea why. We recite lines from Ghostbusters and Star Wars, and still look to the Goonies for a Great adventure. We flip through T V stations and stop at the A-Team and Knight Rider and Fame and laugh with the Cosby Show and Family Ties. ‘What you talkin’ about Willis?’
“We hold strong affection for the Muppets and Gummy Bears and why did they take the Smurfs off the air? Afterschool Specials were about cigarettes and step-families. The Polka Dot Door was nothing like Barney. Aren’t the Power Rangers just Voltran reincarnated?
“We are the ones who still read Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. Friendship bracelets were ties you couldn’t break and friendship pins went on shoes. Pegged jeans were in as were unit belts and layered socks and jean jackets and JAMS and charm necklaces and side pony tails.
“Rave was a girl’s best friend; braces with colored rubber bands made you rad. The back door was always open and Mom served only the red Kool-Aid to the neighborhood kids. You never drank the New Coke. Entertainment was cheap and lasted for hours. All you needed to be a princess was high heels and an apron. The Sit ‘N Spin always made you dizzy, but never made you stop. Pogo balls were dangerous weapons and Chinese jump ropes never failed to trip someone. In your Underoos you were Wonder Woman, Spider Man or R2D2. In your treehouse you were king.
“In the 80s nothing was wrong. Did you know the president was shot? Did you see the Challenger explode or feed a homeless man? We forgot Vietnam and watched Tiananmen Square on CNN. We didn’t start the fire, Billy Joel. In the 80s we redefined the American Dream, and those years defined us. We are the generation in between strife and facing strife and turning our backs. The 80s may have made us idealistic, but it’s that idealism that will push us and be passed to our children-the children of the 21st Century.
“We had neighborhoods where in the day we could play kick-the-can, ring-a-levio, “guns,” and all of the things that made us feel grownup.
“There was always that one field that could be used for either baseball, football or just a place to hang out. That was my field of dreams, Mr. Costner.
“At night we would play flashlight tag, and we could Trick-or-Treat at night without the fear of being killed. We loved orange race tracks…that was until our mother realized she could smack us with them.
“We collected Cabbage Patch kids, and their ugly offspring Garbage Pail kids. We collected football and baseball cards, but it was because we wanted to be the first in the neighborhood to have the complete set. We played with He-Man and Skeletor.
“Going to get a Happy Meal on Saturday with Mom or Dad was worth waiting the other six days of the week.
“Was Green Lantern the coolest superhero or Aquaman? Wonder-twin powers activate!
“‘Hey, my mom will take if your mom picks up!’
“This is what growing up in the 70s & 80s was all about! So if you are reading this and it ALL hits home then you do indeed have a heritage or a generation. This is what makes us the most unique generation of all…
“We are not a lost generation…”
Where did the essay get its name?
We Are Not A Lost Generation is a push back on a negative stereotype of Gen-Xers as lost and aimless slackers that emerged in media reports throughout the 80s and 90s. It also refers to an ongoing comparison between Generation X and the original Lost Generation of Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein fame that was born between 1883 and 1900. According to historians Neil Howe and the late William Strauss, there are four generational archetypes, Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist. Gen Xers are nomads. So, too, was the Lost Generation.
In addition, the term relates to the cynicism, disillusionment, and emotional instability of Generation X as a result of their experiences in youth and childhood, primarily family and economic distress culminating in the loss of the American dream.