Browsed by
Category: Generation X

Next Generation Board Gaming

Next Generation Board Gaming

I saw an article just recently about the release of a new version of Scrabble, friendlier and less competitive than the original. The article title indicated that it was designed to appeal to the young generation, putting ‘less competitive’ and ‘inclusive’ in scare quotes, as though one should wonder why anyone would want such features in a board game. I encountered the article in the context of social media feeds where posters were mocking Gen Z and decrying this as “woke Scrabble.”

I gathered that these posters were Gen Xers, and that the editor who picked the title of the article probably is as well. My generation likes to pick on younger people for not being tough enough. But I don’t see what their problem is; this new Scrabble version, called “Scrabble Together,” seems like a perfectly cromulent game to me. To me, it’s simply part of a trend that’s been going on for years, where cooperative and team play games have grown in popularity. These games are suited for socializing in large groups, and I think they are a good fit for the peer personality of the Millennial generation.

As Neil Howe and William Strauss put it in Millennials Rising, this generation is special, sheltered, and team-oriented. A chiller version of Scrabble is perfect for a generation more interested in fitting in and playing it safe than in standing out and taking chances. In fact, Neil Howe identifies board gaming as one of many pastimes Millennials have favored as they have embraced youthful restraint, in contrast to the wild days of my generation’s youth.

The board gaming hobby has really taken off in the past couple of decades, as I have noted in other posts. I remember the very beginnings of the new wave of board games back in the 1990s, when Millennials were children. As the media caught on to the trend when Millennials became young adults, articles started appearing associating the board game revival with their generation. I’ve certainly enjoyed watching Millennials swarm into gaming conventions and game stores, and even sometimes feeling like the wise old guy teaching them a thing or two as we play a game together.

I would say that the board game revival belongs to both Millennials and Generation X, as this article by a Gen X board gamer describes. And in all fairness, the Boomer generation deserves credit for giving us many of the prominent designers of the tabletop games that are so popular today. But Millennials really have taken board gaming to a new level, folding the hobby in with social media and streaming video platforms, and adapting it to their mode of life.

It’s been quite remarkable to observe, and since board games are something of an obsession for me, I’m glad that it’s happened. I look forward to playing Scrabble Together some day, possibly chilling with some friendly Millennials at a game day hosted by a local craft brewery. ‘Cause all we’re trying to do here is get along and have a little fun.

Reunion, or “Happy Birdeversary!”

Reunion, or “Happy Birdeversary!”

As mentioned in a recent post, where I reviewed a book by a Gen X author, the girl and I went to our 40th year high school reunion at the end of September. Another milestone in this year of milestones.

I had been resisting going, since we already went to our 30th reunion in 2013. I mean, that was how Aileen and I reconnected, a story which has been partially revealed in this blog. Was there any reason to go back again, now that our own personal tale of reunion was complete?

But one of our classmates, Melanie, kept asking us about going and hanging out, and in the end we relented. It was too late to get a ticket to the main reunion event, which had sold out, but we could still show up at the informal events, and even hang out at the bar at the restaurant where the main event was, and meet up with people.

We got there on Friday, in time to join the homecoming parade, in which we marched, along with Melanie and about a dozen of our other classmates. I should mention that this was in Reston, Virginia, where Aileen and I met when we were teenagers, and that our school is South Lakes High School.

This was the first and only time in my life that I was ever in a parade. Our class was close to the front, after the marching band. Notably, our class of 1983 was the first one to fully occupy SLHS for all four years of high school, since the school was founded in 1979. So I guess that makes us kind of special, like we are the first ancestor generation of SLHS graduates.

As we walked the 1.8 miles from the starting location to our high school, the spectators lining the road cheered us on, often expressing surprise and delight to see graduates from so far back in time. “We’re old, but we’re still going!” we let them know.

The class of 1983 comes home to SLHS (40th reunion, September 2023).

You might recognize me and Aileen there on the left, wearing the caps. Melanie is in green in the center, and our two classmates who did the organizing to get us all together, Kathy and Sarah, are on the far right.

Not everyone from our class is still alive, naturally. To honor those who have passed away, their names were added to the banner. In that way they could march with us.

Names of our classmates who have passed away on our class banner.

