Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Just call me Walaka Jones

Generations have been in the forefront of my mind for a little while. A few weeks ago, my colleague Starbuck and I facilitated a workshop for faculty entitled "NetGen Reloaded," concerning the values, attitudes, and behavior patterns our Generation Y / Net Generation students bring into the classroom. A few days ago, I was out at our college-town alehouse with some colleagues (including Starbuck), and the conversation turned to how some of us teachers from an older generation differed in out formative experiences from our younger co-workers, many if not most of whom are Generation X. Heck, even my own Otis is a Gen-Xer, and we have had to bridge a few gaps between us.

Yet even with generational issues staring me in the face, I have always felt a bit confused about my own generation. I am clearly too old to be from Generation X, but I have never felt connected to Baby Boomers, that great, influential generation that came before. I was not a child of the sixties in the traditional sense; I was too young for the summer of love. But I'm not a slacker, either.

Well, you can just call me a charter member of Generation Jones.

I had heard about this construct before, but had somehow forgotten it. The coinage of pop culture historian Jonathan Pontell, Generation Jones refers to those of us born between 1954 and 1965. Most studies would parse these folks as just young Boomers, but Pontell saw a distinction. As one writer put it: "They grew up watching The Brady Bunch, not Leave It to Beaver. Their attitudes were shaped more by Watergate than JFK. They remember gas lines, not Mustangs."

That's me. Not a Boomer. A Jonesie. Less idealistic than Boomers, less cynical than Xers, formed by the wonders of moon landings, the malaise of hyper-inflation, and the disaster of the Iran hostage crisis, Jonesers can remember a world before computers and Walkmans and even color TV, but missed out on Camelot and Davy Crockett and Joe DiMaggio (except when he was selling coffee makers). I have always thought it emblematic of my generation that Do The Hustle hit number one the charts in New York on the night of my senior prom. Generation Jones.

And you know who's one of us? That one. The White House has gone from sixteen years of Boomer occupancy to Joneser in the Oval Office. Change, indeed.


Juliet said...

Yay! cool, Walaka. I'm trying to think of things I had in my childhood that may have overlapped. Lincoln Logs?

Jon said...

Mmmn - two questions:

Where did the name come from?

Generation Jones had two main fringe subcultures—punk and rap. The main common denominator of punk and rap was a sense of pastiche—the mixing together of seemingly disparate styles.

Think I would have to disagree with this one - particularly in the case of punk, which was certainly in the UK a later generation to mine - the equivalent would have been the skinheads who were into ska and reggae. As for rap, I don't think we had such a visible black portion in our generation so I couldn't say but the music style was certainly something that came much later, no?

Walaka said...

I had Lincoln Logs when the roof slats were still wood.

I have read that the "Jones" has two resonances - one is "keeping up with the Joneses," referring to the preoccupation with consumer culture, and the other is "jonesing," to have a strong need or desire.

Punk hit big in NYC in like 1976, same time as Son of Sam, so that's definitely Jones territory.

The first time I heard of rap must have been 1986, because it was mentioned in The Story of English by Robert McNeil and was new to me; it seems it was definitely catching on in the 70's, but I wasn't it that loop then. Maybe it was truly "fringe." I always associated rap with Gen X, too.

RAB said...

I only just heard the expression "Generation Jones" for the first time a week ago! Don't remember if it was mentioned specifically in connection with the President, but it seems like it may have been. This may or may not be part of the putative "Jones" outlook...but having been obliged to forge my own self-identification for all these years, I'm not entirely comfortable with being given a generational label of any sort. To anyone who tries to understand me in generational terms, I'd have to say there's a lot of things about me you don't know anything about. Things you wouldn't understand. Things you couldn't understand. Things you shouldn't understand. You don't wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I'm a loner. A rebel.

I remember hearing "Rapper's Delight" and "Rapture" at roughly the same time, which would have been when they came out during my senior year of high school. I would lord this over you...but anyone who namechecks McNeil's The Story of English is a fair dinkum cobber in my book!

Walaka said...

What are you rebelling against, Johnny?

I left NYC in '78 for the wilds of Portland, delight or rapture to be found.