When April asked me to comment on how Generation X culture changed my life, I was sort of stumped. Because it’s not so much how it changed my life, but how it was my life. These TV shows and music and movies that almost seem quaint now – I grew up with them. Generation X is me, and I’m Generation X. How could I possibly delve into something that is so tightly integrated into who I am?
So like a good Gen-Xer, I procrastinated. I watched television. Lots of television. Bad television. Reality television. Eventually I made myself read the “Generation X” page on Wikipedia, thinking it might give me some insight into this suddenly impossible question, and actually, it did. My parents never had enough money to buy me a set of encyclopedias, so when I was a kid, to do research, I had to go to the library to look up stuff. Doesn’t it make sense that the Internet blossomed during our watch, the era of slacking? The Internet is the holy grail of indolence. Wanna read the newspaper? Don’t move. Sit in your comfy chair and click on The New York Times. Need to plan your summer vacation? Don’t move. Sit in your comfy chair and click on Expedia (dot com!). Think you might have a brain tumor? Before you go all crazy and get up out of your chair and pick up that heavy phone, why not click on webMD?
Okay. So I had my epiphany, and I felt good. I felt like, “Yeah, I’m done with this assignment.” But here’s the thing, the other part about being a Gen-Xer. Because with great slackertude comes great guilt. We’re not the Greatest Generation, we didn’t have World War II. Didn’t have Vietnam or Woodstock like the Boomers. I mean even the Lost Generation has us beat with their accomplishments, and they were, you know, lost. We really should be doing more. So I considered, ruminated, cogitated, and even pontificated – which all really means I watched more television – and then I had it.
How cool would it be if I were to rewrite the lyrics of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” but instead of starting from 1949 like he did, I’d start from 1981, the beginning of the Generation X years? Yeah! I was pumped. Except there were two things in my way. One, I’ve never written a song before. And the other?
Now with a name like Sung, you’d think that I’d be familiar with the act of singing. Also, I’m Korean, which is actually another word for Karaoke, so really, there’s no excuse. But the truth is, I’ve never sung in public – but that’s all about to change tonight.
Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn / Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman
J-J Jackson / I can’t believe he’s dead
The Facts of Life, My So-Called Life / Homicide: Life on the Street
There were many TV shows / with “life” in the title
Bright Lights, Big City / Less Than Zero
I read the McInerney / and skimmed the other one
When you read a book that’s written / entirely in the second person
It’s kinda freaky ‘cause the author’s / talking about you
New Order is my band / I can name the famed quartet
Barney Sumner, Peter Hook / and the Other Two
Pet Shop Boys I also like / Echo and the Bunnymen
REM / Nirvana / why am I so furious?
I’m a Generation X-er
I’m a slacker / so I write these kinds of songs
I’m a Generation X-er
I want my Mtv / and I guess I want it now
[note: if you want to hear my “singing”]
I also wanted to get this line in the song: Homer Simpson / and the Huxtables. But that would mean writing another whole stanza, so that’s all I wrote. And you know, after writing those “lyrics,” I realized that the original song is pretty damn lazy. I mean all Billy Joel did was just spout off names and places and titles and things. So in way, this song typifies our generation to a T, and I figured I could only elevate that very laziness through the great art of quitting.
I just want to say one more thing about Generation X. We must be doing something right, because the next two generations, Y and Z, have embraced and followed our naming scheme (though this might just be a passing down of our slackertude). I do wonder about what comes next, though. Would it be Generation AA? If you’ve ever used Microsoft Excel, if you go beyond column Z, that’s the next one. AA, AB, AC, so on and so forth. And here’s something else I learned about Excel – the very last column you can have on a spreadsheet is IV. It’s the 256th column. When you’re on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, you’ll thank me.
Anyway, now I’ll read two super-short bits from my novel that refer to some Gen-X TV gems. My novel takes place in the early 80s, and half of the book is told from the point of view of David Kim, the twelve-year-old narrator.
We were both fond of the sitcom Three’s Company, mainly due to John Ritter’s physical comedy. It reminded us of the variety shows we used to watch in Korea, where the humor of the body dominated over the humor of the word. Actors were always falling down, slipping on something, though never on banana peels because bananas were very expensive and slipping on one would hardly be funny.
This was very true when I was in Korea. Bananas were like gold. Anyway, the second excerpt:
If only I could jump into television and join the Drummonds – I could fit right in as the Korean orphan boy who saves Arnold’s life when he’s surrounded by a gang of nogoodniks in the heart of Koreatown. There I would be, named Chu or Ping, karate-chopping the hell out of the thugs and having Arnold say his catchphrase: “Whatchoo talkin’ about, Chu?”
And for my final piece, I’ll read a flash fiction story titled “Confessions of My Wart, Which Is on My Right Foot, Second Toe.” If I can find a tenuous link between this story and tonight’s theme, it is this: this wart was with me throughout my adolescence and early adulthood. Ergo, it, too, is a part of Generation X.
A YouTube video of the flash fiction reading can be found here.