I, Gen X, Am Telling You Everything Was Twenty Years Ago

The 1980s were twenty years ago. That’s just how it is. Don’t give me “math” or “logic” or “you have early onset whatchamacallit.” We won’t be convinced by your so-called “facts.” We are Gen X; we’ve committed our entire lives to not committing to anything.

I do recognize that the 80s are in the past. I’m not an idiot. But they are only twenty years in the past. Everything from my young adulthood onwards is twenty years ago, and it’s the same for everyone of my generation. At least I’m pretty sure it is; we’re not great at keeping in touch. Sometimes we Facebook.

U2 releases The Unforgettable Fire? Twenty years ago. The fall of the Soviet Union? Definitely twenty years ago. This town that I’ve lived in for thirty years? I moved here twenty years ago.

It’s not simply that everything is twenty years ago now. It’s always been twenty years ago. In the 90s, the 80s felt like twenty years ago. Between the 80s and the 90s, people in my age group became mature, responsible adults (cough-cough-“sellout!”). So much changed we barely recognized ourselves, mostly because that’s when we started needing glasses. Surely that much change could only happen over a span of twenty years.

When the 2000s came around, the 80s were almost definitely twenty years ago. It’s well documented, look it up. I also know this because we would regularly mope around and say, “Wow, I can’t believe Chernobyl, the Challenger explosion, the debut of Phantom of the Opera and ‘Hands Across America’ happened twenty years ago,” because we Gen X like to regularly remind ourselves that 1986 was kind of the worst.

After that, the 80s just kept being twenty years ago.

So why is this? I think it’s because when my generation was growing up in the 80s (twenty years ago), the 60s were twenty years ago, if you follow my math—and by now I don’t blame you if you don’t. We Gen X kids loved the 60s. We really wished we had lived through the 60s because our era, in a word, sucked.

Gen X kids were born in the revolutionary 60s and 70s but we were too young to enjoy it. Our Baby Boomer siblings got The Beatles and bell bottoms; we got “BJ and the Bear.” We were even too young to get into proper discos, which is pathetic on so many levels. This was totally bogus.

Twenty years before the sixties were the forties, and that was a whole other period of cultural upheaval. So much happened in both those twenty-year intervals that I think the concept of revolutionary change created a certain level of expectation on our mushy, poorly supervised Gen X brains of what the next twenty years would bring. If the boomers successfully marched for civil rights, surely we would have jetpacks, shrink rays and easy-open cereal bags.

We didn’t get any of that. Instead, when you think of the major changes that did happen from the 80s to the present… well, there’s the internet, I guess. Cell phones and social media, okay. We kind of hate everyone a lot more, sure. But none of that has felt like a revolutionary shift. It’s all just sort of crept up and absorbed us like a proper, all-consuming alien life form should.

Memory is never about accuracy anyway but about subjective impressions. And, whether accurate or not, it feels as though as much (and maybe less) has changed between the 80s and the present as between the 60s and the 80s. Therefore, if you allow that twenty years is the standard rate of cultural change, then it only makes sense that, with less evident cultural change, the 80s must still be only twenty years ago.

So is absolutely everything twenty years ago? On the contrary. Most things that happened within the past twenty years actually happened much sooner. 9/11? That was ten years ago. Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love”? A fairly recent hit. Barack Obama first elected president? Feels like only yesterday. Stephen Harper first elected prime minister? We’ve wiped that entirely from our memory.

The question is, will the 80s always be twenty years ago to Gen X? It’s hard to predict but I think it’s possible because, speaking on behalf of my generation, we’re all convinced we’re only 45.


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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15 Responses to I, Gen X, Am Telling You Everything Was Twenty Years Ago

  1. Time is subjective. Generations are measured in 20-year cycles. I’ll be 71 in August, as we measure time, born in 1952, but I feel older, because so much has happened in those years.

    9/11 happened over 20 years ago, now, but it shifted the whole world into a different direction, as did other significant historical events before that. Television grew and flouished in my childhood, but now it has become more common than indoor plumbing or even permanent housing.

    I can only speak from a New World point of view, because I’m learning our Western perspective is narrow, as are those of other generations, which are all locked into their time frames and environments.

    I can barely keep track of today, but I think Spring begins about now. How is your weather?

  2. Walt Walker says:

    I think everyone secretely desires to be Gen X. It’s clearly the coolest generation. You have every right to claim it, although in ’65 The Beatles were just getting going, whereas by 1970, when I was born, they’d broken up. That’s almost a generational divide right there. My brother claims Gen X status, though he was born in ’82. He says he “identifies” with us more than his Millenial brethren. And of course he does, because were the coolest, and he grew up listening to my music through my closed bedroom door. It wasn’t long ago that I stopped saying the 90s weren’t all that long ago. I didn’t want to, but the math was getting hard to ignore. And though I don’t feel 27 anymore, a number I was enjoying well into my forties, I guess time has kind of caught up with me. I do feel about 45, finally.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      As a 65 born, I could pass for Boomer but I’m all-in Gen. I even had the latch-key kid experience when my stay-at-home mom went back to work when I was 15. I feel 45 except in the morning when I feel 75.

  3. franhunne4u says:

    Another GenXer here – born in the year of protests (’68), I missed out on all the fun stuff in the 70s, hated the 80s (which were 40 years ago and feel like just ten years ago) – and when I listen to my radio station, I am worried that they still play music from 40 years ago. If they had dared to play music from the 40s in my misspent youth, we would have revolted.

  4. I wonder about assigning letters to generations. I can’t remember the differences between X, Y and Z. What comes after? Is it A?

    Do these letters suggest “generic generations”, without other notable features?

    I’m part of the Baby Boomer generation. Our group is responsible for all that great music of the 1970s that still plays on radios today. I remember when the Beatles were a newly famous band.

    It occurs to me that group names can be either a source of pride or of shame, depending on your point of reference. Intent determines whether the speaker is praising or insulting any given group.

    My ideal is impartiality, because we each have talents and limitations, as do individuals, yet group identity often merges with personal identity, in some people’s minds.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Yes, you hear “millennial” with a certain sneer. Let’s can this concept once and for all.

      • See? I was trying to be understanding, not judgmental. “Millenial” only tells me these people were born around 2000, or that they reached majority around 2000. I can assume they were influenced in some way by subsequent events, but we are all products of history in some way. I’m trying to explain that my point of reference is unique to me, but I acknowledge that others have a lot to teach.

  5. cat9984 says:

    I just can’t figure out how my kids got so old. 🙂

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