Hungry for Change

There’s a mall in ###### that is currently anchored by J.C. Penney’s, Best Buy, Sears, Macy’s, and as of 2013, Bon-Ton. What the hell is a Bon-Ton, anyway? Sounds like something you order off a Thai food menu. Well, it’s not important. The Macy’s on the mall’s northwest wing is.

Macy’s popularity, much like there stock, has been falling in recent years. This doesn’t much separate them from any other major department store retailer, virtually all of who are hemorrhaging profit thanks to online businesses like Amazon. But Macy’s has a plan: bring back department store restaurants.

“Restaurants inside of large retailers – especially their flagships – is nothing new. It’s a practice that was prominent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” says retail expert Warren Shoulberg in The Robin Report.

It’s actually not a tactic so far dated. Before 1996, the Macy’s at The ##### Mall was a Jordan Marsh. Founded in Boston in 1861 by Eben Dyer Jordan and Benjamin L. Marsh, Jordan Marsh was arguably the first department store in the United States – there’s some gray area here. The concept of the department store then, however, differed from its current antiquated notion. After the Industrial Revolution, consumers sought out shopping districts, often located in central urban environments, to acquire both daily and seasonal purchases. As forerunners for what would later become the shopping mall, department stores like Jordan Marsh would expand to take over whole city blocks accommodating all the needs of shoppers in one store; this was particularly beneficial in colder climates where outdoor traversing could be a shopping hindrance.

Shopping districts and lifestyle centers remained fairly commonplace until the 60s/70s when the shopping mall overtook them as the de rigeur consumer destination. Department stores like Jordan Marsh, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Nordstrom’s found continued success by “anchoring” regional shopping malls. In other words, they acted as the feature destination for shopping needs in suburban epicenters and attracted customers to the smaller specialty shops that comprised the majority of the mall.

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Note the distinct awnings that were omnipresent at all northeast Jordan Marsh’s in the 80s. (Credit: Michael Lisicky).

What does this have to do with anything? Retrobacktive exists for posterity. It’s not supposed to be one curmudgeon’s mournful report of an allegedly superior decade. Rather it’s a fond reexamination of personal history. This cathartic nostalgia is in old movies and yearbooks and recipes and letters and all the other tidbits we hang on to through the years. And sometimes you hear a story on the radio about Macy’s attempt to revitalize its market share by bringing back restaurants and you remember the hidden bakery cloistered on the second floor of Jordan Marsh, just behind the cookware. And then you remember adjacent to the bakery an entire restaurant brimming with tacky pastel walls and tasteless teal upholstery. It’s one of those places in memory that probably wouldn’t top anyone’s “must-try” list, but for some reason at one time it held great allure. Why? There’s the mystery component: who ate there? Did anyone I know ever eat there? What kind of food would they serve at Jordan Marsh? Then there’s the closed window: no matter how much curiosity drives you, you’ll never be able to go back and experience it in the present moment.

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The famous Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin. C’mon, who wouldn’t want to shop with pastry?

It’s the latter in particular that drives Retrobacktive. Once something is gone, it’s gone for good. For many, this is a non-issue; there is only the future, and the past is best left in the past. That’s fine. There’s a lot to be said for moving forward. But a lot of horrible things have happened throughout history thanks to unchecked progression. Corruption comes from every direction. So it may not hurt to keep a few cultural watchdogs around to blog about ninja movies, and GI Joe, and restaurants in defunct department stores.

Okay, so Retrobacktive is probably more toy-dog then watchdog. Well, what do you want? No one is getting paid around here to do this!

 

Feral Max?

We do a lot of Mad Max posts on Retrobacktive. In case you haven’t figured it out, it’s a certain blogger’s favorite movie trilogy (if over 20 years pass between a third and fourth film in a franchise, the first three are a separate “trilogy”). To be fair, the fourth entry, Mad Max: Fury Road, is an awesome addition to the Mad Max catalog. Great action. Lots of fun characters. Stuff actually blows up.

Still, there’s something a bit off about Fury Road. It’s an excellent action flick, but it doesn’t feel exactly like a Mad Max movie. In a previous analysis, heavy examination was put on Tom Hardy’s portrayal as Max. Was it good? Was it bad? Is he simply not Mel Gibson and naturally going to have different mannerisms and quirks that will make his performance unique? Or is there something more going on?

