“You’d really hate an adult to understand you,” one girl named Susan is quoted as saying. “That’s the only thing you’ve got over them—the fact that you can mystify and worry them.”
Others are quoted as saying things like, “Marriage is the only thing that really scares me,” and, “Religion is for old people who have given up living,” or, “I’d prefer to do something for the good of humanity,” and, “You want to hit back at all the old geezers who tell us what to do.”
Man, those millennial kids today have so much anger! Except each one of these quotes comes from a book published in 1964 in the United Kingdom called “Generation X.”
But 1964 is so long ago that the world was in black-and-white! (It is sad that people couldn’t even see in color back then.) It is ancient history. If we do the math, each of the teenagers quoted in the book was born before 1950; each one is now, if still alive, at least 65 years of age and perhaps a grand- or a great-grand-parent. Their own kids in turn probably hated to think that they understood them and treasured mystifying them, as Susan said, and now their grandchildren think they are quaint and, worse, cuddly.
A 19-year-old was quoted as declaring, “I think old people are ridiculous. So phoney, everything they do is false. I’m rude to my mum and ignore my dad, and that’s how it should be.” Punk rock was more than a dozen years off in the future in London. (And now it is almost 40 years in the past.) The young man who said this was probably wearing a tie while he was pontificating.
I loved to pontificate when I was 19. (Still do, obviously.) I had all the answers, mainly because I had a profoundly limited set of questions, so my complete set of answers, well, it covered just about every situation that my limited vision could imagine. It was exciting to know everything, and it was a thrill to know it better than anyone older than me, and I felt duty-bound to share it, emphatically and with a lot of hand gestures, every chance I could find or manufacture out of a cloud of nothing. And almost each answer that I felt myself to be in complete possession of fell in this general category: “When in Doubt, Do It Differently from My Parents.”
I was 19 in 1987. A 19-year-old reading these words will say, “Don’t try to tell me you know what it’s like to be 19. You have no clue what it is like.” And this straw man 19-year-old would be correct: I have no clue what it is like to be 19 in 2016. I also do not know what it is like to be 77 in 2016.
I know what I thought about being 19 at the time, though: I felt like everyone, both older and younger than me, seemed to be getting along in the world so much better and more smoothly than I felt like I was. You all seemed more ept than poor, inept me. So I needed to pontificate to cover that perceived gap between me and the rest of the world. Which probably made me sound like those 19-year-olds from London in 1964.
And if any 47-year-old (I am now that age) offered to tell 19-year-old me what I just wrote, I would have felt hugely insulted instead of relieved that someone “gets me.” (I also would have thought, “What a creepy old man.”) Because believing that I was alone in my experience and misunderstood by society when I was a teenager made me a universal teen, just another Bozo on the bus, and I held no truck with the idea that we were all alike in our uniqueness. Feeling unique as a teen is universal, and each generation is confronted with the next generation lecturing it about how unique it feels. Each generation is unique in how it learns that it is not.
Anyway, thanks to a test from the Pew Research Center, I was born in the mid-1980s. I scored an 82. How old aren’t you? Take the quiz and answer below. (Thanks to Random Storyteller, for sharing this quiz in her piece, “Mandela and Millennials.”)
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This first appeared a year ago.
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