So You Think You're A Boomer? Think Again

If you were born between 1954 and 1965, you're not a Boomer. You're a Gen Joneser. You might be part of an engaged minority that's aware of (and very beholden to) this generational distinction. But more likely than not you're a Gen Joneser and don't know it. And that's because the term Generation Jones didn't exist until relatively recently, when social commentator/historian Jonathan Pontell put it on the map.

At the risk of being torched, here's a true confession: I myself am a Gen Joneser who was unaware of this generational distinction until Rita Wilson announced the imminent launch of Huff/Post50 on this site. A flurry of comments ensued. Boomers were bashed, presumably by Gen-Xers, for having trashed the economy and the environment. A minority of Gen Jonesers rose to the plate to speak on behalf of their "lost generation," sandwiched as it is between Boomers and Gen X-ers. A lively and, predictably, slightly vitriolic debate ensued.

Pontell, who is fascinated by generational self-identification, was amused when I told him about this. Pontell is the spokesperson for Generation Jones and a supernova of information on the subject, much of it available on his web site of the same name. He's often in the national spotlight speaking about the socio-cultural and political implications of Generation Jones, much of it galvanized by the world's most famous Gen Joneser: Obama.

"For 16 years, Baby Boomers occupied the Oval Office," Pontell wrote in USA Today. "Conventional wisdom holds that post-Boomer Barack Obama's inauguration once and for all ended that tumultuous era's long grip on American politics. But are the 60s really dead? Hardly."

Hardly indeed. Like many Gen Jonesers I was born in 1960, when nearly half the population of the United States was under eighteen years of age. I was too young for Woodstock and Civil Rights protests. I was a toddler when JFK was shot. I didn't take LSD and "turn on, tune in, drop out." Vietnam raged but my peers were far from getting drafted. I remember the slogans -- Make Love, Not War. Question Authority. Don't Trust Anyone Over Thirty - but the reigning popular icon of my day was the Happy Face button, not the Flower Power decal.

In fact, my formative years were less about Vietnam and Watergate and more about Iran Contra and the death of John Lennon. More about pop culture than counterculture. I was shaked and baked in the Reagan era, with disco, the Brady Bunch, and The Beginning of The End of Everything: Oil reserves, ice caps, polar bears, clean air, unpolluted oceans, terror-free air flight -- the list of things on the brink of demise seemed to mount every year. When the seventies veered into the go-go "me" decade of the eighties, the mechanisms that currently threaten to bring down Social Security and Medicare already had a vice grip on our culture. Even the You Can Be/Do/Have It All zeitgeist of feminism (I am woman, hear me roar) was about to succumb to reality, which is that you can't really be/do/have it all, at least not without getting some form of whiplash.

That said, despite the cynicism and disillusionment of those decades, like many Gen Jonesers I was still infused by the can-do idealism of the sixties, since it was the bedrock of my early childhood. If I'm typical of my generation in any way, it's safe to say that Gen Jonesers were weaned on a cocktail of both cynicism and yearning. And so it's fitting that in coming up with the term Generation Jones, Pontell was inspired by, among other things, the slang term 'jonesin' that we popularized as teenagers, which connotes intense craving or yearning.

It's partly this yearning and sense of inspired optimism, seeded in the sixties and passed onto politically-engaged Gen-Xers, that made Obama's presidency a reality. It remains to be seen how this will play out in a new election year. Pontell, whose positivity is infectious, remains hopeful. "We are practical idealists, forged in the fires of social upheaval while too young to play a part," he writes. "While the boomer moment may be over, most observers have misread the generational significance of Obama's inaugural. It really marks the 1960s second act. The difference is that the torch has passed from that decade's 'flower children' to its actual children."

The children of Boomers are today's Gen-Xers. The children of Gen Jonesers are part of an as yet unnamed Generation. What will their appellation be? How will they change the world and how will the world change them? We'll just have to wait and see.