Here’s what’s important to know: George Miller is as meticulous a director as can be. His attention to detail is legendary. In the former continuity of the original Mad Max trilogy, Miller was highly particular of the character’s timeline. His stance in the wake of the success of Fury Road has taken a 180 degree turn. Miller seems to want to treat the series as an anthology. It dismisses a lot of his earlier effort to create a linear story with the dots all finely connected.

So what’s happened? Has Miller changed his position? Are the original movies locked in time, and so far removed from the release of Fury Road that a few out-of-place hiccups were bound to occur? Or…

Is Tom Hardy’s “Max” really the Feral Kid from The Road Warrior?!

WARNING: endless spoilers to follow.

The_Feral_Kid

The Feral Kid

The answer is yes, and here is why:

1) His Family

Mad Max: Fury Road opens with one of the most gratuitous continuity errors in cinema history. Okay, it’s been 30 years since the last film; audiences needed a refresher course in Max’s history. But die hard fans were shocked to see a flashback of Max’s dead daughter.

Feral Max

The Feral Kid?

Max didn’t have a daughter. He had a son, Sprog, who was murdered along with his mother in the first movie. This is the pivotal moment that drove Max “mad.” How in the world could Miller have forgotten this detail? Given how precise he has been in all his other films, it’s impossible to believe he missed this standout component, and even harder to imagine that he just didn’t care. So already, something is off about our hero’s history.

2) Narration

Fury Road begins with narration provided by Max, something he never offered in the previous installments. There is, however, a rather omniscient monologue that opens The Road Warrior, which in a twist we find out at the end is actually the Feral Kid speaking as an older man. So the only time we’ve heard narration from a Mad Max film has been from the point of view of the Feral Kid. Even the term “road warrior” is unique to the Feral Kid, and it’s used by the narrator in both Mad Max 2 and Fury Road.

3) All the Grunts

Aside from the narration, the Feral Kid only grunts and hollers in The Road Warrior. Mel Gibson’s Max had a New South Wales Australian accent. Well, we could assume this is just Mel’s accent. But it doesn’t explain all of Tom Hardy’s grunting throughout the movie. His dialect has a completely different tone and cadence. So is it Hardy’s own spin on the character?

Tom Hardy went out of his way to try to work with Mel Gibson to honor the original actor’s characterization. Seems odd Hardy, who has shown a lot of promise as a credible actor, wouldn’t even make an effort to sound the way Max does in every other film. Yet his mannerisms certainly appear to resemble that of another Road Warrior character.

4) He Can’t Shoot

There is a scene in Fury Road where Max is down to the final four shots of a long-barrel rifle as he tries to take out the Bullet Farmer. He misses, despite the advantage of a large scope, until he has one shot left before conceding his bad aim and handing the weapon over to Imperator Furiosa who blinds the Bullet Farmer by shooting out his headlight.

In Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome as Savannah attempts to lead an unsupported scouting party for Tomorrow-morrow Land, Max stops her by firing multiple well-placed shots around her head using a long-barrel rifle with no scope at all.

According to Miller, Fury Road is supposed to take place after the events of Thunderdome. So when did Max lose his ability to shoot so well?

5) The Music Box

During their drive to the Green Place, Toast the Knowing is seen playing with an antique sound box. In The Road Warrior, Max gave the Feral Kid an antique sound box (they’re visually identical). We can only assume Toast got the toy from Max’s jacket in Fury Road. So what? It’s a desolate future with little-to-no food, water, resources, but there’s a ton of these little, broken music boxes just kicking around?

6) He Barely Knows His Name

When Imperator Furiosa first asks Max his name he doesn’t respond. Maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe he doesn’t trust her. Or… maybe he doesn’t have one? Later when Furiosa is dying and Max performs an impromptu blood transfusion to save her life he tells her his name is Max. His exact line is:

“Max. My name is Max. Max is my name.”

The way he says it sounds ambiguous, as though he were saying it for the first time. The Feral Kid lived his whole life in reverence of Max; he relays this at the end of The Road Warrior. One could theorize not having his own name, he decides during an emotional exchange to take up the moniker of his childhood hero.