After the parade, we went to a restaurant in Reston at Lake Anne Plaza to meet up with even more of our classmates. On the way, for fun, we drove by the house where Aileen used to live, and where I would frequently go to visit her, in our high school years. It looked very much the same, though we did note that there were a lot more cars than we used to remember in the neighborhood, which seemed a little rundown. It could be that the neighborhood is just old, like we are, or it could be that we remember it through rose colored glasses.

Reston is an interesting place. It was founded in 1964 as a “planned community,” meant to embody a new post-war ideal of land use that included ample green space, with room for both residential and commerical zones to develop in tandem, as well as room for both pedestrian and automobile traffic. With lots of walking paths and wide roads through wooded areas, and residential neighborhoods intermingled with commercial plazas, it’s sort of a middle-class consumer car culture utopia.

Having been founded around the time I was born, Reston is about my age; about the same age as everyone in my high school class, in fact. With its dated architecture of buildings and houses constructed during the Gen X childhood era, this town feels like a creche built just for our generation.

I remember it well from my teenage years. As we drove through town on our way to Lake Anne, I admired how nice Reston still looks, even as it evoked this nostalgic feeling. “I could move back here,” I told Aileen. But that is a highly unlikely scenario.

As it turned out, Aileen and I were able to get into the main reunion event after all, as not everyone who had reserved a spot was able to come. This happened on Saturday evening, in an events room at a nice restaurrant. I believe there were about 90 people attending, and the space was a bit small, so it felt crowded. We were a fairly large class; almost 400 people, and for a quarter of them to show up for the event is impressive, in my opinion. And many who couldn’t make it commented on the Facebook group, participating in spirit.

I had a great time, and very much enjoyed the feeling of solidarity with my old high school class. Many of the people from the 30th reunion in 2013 were there, and those are the folks I remembered the best. Back in my school days, I was kind of on the periphery, and honestly didn’t know most of my classmates. I hung out with the freaks and geeks, with the punk rockers and the stoners, who probably mostly didn’t show up for this occasion. If you’re from my class and don’t remember me, well that’s OK. It was so long ago, after all.

Aileen and Mr. Wareham, recreating a shot from the 1983 yearbook.

Our old high school principal, Mr. Wareham, was there! He is 84 years old. We chatted briefly, though it was hard to understand him in the noisy space. I learned that, after retiring from South Lakes, Mr. Wareham took postings overseas so he could travel the world. There was something comforting about his presence at the event, like it established a continuity with those distant but formative school years. And it helped me feel less old, knowing that an adult who was an authority figure in my late childhood is still alive.

I can’t deny, though, that going to your 40th high school reunion will make you feel old. We’re all deep in middle age now, many of us with adult children, divorces and remarriages, on their second careers or even retired already. Where did all those years go?

And yet I can attest that at a reunion, as was also the case ten years ago at our 30th, it feels very much like you are back from where you started, with all those same people you grew up with. It’s the same peer group, with the same social relationships, and the same personality types. No one’s really changed all that much. You’ve all just grown older.

As I said, we had a great time. Lots of pictures were taken, we enjoyed some food and beverage, listened to 1980s music, and had some good conversations. Late in the night we said our goodbyes. I have a feeling we will be back for the 50th in 2033, or the 45th in 2028, should that come together.

In retrospect, I thought that the 40th reunion felt more chill than the 30th, like we had all mellowed out a bit. The energy at the 30th was more hyped, with more anxiety and anticipation in the air. Maybe because we were all in our 40s instead of our 50s. Maybe because it had been a longer time (even longer than 10 years) since we had last seen one another.

The 30th reunion was the event in which Aileen and I reconnected, when I was still living in North Carolina. We had known each other in school, were very good friends, and dated when we were in college. After our mutual breakup which was totally mutual, we stayed in touch, and saw each other a few times in the 90s. But we didn’t see each other in the 2000s, not until the reunion in 2013.

Back then, we had recently connected on Facebook. It’s a common enough experience for Gen Xers to have reconnected with their old school friends on that site, and sort of gotten a fast forward catchup on everything that happened to one another in the past twenty years, before there was social media. Aileen, for example, now had two sons. I had a house.

In 2013, Aileen kept sending me posts and messages, asking me to come to the reunion, until I finally relented. When we met up during the day, before the main event, it was like we had never been apart. When I looked at he face, I saw the girl I knew thirty years earlier. It was October 19, the same day that I’m writing this, and we went to a matinee of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, and just enjoyed one another. We still call this day our “birdeversary.” At the reunion event, we danced together, had a wonderful time, then went our separate ways.

