Generation X has long railed against the hegemony of baby boomers, not wanting its contributions cast into the bargain bins of American cultural memory in order to make room for another Beatles boxed set. What Xers (born between the early- to mid-1960s and 1980, roughly) are just beginning to grapple with, though, is the rising tide of millenials, those Facebooking, ZOMG-ing, narcissistic, consumerist children of boomers. Of course, millenials haven’t contributed much to American culture that can’t be televisually caricatured by stock footage of screaming Twilight fans and grudging exhortations by onscreen personalities to “Follow us on Twitter!”, but it only seems a matter of time. How will Generation X handle being squeezed by aging hippies on one side and nattering kidz on the other?
Right now, one of the most fascinating arenas of popular culture to watch this dynamic play out is the NBA finals. The best-of-seven championship series began June 3rd with heavy sponsorship by the movie Grown Ups, starring Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Kevin James. The first four all joined the cast of Saturday Night Live (with James acting as the presumed Chris Farley stand-in) in the 1990-91 season, coinciding with the rise of Generation X presences in other cultural forms and with increased interest by corporate America in the demographic’s spending and tastemaking power. The comedians (sans Schneider, who apparently had something more important to do?) all appeared courtside and logged heavy camera time. Rock, a New York Knicks fan who’d been razzing the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, has his in-game interview awkwardly broken up by Laker coach Phil Jackson:
One might see a generational clash in the incident, with the boomer “Zenmaster” Jackson having his buzz harshed by the snarky Xer Rock. More importantly, however, is Rock’s reason for being there in the first place. Grown Ups, a movie about a group of Xers confronting middle age in ways that may or may not entail hilarity, is in dialogue with many other iterations of recent Gen X ennui. A.O. Scott, with gaze-fixed-squarely-on-navel, incredulously assesses Xer midlife crises in Greenberg and Hot Tub Time Machine, while even MTV recently announced that Gen X is no longer welcome there. As Jeff Gordinier notes in the groan-inducingly, yet, you know, totally ironically, subtitled X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking, “The mantle of contemporary adulthood descends at that moment when you figure out that MTV doesn’t love you anymore.”
On the court, these Finals abound with Gen X stars–Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen among them. And while attempting to lay a confident finger on something as shape-shifting as sports stardom opens the door for Bill Simmons-esque grandiloquence, it’s clear this is Rajon Rondo’s coming out party. Rondo, the electric 4th-year guard who alienated his elder statesmen for much of the year before commandeering the role as leader, made the following play at a crucial juncture in Sunday night’s game 5:
Rondo is freakishly athletic, to be sure, but look at who he’s outjumping: the 6-10 Lamar Odom, and Kobe Bryant, he of the 1000+ career games, 37,000+ career minutes, and 27% 4th-quarter field goal percentage for the Finals. Granted, Bryant had just gotten done scoring 23 straight Laker points in just over a quarter of basketball, but on this play, the man long-known as “The Closer” (and not just for potentially lucrative TNT tie-ins!) looked tired. Bryant had an amazing run of success alongside Shaquille O’Neal in the early 2000s, likely has three or four good years left, and will undoubtedly go down as an all time top-10 player, but his sun is setting. Millennial stars like Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, and the much-heralded draft class of 2003 (which includes Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, and LeBron James) are all at or entering the primes of their careers. As Bryant and lone-wolf Xer compatriots like Allen Iverson and Vince Carter continue to concede the spotlight, the NBA is moving toward a more open and fluid style of play reflective of its increasingly global reach, and Commissioner David Stern is making the NBA brand accessible to as many audiences in as many places and on as many digital platforms as possible.
Generation X has spent the better part of two decades being justifiably indignant about the world-beating bombast of their elders, but as James Murphy presciently said, “The kids are coming up from behind.”