Were in this social and political moment together, regardless of your age. So, lets please end this ridiculous focus on generations?

I suppose one needs to acknowledge that generational identity isnt exactly new. In the age of identity politics, though, where membership criteria are crucial and exclusionary lines are drawn, capital-G Generation has taken on a new shape and form. And theres been an obsessive attention to these birth-year categories as well. Generation Z. X. Millennials. Baby Boomers. If you follow any sort of media, you cant go a week without hearing someone criticize or praise one of these generations. I wont dignify any of them by listing what people say comprise their characteristics, because theyre all depressing bullshit. Ill give you at least three reasons why:

One: theyre really about social class. Each generation supposedly comprises a group of age-range related people with shared experiences and interests. But tease apart any of them and youll see age has nothing to do with whats being described. Young people are more invested in the environment than old? Please. Baby Boomers are making it tough for younger people to get by? Yeah, the problem here is home ownership (just wait until they die and pass along their mortgage-free houses to their kids!) as if there arent plenty of poor and exploited Boomers. Peel back the onion of each and every presumed characteristic or shared concern of a generation and youll find a class-based characteristic or concern. The young are fundamentally different in worldview than the old? As a 2015 survey suggested, Millennials are just about as racist as their parents. The imaginary characteristics of a given generation disappear once crucial factors like race and class are accounted for.

Two: how is Gen X different than Z? Its really a marketing gimmick. Late Capitalism loves to do this, as Bill Hicks perfectly described, segmenting consumers into identities they can then sell to and persuade. Gen Z has finally snapped over climate change and financial inequality, a recent New York Times article excitedly proclaimed. Howd they snap? By purchasing OK Boomer merch to express their condescending disdain! Whereas in the past, perhaps my generation was a youthful way to express a set of ideas or a political stance, generation now is about differences and, indeed, antagonistic if not competitive opposition between. (Guess what Gen Z, money wins!)

Three: what an awful way to do any serious social or cultural analysis. Imagine focusing on the differences between 20- and 30-year-olds in the late 1400s. Or how about during the American Revolution? We live in a larger moment ourselves here. To reject the category of generation isnt to deny or overlook that some age groups have experienced events in ways younger or older ones havent. School shootings come to mind. But to suggest those events prove to be defining characteristics of one group and often one group alone is, well, extraordinarily limited if not just sloppy thinking.

All three of these aspects of generation identities destroy solidarity. Were in this social and political moment together, regardless of your age. So, lets please end this ridiculous focus on generations? Crass behavior and self-interest can be found in any age. Same with collaboration and empathy. I sometimes like to think were collectively living in the era of a new Enlightenment and not on the cusp of a quick return to the Gilded Age. But in either case, were only going to rise above this moment or continue to perish together. It may be obvious, but we need to build shared lines and work towards our common interests without attention to age. The only generation we should be worried about is the one that accounts for all the living and will be.

  • Paul Hillier is associate professor of communication at the University of Tampa

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us


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