Generation Ex

Some get a decade; we get a moment

But as Myers has proven and Rosie O'Donnell, Will Smith, or Lilith Fair epitomize, a niceness that pretends no animosity exists is just as effective. Rosie can out-Brady the best, she has her undeserving obsession (Broadway), she's an Xer all right— only instead of manifesting the usual twisted relationship to mass culture we developed from outside she gloats in her newfound access, sings the praises of Kmart. (Cap'n Crunch even advertises to adults on her show.) Carefully, she pitches herself in the most broadly accessible terms, a Regis and Kathie Lee with an encyclopedic grasp of trashlore.

Kilborn and O'Donnell make the X factor palatable, but demographics are demographics and today's bulging young have won, so many in our group find it necessary to hide who they are. How convenient that our childhood remains a preoccupation. Whedon's behind-the-scenes role in Buffy is generational drag; for more see Go, a suspiciously complex rave-kids film by Doug Liman, previously known for the less sublimated Swingers. Animation is even better: displace your anomie onto the nuclear family, like King of the Hill and all the other post-Simpsons, and none need realize you're another slacker.

South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone needn't show themselves to be felt, just as they hardly require punk rock to stage Circle Jerks. Their plot says it all; no, not the swipes at family entertainment values, the idea of making those nebbish Canadians, our secret selves, America's invasion force. And they indulge one sappy musical number after another, long past the funny stage, just can't stop believing, until ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald sings "Eyes of a Child" over the closing credits. What transparent softies.

Ultimately, it ain't generational drag that's driven Buffy's stake through our heart. It's the economy, stupid— a boom mentality where rich is best and mopery really does just get you nowhere. The relentless positivity of the cyberworld has wreaked a deep schism within us, even as the onset of all the new technology— with its corresponding focus on the very young, those precious early adapters— has made rehashing network television trivia and '70s rock stars a little quaint. Sure, Web content takes all forms, but the real game isn't blurring genres now, it's constructing towering structures of e-commerce.

The teen culture, which happily marries itself to the adult mainstream (with a few honorably cynical exceptions, though usually the teen stars have to age to turn into Robbie Williams), forbids gloominess and incisive parody as a matter of course. I hate my MTV all of a sudden— now broadcasting from a beach in the Bahamas like fucking Gidget, where a particularly glassy-eyed VJ said to Parker and Stone after they bragged about how sick their film was, "I'm sure there's a message." In the street-conscious early '90s I loved it. Not that it's hard to explain the shift: alternative culture was about the least profitable mainstream variant ever, a product that practically begged to be taken off the shelf.

Our new young masters will achieve greatness; they're too secure not to, knowing what a winning hand they've been dealt. I hear it in the music of those over-21s at that world's "angry" forefront, the rap-rockers who grew up after Nirvana and Dr. Dre and have never faced the mindscrew of seeing the true sounds of their youth automatically ghettoized. One can point out a million exceptions, raise issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality, but in that famous last instant the underlying dynamics of demographic size and economic context get their licks in, making some cohorts naturally grand and others bite-sized.

And so, entering a new century that removes even our ability to serve as the forlorn coda to the last one, we'll return to the periphery, play the, what else, quirky relative in teen comedies (Sandler's little buddy boy is just the start), worry about how to turn irony into sincerity while everyone else is worrying about how to turn sincerity into irony. The children of the boomers will make common cause with their parents, a seamless transition of power, while those of us who haven't cashed in behind the scenes shake our fists from some wretched little garret. Like a Dostoyevsky character. Or like Matthew Broderick hurling his lunch at the limo bearing Reese and the congressman at the end of Election, smearing up the works for just a second, then running away as fast as he possibly can.

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