We all know that, when we are in mixed company, we should avoid the obvious big hitters of argument starters, religion and politics. Lately I’ve realized we should add a third subject to the no-fly list: Generations. Getting into a discussion about generations is the Trojan war horse of a brawl. Just as we feel territorial about our religious denominations and political views, we don’t like to hear someone boldly proclaim our generation is something we feel is exaggerated, unfair, overplayed, or just flat out untrue.
I realized this recently at last Thanksgiving, when my family somehow wandered into the demilitarized zone of the generation subject. Had we been warned, we would have known to turn back on this dark river on which we came, and return to the sunny beaches of light conversation. But once the gauntlet was thrown, we were ready for a showdown. The Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials circled our respective wagons and then began lobbying our salvos at each other without mercy. The only member of the Silent generation at the table lived up to his generational name and remained silent.
The invective was hurled with great gusto, as if truth was being spoken for the first time against a tyrannical czar. Much of the dialogue was predictable, especially from the Boomers, who have always had a penchant for trying to follow the example of Balzac and write their own reviews. Out came the whole “We’re the peace and love generation” gestalt, prompting Xers and Millennials to place bets on the exact minute the word “Woodstock” would be invoked. I lost the pool by two lousy minutes. It took this group longer to get to it than it usually does, since their more aged and forgetting things faster these days. It used to be the first thing on their résumé.
Nothing but nothing makes the Boomers angrier than pointing out the whole stinkin’ “greed is good” 1980s that they didn’t just embrace, but created. Bring it up and Baby Boomers become like Donald Trump mocking a physically disabled reporter in plain sight, bright light and on camera, and then denying it ever happened, as if none of us have hearing and vision. The Boomers in the room actually tried to turn the tables and say the greed of the 80s was the product of Generation X, and that we were the ones who elected Ronald Reagan.
Play what? After we Gen Xers stopped choking on Boomer denial, and the irony of that denial, we reminded them that none of us was even voting age when Reagan was elected, and we were still in school, hence far too young to be the wolves of Wall Street they accused us of being. The Boomers were rattled. Time and math flew in the face of their zeitgeist, which is always a bracing moment. Still, they were not going to cede the territory of enlightenment. They were the generation of Woodstock, after all (this is the point where I lost the bet with my Millennial cousin, Carson).
“Your generation is the right wing establishment!” came back Sherry, a Boomer cousin. “Ann Coulter, Matt Drudge, and Tucker Carlson are all Generation X!”
Clearly she had been keeping that one in her quiver for just such an occasion to fire it at us in the proper battle. We went into repose. Our generation is famous for its social detachment from society, and we’re even a little bit proud of it. Yet, it did not serve us well at this moment as we realized three of the biggest douchebags in the media were in our generation. We had to come back at them with something much bigger.
I stepped forward, cleared my throat and said, “George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld.” My team roared. The Boomers scowled. Meanwhile, the Millennials were feeling a bit left out of the whole thing.
“What’s the big deal about all those people?” Millennial nephew Ricardo asked. “And who are Ann Colt and Matt Grudge?”
Finding a common enemy, the Boomers and Xers turned and looked at the Millennials as though they had shown up to a wedding wearing bibbed overalls. The Millennials realized something was happening, like those impalas who sense danger but they haven’t yet realized they smell a lion. Their group tightened.
“How could you…” Sherry started, then paused for dramatic effect. “…not know who those people are and how to pronounce their real names, which aren’t even Polish or anything hard to say?”
The Millennials seized upon the little high ground they had and criticized Sherry for discrediting Polish names. They then turned to their phones and started Tweeting remarks like, “Stuck with fam 4 holidays. Things just turnt cray-cray.”
“Can your generation function for five minutes without a phone?” Gen-X cousin Natalie asked. This prompted the next Tweets to be something like “Aunt Nat so crunk!”
My cousin Grayson, a Gen Xer, was following their collective Twitter feed on his own iPhone. “Hey, they’re talking trash about us to their friends!” he proclaimed. “Or at least I think they’re talking trash. Was does it mean to be ‘gaslit?’”
Brother-in-law Chris, from the Xer team, pointed at the Millennials and said to the Boomers, “This is all your fault! You raised them with the same craving for attention you had, and you gave them trophies just for showing up!”
Cousin-in-Law Brad, in the Boomer circle, pointed back at us Xers and said, “Don’t put them on us! They have your slacker tendencies and total apathy!”
From there things escalated and words were used that, evidently, only the Boomers and Xers realized were truly heated and insulting. Finally, my Millennial niece, Rhiannon stepped forward. Rhiannon has neither the knowledge nor the interest in the fact Stevie Nicks gave her her name, nor even who Stevie Nicks is, which always makes me distrust her just a little.
“You guys be talkin’ trash ‘bout us, but you oughta be puttin’ some respek on our name Freal!” Rhiannon declared. Her Millennial cohorts all high-fived and sang her praises as if she has spoken some sort of wisdom. Or in discernible English.
Rhiannon’s attempt to throw us did not work. We had slang in our day, too, and we also knew how to use it to make others feel out of touch. Millennials did not invent this game.
But before we could come back at them, the lone Silent generation member, Grandpa Joe, spoke up. “If you ask me, you all have too much time on your hands. And each one of you thinks you’re the cat’s meow!” he said, pointing his index finger at all of us.
Everyone in the room groaned. We were all thinking the same thing. It’s funny how old people take everything too seriously.