7) Time Out of Mind?

The timeline is off. Miller claims Fury Road takes place after Thunderdome. Thunderdome takes place 15 years after the events of The Road Warrior. Max was 45 in Thunderdome; he’s supposedly 37 in Fury Road. Again, continuity errors are frequently dismissed when you have to consider the use of younger actors to play time-locked roles. But that’s for lesser directors. Not George Miller who went so far as to make Mel Gibson wear a single contact lens in one eye throughout Thunderdome to uphold the continuity of the character’s damaged retina from The Road Warrior. Miller could have just as easily said Fury Road takes place before the events of Thunderdome. But…

8) The Best Laid Plans…

Miller is likely holding something back. His comments on the “Feral Kid conspiracy” have been dismissive, but what other reaction should one expect from a visionary director amid reconstruction of his magnum opus? Miller has stated in interviews that he is moving forward with future Mad Max projects. If his intention is to have Hardy’s character be a grown version of the Feral Kid he’s certainly not going to admit it at this point in the series’ production.

Imagine what would happen if a few crafty film theorists guessed that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father after watching Star Wars: A New Hope, and what would happen if they presented this theory to George Lucas. Would Lucas just admit right then and there that yes, Darth Vader is Luke’s father? “There’s no point in seeing the next movie. You’ve figured out the mystery. Go tell your friends the secret while we scrap production of The Empire Strikes Back since there’s no point in making it now.”

It’s just business. Miller is not going to concede to any fan speculation at this point. With so many mediums and springboards for commentary someone was bound to piece together these clues. Though, to be honest, they were anything but subtle to avid Mad Max fans. Miller’s stoicism, nonetheless, is to be expected and can’t be read into anymore than good marketing.

Conclusion:

Tom Hardy is actually the Feral Kid. He grew up in awe of a heroic childhood figure. He pieced together a new V8 Pursuit Special, patched together an outfit that resembled his idol’s, and took on his name when pressed to reveal his identity. The events of Fury Road happen at a transitional period before he becomes the leader of the Great Northern Tribe. At some point he loses someone close to him, as Max did. Perhaps a daughter, biological or adopted. This, similarly, drives him to a breaking point. Though in the post-apocalyptic environment he grew up in, his violent sense of self-preservation is natural. His actions, much like the original Max’s, are in line with the essential behavior of anyone trying to survive such inhospitable conditions. To interrogate every last action of Tom Hardy’s character, or incur endless speculation of his motives, is something of a waste of time. Who wouldn’t be vengeful and unsympathetic in the dystopian wastelands of the outback? But there are more than enough physical clues to shine light on the new “Max’s” true identity.

This leaves us with what George Miller has in store for “Max.” According to tweets from the director there’s “more Max to come.” And a fifth entry in the series has already been given the working title Mad Max: the Wasteland. Some have argued Miller’s intent is to create an anthology series. Others speculate Furiosa will become the new lead character.

Whether or not Tom Hardy’s Feral characterization comes to fruition, examining Mad Max: Fury Road from an alternative lens opens viewers to new perspectives that may reinvigorate interest and personal fulfillment in the films. Despite his attention to detail, Miller is the kind of director who aims to challenge his audience with the hope they will conceive their own interpretations of his work. So if you choose to believe Tom Hardy is the Feral Kid, that’s who he is.

Admittedly, re-watching Fury Road from this perspective elevates the movie to another level of greatness and expands upon it’s range of emotional and mental dynamics…but, it’s still not as good as The Road Warrior.

 

 

Already Gone

Glenn Frey was kind of a bad ass. He was rugged in the 80s when rugged, for a man, was fringe. You had your clean-cut, coke-sniffing suits on Wall Street, or your downtown scenesters laced in eyeliner. Not putting either down, but the coolest guys in the room are always the ones who don’t care. That was Don Johnson and Glenn Frey and everything Miami Vice related.

Frey, the de facto leader of the Eagles, joined a somber list of notable artists who have passed away less than three weeks into 2016 on Monday, January 18th. He was 67 years old.

