It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The saddest aspect of my mid-life crisis is not a sportscar or a baseball cap, it’s not hashtagging freshly invented compound words, or even indulging self-pitying grief for lost opportunities, it’s simpler and just as fruitless in its immutability, it’s genashame. (That’s #genashame kids! – swipe right to be patronised.)
I am deeply, mortifyingly, ashamed of my generation.
I’ve reached my fifties and, with few exceptions, my contemporaries are sitting in the world’s driving seats. The ministers and CEOs, lawmakers and leaders, movers and sheikers (#sheikers!), the elite, the grandees, the top dogs and fat cats, they’re the kids from my playground; or, more accurately, the one down the M4 south of Slough. And I can only apologise for what utter arseholes we’ve turned out to be.
As all kids must, I knew my parents’ generation had got everything wrong. But instead of anger, I was so insufferably arrogant as to pity them. They had, after all, lived through WWII and the blinkered ‘Establishment’ Britain of the 1950s. Could I really blame them then for, for instance, their apparently inherent racism? After all they hadn’t had the opportunity to grow up in a post Windrush, second generation immigrant, diverse society. Anybody who went to an urban state school in the 70’s would have a rainbow spectrum of mates and I knew that, by the time my generation was running the country, fear of the dark and foreign would be as ancient history as a profit-led privatized railway … (pause for dramatic irony to sink in).
In my teens I watched the tribal thinking of the Baby Boomer older kids – the hippies, teds, punks, rockers, skinheads and mods – fade out. They called it the death of individuality and the rise of the grey, but many of us saw it differently: the birth of inclusivity. Our, frankly embarrassing, cross-over youth movement New Romanticism, embraced countless styles whilst ham-fistedly promoting gender neutrality with frilly shirts, and badly applied mascara. (I really can’t find any other excuse for it). We had our own French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, championing the margins and “différence”. I was so proud of my generation, I just knew that, when we finally got into power the world would be put right. Extremism, factionalism, sectarianism, sexism, gaybashing, queer baiting, they would all belong to the past as decisively as women in headscarves … (we’re still doing the dramatic irony thing).
When I started work, Thatcher deregulated the financial markets, her “Big Bang” – a term which can’t have made Denis feel very good about himself – introduced “the barrowboy into the city”. It all seemed to be preparing the world for my generation’s inevitable all-inclusive style leadership when we took over. The laying down of class divisions, opening the highest paid jobs to those who hadn’t had the benefit of an exhaustive private education, looked like meritocracy. Opportunities for all in banking would weed out the complacent, the corrupt and the greedy. When anybody, everybody, could be a stockbroker, investor or banker, the exclusive ranks of the financial world would die out. The almost feudal idea of a tiny elite controlling almost all the money and power would be as dead and unfathomable as ripped jeans, chain smoking, anti-Semitism, nukes, bigotry, xenophobia, gender pay differences …
My generation, which invented Google and designed the iPhone, leveraged the internet in good faith; we thought it’d empower the less privileged and encourage global understanding. As it turns out, all it did was put up a screen – in every sense of the word – between all of us. In the 90s, it seemed misanthropic to predict that such a tool of mass communication would, in fact, encourage and enable elitism, factionalism, disagreement and dissatisfaction, but on a global scale.
Every now and again a millennial pops up on YouTube expressing their own #genashame. She’ll apologise for her peers: ignoring the world with their heads in their phones, trolling, slut-shaming, fraping, and a hundred other online and surly behavioural misdemeanours. And I long to reassure her. It’s not your fault. Just as my parents‘ generation, with all good intentions, deprived working class children of elite grammar educations and starved the present Establishment of diverse thinkers, the phone and it’s brain-sucking enchantment is down to my shitty selfish generation who put the hypnotic little box in your hands, to shut you up while we got on with our own lives.
We were dubbed Generation X. X was for “the unknown”, but I’m starting to realise that an X also resembles a tightly clenched arsehole. Somehow, we got side-lined and the few people from my generation who could be bothered to grab all the top jobs were, on the whole, the most greedy, narrow-minded, blinkered, arseholes my generation had to offer.
The rest of us, it seems, did not care enough to really make a difference. We ignored our duty to take care of the economy, environment, rights or even hard-won social tolerance. We simply gave in to fear-mongering and terrorism of the most basic sort.
I am utterly genashamed. We were too busy playing Space Invaders to give a fuck. Whilst we were indulging our own interests we forgot our social ones. We allowed our nimbys, our angry misfits and disgruntled reactionaries, the ones with small minds and axes to grind, who could be bothered, to take control. We were so distracted by all the little gewgaws we invented we forgot to take care of things.
First published in