The next year, I called Aileen on her birthday. From that point on, our relationship just kept building. We started visiting each other, and then, as you may know, in 2018 I sold my house in North Carolina, moved up to Pennsylvania, and now live with her in her house.

This whole story was news to some of our classmates at the 40th reunion. But at least one of them was tracking, and had some kind thoughts to share about us. He called us the “feel good story of the last decade.”

It does feel good to be reunited, to be connected and in a family. I honestly think that I would not be in a healthy place if I had stayed single and alone in my house in North Carolina, though I do miss the area and the friends I made there. And though I was mostly comfortable in solitude, a voice inside me was urging me to get out and find someone, and luckily, Aileen found me.

Staying connected, even if only through a support network of trusted friends and family, is crucial to your well-being. It leads to better outcomes in life; I know it has for mine. It is in being together with others that we ensure a happy future for ourselves.

A Gen X Life Story

A Gen X Life Story

As the girl and I headed off to our 40th high school reunion at the end of last month, I needed a book to read on the trip. I picked The Gen X Girl’s Journal by Kari Thorsdottir, which had been on my reading list for a while. It seemed appropriate since we are both Gen Xers, born around the same time as the book’s author. Based on the book’s cover, I expected something like a memoir about the Gen X young adult experience, full of trenchant social observations and pop culture trivia. That’s what you expect from my generation.

What I got instead was a novel that very directly and subjectively describes the life of a woman named Annika, from her freshman year in college in 1985 all the way to current times, ending in the year 2019. It is somewhat of a conventional life – Annika joins a sorority in college, graduates into a white collar career, marries and has two sons, and struggles with balancing family life and work life. There are a couple of story arcs that achieve closure by the end of the book, which finishes with her 30th year college reunion, but for the most part the narrative just goes through the paces of an ordinary life, up until middle age.

The writing lacks literary embellishment, simply describing events and the characters’ thoughts and emotions from a third person perspective. It sometimes dwells on specific events, and at other times skips years in a single paragraph, reflecting how we typically recall our lives. Some moments stick with us, even as the years fly by.

I enjoyed the read, even though the story is so basic. I mean, I’ve read other memoirs of Gen X women born around the same time as me. Some have led more interesting lives, like commercial jet pilot Laura Savino; while others, such as professional writer Sari Botton, write with more literary flair. But in its unassuming way, Kari Thorsdottir’s book drew me into Annika’s personal experience, with all the intimacy of a journal or diary. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was based on the author’s own life, even though it purports to be a work of fiction.

As was the case with the other memoirs by Gen X women that I have read, I found that despite the significant differences that come with being a man, I still recognized and could easily empathize with Annika’s life experiences. She tread territory that was familiar to me, since she was born at the same time as me. That’s what it means to belong to the same generation; you share the same course through history. Anyone from my generation – man or woman – could easily see a part of themselves in Annika. And anyone from any generation would gain a better understanding of the Gen X life course by reading this book.

Here is the author’s link tree if you want to get a copy-

Sufjan Stevens’ Songs of Gen X Neglect

Sufjan Stevens’ Songs of Gen X Neglect

One of my favorite indie singer/songwriters is Sufjan Stevens (b. 1975). He is a multi-instrumentalist who often plays multiple parts in his recordings, as well as vocals. His style ranges from acoustic folk to symphonic to electronic, often blended in one piece. It’s very unique and creative, and I love most of his albums and have listened to them over and over. His songs tend to be very downtempo, often sad and depressing (as another singer put it, sad songs say so much), but also lyrically brilliant, each song a miniature story rich with historical, cultural and spiritual references.

Stevens was born in Detroit, and grew up in Michigan, raised by his father and stepmother. His mother moved to Oregon and remarried when he was very young, though he still kept in touch and eventually ended up working with his stepfather. Now I don’t know him, and can’t speak for him, but I have noticed that he has written quite a few songs about growing up with divorce and about children feeling abandoned by their parents. It’s hard not to conclude that he has some resentments about his mother leaving, and has expressed those resentments through his music.

A childhood raised in neglect is a hallmark of the Generation X experience, which is why I gave this post its title. I wanted to showcase some of my favorite Sufjan Stevens songs which have this neglected childrearing theme.

The first song is “Romulus,” off of the 2003 album “Michigan,” presumably named after the Detroit suburb of Romulus, Michigan. In this song, children who are being raised by their grandfather are eager for the rare moments of interaction they have with their mother, who has moved away to Oregon. Notably, the narrator is ashamed of her. This song has a memorable line about kids being raised by being left alone to watch TV all night. A plaintive banjo melody runs through it.

