Generation X Turns 30 and Becomes 16 All Over Again

By Thom Fowler
Posted 05/22/02 03:58:55

It’s something we used to be called by the marketing execs of our parents’ generation, and as with the nomenclature Generation X, we flipped those execs the bird and kept on walking. But now that MTv has turned twenty we have become self-consciously the MTv generation and wear the label with pride. We are now the branders, not so much the brandees and a nightmare even to ourselves as we simultaneously deconstruct and participate in the selling of our lives to ourselves.

Five years ago, ironic detachment was cool, a release valve on an ideological puzzle that pressed the sides of our heads in. And now we are being sincere, very sincere and walking a razor thin tightrope between our ideals and the other option – hot tubs.

We do not have blinders to tear off. We do not even have denial anymore, after suffering through our parents’ discovery of their dysfunctional codependence and a whole vocabulary for neatly understanding what can as easily be called “fucked up”.

As in, “We’re fucked up”. Or for emphasis, “We’re ALL fucked up.” Or a simple, “we’re fucked” is a succinct and direct message.

I was at a nightclub called 1984 that, no surprise, plays “retro” 80’s music, run by people who I used to go to clubs with in the actual 80’s. I should at some point leave that period behind before I’m a withered old codger with a skinny tie and pocket full of tiger balm to keep my knees warm. But with the Go-Go’s AND Billy Idol touring new material and Siouxsie and the Banshees selling out a tour while not promoting an album and performing mostly obscure B-sides, I think Post Punk and New Wave is going to have the staying power of Santana. If they, who I looked up to for my lessons in hip when I was a wee adolescent are still doing their 80’s thing, I can still dance around to the same music I danced around to fifteen years ago.

“Experts” say you develop your core personality by the time you are five. I say you develop your core culture by the time you are fifteen. Whatever music you liked at 15 is what you’ll like until you die. Don’t imprint love unless you are absolutely sure. I hope you didn’t buy a New Kids record cuz you’re a Guido for life with a future in pomade and restraining orders. High School is tyrannical like that. I’ve tried burning my yearbooks, but like a ouija board, they keep coming back! They say you can never go back. You don’t have to, you were never allowed to leave. Welcome to the Hotel California.

So at this nightclub, the DJ often plays the Buggles song that kicked off MTv and sent me down the road to wreck and ruin: “Video Killed The Radio Star.” Now everybody loves that song. I love that song. But the other night people were dancing to it with more glee than usual. It wasn’t an ironic kind of glee, but more like the pride you feel when rooting for the home team. Like this song was really our Alma Mater. No matter what high school you went to, what college, if you even bothered to put the hairspray down long enough to register for a class, that song was yours the way MTv was our common bond.

The MTv generation then became the Dot Com Generation through no fault of our own. The IBM PC hit the stores the same year MTv was launched. While video was killing the radio star, “new technology”, as the song goes, was changing the way we lived and worked.

And now I’ve been passed off to VH-1 and a slew of 80’s (90’s AND MORE!) radio stations, mostly owned by CBS and Clear Channel who, if it was actually the 80’s, wouldn’t go anywhere near the “subversive” and “progressive” modern rock. This 80’s revival beguiles me. The shit they pass off as the hits was all the stuff that never got airplay. You discovered music on the dance floor. There were only a handful of radio stations with a New Wave format and most of them were college stations. I guess New Wave was approximately 17 years ahead of its time.

And even though we all ended up hating MTv because it was “too commercial”, that song is still the rallying cry. No matter how many cable channels and radio stations (we now create and produce) come along to babysit us, we will always look to the old neighborhood as our starting point. Dad’s first wife will always be our real mom. Video did kill the radio star. The pop cultural ecology is just as tightly woven as earth’s ecosystem and before you knew it, Lincoln Logs were made of plastic and CandyLand got a facelift. Our past is being erased, repackaged for a brighter, bolder, generation that would inherit an MTv designed not to give them the rebellion that we craved in Rock but to turn them into projected sales and redefine the word “real”.

Rock is supposed to be the secret language that cool old people use to talk to young people to tell them that no, you don’t have to do what your parents tell you. Go ahead, fuck, do drugs, dye your hair and run wild in the streets. And now we are being parents. What could Rock Stars possibly tell our children that we don’t already know. When it’s okay to just be yourself and question authority and even fight back against injustice or step in for the underdog, what’s the appeal in Rock rebellion?