Though most famous for his longstanding tenure with the Eagles, Frey had a successful solo career in the 80s highlighted by two No. 2 Billboard hits, “The Heat is On,” and “You Belong to the City.”

The song and video for “You Belong to the City” deserve their own post. They sum up the magnetism of ‘bright lights, big city’ 80s culture to absolute perfection. It is at once grimy but alluring; dangerous but seductive; heartbreaking but undeniable. It may appear trivial to the uninitiated, but it was this song/video combination that planted the kernel of urban wanderlust in one Retrobacktive creator’s head. And despite the 20-year separation, New York City lived up to all the dirty glamour suggested in Frey’s 1985 hit song.

So thanks, Glenn. If you have to have a song stuck in your head for 30 years, this ain’t a bad one.

The Character We’re Not Supposed to Like, but…

Since Retrobacktive’s inception I have long ached to write an article detailing to the finest point the amalgamation of genius that is Die Hard. It is the apex of 80s cinema. Yet there has always been an invisible curtain of refrain. What, after all, is there to lend to its legacy? Die Hard is widely considered the greatest action/adventure movie of all time. As a whole there’s little left to examine. More obscure matters always pressed.

Now, however, a sad and poignant moment draws the collective conscious of the cinema world back to arguably the film’s most impressive attribute.

In 2003, the American Film Institute rated Hans Gruber, Die Hard’s cold and calculating antagonist, as the 46th greatest villain in film history. The man who brought the iconic character to life was Alan Rickman. And by all accounts his portrayal should have earned at least a top ten spot on AFI’s list – if not an Oscar.

Rickman was born in London in 1946. He began his career on stage after studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Few people realize Die Hard was actually Rickman’s first film role. He was skeptical of the part, but fortunately for moviegoers was talked into it by the production team. Rickman’s serpentine Hans Gruber was a perfect foil to Bruce Willis’ gritty John McClane, and he is more times than not the scene-stealer throughout the film.

Die Hard screenwriter Steven E. deSouza, in a 2015 Creative Screenwriter interview, best summed up Alan Rickman’s character. “Who’s the protagonist of Die Hard? It’s Hans Gruber who plans the robbery. If he had not planned the robbery and put it together, Bruce Willis would have just gone to the party and reconciled or not with his wife. You should sometimes think about looking at your movie through the point of view of the villain who is really driving the narrative.”

Rickman drives the film with venomous motivation that is equal parts eloquent and ruthless. Reviewing Die Hard some 27 years later, it’s impossible to imagine any other actor playing Hans Gruber; the film’s huge success launched the English actor’s film career. Rickman went on to appear in numerous memorable roles throughout his life: the scheming Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Potion Master Snape in the Harry Potter film series, and Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Alan Rickman passed away on January 14, 2016 from pancreatic cancer.

Rickman once said he often played “the character you’re not supposed to like.” But given the outpouring of shock and dismay over the star’s recent death, it seems safe to say Rickman was a master of creating characters audiences couldn’t get enough of. His contributions to cinema will be sorely missed.

By two I’d have told him pretty much whatever he wanted to hear.

Happy trails, Alan.

 

 

My Trust in God & Man

Every loss is unique as it is something unique and irreplaceable we lament. David Robert Jones, better known as David Bowie…Ziggy Stardust…the Thin White Duke…was “one of a kind.” Those aren’t my words. They actually belong to my mother, a woman not known for deep appreciation of rock and roll. Yet even she is not beyond the influence of modern music’s greatest chameleon. On January 10th, 2016, Bowie’s legacy was forever cemented. Artist. Icon. Global treasure.

Retrobacktive serves to chronicle the 1980s. Bowie’s music as a whole is timeless, yet his many personas and experimentation can be easily compartmentalized due to his ferocious focus and deft ability to reinvent himself. In honor of him, Retrobacktive pays memorial by considering some of Bowie’s finer points during the 80s.

“Ashes to Ashes” (1980)

 

“Ashes to Ashes,” from the 1980 album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) was described by Bowie as “wrapping up the seventies really.” He considered the song a modern nursery rhyme that seems to deal with the artist’s own recovery from years of drug abuse. Both the song and album went to No. 1 in the U.K. and the video (co-directed by Bowie himself) is considered a landmark in the then burgeoning video music landscape.