Here are the full lyrics to “Romulus”:

Once when our mother called
She had a voice of last year’s cough
We passed around the phone
Sharing a word about Oregon
When my turn came, I was ashamed
When my turn came, I was ashamed

Once when we moved away
She came to Romulus for a day
Her Chevrolet broke down
We prayed it’d never be fixed or be found
We touched her hair, we touched her hair
We touched her hair, we touched her hair

When she had her last child
Once when she had some boyfriends, some wild
She moved away, quite far
Our grandpa bought us a new VCR
We watched it all night, we grew up in spite of it
We watched it all night, we grew up in spite of it

We saw her once last fall
Our grandpa died in a hospital gown
She didn’t seem to care
She smoked in her room and colored her hair

I was ashamed, I was ashamed of her
I was ashamed, I was ashamed of her
I was ashamed, I was ashamed of her
I was ashamed, I was ashamed of her

The next two songs are from the album “Avalanche,” which features outtakes from what is probably Stevens’ most famous work, “Illinois.” The first song has the unwieldy title “The Mistress Witch from McClure (or, the Mind That knows itself).” In it, a family’s children are exposed to their father’s affair with a woman who is apparently a convicted criminal (“the ankle brace she wore”). When one of them has a seizure and the others come to his aid, they are made painfully and shockingly aware that no one is looking out for them. Interwoven voices sing these haunting lyrics:

(Oh my God)
A mind that knows itself is a mind that knows much more
(No one came to our side)
So we run back, scrambling for cover
(To carry us away from danger)

The next song, “Pittsfield,” is less melancholy and more defiant. Alright, it’s still pretty melancholy, but also defiant. The lyrics invoke a story of children learning to take care of themselves while their parent works all the time. It’s not clear, though, if the parent has to work to make ends meet and so is actually sacrificing on behalf of the children. It’s not explicitly stated in the lyrics, but to me it sounds like the parent is probably a single mother. The child from whose perspective these lyrics are sung might not be aware of the constraints of keeping a house. Instead, they are aware of being put down (“Stand there, tell me that I’m of no use”). They are afraid of their parent, and becoming self-sufficient is how they respond, how they learn to free themself from this fear. To me, this strikes me as a particularly Gen X childhood experience, though it could conceivably happen to a child of any generation. Life is always hard for working class single moms, assuming that’s who the parent in this song is.

Here are the full lyrics to “Pittsfield”:

I’m not afraid of you now, I know
So I climbed down from the bunk beds this low

I can talk back to you now, I know
From a few things that I learned from this TV show

You can work late till midnight, we don’t care
We can fix our own meals, we can wash our own hair

I go to school before sunrise, in the cold
And I pulled the alarm, and I kicked up the salad bowls

Since the time we meant to say much more
Unsaid things begin to take their toll
After school we shovel through the snow
Drive upstate in silence in the cold

You can remind me of it
That I was lazy and tired
You can work all your life as
I’m not afraid of you anymore

If I loved you a long time, I don’t know
If I can’t recall the last time you told me so

Here in this house in Pittsfield
The ghost of our grandmother works at the sewing machine post
Hiding the bills in the kitchen on the floor
And my sister lost her best friend in the Persian Gulf War
There was a flood in the bathroom last May
And you kicked at the pipes when it rattled oh the river it made

Stand there, tell me that I’m of no use
Things unspoken break us if we share
There’s still time to wash the kitchen floor
On your knees, at the sink once more
You can remind me that I was tired
You can work late and give yourself up
Now that I’m older, wiser, and working less
I don’t regret having left the place a mess

You can remind me that I was lazy and tired
You can recall your life as
I’m not afraid of you, anymore

In 2012, Stevens’ mother died from cancer. In the next few years he worked on an album to help with grieving and to process his relationship with his mother. It was released in 2015, titled “Carrie and Lowell” after his mother and stepfather. It is quite possibly the most depressing album you will ever hear. Stevens combines melancholy songs about death with childhood reminiscences which speak to many of the same themes discussed previously. Did his mother really leave him at a video store? Maybe so based on these lyrics from the second song on the album.