How the hell is MTv going to turn our kids into consumers of hair bands and concept beverages? Will the fat cats stop paying for the party when the profits drop off? If you let Rock Stars lead the parade, you get the old MTv. MTv News really did have journalistic integrity. MTv Rocked The Vote because someone who could make that decision thought it was important to sway the balance of power and remind 18 year olds they could indeed make a difference. Now Rock The Vote is a cross-promotional opportunity and while we would have seen right through it and turned away, which we did, in droves, even before VH-1 found its identity as the channel for grown up lovers of pop music, these damn kids just don’t get that they are being had.

To quote Pop Will Eat Itself. “Wise Up, Suckers.”

This years election is sponsored by Fruitopia – the only beverage allowed in the Real World Fishbowl. We can’t let actors take on the heady job of product placement all on their own. We aren’t going to just hand the mike over to them to promote their values and brand loyalties. Rock music isn’t about chaos, dammit. These kids are billboards that 30 million people are going to see several times a day. Fill the fridge with Fruitopia and banish any other branded drink to the outer limits of the camera’s frame.

Yes, the “Real” world, indeed.

In the 80’s, rock seemed more idealistic. Farm-aid, Band-aid, USA for Africa, and Rock Against Rape were leading the youth towards a new social consciousness of personal and global responsibility. We still had the Berlin Wall and Apartheid, the Cold War and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. The architects of that freaky and unstable world are still sitting behind desks running countries and corporations.

When my grandparents generation, the WW2 generation is dead, I’m hoping we’ll lose the embodiment of the values, beliefs and prejudices of that era that runs our world. I’m very happy to accept the regime of the Viet Nam era generation being as they are partners in our “regime”. If anyone needs to be reminded, we aren’t twenty something slackers anymore. The Countercultural Movement was a tiny, unpopular minority, that shook the foundations and when we think of the 60’s we think of Flower Power and protests, civil rights and then women’s lib. We associate the era with change and injustice even though the reality of the mainstream culture was hierarchical, authoritarian and conformist.

Today we have Rage Against the Machine telling “authority” to fuck off and U2 getting so fed up with the shallowness of rock they even turned a whole tour into an orgy of shallow excess: The Zoo Tour. U2 is back now and I’m not sure if they made their point or if they just got over their identity crisis. Bono meets with the President of the United States over third world debt.

How does “subversive” become “mainstream? 120 minutes was a refuge of edgy hipness in a sea of Tiffany. The Cure was just that. Even living at ground zero of Punk Rock which used to be dangerous and now is just plain fun, I relied on 120 minutes to bring me the latest images of my fave underground bands and evolve my own wannabe urban hipness.

Mainstream pop in the 80's was all about Tiffany and we forgot all about her. Countercultural pop music for fags was the exception but its what people think of when you say “80’s music”. Exceptional music for exceptional people. I can’t believe the price we paid in fear and blood to wear eyeliner and grow our bangs long and listen to a band like Skinny Puppy so that every kid from here to Poughkeepsie could pierce their face, dye their hair green and buy a Marilyn Manson t-shirt at Hot Topic in malls across America. Hot Topic plans to open 65 more stores nationwide an their annual sales have increased by 50 percent since last year, at a time when retail sales nationwide are down. As Srini of has said on numerous occasions, rebellion sells and evidently it can also lead the street.

This can only mean one thing. We won.

As much as I want to distance myself from the single most important social influence of my generation, being “The MTv generation” is better then being the “Tide with extra whitening power generation.” I’m more inclined towards “Doom Generation” myself. Being as we are, doomed. Which is what makes the line from our anthem: “We can’t rewind, we’ve gone to far”, so irresistably the clincher. The part where the rockets red glare fill our eyes up with tears and we reassert our affiliation with the motherland.

The myth of our lives is built around aspiration and expansion. We are capitalist imperialists in an age of diminished returns and crowding up against the wall. The only place left to go is inward and what better place to satisfy your soul then on a dance floor. As Madonna sang, “here’s what it’s for.”

Rock is still where it’s at. Keep freaking out the squares.

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