The Valley of Cultural Relevance between Generation X and Y

Louisa Leontiades Beastly & Beautiful, Cultural & Political

My experience of grandparents is fuddy coats and fussy hats. Blue rinse perms and gifts smelling of lavender. But when I really examine the narrative underlying my thoughts it is above all, that these things are the definition of ‘old’.

Whilst I hope to be a grandparent, I will never be ‘old’, because I will get a tattoo when I reach 50. I will pierce something when I reach 60. I will not be listening to Englelbert Humperdinck. I will be dancing rave when I am 70— because that’s what I danced to when I was young. It is my definition of what young means. But I’ve joined an editorial team on Harlot, composed mainly of generation Y. Generation Y’s definition of ‘old’, will presumably be, wrinkly people like me nostalgically tripping on ecstasy to acid rave saying ‘that’s what real music sounded like in my day.’

My age was brought home to me the other day whilst I silently followed a Harlot team chat about how the producers of the Powerpuff Girls cartoon—which I had to look up on wikipedia–were out of touch with trends, memes and ideas.

The producers are generation X. I am generation X. To tell you the truth, I had to look up what period of time generation Y even come from. And as I lay back in bed the following morning with my boyfriend, I bemoaned my suddenly realised elderly status.

“Have you heard what a brony is?” I asked, not waiting for an answer. “A brony is an adult who likes My Little Pony. Usually a guy. You and I, we’re not down with the millennials.” 

I like My Little Pony. I’ve watched it a lot. A LOT. It’s fairly diverse–not perfect, but better than many other kids’ programmes–the plots are well structured, the whole ‘friendship is magic’ premise, not to mention magic itself, is very pleasing to my relationship anarchist’s eyes. I’m also pleasantly surprised at the continuity of my past into my children’s present. I played with My Little Ponies as a child, even though back then the thing that we did with them was to brush their manes because that’s what it meant to be girls, we were not educated in nature of love, equality, or diversity. But the reason I watch it, is because I have children. I do not kick back and pop a pill in my spare time to catch Twilight Sparkle and the gang wrestling with Discord or magical alternate realities.

“I know what a brony is,” said my boyfriend. “Don’t assume that I’m not down with the millennials just because you aren’t.”

My boyfriend is 36, only four years younger than I. How did he know about them? What is different about his life that he would know about them? For one thing, he has close contact with his younger brother, a millennial who calls stuff ‘sick’ meaning ‘cool’. His brother is 16 years younger than I. Fuck, the age difference means he could almost be my son. He is a research analyst focusing on technology. The other thing–out of so many more–is that my boyfriend is not the father of my children. And what he has had over the last seven years, that I have not, was more time. And he has spent that time, both professionally and personally, deeply invested in current culture. I have spent that time deeply invested in poo interspersed with glimpses of sleep. Loss of self. Work. I have been investing in relationships which will benefit my children’s social life with other generation X-ers. I have semi-consciously chosen to lose touch and part of me feels guilty. I’ve done that thing that my parents did, the thing I swore I would never do. I have lost touch.

As you get older, the likelihood is that your life once so in touch with current events becomes full of different events, no less current but arguably less present for the younger generation. My own life contains huge and time consuming focus on my children. That’s time I spend parenting them, time that we spend discussing how they function, what we can do to support them in growing their self-esteem, what impacts changes in our lives bring to them, their interaction with one another and with the world. Another big conversation I have is about the house and finances that I share with the father of the children. It’s not interesting to me, but it’s necessary. Breaking appliances, household management, even the draining of the bloody garden.

The third big time priority is my relationships. The one with my partner who is a co-parent. The one with my partner who is not a co-parent (aka. he-who-knows-about-bronies). The one with my metamour. The one with my biological mother. The now-defunct-one with my adoptive mother. The one with my two different mother-in-laws, and so it goes on. After the children, the house, the shared finances and the adult relationships comes my work. In this teeny tiny sliver of my life, I get to educate myself in modern day millennial culture and feminism. That’s because it is my work and I am lucky. Like sex however, education is pleasurable, but it is also exhausting.

My co-parent, he programmes software. He has precisely zero time to educate himself in current culture. So for both of us our knowledge deepens, but that knowledge is more likely to do with the ever waxing and waning configuration of our family. As the older generation become older and start to disappear, so generation X replaces them with the same concerns in a different context. As I become the older generation, I feel the ever increasing love and importance I have for my changing family–is my greater awareness of life’s transience? Or simply that more members require more investment if our family is to stay close–and I prioritise my time accordingly.

The online chat about my own relevance I felt was summarised in one sentence

“Like they [producers of the powerpuff girls] know phrases such as “yas” and “can’t even” are a part of our memetic vernacular, but they don’t know the origins of those phrases or a context in which those phrases would even be appropriate or humorous.”

I agree. I have proof. Because in order to understand that one line, I had to look up ‘Yas’, watch a video of Lady Gaga, and follow a link through to Buzzfeed. To properly understand ‘can’t even’ I had to flick through tumblr (which I do not usually use), understanding now that it is more an expression of American culture (of which I am not a part). After some hours reading, I now have an intellectual understanding about these things, which might be committed to long term memory–if I ever get enough sleep–and if I have situations in which I use them myself, for example, if I had a sibling that called stuff ‘sick’. But the chat conversation was a lot longer than this one line and even I, with my line of work, choose to allocate most of my time differently than educating myself in cultural relevance.

The consequence is that I must accept the younger generation has implicit knowledge and awareness of current culture that I do not because they have easier access than I do, to their landscape. They grew up in it and they have insights that I do not.

I also have access to insights that they do not.

I identified with John Hughes films when they came out, I was part of the punk, electronica, new wave generation. I was a latchkey kid, the first generation in middle class England with a mother who worked. Money and access to it through education for my parents was the only important thing because they grew up in war and poverty. I find myself now psychologically struggling to do a job that I love for no money because I grew up with Thatcherism; employment and money were precious. You were worth more, if you had a job. Yet I want to be fulfilled in my job, something which my parents think is unimportant. And that job still included looking after the house, the children and aspiring to be one of Jilly Cooper’s Superwomen.

I respect millennials and their knowledge. I have compassion for myself and my peers for the gaps in ours. Gaps that we often deny. I believe that these gaps do, must and will always exist because of how we evolve as human beings. I do not dismiss millennials as knowing less, because what they know is far beyond my own ability and/or time to cope with. Neither do I dismiss generation X even as I become conscious my own irrelevance, because I know that what is relevant to millennials, will also be irrelevant to generation Z and beyond. It is likely generation after generation will find themselves in a similar situation. What we, the older generation, have is an implicit knowledge of similar patterns, dynamics and issues, something which can only be gained over time. Relevance is transitory. Human dynamics are consistent. But they both contribute so much to our lives. We are all transitory and also consistent. And we are all important.

First published on Harlot Media.