Generation X, It's Your Turn to Live in the Past

TheStreet.com

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In about a week, Comcast's Universal unit will release the 3-D version of 1993's Jurassic Park and drive home a truth that should have been fairly evident to members of Generation X by now: You are the new baby boomers.

Marketers haven't exactly been shy about letting Gen X know this, either. Within the last year, Hollywood has released 3-D versions of Disney's 1991 hit Beauty and The Beast and James Cameron's 1997 Kate and Leo cheesefest Titanic, continuing a trend so noteworthy that BoxOfficeMojo has dedicated an entire page to 3-D rehashes.

That's just when it isn't tearing into other totems of Gen X youth. Did you play with Hasbro's Transformers? Yep, that movie series gets its fourth installment next year. Were you a G.I. Joe kid instead? The second installment of that series nobody asked for tore up the box office on Easter weekend. Smurfs? That sequel comes in July.

Yes, they're just movies, but that's how this kind of thing always starts. If you were to look back and try to pinpoint the exact moment the business world knew it had baby boomers eating out of the palm of their hand, you'd have to go back to Aug. 11, 1973. With the war in Vietnam still more than a year away from ending and the entire country just weary and ragged after the 1960s, in came Mr. George Lucas with a candy-wrapped bit of nostalgia about prewar cruising, rock and roll and drive-ins.


The movie American Graffiti tapped into a vein baby boomers didn't even know they still had. It was a longing for the simpler times that AMC and Lions Gate Entertainment's Mad Men wouldn't paint as far more complicated until decades later. It was Wolfman Jack on the radio, Suzanne Somers in a Ford T-Bird and an entire generation wrapped in a security blanket and tucked safely away from the draft, napalm, Agent Orange, race riots, hippies, the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, Charles Manson, grass, LSD, Woodstock, Altamont and all the rest of it. It was Hollywood and corporate America's way of saying "There, there, it's over now. We'll take it from here."


It was also only the start of a very chromed-out, slicked back wave of this kind of schlock that stretched through films like Diner, Grease, Hollywood Knights and The Wanderers and into television shows like Sha Na Na and Happy Days.

Well, Generation X, now they're playing you for the same brand of suckers, only trading in those monochrome denims for some stone wash, leather jackets for some flannel and Matchbox 20 and Chumbawamba for The Beach Boys and Del Shannon.

Don't believe me? Well remember all those doo-wop reunion shows your parents used to go to at the local outdoor shed venue during the summer or those Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills and Nash reunions with "golden circle" seating that cost as much as their first car? Well change those sheds and arenas to cruise ships, swap in 311, Sugar Ray and hair metal acts and consider yourself targeted.

Oh, and throw in acts like Weezer, The Pixies, Matthew Sweet, et al., playing concerts consisting only of albums you bought more than 20 years ago and filmmakers devoting whole retrospective documentaries to A Tribe Called Quest, The Sex Pistols and Metallica and it might be even worse.


So how did Generation X get from there to here? How did a group painted as nonchalant, smarmy slackers become so willing to take any bit of industry-made memorabilia thrown its way? We could draw some clumsy parallel between the horrors of the 1960s and the 9/11 attacks, two wars, charged political climate, Occupy Wall Street protests and other happenings of the last 15 years or so, but it's just not the truth.

The fact is Gen X came into itself in a hurry and, in some cases, made itself a quick pile of expendable income faster than the boomers that came before. Granted, it came during a tech bubble and housing bubble that led to disastrous financial consequences for the rest of the country in each case, but it gave them the kind of cash that's easily spent on 20th Anniversary multidisc re-releases of old Nirvana albums, $20 180-milligram vinyl re-releases of Replacements and Wu-Tang Clan records, $1,500 Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga arcade cabinets and $18 tickets to a 3-D rendering of a foot-stomping, water rippling T-Rex scenes they've seen numerous times.

Gen X isn't really much different than its predecessors in this regard. It got older, its ideals changed, money rolled in, maybe some kids came along, maybe those kids got a They Might Be Giants children's album or two and saw Dischord Records head and Minor Threat and Fugazi founder Ian McKaye sing them a song on Pancake Mountain. Maybe one superhero film or Bruno Mars song too many sent them diving for shelter, and maybe all the Bush and Obama hate made them want to hug a picture of Bill Clinton or at least wish Phil Hartman was still around to play him on Saturday Night Live.

Whatever backstory it chooses, Gen X seems resigned to its fate as an IV bag for a slowly fading pre-Internet pop culture industry. When Record Store Day comes in April, it'll jump in and pick up a new release from a familiar name or an old favorite it tossed when it ripped all its CDs to MP3s. When two versions of Black Flag tour this summer, it'll briefly debate whether it should see the one with Greg Ginn, the one with Chuck Dukowski or wait until one with Henry Rollins, Dez Cadena, Robo and Kira Roessler forms. Then they'll go see it just like they saw the Gorilla Biscuits reunion show before that, and the 7 Seconds reunion show before that, and the Lifetime show before that one.

Maybe they'll take the kids to see T-Rex in 3-D, but even if they think it's a rip-off and don't want to shell out for the gimmickry, it's OK. Universal Studios understands. It'll have Jurrasic Park 4 ready to go in June.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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