For the cohort known for feeling stupid and contagious, as Kurt Cobain said, Generation X has become self-righteous. The regular belittling of our generation in pop demography is officially a source of performative enthusiasm.
Of course, we are constantly neglected. Larger, louder and more powerful branded generations – the boomers who preceded us, and the millennials, our successors – gravitate to Hoover and suck in all the oxygen. But our invisibility also means they rarely blame us.
We sneak around doing our ordinary, overly human things (and for every Zadie Smith or Monica Lewinsky there is Ted Cruz or Alex Jones), and the Boomers, as usual, consume all resources – including the state’s deep reserves of contempt, which are in largely focused on them. Two big genes also get the love of pollsters: polls focus on those over 65 and under 34, leaving out a total of 35 to 64 people, making us a kind of chronological land of passers-by.
But our trace in the world is still obvious, if in unexpected places. Let me show you TikTok, the return of Gen X suppressed.
Even as the “TikTok generation” is increasingly its own label – and the term means something like “damn young” – founder the ancient video-sharing platform, Zhang Yiming, born in 1983, is almost Gen Xer or at least xennial. (Generalization is stupid and contagious in itself.) Moreover, the new CEO, Liang Rubo, was Zhang’s roommate. Very Gen X that will stick to your teenage tribe. It’s the best way to make sure everyone gets references to kitschy childhood stuff, like Garbage Pail Kids, Reality Bites, and of course the Lancang-Gengma earthquake.
(Okay, you see, it’s Gen X, Letterman-style humor.)
Immerse yourself in TikTok and you’ll see the thunderous return of old 90s themes: self-rage, sour contempt for the rich, anti-commercialism, overt mental illness, and every nuance of irony. Although the very word TikTok scares boomers, with their love of talking on Facebook, and millennials, with their commitment to the sleek me-meing brand on Instagram, the indolent, endless scroll of TikTok smells like a teenage spirit. This is seductive for General Xers who round up their reading glasses and forget their names.
In fact, TikTok is a Gen X comfort zone. And when we’ve accomplished the most, we love nothing more than comfort zones. Not getting rid of them, not disturbing them, not making them aware or indulging, just sit in them without a shower, doing something like not caring about yourself. TikTok may be part of this famous catatonia, you 65 million.
I admit, I indulge in the mental laziness of generational categories. But come on: Everything is so obvious, a Clinton-era apparatus permeates TickTock. And it’s not just high-waisted jeans and gleaming tracksuits. For example, #nonbinary videos are full of the artistic styles of Grace Jones, Prince, Eddie Izzard, Kurt Cobain, RuPaul, Boy George, Annie Lennox. You have a feeling that sometimes non-binary life is stylized as a function of apathy, as it was in the days of grunge. Our icons seemed to be too far away, too cold, and probably too high to pick a side. What else could I say? They are all gay.
The #nonbinary TikTok also strongly mentions a version of gender expression embodied by 1990 ‘s doc Jennie Livingston. Paris is burning, as well as of course Madonna, who ordered all the binaries to be dissolved on the dance floor:
It doesn’t matter if you are black or white If you are a boy or girl If the music blows, it will give you new life You’re a superstar Yes, it’s you, you know it.
Which brings us to the dance. If your memories from Gen X are hard for indie songwriters with three chords, you may have forgotten how deep in your heart the groove was. The spirit of the dance club also animates TikTok, after all, the parent company called ByteDance.