“Under Pressure” (1981)

It might be the greatest collaboration in rock history. Officially released as a Queen song on their 1982 album Hot Space, controversy still abounds as to which musicians contributed to what parts of the song. As far as the lyrics are concerned the consensus generally points to Bowie as the primary writer. Regardless of the minute details the song’s juggernaut crescendo has few rivals in pure rock majesty.

Let’s Dance (1983)

After a roller-coaster decade of successes and setbacks in the 1970s, Bowie reached his commercial apex in 1983 with the U.K. No. 1 album, Let’s Dance. Focusing on a hybrid of synth-pop, blues rock, and funk, the album produced some of Bowie’s most popular hits, including the title track, “Modern Love, and “China Girl.” Bowie himself, however, often felt stifled by the album’s success, telling David Fricke in a Rolling Stone interview, “I had every intention of continuing to do some unusual material after that. But the success of that record really forced me, in a way, to continue the beast.”

Live Aid 1985

In addition to a high-energy performance at Wembley Stadium for the televised, multi-venue 1985 Live Aid concert for Ethiopian famine relief, Bowie and Mike Jagger debuted their video for the song “Dancing in the Street,” with the single’s proceeds going to the charity. It was another top ten hit for Bowie.

Labyrinth (1986)

Never confined to a single medium, Bowie made more than one venture to the silver screen, but perhaps outside of The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bowie’s most memorable cinematic performance was as Jareth, The Goblin King, in Jim Henson’s 1986 film Labyrinth. While not a box-office hit upon it’s release, the film has since gained a cult following and for many Gen X’ers this was their first introduction to the late, great David Bowie.

“As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three: how long and what do I do with the time I’ve got left?”

Bowie released his final album, Blackstar, two days before he died. Peel away all the layers – and there are many – at his core Bowie was a prolific musician as dedicated to his craft as any artist before. Despite an 18-month battle with liver cancer he carried on gracefully and left the world with a final gem in one of the most colorful catalogs of creation the world has ever seen. He leaves a great void in our world where the stars, indeed, look very different today.

 

 

 

 

Somewhere in Time

Predator is a great movie. The writing is fluid and memorable. The acting is layered in machismo, but earnest during necessary poignancy. Even if you’re not a fan of sci-fi, it’s hard to argue the impact of the special effects. There’s catchphrases galore. “I ain’t got time to bleed.” “Get to the choppa!” Also, it’s rated R, so it’s accessible on an adult level. Yes, Predator is a fun-filled, rock-em-sock-em action bonanza.

Predator_Movie

(c) 20th Century Fox

Another noteworthy component: no one has attempted to re-boot it into an impotent, degraded Hollywood vehicle for consumer extortion. Yes, there are sequels and spin-offs, but that’s not really new in the film world. Still, given the major film studios are either unable or unwilling to do anything other than cull new movies from well-known source material, it’s surprising, if not refreshing, to see at least one gem escape tarnish.

About one month after Predator‘s release in theaters, audiences were treated to another sci-fi action treat. Orion Pictures released RoboCop to commercial success and widespread critical acclaim in the summer of 1987.

Content notwithstanding, there’s a big difference between these two films. That difference is any reference to RoboCop today has to be prefaced with “the original,” to discern it from the soulless bag of garbage MGM and Sony remade in 2014.

Now if you maintain a rather nihilistic view of the current Hollywood trend to “re-image” every story ever told then you will likely brush off the barrage of limp blockbusters churned out every summer. What’s unfortunate is that while the common moviegoer is force fed cinematic gentrification, “classics” like Predator and RoboCop – yes, the original – are gradually fading from the cultural radar screen.

It’s unfortunate that assisting Hollywood in it’s dissolution of novel film making is a generation that seems to be inherently opposed to anything remotely antique. Its position on media seems to echo technology; if it’s not the latest and greatest then it must be outdated and unworthy of attention. This is a disservice to not only modern audiences but dedicated film fans who would love to see the next Predator or RoboCop, and not just some hollow copy of the original. But Hollywood’s priority is butts in seats, and if mediocrity is what people want…

On December 25, 2015, Quentin Tarantino’s highly anticipated The H8ful Eight came out in theaters, but only a select few retrofitted with 70mm film projectors. As arguably cinema’s purist advocate, Tarantino shot his latest movie in 70mm film. At this point virtually every studio the world over has switched to the cheaper, faster digital format. And if you feel the pictures have lost grandeur over the last ten years, you’re not crazy. That’s what digitizing everything does. Like the studios, most movie theaters have switched to digital projection, so even if you can’t see the movie as Tarantino intended it is still available as a worldwide release.