When I was three, three maybe four
She left us at that video store
Oh, be my rest, be my fantasy
Oh, be my rest, be my fantasy

I’ve linked to the entire album below (on the artist’s official channel) and you can judge it for yourself. We can’t know exactly how Stevens was able to reconcile his feelings regarding his mother, but from his repertoire of sad songs about childhood neglect we must surmise that her abandonment of him left deep scars. I know many Gen Xers for whom something like this is the case.

If you’ve listened to the songs and perused the lyrics I posted here, I hope you appreciate Stevens as much as I do, and how wistfully and painfully his music portrays Generation X in childhood. We were tough, we were resilient, but the feeling of being left on our own haunts us to this day. Through his music – introspective, maudlin, often resentful – Sufjan Stevens perfectly captures this generational experience.

My Generation in the Land of Opportunity

My Generation in the Land of Opportunity

NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson (b. 1966)

My last post, about the confirmation of KBJ to the Supreme Court, brought to my mind another African-American woman of my generation: NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson. I hope this doesn’t seem too weird, but I feel a connection to her, even though I don’t know her at all IRL. It’s because her birthday is very close to mine – both the year and the day. We are generational peers.

The fact that a black woman born at the same time as I was could have a successful career as an astronaut is a testament to how far our country has come toward the goals of racial and gender equality. It might not be perfect equality, but at least, for my generation, the opportunities have been there for achievement in any field, for anyone willing to put in the hard work. Seizing opportunity and excelling as an individual is quintessentially Gen X.

It’s also amusing to me to consider that as a boy, I likely dreamed of being an astronaut (and a firefighter, too, if I recall correctly). Clearly I made different life choices than Stephanie Wilson did, and ended up on a different path. Not to have any kind of Frank Grimes resentment energy about it, but most Gen Xers will not visit outer space in the lifetime of Generation X. But it’s inspiring to know that anyone born when I was born clearly could have, as one of my peers has proven. And that at least some Gen Xers have gone to space gives me a heartwarming feeling, a sense of pride, and a vicarious delight in the historical location and experience of my generation.

The Generational Shift in the Supreme Court

The Generational Shift in the Supreme Court

The confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the 116th Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is being hailed as an historic event. From reactions on social media it is plain that partisan blue zoners are relieved that the latest replacement on the Court has occurred during a Democratic Presidency, and succeeded despite the partisan split in the Senate. No one could forget the Republican controlled Senate’s political tactics in 2016 that handed the nomination of Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement to a Republican President. That Jackson is the first black woman to serve on the Court is also rightfully being hailed as an important historic milestone. It reflects the long secular trend of the elevation of women and minorities as equals in our civil society. It is meaningful, in my opinion, that this historic moment occurred during the Presidency of Joseph Biden, who is from the generation of the civil rights movement – the Silent Generation. This moment is a fitting capstone to his generation’s legacy of fairness and inclusion in American life.

There has even been some notice of the fact that with Jackson’s appointment, the Supreme Court will, for the first time, have four women Justices serving on it. This reflects another secular trend of increasing gender equality on the Court. The first woman Justice was appointed in 1981 (O’Connor); this increased to two women Justices in 1993 (Ginsburg) and then to three in 2010 (Kagan following Sotomayor’s replacement of O’Connor). Ginsburg was also replaced by a woman (Barrett), suggesting that not even President Trump could bring himself to interrupt this historic progression.

When Justice Stephen Breyer (circled) vacates the Supreme Court, there will be no more Justices from the Silent Generation serving on it.

There’s another story that seems to have been lost in the shuffle. Take a look at the birth years of the current members of the Court. The Justice who is retiring and being replaced by Jackson is Stephen Breyer, born in 1938. He is the last remaining member of the Silent Generation to serve on the Court (the first was actually O’Connor; only six members of his generation have served on the Court). After Breyer’s retirement, all of the Justices will be either Boomers or Gen Xers. Jackson won’t just be the fourth woman on the Court, she will also be the fourth Gen Xer. This is another historic moment for the Supreme Court: the replacement of the Silent Generation by Generation X.

The other three Gen Xers on the Supreme Court were all appointed by President Trump. It is not surprising that Trump was able to find suitable red zone aligned jurists among this generation, which leans conservative and Republican. These three appointees may well be his administration’s most lasting legacy. They will steer the Court in a conservative direction for a long time to come. Even if, by some twist of fate, Biden should get the opportunity to replace another Justice, the Court will still be majority conservative (5-4 instead of 6-3). What does this new alignment, both generational and ideological, mean for the future of the Supreme Court?

