“They’re slackers, cynics, whiners, drifters, malcontents.”
I bet millennials popped into your head while reading that sentence. However, those were also words used in the early 1990s to describe the Americans born between 1965 and 1978: Generation X.
This forgotten generation, often referred to as the United States’ middle child because it is sandwiched between the baby boomers and millennials, is the generation to which the majority of our parents belong. It is no secret that our country is polarized right now, with that divide reaching the intergenerational gap between Gen Xers and millennials. While hostilities steadily grow between these two generations, it is important to note the uncanny similarities between the problems that both groups have faced in their 20s.
Generation Xers were in their 20s primarily in the 90s. The 90s was a time marked by extreme global insecurity and danger, due in most part to the end of the Cold War. It was during this time that the U.S. government and military had to learn and adapt to novel security threats in the “New World Order” — not unlike the challenges that we are facing today.
Although the frequency at which mass gun violence has occurred may have risen since the 90s, gun violence and debates over gun control were well known to Generation X. The Mother Jones database has estimated that 159 people were killed in mass shootings in the 1990s, while 381 people have been killed in mass shootings in this decade so far.
The heated debate over gun laws has actually come full circle in the wake of the more recent mass shootings. In 1994, Congress enacted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which prohibited the sale, manufacture, importation and possession of specific military-style semi-automatic assault weapons; this act lasted 10 years before Congress decided against reauthorizing it.
This bill was the largest piece of crime-control legislation ever passed in the history of the nation, and as you might imagine, this bill was met with controversy. Following the devastating Las Vegas shooting in October, many have called for a renewal of the assault weapons ban from the 1994 crime bill.
Similarities between Gen Xers and millennials go even further than tragedies endured. Women of all ages have felt the unjust pressure to conform to unrealistic ideals of beauty. Millennial women have endured the “thigh gap” craze that took the internet by storm earlier in this decade. The advent of social media and the newly accessible photo-doctoring applications have facilitated novel challenges for millennials. The quest for these unrealistic ideals has led many millennial women down a road of unhealthy body image and even eating disorders.
Thanks to the fashion industry of the 90s and its “heroin chic” style of modeling, our mothers were forced into unhealthy and unattainable beauty ideals as well, with possibly even more danger attached. The “heroin chic” look clouted models looking worn out, strung out and malnourished, forcing a perilous and reckless message — that heroin addiction is glamorous, sexy and cool. “Heroin chic” held its grip on fashion and society up until 1997 when prominent fashion photographer Davide Sorrenti died due to complications of his excessive heroin use.
Additionally, the current level of tension that millennials are experiencing regarding race relations is actually almost exactly as it was in 1992, when the United States was in the throes of the Rodney King verdict. On March 3, 1991, four white Los Angeles police officers were recorded kicking and clubbing Rodney King, who was unarmed, 56 times after a high-speed chase resulting from King speeding on the highway. The police officers were indicted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force by a police officer. Despite video evidence, the mostly white jury acquitted the police officers — a decision that led to the worst riots since the civil rights movement. The riots in Los Angeles resulted in over 50 deaths, 2,000 injuries, 9,500 arrests and over $1 billion in property damage from the looting and arson.
A 2014 Gallup poll showed that 13 percent of Americans claimed racism as the biggest problem in the United States. This was the highest statistic since the 15 percent claimed in 1992. Unfortunately, the United States still witnesses police brutality targeting people of color.
Our parents witnessed history repeating itself with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. On Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white police officer after stealing from a convenience store. The grand jury, nine of the members being white, decided not to indict the officer, leading to riots that lasted weeks.
Both Generation X and millennials have felt the gut-wrenching impact of terror inflicted upon innocent Americans.
Millennial women and their mothers have felt the systemic oppression of women via dangerous and unnecessary beauty ideals.
The pain of a country divided by civil discourse and racism has been felt by the two generations.
It was Gen Xers who were seen as “slackers” because of how little they were interested in working hard and it is the millennials who are known as the “Me Me Me Generation,” unable to accept criticism, self-centered and lazy. Young people are pre-emptively and harshly criticized for what is clearly a stage into adulthood. But look at what the “slacker” generation achieved: they brought us from analog to digital, revolutionizing and advancing our world to heights we never imagined possible. Now we can wait and see the greatness that millennials can achieve on their own or we can team up, parents and children, to usher in a new era of greatness.
The events and influences that our two generations have weathered unite us and make us stronger than any intergenerational angst. We may be parents and children, but we have an infinite and reciprocal flow of knowledge between us. The sooner we realize this great truth, the sooner we can build a more united country.
Morgan Manganello is a junior majoring in integrative neuroscience.