Regardless of the quality, The H8ful Eight embodies posterity if nothing else. People should appreciate that which came before, and understand that newer is not always better. In fact rarely is it better. The only instance that comes to mind is Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. And even then these films only slightly edge out Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns.

And let’s be clear as to quell any notions of absent-mindedness: Mad Max: Fury Road is at best on par with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – it is not as good as Mad Max 2. And Star Wars: The Force Awakens just plain sucks.

What audiences (and to some degree artists themselves) seem to forget is that certain media milestones exist in a vacuum. No matter how hard you try it is impossible to recreate the circumstances that lead to brilliance. Franchises like Batman and Superman can be constantly updated as they have deeply ingrained themselves into our social fabric. We’re talking like 80- years-spread-over-multiple-media-outlets deep! Even if George Lucas himself returned to helm the latest Star Wars entry it still wouldn’t live up to expectations. He’s a different director than he was almost 40 years ago. Case in point: George Miller returning to the Mad Max series. And while Fury Road was not a bad movie, it lacked a certain recklessness the originals had – in all fairness, so did Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Despite this staunch stance, however, let it be stated for the record that the occasional remake isn’t a bad thing. Remakes are nothing new in the movie and T.V. world (how come musicians never try to remake albums? does anyone remember what an “album” is?). But there is a big difference in paying homage to something and blatantly ripping it off for money’s sake. David Cronenberg’s version of The Fly and John Carpenter’s The Thing are great examples of remakes that are superior to the originals. What did they do that was so different? For starters several years had passed since the originals were at the forefront of anyone’s mind. But most importantly these directors put new spins on the source material. The fact is these remakes would have been great even if no one had ever heard of the originals. No one was trying to cash in on a recognizable name.

Could someone remake Predator? Possibly. You’d need the right cast (who can replace Schwarzenegger in anything?), a solid R rating so it isn’t dumbed-down for mass appeal, and a director eager to put his or her own angle on what is a rather simple story. Then you might have something. But here’s a thought: why bother? Predator is easy enough to find on DVD or Amazon. It’s not that old. It holds up. There’s no need for an update.

And if it really is that you have run out of ideas, Hollywood, drop a line here at Retrobacktive because guess what? I don’t just write blogs.

 

Who Made Who?

Okay, just so you know, this post is not about AC/DC. Though it should be; they might be the greatest rock and roll band of all time. Nonetheless, alternative matters are pressing.

Retrobacktive serves to chronicle anecdotal components inherent to the decade; small milestones that accumulate to a grander legacy than the sum of a generation’s parts. But what, or who, exactly is that generation? When does one generation end and another begin? And what does it mean when it all comes together? Retrobacktive dives into a little self-examination.

What It Means To Be Generation X

Literally it means anyone born between 1961 and 1981. Though that’s only one study’s suggested age range. There are hundreds of them by different historians, demographers, and journalists and no one can agree on exact dates, but generally early 60s to early 80s.

Figuratively it gets even more complicated.

Four years ago the University of Michigan’s Longitudinal Study of American Youth released a report based on annual surveys that described Gen Xers as happy and balanced, with strong educational backgrounds and active lifestyles.

This hardly echoed the general sentiment of a generation raised in Reagonomics and the first Bush patriarchy, which at the time represented the epitome of disenfranchisement. Perhaps it was the threat of nuclear annihilation. Perhaps it was being two generations removed from The Greatest Generation, a culture so steeped in heroism they named it The Greatest Generation. Yes, they earned it, but you’ll forgive the rest of us if it doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot of room left for self-aggrandizement.

It’s true. In the 80s there was threat of war, but no real war – and it was really more a threat of nuclear holocaust which isn’t the kind of conflict that lends itself well to heroics. The Baby Boomers had Vietnam. Generation X is one of the few generations that can’t define itself by a war (Desert Storm? The Gettysburg movie had a longer running time than Desert Storm).