I am not a legal scholar, so I can only speculate from the perspective of an educated layman. One thing I think is certain is that we will see breaks from precedent. This is already evident in the uncertain fate of Roe v. Wade – the dreaded (by blue zoners) overturning of that decision may be coming. One of the Gen X Justices, Gorsuch, reputedly disdains precedence and would prefer to craft his own conservative judicial philosophy. This sort of independence of thought is just what you would expect from Generation X.

Another trend I see is the continued success of the conservative mission to roll back the administrative state (a Silent Generation legacy) in favor of individual freedoms (a Generation X legacy). Case in point: the recent Court ruling that struck down the Biden administration’s vaccination mandate. Given her background as a public defender (the first to be appointed to the Supreme Court), Jackson herself might be inclined to rule in that direction.

Once Breyer has retired this summer, only one Justice will remain on the Supreme Court who was appointed in the twentieth century: Clarence Thomas, who will be the oldest, in his mid-70s. No serving Justice will remain from a generation older than the Boomers, and there will be four from my generation, Generation X, all appointed in the past five years. It’s actually quite remarkable that all of the Supreme Court Justices will be younger than both the President and the Speaker of the House, and that their average age will be slightly lower than the average age of U.S. Senators.

You would think that the Judicial branch would be where the old wisdom of the country resided, but a move to pack the Supreme Court with conservative thinkers has put my generation there instead. This historic generational shift in the makeup of the Court will have repercussions for years to come. Long-standing legal precedents and regimes that have been taken for granted are clearly in for a significant upheaval.

Is This TV Show Peak Gen X?

Is This TV Show Peak Gen X?

Lately we’ve been getting into Peaky Blinders (available on Netflix), a very artfully crafted period crime drama set in Birmingham, England in the 1920s. It’s dark and brooding, ruthlessly violent, and bristling with attitude. It has occurred to me while watching it that it exemplifies the qualities of Generation X, and may well reflect the peak of Gen X influence in today’s entertainment world.

Now, I realize that the show is British and therefore not technically Gen X, since that is a name for an American generation. And I realize that the creator, Steven Knight, would be a Boomer if he were American, and that the younger actors on the show would be Millennials – if they were American.

But the principal actors, the ones who make the show so tough and gritty, and so cool, are Gen X. I mean, they would be if they were American. They are superbly skilled and nuanced in their performances (particularly Helen McCrory, God rest her soul), portraying characters that are stylish and brash, with a hard shell of bravado that disguises a vulnerable soul.

The setting is the criminal underworld in an industrial town, just after the First World War. In fact, the older criminal gang leaders are all veterans of the war. In other words, their characters are from a generation that matches Gen X in archetype – hard-hearted survivors in a rough and exploitative social milieu.

The beautiful costumes and sets, and the brilliant cinematography, with everything shot in dark lighting with a gray and grimy color palette, contribute to my judgment that this show is an epitome of the new golden age of dark and harrowing television. On top of that, the show features a soundtrack of modern indie/prog/hard rock. It’s completely anachronistic, but it works, much better than in other shows or films that I’ve seen try the same thing. It just cements the affinity between the Lost Generation characters and the punk Gen Xers who play them, their archetype resounding across a hundred years of history.

That’s why I say Peaky Blinders isn’t just peak TV, it’s peak Gen X.

Theater as a Sheltering Space for the Young Generation

Theater as a Sheltering Space for the Young Generation

Last weekend I went to see a high school musical show – Shrek, to be precise. On the way in I was handed an LGBTQ pride flag and told it was my “freak flag.” I didn’t really know what this was about, having never seen Shrek before, but I eventually found out. “Freak Flag” is actually the name of a song in the show, sung by the fairy tale characters. It celebrates diversity and inclusion, and through it the characters resist how they are treated by the oppressive chief antagonist (you may recall the story from the movie).

It’s not a stretch to associate the unique fairy tale characters in Shrek with minority groups in real life who face discrimination and barriers to acceptance. So it seemed fitting enough to have these flags to wave while the fairy tale characters sang their “fly your freak flag” refrain. As I watched the kids dressed as fairy tale characters walking down the aisles of the auditorium, I wondered how many of them might experience discrimination in real life, given how kids on the fringe – whether gay, or neurodivergent, or just outsiders – are drawn to the arts and to theater.

