When Billy Joel sang “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” people enthusiastically sung along and tried to memorize the words. The trouble was, with the exception of a few lines in the last verse, Generation X had very little nostalgia attached to the song other than the song itself. Largely, they were born after “JFK blown away, what else do I have to say?” They were a little more cognizant of “Cola Wars” and “Bernie Goetz.”
If you ever want to understand the moody depressed generation which Judd Apatow still thinks he is the spokesman for, then you might want to take a gander at the stories which actually affected them. This list is done in chronological order, rather than order of importance. That will probably not stop comments complaining about the order.
10. Ronald Reagan Nearly Shot To Death
On March 31st 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot and seriously wounded by gunman John Hinckley Jr. Later on, we would learn that the assassination attempt was an attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster, who has since come out as a lesbian. Too bad Hinckley’s gaydar was off that fateful day.
Generation X has grown to have very mixed feelings about the Reagan Presidency. However, the impact of Reagan’s policies cannot be debated. It also cannot be debated that Reagan’s shooting was the catalyst which brought about many of the legislative changes with a Democratic Congress in the 1980’s. Had Reagan died, George Bush’s Presidency would have started in 1981. Had the assassination attempt never occurred, then Congress might have ignored Reagan altogether. That was not exactly mentioned while teachers had us all huddled together in school discussing what happened.
9. The Challenger Explosion
On January 28th 1986, a lot was encapsulated for Generation X. Nothing had been more built up as an event for schoolchildren than the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. A national search to send a civilian into space had culminated with Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher, being selected. She was supposed to actually conduct experiments from space that school children could watch.
Instead, schools wound up gathering children in auditoriums across the United States, and subjecting them to unspeakable tragedy. All the hope of a generation went belly-up in under two minutes. It would become an all-too-common theme for a generation which would continually be promised great things, only to see them turned into tragedy.
8. “Black Monday”
There is a line in 1994’s The Crow in which Brandon Lee says, “They are all dead. They just don’t know it yet.” Generation X did not immediately understand the message of October 19th, 1987. As the years went on though, the message would become increasingly apparent: “You will never be as successful as your parents … ever.”
On that day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 508 points. This was actually a bigger drop than the crash which caused the Great Depression. There was a quick recovery, but the damage had been done. “Black Monday” led to the recession in the early 1990’s. About the time in which much of Generation X was going into college, the storm clouds of a gloomy economic climate which would last the rest of their lives was forming. The previous generation had taken everything, and as X’ers grew up, the previous generation’s needs and demands would only grow, turning Generation X into a bulwark to facilitate the eventual success which will fall on Baby Boomers’ grandkids, the Millennials, after both previous generations are gone.
7. David Koresh And The Branch Davidians
Like Voldemort was actually Thomas Riddle, David Koresh was born Vernon Wayne Howell. Koresh would eventually become entrenched in the religious sect known as the Branch Davidians. Koresh’s group established a compound near Waco, Texas. A raid that started out as an attempt by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to arrest Koresh for hoarding weapons turned into a standoff between the Davidians and the United States Government.
The 51-day siege ended on April 19th, 1993, with agents from the FBI storming the compound. A fire ensued, killing 76 people, including Koresh. As a result, anti-government sentiment raised to dangerously high levels throughout the new Clinton Administration. Term such as “domestic terrorism” and “militia movement” got introduced into American lexicons. The result was that poor economic times mixed with conspiracy theory and violent sentiment, creating a very real and very adverse effect on Generation X’s psyche, as well as redefining how people to this day view government. If you want an example, just ask someone from the Tea Party Movement about “Waco,” and be prepared for a long lecture.
6. Kurt Cobain’s Suicide
On April 8th, 1994, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was found dead in his home. His death, the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, sparked a firestorm of discussion across the United States, much of which really marked how far apart Baby Boomers and Generation X really were.
Amid Generation X’s grief, Baby Boomers downplayed the news as irrelevant. In many ways, Generation X was told that their own voice was irrelevant, and not as important as their elders. Andy Rooney, for example, went on 60 Minutes to make a point of talking about more important people who had died that week. Daring to compare Cobain to figures such as John Lennon was seen as blasphemy. The message, whether intentional or not, came through to Generation X loud and clear: “You don’t matter. Your opinions don’t matter. Your idols don’t matter. Shut up and quit bothering us.” It was a message that Generation X would seethe about for years afterward.
