A reader of this blog pointed out that Barack Obama doesn't exactly belong under the Generation X label that I've applied to him. Instead, he more aptly fits into the mold of "Generation Jones." Having never heard this term used, I grew extremely distressed about potential gaps in my education or a potentially outdated one. Could my mental paradigm of socio-economic, demographic, and cultural trends be growing increasingly outmoded? Help! I'm not even thirty yet and I'm already irrelevant!
Turns out there's no real cause for alarm. A quick search in wikipedia tells me that Generation Jones is demographically part of the Baby Boomers, but culturally more often identify with the distinctive attributes of Generation X.
Barack Obama may be demographically part of the whole baby boom "arc," but generationally, he wasn't really a part of it. As the whole conversation about Weather Underground radical William Ayers aptly illustrates, Obama was eight years old while Ayers plotted his late 60's war protest bombings. Unfortunately for young Barack, he missed out on the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War protests. Too bad for him that all the exciting events of the 1960's that characterized the Baby Boomers, (like Woodstock!) took place after Obama's early bedtime on school nights.
The most classic illustration of baby boomers shows hippies in the late 1960's protesting the Vietnam War and fighting for Civil Rights. Through their sheer overwhelming demographic might, their mood in many ways reflects the mood of America as a whole. Their heroes: MLK, JFK, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and John Lennon perhaps.
By contrast, Generation X grew up in the 1980's, a much smaller generation demographically and is more known for resenting the cultural, political and economic dominance of their boomer progenitors. They grew up with the reputation of apathetic slackers, playing Atari and Nintendo. Time Magazine aptly summed them up as "influenced and changed by the social problems they see as their inheritance: racial strife, homelessness, AIDS, fractured families and federal deficits." Their Heroes: Steve Jobs, Kurt Cobain, and...well... nobody else I can think of.
Social commentators have beaten these generational differences to death, so I won't go into more of that. Still, I'm reassured that I wasn't too far off to identify Barack Obama as a member of Generation-X. And despite the video of talking heads provided to me by my reader, I would posit that Barack Obama, and at least the cultural aspects of Gen-Jones, had more in common with Generation-X than their Boomer forebears. Dark and angry punk rockers like the Sex Pistols, perhaps an icon of the Gen-Jonesers, certainly had more in common with Nirvana than they ever did with The Beatles. I would also posit that Obama's background as the son of a single mother working as a community organizer in Chicago's housing projects perfectly exemplifies the issues GenXers struggle with. So I would argue that Obama at least, culturally leans more toward Generation X. But perhaps its harder to say with the rest of the Gen-Jonesers
More importantly as a Gen-Xer, Barack Obama placed greater emphasis on more postmodern political themes like consensus building, organizational action, compromise, unity, and transformational leadership, contrasting sharply with the poll-driven politics and 60's style activism political schools characteristic of his baby-boomer predecessors, especially the Clintons. Rarely did Obama change his message and rarely did he ever change his positions on major issues, at least when compared to his opponents. More importantly, Obama's primary support base consisted of young, recently activated voters and highly motivated volunteers through which he branched into and swallowed up the larger Democratic Party.
During the presidential campaign, their operational styles characterized their generational differences as well. Barack Obama focused on building a grass roots support network through a keen understanding of internet and communications technology. Obama's team skillfully utilized these tools to effectively communicate a powerful message specifically designed to appeal to the often dismissed and often ignored Generation-X. So while John McCain and Hillary Clinton wrote off millions of voters as apathetic slackers, Barack Obama and his team were busy completely reconstructing the political landscape. Obama's recognition of the potential of the youth vote and keen understanding into tapping its potential amounts to a paradigm shift in American politics that probably only happens once in a generation. Ironically, his team flawlessly executed this goal with the ruthless cutthroat precision indicative of Generation-X's distinctively merciless modus operandi in the corporate world.
His two most formidable opponents were boomers: Hillary Clinton & John McCain (He fought in Vietnam and I would argue that despite his age he would fit in with baby boomers). Both engaged in the more traditional campaign strategies of activating conventional party bases and blocs of supporters, reacting to polls, and experimenting with different messages. And while Obama couldn't have been successful without these activities as well, his success stemmed from his uniquely generational outlook and understanding of the young voters he brought to his campaign in a unique way.
I suspect these generational differences were also a factor in McCain's choosing of Sarah Palin. At 44 she would also qualify as a member of Generation Jones or Generation X. And while the pundits all debate her effect on his campaign, positive or negative, I would speculate that McCain selected her at least in part to bring younger voters into his camp. Her effect though, was undoubtedly to energize the conservative base, so time and history will tell what the McCain team's true motives were. And despite the interesting remarks made about her on Fox News, people will probably speculate whether she might be a major party leader in the future.
Anyways, what can we speculate about these generational differences and their effects on politics? Besides the Joneser Barack Obama, who might be some future, more distinctively Generation X leaders for this country?
Anyways, enough social history. Somebody help me think of more Generation X heroes! How about film-maker Kevin Smith? Marilyn Manson perhaps, or is he too late?
Also, who agrees with me that Generation Jones has more in common with Generation X than the Baby Boomers? Or am I simply seeing this through my own tinted perspective?
The Video of Pundits CultureJunkie gave me:
And just for fun....