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Is Generation X to blame for Brexit?

ullsteinbild / TopFoto - Credit: ullsteinbild / TopFoto

Baby Boomers must share the blame for Brexit and Trump, but the real rage comes from elsewhere

The Baby Boomer Era of great American art shines through the exquisite American Dream exhibition now on at the British Museum. But it made me realise something… every time I see a picture of Woodstock (which is not in the show, by the way) I get mad.

Find out more about the similarities between American and Russian art a few decades before the Baby Boomers

For not only is mine the first generation of human beings to see its childhood and youth in a museum retrospective (scary enough), but many of those hippies from that Summer Of Love celebrated in Woodstock photos – well, they voted for Trump.

Trump would have been at Woodstock too, except for the fact that he’s a self-described germaphobe. And Woodstock had a lot of sharing going on: mud, spliffs, and a lot more besides.

My generation made up the largest percentage of the Leave vote. We drove it. We own it. We came out in our droves. We were heavy, man. Because that’s What We Want. And we boomers have always gotten what we wanted.

After all, the tag for those of us lucky enough to have been born between 1947 and 1956 – peak Baby Boom – is: ‘The Me Generation’. Before we came along, kids were barely seen and seldom heard: dressed like miniature adults, many dead before puberty, mourned but expendable.

If you were lucky enough to have been born in the UK in the magic year of 1948, the welfare state was created for you. Yours was the future that mummy and daddy wanted to insure and they did it in a big way. They remade the state itself: the education, the cradle-to-grave free healthcare, the job-for-life, the bricks and mortar, the whole deal.

We boomers were told it was us our daddies dreamt about on the battlefields of the Second World War; the reason our mummies came out of the aircraft factories and put on aprons. ‘Me. Me Me’ had to be among our first baby words. That’s because everybody jumped to our tune.

In the US, we even had our very own paediatrician: Dr Spock, who wrote a baby book about how to handle us. He even marched with us on our anti-war demonstrations decades later; sat in at our school sit-ins. The coolest character on Star Trek was named Spock. This could not have been an accident.

We boomers are also the first group of human beings to watch the gruesome spectacle of parents dressing, talking like, and acting like their children. Compare photos of the Queen from between 1961 and 1969. Her hem gets higher. She’s got knees. That’s because of us boomers.

The only boomer who missed out on our Big Time is Prince Charles. He acted and dressed older than Prince Philip did back then. But Charles gets to be king, so he wins.

A lot of us were pissed off at Bernie Sanders. Not necessarily because he was wrong, but because he was our Big Brother, the one from ‘The Silent Generation’ born before, or early in, the war.

He was the jerk always butting in when we were making our kiddie demands at the supper table. Anyway we’d followed Bernie before. His name in our day was Gene McCarthy. We’d worked our butts off for him… and boom! We got Richard Nixon. We tried to warn younger folks about Bernie, how we’d seen this movie before and the ending was really bad. But… we’d raised our kids not to listen to us.

We gave our little ones ‘FREEDOM NOW!’ because ‘The Whole World is Watching’. So as far as advice from us was concerned, we were spitting in the wind. Hillary was a lousy candidate, but she would have made a hell of a good President. Now all we’ve got is hell. Many in my boomer demographic watched in horror as the USA got conned by Don The Con: the jerk who’d ride past our sit-ins in his dad’s limo, smoking an illegal Havana and laughing at us.

So it looks like Brexit is our Last Big Noble Cause; our last chance to stamp our little feet before we’re covered in dirt or end up in an urn. You won’t forget us!! No one ever has.

But there’s someone else on the sofa-of-life; someone else in the squeezed middle between us still-yelling boomers and the new stars in the firmament, the millennials.

It’s Generation X – the second biggest voters for Leave. Nobody’s talking about them. But just picture that moment in Gladiator when Russell Crowe takes off his helmet and snarls: ‘I will have my vengeance!’

That’s Gen X. And it has got its vengeance. It’s called Brexit. Why did they do it?

In the UK, Gen X was born from the mid 60s until the early 80s. There are many theories as to who they are and why.

Some of the theories are plausible, even good: Gen X is a small generation, some say as a result of the pill and the rise of the working mum. In the US they were called ‘latchkey babies’ because both parents worked and weren’t there when young Gen X came home from school.

Here in the UK, the generous state that Gen X’s parents had grown up under was being rolled back. This was happening by the time the oldest of the Gen Xers were entering their teens.

There were strikes and there was austerity. It was easy to have the feeling that being an individual was a better option than part of a movement. Johnny Rotten was spitting at communality and calm through his green teeth; and there was Mrs Thatcher.

She’d beaten the establishment time and time again. And yet her alma mater, Oxford University, had refused to give her an honorary degree. To some Gen Xers, Thatcher was the ultimate renegade; a barn-burner, and, like them, a kind of loner.

The economic reality for Gen Xers is not what it had been promised to be. Many Gen Xers rent or have had to go back to renting. In a society so dependent on bricks and mortar – not only for a roof but for prestige, for a place in society – not to have a home of your own can be devastating. Especially if you’re 45. Gen Xers are the dot com generation that crashed; the grunge era Nevermind people who finally got dressed up to go to work, and saw the work dwindling; outsourced.

The factories closed; the coal mines shut down; there were no more ‘jobs for life’. You had to retrain – work without a contract while watching people get rich for being on television and doing nothing special.

People in advertising have a hard time picturing Generation X because they’ve disappeared. While they can pitch cool and happy retirements to boomers, and tech to millennials, many don’t know how to class Gen Xers.

There is an aspect of Gen X that has do with rage: the rage about being male and feeling shafted. Pissed off and angry Gen X guys are the shock troops driving the Trump Train in the States. And they are fuelling Leave here.

For them, what happens, happens. But, as they booed David Cameron as he drove out of Downing Street following his resignation, it was clear that the nation was caught up in a cri de coeur. Why doesn’t Brexit make sense?

Because it’s largely not about reason. But about feeling. Deeply felt feeling, embodied by faux paladins like Nigel Farage, and abetted by a media whose values are rapidly becoming commercial ones. The bottom line.

We boomers are taking the hit for Brexit, and rightly so. But there are other ‘future thieves’, too: Generation X.

The oldest are entering their 50s this year, with decades still ahead of them. Who knows what will happen in those years?

But, for now, Gen X is like Maximus, glaring in triumph at the arena.

And if there was an art exhibit celebrating Generation X, it would have Munch’s The Scream in pride of place.

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