This message of inclusiveness and acceptance was part of the show from the onset, as in the curtain speech (the speech made before the show to introduce it) the director spoke, as if assuring the parents, of how much he and the staff make sure all of the students feel accepted and valued. Everyone of them, like each unique fairy tale character, knew how special they were. To my mind, this was a perfect generational moment – this is exactly how I would expect Generation X (the director’s generation, as well as mine) to treat the children of the Homeland generation (to which all but the oldest of today’s high school students belong). Sheltering them in a protective bubble. Teaching them to be sensitive and considerate of others.

It was a moment that perfectly captured the zeitgeist of this era. I should have more such moments in the future, as the spring season is upon us and I will be attending a lot high school performances in the weeks to come.

Gen X Creatives in Film and Television

Gen X Creatives in Film and Television

Recently we’ve been on a kick of watching movies and series on streaming video that are made by two particular Generation Xers, just because we like their stuff so much.

The first Gen Xer is Mike Flanagan (b. 1978), probably best known for the horror miniseries The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. He’s also done another great horror show on Netflix called Midnight Mass, as well as a couple of film adaptations of Stephen King stories: Gerald’s Game and Dr. Sleep. We’ve watched all of these. His work is moody and atmospheric, with brilliant technical design and camera work. It includes, as horror typically does, shocking and bizarre supernatural elements, and even some good jump scares, although the latter is not what Flanagan has a reputation for. Rather, he is known for his cerebral, character-driven stories and his creative themes. He’s like an indie darling of horror film, and his work has an unmistakable signature.

The other filmmaker we have been getting into is Jeremy Saulnier (b. 1976). He makes these gritty, gripping, true to life thrillers, set in ordinary run-down parts of America, featuring characters who are ordinary people you might recognize from your own life. His films are plot-driven, very tense and suspenseful, and punctuated with extreme violence. They always make me think of Straw Dogs by Sam Peckinpah (b. 1925). Like Flanagan, Saulnier has an unmistakable style. We’ve watched Blue Ruin, Green Room, and Hold the Dark, and they all come highly recommended.

I’ve noticed that a signature style tends to stand out in the works of Gen X auteur filmmakers like these, more so than for older generations. Boomer filmmakers like Steven Spielberg (b. 1946) are more likely to genre-hop and try their hand at different kinds of films. It’s as if they want to prove that they have the creative chops to do anything (a really good example of that is Ang Lee, b. 1954). Gen Xers, on the other hand, carve out a niche and cultivate a distinct, individualistic look and feel.

Probably the first Gen X filmmaker to make waves was Quentin Tarantino (b. 1963), with his break-out film Reservoir Dogs in 1992, followed by his instant classic, Pulp Fiction, in 1994. His work is famous for its dark sense of humor, its artful violence, and its plot twists that shift character loyalties. Tarantino has perfected the art of the lurid crime B movie. Another Xer who came on the scene early is Kevin Smith (b. 1970), of Clerks fame, who tends to make crass comedy films. He’s another B movie all-star.

In the decades since the rise of Generation X in the early 1990s, numerous film makers from that generation have made a mark, crafting bodies of work which have a distinctive style to them. Many have won Academy Awards, and some have smashed box office records in the current era of blockbuster sci-fi and superhero action adventure movies. For example, there’s Christopher Nolan (b. 1970) with his Dark Knight trilogy, and J. J. Abrams (b. 1966) with his Star Wars movies. There’s other big names, but I’m more interested in this post in bringing to light some of the (perhaps only slightly) less prominent Gen X directors and their idiosyncratic styles.

If this brief list leaves anyone out, it’s only because of my particular exposure and preferences. It’s interesting how their birth years are clustered in the late 1960s (same as me, hmm) and how so many of them got their start in the late 1990s.

Joss Whedon (b. 1964) created the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, and the much celebrated sci-fi television series Firefly, among others. I think his writing perfectly captures the peer personality of Generation X – sardonic, scrappy, at once defiant and full of self-doubt, independent and fiercely loyal to their friends. He’s created many lovable ensembles of characters, caught up in implausible science fiction and fantasy plots, fighting the good fight with panache and a lot of witty banter.

Wes Anderson (b. 1969) has created a unique style that’s been called “deliberative,” with very literal narrative exposition, and acting which is intentionally stilted and mechanical, like the characters are clockwork toys methodically enacting the story. His movies are whimsical, bordering on absurd, but under their farcical surfaces lie warm and heartfelt messages. My favorite of his movies is Moonrise Kingdom.

