It occurred to me the other day that I was invisible. Not just me, but my entire generation. It appears that we lack importance. I’m basing this rather sad conclusion on the fact that we have been entirely overlooked by the folks who bestow catchy cohort labels.
Let’s get specific. At the risk of revealing my true age, which most of you already know, I’m referring to those of us born before 1946 and after 1926. Admittedly, I have steel wool in my brain when it comes to math, but according to my calculations, we number almost 28 million (2010 U.S. census), and yet we go about our daily lives without a cultural tag. And personally, I’m feeling a bit resentful. What kind of legacy is this to leave to our children and grandchildren, otherwise known as the Xs and the Ys, and possibly the Zs?
Born too late to be World War II heroes, and too early to be a part of the post-war birth explosion, we have wound up sandwiched awkwardly between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers. An entire generation without a context!
No doubt a result of having too much time on my hands, I decided to delve into this matter a bit further. Perhaps understanding the genesis of other generational labels would allow me to suggest something clever and catchy for my own. Something that would acknowledge the faceless 28 million. Something that might fit neatly as a crossword puzzle response or a question on Jeopardy.
Well, thanks to Tom Brokaw, who, himself, happens to be one of the faceless, those born between 1901 and 1926 were widely lauded as the Greatest Generation. I don’t disagree. They survived the Depression and fought the second world war. They deserve the recognition, but come on, Tom, whatever happened to taking care of your own?
And the hype about the Baby Boomers? Aren’t you just sick of it? Those born between 1946 and 1964 think they’re so special. And who can blame them with all the attention they’ve always gotten from the media and the marketers. So big deal. You’ve earned a lot of money and went to Woodstock. But you have no exclusive claim to rock ‘n roll, civil rights, or feminism. Some of us latter-born question marks were right there with you.
Generation-naming just kept moving forward, leaving us further in the dust. Soon there was Gen X, a term with literary roots co-opted once again by Madison Avenue. Covering roughly the years 1966 to the early 80’s, the X originally meant that the fate of this generation was unknown. Gen Y was so-called because it was the next letter of the alphabet. These folks are also known as the Millennials because the majority come of age after the turn of the century. There are actually more of them than there are Boomers.
But I’m getting a little sick of the attention they’re getting, as well, with all the tweeting and Instagramming, and the me-me-me attitude. But what else can you expect from a generation that wins ribbons just for showing up? All of that self-centeredness, however, does not make them ineligible for an unique identity, even if the word “millennial” does evoke visions of a multi-legged insect.
And have you heard about Gen Z, also known as iGen? Born after 2001, and most barely old enough for a bar mitzvah, they already have the attention of the cultural pulse-takers, while their grandparents and great-grandparents slip further into obscurity.
All of which brings us to today, when I’m sure somewhere someone is working hard at predicting the zeitgeist of a generation yet to be born, and trying to figure out a catchy name.
So back to the predicament of the invisible 28 million. Surely there were significant events during our decades that would lend themselves to an overriding identity. For example, I’ve heard us referred to as the “Depression Babies” or the “War Babies,” but those are such downers. Certainly we can do better.
The truth be told, I actually discovered that my generation did, in fact, have a name. If you are not a sociologist, I challenge you to tell me what it is. I don’t recall ever seeing it used in any type of popular media in my lifetime. If you were born between 1926 and 1945, welcome to the “Silent Generation.”
The “Silent Generation.” How does that sit with you? Called thus because we didn’t make waves, worked hard, and stuck by good old fashioned values. All positive traits, I suppose, but so boring!
So as the Silent Generation, it seems fitting that we have gone unnoticed. And now that the truth has been revealed, however disappointing, perhaps it’s time to move on to more important causes, such as discovering the true nature of Atticus Finch.
After all, “What’s in a name?” asked Juliet, from her balcony in Verona. But at our age, should we really be debating existential questions with an iGen?