The one thing that gave me hope for my generation was our cynicism. We might not believe in anything, but at least we wouldn't believe in everything. We might be apathetic, but that just meant it was harder to enlist us in causes. We didn't just march to the beat of our own drummer, we questioned the need for having a drummer and a beat. We were burnt out on everything and done with it all.
Of course it wasn't really like that.
Generation X became obsessed with authenticity the way that the Baby Boomers had with realization. Reality TV overseen by Baby Boomer producers and catering to Generation X combined the two and made it seem revolutionary. The Baby Boomers may have given us navel gazing music, but Gen X's obsession with authenticity gave us grunge and rap as their defining genres.
In its on way, Generation X was as narcissistic as the Boomers. It just didn't want to be seen that way. Like the Baby Boomers it was obsessed with selling out, but in a generation that had already sold out, it had no one left to sell out to and nothing to buy. The worst Boomer excesses rejected tangible accomplishments for narcissism, but by the time Generation X got to it there was no longer a culture with tangible accomplishments, only a long slide downhill.
Generation X was born into Weimar Germany. It came of age among decadence. And its own decadence, its sour obsessions, its media skills, set the stage for another generation that would be defined by the media. It would no longer be obsessed with authenticity. Instead it would embrace its own inauthenticity. Defined by the media, it would see fakeness as the true test of reality. Born in a life defined by the image, it would treat the ability to recognize and subvert the fourth wall of the audience, the recognition of the unreality of reality as the ultimate form of reality.
Each generation further fragmented what was already broken. Each spent far too much time looking into mirrors. Each had undeniable talents and skills, but employed them in a way that was autistic, disconnected from others, giving up the culture of builders for a lonely life as craftsmen, hobbyists learning to make small things while letting the big ones go to rust.
There is something medieval about our world. A strange dazzling house of technological mirrors filled with the caves and straw huts where hermits make their own homes and every hundred people become their own community. Connectivity has disconnected physical communities, torn down towns and nations and replaced them with online communities making for a world that is defined less by family, neighborhood or even work, and more by the movies you like and the celebrities you hate.
The Boomers laid the cornerstone of that world when the culture began breaking up with nothing to replace it, but Generation X built much of the rest of it out of its eccentric talents and social unease. It was left to its successors to properly populate it with a broken culture coming together around nothing.
Generation X wanted to be defined by taste. Taste was the thing it thought was lacking in the Baby Boomers who were creatures of many enthusiasms, embracing the terrible and the tacky for the sake of novelty. Generation X wasn't going to settle and it didn't. It is still unsettled. Many of its members are unmarried, childless and still looking around for a world that suits them. Like the Boomers, they want the ideal, but the ideal can only be found in the flaws of the real world that they tore apart.
Some Baby Boomers had developed a penchant for abusing their generation as the one that wrecked the country and some Generation X'ers couldn't help but join in. But it's a simplistic picture that doesn't entire hold up. The static image of frozen generations divided by fundamental characteristics is a simplification of a more fluid reality.
The line between Generation X and the Baby Boomers is blurred. Generation X was what the Baby Boomers were becoming in the shards of their own culture. The Millennials are what Generation X became lured by its solipsistic siren song. Generationsim fragments each generation further until we have generations not of decades, but of years. And looking back, it is easy to see not a dozen generations, but only one generation.
The collapse of social mores, bizarre interests in the supernatural, a fascistic obsession with government power and complete economic irresponsibility all happened before in American history. There was no Tabula Rasa out of which evil was born. The evil came, it was suppressed or survived, and then it rose again. It is tempting to look back and imagine a perfect past that became corrupted, but that perfect past didn't exist. What did exist was an ongoing struggle in which the bad did not succeed in destroying the good and in which the good passed on its qualities to the next generation.
Look back enough and you find that the heroic generation of pure men and women were considered a band of scoundrels and rapscallions by their forebears. And usually they were right, not because we were in an inevitable state of decline in which each generation was worse than the last, but because change churns out different qualities, bringing both bad and good to the surface.
The collapse of America is largely a failure of education. Not the education of the behemoth systems which transmit the latest politically correct nostrums from degenerate academics drunk on their own theorizing at the hands of incompetents with Master's Degrees and union entitlements, but the passing of values from one generation to the next.
The growth of the media made that difficult. The rise of the state collapsed the notion of the family. The world in which the virtues of the healthy family and the larger culture did not contradict each other is gone. The two are at war and each succeeding generation is born into a world in which excesses and eccentricities are no longer marginal, but defining.
The Baby Boomers became the defining point because for the first time each generation became actively hostile to the future. They embraced ideals over realities and destroyed realities in the process. The narcissism of each generation made the demand of an ideal, on their behalf or on their own behalf, second-nature. It became routine to call for a world without war, without hunger or without any of the other realities of life and to expect that someone would deliver it.
That ideal world was never delivered, but the real world was torn apart trying to deliver it. Interest in the real incremental future diminished while an obsession with changing the world into something perfect by letting go of reality increased. Media exposure weakened the walls between the real and the ideal. Natural disasters looked like special effects. Ordinary people became famous. Famous people became ordinary.
While the family is the province of the real, the media is the province of the unreal. Generations raised by the media were being raised to seek out unreality and to live unreal lives. That is the legacy not only of the Boomers or the Gen-X'ers alone, but of the generations that preceded them. The growing influence of a collective culture that made the ideal seem real, that encouraged everyone not to sell out, to seek self-realization, the authentic experience and the deconstructed everything, killed the real future and replaced it with an unreal future of fantasy politics, fantasy economics, fantasy values and fantasy people.
Idealism and cynicism are flip sides of the same narcissistic coin. The search for the ideal sometimes brings back beautiful things, but in an entire culture it only produces a decaying self-obsession. In a culture where everyone is an artist, no one is an artist. In a society where everyone shatters taboos, there are no taboos left to shatter. In a world where everyone is searching for truth, there is no truth.
That is the beautiful ugly world we made. A world enraptured with its own preciousness while giving no thought for the future.
Obama is the perfect intersection between the two generations, idealism made cynicism and cynicism made idealism, the authenticity of the fake and the reality of the unreal. He doesn't belong to any single generation. He is the fluid transition point between Generation X and the Baby Boomers and also the Millennials. The decay he represents transcends generations. To believe in him is to believe in everything and nothing except the empathy and cleverness that makes each of us a better person.
A narcissistic culture besotted with its own reflection is bad news for the future. Those who spend too much time looking in the mirror rarely have time to gaze out the window.