Okay, so there was no war. That ought to be a good thing. Who cares about the Russkies? They are literally on the other side of the world. And if the world is going to end, might as well enjoy life to the fullest, right? After all,  the Baby Boomers withstood mounting global tension and were still able to embrace a level of decadence seldom seen since Sodom & Gomorrah.

Turns out they might have embraced things a little too much. Generation X arrived in the 80s to face a battlefront with a new enemy called AIDS. While understanding of AIDS may be taken for granted now, 25 years ago it was still somewhat shrouded in mystery, grossly misinterpreted by the public, and much swifter in its shocking mortality. Quick deduction showed the two most common forms of transmission were sex and intravenous drug use. So fun, basically. Fun could kill you in the 80s.

A recession in the early half of the decade, growing incidents of global terrorism, rising crime rates – all readily available for viewership thanks to continued advances in consumer technology; there was plenty of reason to be disenfranchised. Or at least to appear that way. An overarching sense of discordance permeated the youthful fabric of society in the late 80s and early 90s. No one ought to deny that. But Generation X was not a spiritless monolith mired in defeat. It was a victim of circumstance that needed a creative outlet.

Perception is Reality

What would you think if you survived the worst economic depression in American history, the most violent war in world history, then found your grandchildren despondent over a lack of enticing video games? At best you probably would have at least a couple moments of questioning some life decisions. You can’t really blame earlier generations for looking down upon those that follow. The human condition is adroit at fixating perceived notions upon others. And to The Greatest Generation and the Boomers, Gen X was the other. It was lazy, impatient, and irresponsible.  Of course if you ask a Gen Xer if any of those terms are self-applicable, you probably won’t get an enthusiastic response. Ask the same Gen Xer to trade spots with a Millenial and you’ll likely get just as listless a reaction. “Millenials? They don’t know how good they have it (grumbles something under breath)!”

Defining a generation boils down to two problems: One, it’s defined by the preceding generation; two, that generation always forgets about a thing called evolution.

The whole point of human suffering is to evolve and improve upon existence by providing a better world for future generations. So why are past generations so quick to judge the next? Maybe it’s a fear of growing obsolete. Whoever said “youth is wasted on the young” was probably no spring chicken. Vitriol can buy you a lot of emotional assurance. Despite the flagrant hypocrisy it is a time-honored event to be looked down upon by your elder statesmen. Generation X had the misfortune of following a particularly brash generation; the Boomers are alternatively known as the Me Generation. So the odds were never in Xers’ favor.

Where Do We Go Now?

Gen X found a way to respond. Grunge rock gave an ironic limp middle finger to the establishment that said “you think we’re indifferent…and we don’t care enough to fight you.” Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith made hit movies that aptly captured trademark Gen X nihilism, but they did it with tongue firmly in cheek.

But the highlight of Generation X is without a doubt the technology. It wasn’t just the devotion to new fields formerly the exclusive arena of “eggheads” and “college boys.” It was that the stuff all worked!  Who doesn’t have a cell phone today? Who doesn’t use the Internet? Who doesn’t listen to music on an MP3 player? Turns out Generation X was good for something more than sitting around watching MTV.

And another interesting thing the Longitudinal Study found was Gen X’s focus on family. Apparently at some point the disenfranchised youth got enfranchised and decided to create junior ambivalent assholes. Some of these people are called Millenials; others are going to fall into a yet unnamed generation under the working title Generation Z. Whoever they become they’ll inherent a world likely easier but far scarier than any before. That’s progress’s perennial catch, the stake’s always get higher. Yes, the human race moves forward but with every step we widen the margin for error. Sadly the Millenial Generation is a reminder of that having returned to form the distinction of owning not one but two major armed conflicts. Yet hidden at the bottom of Pandora’s Box lies hope, and it seems to be the light every generation crawls to. If there’s one thing that binds all cohorts together it’s the drive to surpass the last generation and improve the next. Reality is we’re all parents whether we like it or not.

So maybe we should just call everyone the Human Generation.

The Human Generation: a Generation of People.