Darren Aronofsky (b. 1969) makes very weird psychological films, with touches of both insanity and the supernatural. His debut film was Pi, about a number theorist with severe mental health issues. His best known work is probably Black Swan, but my favorite is The Fountain, with its conquistador subplot and its occult references.

The Wachowskis (b. 1965 & 1967) are best known for The Matrix movies. They’ve made a number of adaptations of comics and novels, and the original story Jupiter Ascending. They go for big production values, visual extravagance, elaborate settings and complex plots. They have a reputation for flair over substance, but personally I like their stuff. My all time favorite is Cloud Atlas, based on a novel by David Mitchell (b. 1969).

Sofia Coppola (b. 1971) has made more down-to-earth dramas and comedy-dramas than the other creators on this list, starting with the film The Virgin Suicides. Her work is influenced by her background in the fashion industry, and has even been accused of being “too feminine.” Her best know work is probably Lost in Translation.

Spike Jonze (b. 1969) has a relatively short director filmography compared to others on this list, but boy are his movies weird and creative. He is definitely a boundary-pusher, going for odd stories that make you think. You might have seen his intriguing interpretation of Where the Wild Things Are. For story idea and social commentary, I really liked Her.

Zach Snyder (b. 1966) has had considerable success making adaptations of comics, including several films in the DC Extended Universe, most famously Justice League (you’ve probably heard of the “Snyder cut“). His style includes extensive use of slow motion and speed ramping in his action sequences, making battle scenes into works of 3D art, like the comics on which so many of his movies are based. I really like Suckerpunch, which is based on an original concept.

Reviewing this list, it’s plain that I like sci-fi/fantasy a lot, as well as weird indie films. And I do think it’s fascinating that so many of these auteur directors are about my age. Is that a selection bias coming from my personal preferences, or is there really a cluster of highly successful filmmakers among my immediate birth cohorts? Patterns like that do happen. In any event, I hope you enjoyed this list and will consider watching some of the work by the creative lights of my generation.

Gen Xers and their Podcasts

Gen Xers and their Podcasts

As I noted in my previous post, of all the generations, it’s mine – Generation X – that has most ardently embraced its generational identity online. Compared to other generations, whether older or younger, there are far more Gen X branded accounts, sites, blogs and channels on the Internet.

In particular, there are a slew of Gen X branded podcasts. Podcasts, if you aren’t aware, are an audio-only format of Internet content, with themed channels publishing periodic episodes of about an hour in length. Sometimes it’s just one person basically lecturing, sometimes a small number of people (typically two or three) chatting in a more or less free-form manner. Sometimes they are up on YouTube, so they are not necessarily audio-only. It’s a flexible term.

Why do Gen Xers love podcasts so much? Perhaps it’s connected to anxiety about being neglected, forgotten. We want our voices to be heard. We want to be remembered, like we’re all singing our famous theme song from the end of The Breakfast Club.

I’ve found that Gen X podcasts can be broadly categorized into two groups. The first is nostalgia-themed podcasts, looking back at the pop culture which Gen X grew up with. Now that we’re middle aged, we apparently want to get together and reminisce about all the great music and TV from our youth.

The Gen X-tra Podcast
Pop culture, movies, music, trivia

Generation X Rewind
Music, films and TV

Toys and games


Pop Culture Preservation Society
Pop culture nuggets of the classic Gen X childhood

Project GenX Podcast

The Riff Radio Show

The Untitled GenX Podcast
Pop culture

The other kind of Gen X podcast has a theme of personal affirmation. They are about the Gen X experience or perspective.

Gen X Amplified

GenX Stories

GenX Voice

Gen X Woman

It really is astounding that there are so many Gen X branded podcasts, but none (that I know of) for other generations. I can understand how this format appeals to my generation – it’s suited for individuals who just want to work for themselves, and since video is optional, you can do it from the shadows, so to speak.

It’s not just that, though; it’s also that Gen X is so intent on being recognized as such. There are plenty of podcast-style video channels created by Millennials; it’s just that they don’t brand them as Millennial per se. They have broader scopes and subjects than the experience of one generation.

This phenomenon connects to an idea that I’ve expressed before, that in mid-life Gen Xers are using the Internet to fold the past back into their present experience. Maybe it’s because the future is so uncertain, so doubtful in this time of crisis. We need our past experience, the setting of our youth, as a bedrock on which to build the foundation of whatever we can make out of the rest our lives.