Paging Generation X
How Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show signals that our time is nearly here
When Jimmy Fallon recently took over The Tonight Show he became one of only 6 hosts in the show’s 60 year history. There’s good reason for that. Hosts of the The Tonight Show have been in some ways representatives of their generation, but more specifically an indicator of the dominant demographic of influencers. Fallon connects with the crucially important 18-49 year old age demographic that marketers live for.
Right there in the center of that ‘demo’ lies the average Generation Xer. Our number is on deck and the time when we will have greatest influence on everything we’ve accepted as status quo will be here.
Generation X has a wide ranging definition according to how the media has portrayed us or what stereotypes have stuck. But typically, we’re the latchkey generation of two working parents where divorce was increasingly common. We were raised on Atari, just as interconnected technology was emerging, witnesses to political incompetence like Clinton-Lewinsky, and observers to war.
More generally speaking, Generation X was born between the late-60's and the mid 80's. Today, the median age of a CEO is around 55 years old while the average age of a Senator when taking office is around 50. The majority of Generation X isn't quite this old yet, but we’re slowly and surely rising through the ranks right now. And when we are in these high positions of wider influence, we will have the ability to shape policy, business, and culture through our generational lens.
For a long time, we've been at the mercy of the system already in place. We haven’t felt the ability to change it from the top, so we‘ve simply always played the hands we were dealt. We have stirred, but with minimal clout. John Mayer says it well in “Waiting on the World To Change”:
Me and all my friends / We’re all misunderstood
They say we stand for nothing and / There’s no way we ever could
Now we see everything that’s going wrong / With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don’t have the means / To rise above and beat it
If we took a look at our current dominant culture, Google can tells us a lot. In 2012, the average age of a social media user was 36.9 years. That’s Generation X territory right there. Allow me some liberty to correlate this average age of a social media user to the “average internet user”. It’s not perfect by any means, but gives us an idea. Take a look at the most Googled terms in 2013: twerking, Miley Cyrus, Harlem Shake, Black Friday, and…you get the picture.
When we are called to the helm to oversee the path our society and this country takes, what will the hallmarks of our generation be? Will we care more about the Trayvon Martins and issues of race or Miley Cyrus and issues of entertainment? Will we care more about addressing income inequality or scoring the cheap 50" LED TV the day after Thanksgiving? Will we make further progress on world hunger, or will our social networks still be flooded with food porn?
Looking at my own life and social habits, I throw myself under the proverbial bus first. I don’t mean to chastise anybody who camps for Black Friday or has ever Instagrammed their burger. I love a great deal as much as the next person, and my camera roll isn’t free of pictures of food. I did lead off with pop culture frontman Jimmy Fallon of all things. In order to effectively change culture you must understand it and affect what you can with deft competence. Popular culture will always exist, but we collectively define what is popular.
The goals of our culture will be dictated by our value system. If we elevate celebrity, it is celebrity that people will seek. If we elevate wealth, it is wealth we will seek and so on. But we need not feel powerless and defeated to the current forms. Things aren't “just the way they are”, things are “the way we value them to be.”
The culture at large isn’t created by one or two trendsetters. Miley didn’t just twerk her way to the top. We endorsed her to that level. So even if we’re never going to be the movers and shakers of our generation, what we do still matters. What we say and what we’re silent on, what we consume and what we abstain from communicate our values. What each of us individually cares about, perpetuates, and shares about affects our small spheres of influence that bubble up to the larger. Our actions are never in vacuum, but are inputs, both positive and negative, into our societal value system. We are all responsible and accountable.
For my fellow Generation X brothers and sisters, this will take some careful self-assessment and boldness in living out our convictions, countering the unexamined life.
Perhaps we can think of what our generational legacy would be. When the torch passes on to the Millenials, I hope that we’ve left our society more racially reconciled, more equitable, more healthy, at peace and positioned for even more. Just as on the individual level, we are, for better or worse, generationally interconnected.
The sooner we realize that we’re all teammates playing against the same house, the sooner we’ll see we need not only a larger table but a different set of cards. So when the buck does stop at Gen X and it’s our turn to deal, we can swap out the old, tired deck for a brand new one we’ve been stacking for years.