What are we, the Xennials, about today?
I was born in 1979, in Sweden. A well-off Western country with a fair sense of national pride stemming from an advanced welfare-state and international claims to fame in both sports and music.
The micro-generation born between 1977 and 1983 has been labeled The Oregon Trail generation after the seminal video game, but has also been referred to as Xennials, The Carter Babies, Generation Y, and Generation Catalano. We grew up with one foot in the analogue world and the other in the digital. We’ve been described as “the last generation that remembers and actually lived life before the internet.”
In 1987, at 7-8 years old, I saved and bought a computer, the now-legendary Commodore 64. Growing up meant playing not only C64, but also Atari, Amiga, Sega, and Nintendo.
As 90s teenagers, we grew up watching My So-Called Life, Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, and Friends. We listened to Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses — and that special brand of artsy but upbeat pop that the 90s had to offer. We were socially conscious but not rebellious. We were cynical rationalists seeking authenticity, but we had no common goal to unite around.
Today, we find ourselves amidst a raging culture war, where both sides gravitate towards identity politics, online bullying, and cancel culture. Personally, I cannot seem to escape a conviction that neither side of this battle appeals to me — nor does any point along the straight diagonal between them both.
It begs the question, “What culture do I belong to — and where did it go?”
Here’s my hypothesis: I think that we, as a generational cohort, are having a hard time navigating today’s political landscape simply because we don’t really understand even the basic questions being posed.
We’re not the center of universe and meaning is what we decide it to be. Love is love. We only have one planet. Freedom equals responsibility, not more freedom. Older generations deserve our respect and our patience. First you listen, then you talk. Balance is the answer to everything.
Who in their right minds, we ask ourselves while scratching our Xennial heads in bewilderment, are even opposing these, to us, self-evident truths?
People will disagree, sure, but disagreement is productive and healthy as long as there’s respect. Right? Some conversations are uncomfortable, but that only means that these conversations are worth having. Dogma leads to intolerance.
In the back of our heads, I think, we’ve arrived at the only reasonable conclusion: Both of today’s political poles use their tactics cynically to further their positions, despite knowing that the world isn’t as black- and white as they’re making it out to be. If today’s political climate was an episode of My So-Called Life or Beverly Hills 90210, we would come to the conclusion that both sides are behaving badly and that they should instead learn to see the world from from their antagonist’s perspective.
Attacking another human being with the intent to destroy them is … evil and bullyish. They’re the Upside Down creatures in Stranger Things.
Still, I don’t actually think that this sense of being culturally out-of-sync has anything to do with the current state of public affairs. Being part of such a small and unassuming bridge-generation between Generation X and the Millennials, my best guess is that we haven’t really cared enough about ourselves to preserve any specific cultural features.
Our generation is just so used to jumping back and forth depending on the context. When Generation X are accusing Millennials of being entitled and uncool, we chime in. When Millennials are accusing Generation X of fucking up the planet and being laggards, we chime in. We’re blowing with the wind, it seems.
In terms of culture, then, does our generation have any distinctive features?
Or put in other words: If we, the Xennial micro-generation, have preserved any generational distinctions or hallmarks, what are they? I can only speculate — and do so using very broad generalisations.
I think that we’re a generation who frowns upon egocentrism. Generation X have a tendency towards self-righteousness and elitism while Millennials are gravitating towards self-promotion and entitlement. We grew up just hanging out, boys and girls together, and we just wouldn’t tolerate it if anyone in the group was trying to put on airs.
We know that no-one is better by default than anyone else. Your qualities as a person is defined only by how you intentionally behave as a friend; any type of heritage, status, achievements, interests, or talents doesn’t make you more or less valuable as a human being.
As an interesting side-note, my wife is born in 1982. We clearly share this micro-cultural heritage. Whatever my preferences when it comes to finding a life-partner might be on a personal level, I just couldn’t see myself ever winding up with someone born either before the late 70’s or after the early 80s.
When meeting people who make a habit of bringing attention to their heritage, status, achievements, interests, or talents, i just can’t think of them as future friends with hanging-out-potential. Instead, I’m mightily impressed by people who are able to drop their egos to listen and be supportive — despite having such heavy “social baggage” to carry around.
We expect you to be a good friend despite being rich or poor. We expect you to be a good friend despite regardless of your skin color or sexual orientation. We expect you to be a good friend despite being brought up in an abusive home — or brought up no cares in the world.
Ultimately, at least to us, character is a choice.
And — it’s the only choice that truly matters.
If nothing else, this is the main theme of our whole pop-cultural upbringing; it’s the special episode of every weekly drama- or sitcom for our entire teenage decade. We might not want to rebel and fight, we might just want to hang out, watch tv, and play video games with friends. Sure. But the line is drawn at ego-centric, complacent, and grandiose douchebaggery of all kinds.
You want to take the route of being a social justice warrior? You want to wield the conservative axe for rationalism? Maybe you have lots of social media followers, maybe your car is nice? Maybe you struggling with addiction or childhood trauma?
That’s okay, but if you want to get in with us, just don’t forget about what it means to be a friend. Check your ego bullshit at the door and do come lounge with us. We have sofas and tea.