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New on the website

August 29th, 2003

A piece I wrote for the Fin on the ‘generation game’ several years back, but omitted to post on my website is finally online. Here’s a couple of paras.

One of the standard ploys in journalism, marketing and political commentary is the generation game. The basic idea is to label a generation ‘X’ or ‘Y’, then dissect its attitudes, culture, and relationship with other generations. The most famous generation, of course, is that of the Baby Boomers, born between the end of World War II and the early 1960s, and their most enduring contribution to the generation gap is the ‘Generation Gap’ between children and their parents.

At first sight, discussion of this kind can carry with it an air of fresh insight, but most of it stales rapidly. Much of what passes for discussion about the merits or otherwise of particular generations is little more than a repetition of unchanging formulas about different age groups รถ the moral degeneration of the young, the rigidity and hypocrisy of the old, and so on.

Update 30/8/03 As if to prove my point, today’s Fin (subscription required) runs a particularly silly generation game, with an even sillier lead on the front page. After recycling the the usual cliched half-truths, the article turns to a complete furphy as its main theme. Boomers are blamed for grabbing the old age pension and leaving nothing for the young. In reality, boomers paid taxes during the 1970s and 1980s to finance a universal non-means-tested pension, with access for women at 60 and men at 65. Even when the pension was means-tested, tax concessions for superannuation and easy access to lump sums gave lots of early retirees the chance to double dip.

Now pensions are tested on both income and assets, the women’s age is being raised to 65 (just in time for the first boomers) and there’s talk of pushing the pension age up to 67 after that. Concessions for superannuation, while still generous compared to most other investments, have been scaled back significantly, as has the generosity of employer contributions. On any reasonable assessment, it’s the Depression kids who have done well on this score and the boomers who have paid for schemes whose benefits they will never enjoy.

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  1. Shai
    August 29th, 2003 at 15:27 | #1

    Every year before school starts the national newspapers here in Canada print editorials about the new university class. They’re more lazy than ever, don’t know how to read or write, have no attention span, and it’s because of television, cell phones, video games, the internet, parents who want to be friends with their children rather than authority figures, etc.

    Today in the National Post a political science professor wrote that “simplification of language is the essense of email”, that it impoverishes thought, that today’s semiliterate college students lead mental lives that are fragmentary and meaningless.

    It’s a familiar story at the University of Toronto, where many professors are overachievers who still suffer from Harvard envy. But I realize now that I’m only completing the circle…

  2. Don
    August 29th, 2003 at 18:03 | #2

    If you read the classic texts on Generation X (like Douglas Coupland’s novel of the same name) you quickly discover it isn’t generation at all.

    When marketers, novelists, and journalists wrote about Gen-X they couldn’t possibly have meant the entire cohort born between 1966 and whenever. Instead they seemed to be writing about a much narrower demographic – white, middle class, educated, and with a certain constellation of attitudes (eg ‘endism’ – the pessimistic belief that low unemployment, cheap houses, a clean environment, free education etc are all things of the past – a fin de siecle take on the future).

    It’s possible to be born in the right cohort but not to be Gen-X at all. It’s entirely possible that most of the cohort don’t qualify.

    Then there’s books like Mark Davis’ Gangland. What really seems to irritate Davis is that so many of the major figures in the Australian cultural establishment don’t know anything about his favorite lit-crit theories (post-structuralism etc). Not only don’t they understand his favorite theorists (eg Derrida) but they parade their ignorance in public with pride.

    But there are lots of oldies who do understand the Foucault, Derrida, Kristeva type stuff (all the major theorists are either dead or very wrinkly by now). The intellectual movements Davis regards as with-it all took off before the end of the 70s. But obviously it’s much easier to package the whole complaint as generationalism than get bogged down in the theory-wars.

    Journos and commentators love generationalism. They’ve been at it since the 50s. And there’s a great deal of pleasure to be had in attacking some grey haired old geezer whose self-image congealed circa 1972 around the idea of youthful rebellion (Hope I die before I get old – never trust anyone over 30 – tttalking ’bout my generation etc).

    But the truth is that most boomers weren’t boomers either. Just as many youngsters in the 60s seemed to be working themselves into a lather over Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater as getting it on in the mud at Woodstock.

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