5. The Oklahoma City Bombing
The date of April 19th, 1995 being two years after the Branch Davidian compound was not coincidental. Bomber Timothy McVeigh was obsessed with the events surrounding Waco, as well as an earlier government standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. The bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City would ultimately claim nearly 200 lives, as well as scar Generation X somewhat irrevocably.
Bomber Timothy McVeigh was a member of Generation X, having been born in 1968. The dismissive attitude in which older generations had treated the opinions of X was now being met with unimaginable violence. Moreover, the Oklahoma City Bombing did nothing but fan the flames of the discussion which had been started by the events in Waco. McVeigh would be executed shortly before the events of September 11th, 2011, in which a completely different type of terrorism would dominate the discussion on the news.
4. The Dot Com Bubble Bursts
In the late 1990’s, they called it the “new economy.” Money, and crazy amounts of it, seemed to be able to be made on the new-fangled internet. Start-up companies abounded and were getting venture capital from investors. The better news for Generation X is that they were being looked to in order to program, drive, and profit from an economy where a store front was now a computer. After all, tech-savvy young adults were the ones who truly understood the Internet. Generation X was coming out of college at this point, and ready. Hell, websites referred to as “dot com” companies were even advertising during the Super Bowl.
By the year 2000 though, many of these companies ran out of money, and did not return a profit. The entire industry seemed to self-destruct overnight. Unfortunately, Generation X believed that the boom might result in some stability. This led to their credit going bust, forcing them to delay purchases such as houses and cars, which is never a good sign for any economy. In short, Generation X went into college with a recession, and graduated into another one. The first one affected their ability to inherit. The second one affects their ability to collect future earnings.
The coordinated attacks of September 11, 2001, which killed thousands in New York City, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania, was both a tragedy and a black mark in the nation’s history. It was an economic disaster at a time when the Dot Com recovery had not fully taken place. plus, Generation X was now asked to fight a war on two fronts: Afghanistan and Iraq. While these wars were the most unpopular in United States history since Vietnam, the military was hiring, as well as doling out substantial bonuses for signing up. For many, the only viable career options were in the United States military. This was not exactly how a generation once seen as slackers, who wanted nothing more than to sit at computers and become millionaires while wearing flannel, saw their collective futures shaping up.
Now, record numbers of Generation X’ers deal with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their service. They would also come back to a world to find that they would again be none the richer for it.
2. Hurricane Katrina
It is hard to believe that, as of this writing, it has been over eight years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29th, 2005. The Gulf Coast was never exactly a model of economic stability, but Katrina seemed to exacerbate an already economically distressed region. Today, there are still lasting effects, since losing everything that you own can occasionally not only take years, but also generations to recover from.
The additional problem was that the resulting diaspora also put a job crunch on other areas which did not have jobs to spare. A domestic crisis at a time when wars were being fought on two fronts spread available resources very thin. Again, in addition to the loss of life and the human toll, Generation X would see yet another example of how the wealth in their lifetime was disappearing out of the vault like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
1. The Stock Market Crash of 2008
In September of 2008, what had already been over a year of bad economic times were further hindered when news of a failed bailout caused the Dow Jones to drop nearly 800 points. It was the worst drop in United States history, as well as the worst day of trading since the first full day of trading after 9/11.
Generation X was born into recession, dealt with another when they were coming out of high school, and yet one more when they were coming out of college. Now, the Great Recession hits, and not only is employment affected but the house they may had been finally able to buy is now worth less than half its original value. The house isn’t even worth half of what they’d be paying the bank for the right to live in it.
Incidentally, that sort of predatory lending and “complex financial products” is now precisely why this latest recession is happening. Even more insulting, the banks are deemed “too big to fail,” but the random nobodies of Generation X are by no means too big to fail. Whatever wealth was left was gone, and soon enough any funds reserved for retirement will be as well. By the time they are told they can’t ever retire, Generation X will be used to bad news. Come to think of it, they should be already.