Gen X isn’t known for getting worked up about much, but it appears that we’re not going down without a fight. Over 29 million U.S. households watched the Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday, which featured a high-profile lineup of hip-hop royalty, including Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, and Snoop Dogg, as well as surprise guests 50 Cent and Anderson Paak. Eminem had barely taken a knee when memes and articles about the show’s “millennial nostalgia” appeal began to circulate.
Millennials, for their part, were overjoyed to take control. It was the millennials’ moment: a chance to reclaim their childhood songs as newly classic, nostalgic, and cool. But wait a second. The songs of their youth? We Gen Xers pushed back. Dr. Dre? Mary J.? Eminem? Snoop Dogg was being claimed by millennials? We acknowledge that Kendrick Lamar belongs to the millennials, but the rest of these artists were all born during Generation X. (1965-1980). That’s it.
The message from Generation X was clear: enjoy the music, kids, but this halftime talent show was brought to you by the one and only “slacker generation.”
Obviously, this social media equivalent of a food fight is mostly for entertainment purposes. Underneath the jokes, however, there is genuine tension. To understand why, it’s necessary to recognize that both Generation X and millennials have a generational chip on their shoulder. In addition to their early slacker reputation, many Gen Xers feel perpetually overlooked, sandwiched between two much larger generations. Even the term “Generation X” feels generic, as if the world couldn’t be bothered to come up with something more meaningful. “What is an X?” wrote Alex Williams in The New York Times. An empty set, a placeholder, a nothing that fills a void until the real thing arrives.”
For their part, millennials have long been the target of intense generational scapegoating. Many saw millennials’ proactive and bold attitude in the face of multiple compounding crises as entitlement, and they became a cultural scapegoat as a large and imposing cohort. Millennials were blamed for ruining golf, napkins, bar soap, casual dining, and American cheese — any undesirable change was blamed squarely on the millennial generation.
As a result, this year’s Super Bowl matchup is merely the most recent manifestation of an age-old tug-of-war. We’ve been conditioned to believe that generations are constantly competing — for opportunities, power, or, in this case, relevance — through generalizations, ignorance, and stereotypes. When something goes wrong, we are quick to point generational fingers: older generations are to blame for things not changing quickly enough, while younger generations are to blame for things changing too quickly. And when things go well, we are quick to take credit, clinging tightly to what we rightfully see as “ours.”
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years, it’s that polarization is counterproductive. Mary J. Blige would advise us to leave our “situations at the door” and put an end to this generational hatred. In reality, both Generation X and millennials are in a similar stage of life: they are no longer children, but they are also not retirees. This year, Millennials will be between the ages of 26 and 42, while Gen Xers will be between the ages of 43 and 57. While there will always be interesting and significant generational differences, there are times when our common ground should bring us together. We are two generations raising children and caring for aging parents at the same time, having spent years juggling remote work, family responsibilities, and attempting to keep our collective sanity.
In the end, Sunday’s halftime show belongs to Generation X, a generation that should be proud of the talent and expertise it has produced. It also belongs to the millennials, because every generation should be able to feel pride and ownership over the events (and music) that shaped their youth. It was a show that brought the best of both generations together to create something that neither could have done alone.