“Well, I don’t know why I came here tonight
I got the feeling that something ain’t right
I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair,
And I’m wondering how I’ll get down those stairs
Clowns to left of me, jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”
Some of you may be familiar with the tune Stuck in the Middle With You released in 1972 by Stealers Wheel. It is also the title of an article published by social commentator Jonathan Pontell in the March 18, 2011, of USA Today. What’s stuck in the middle? Generation Jones. Bet you’ve never heard of that, right? I hadn’t until recently, and apparently, I am a Genjones.
Generation Jones is a term created by Pontell and refers to those people born between 1954 and 1965 — the younger Baby Boomers. In an 2014 interview with Jeffery J. Williams, published in the University of Nebraska’s comparative theory and literature journal “symploke”, Pontell said: “To go a little beyond a nutshell, it’s a generation between what’s commonly called the Baby Boom Generation and Generation X. It’s a lost or forgotten generation in the sense that a lot of attention is given to the Baby Boom Generation, and then there was a whole Gen X babble-palooza that started in the early 1990s. I would argue that the spotlight passed over a large generation in between. The Baby Boom Generation has traditionally been defined as those born from 1946 to 1964, and that definition is purely based on a birth chart that shows a lot of people were born during those nineteen years. But generational personalities stem from shared formative experiences, not head counts, and no generation—before or since the so-called Baby Boom Generation—was ever defined based on the fertility rates of the parents. When the idea of the Baby Boom was first put out there, demographers were simply pointing to that bulging birth chart; they weren’t saying it was a generation. Then later, people in the media just used it as a lazy shorthand for a generation. But not sociologists, who look at shared characteristics.”
That makes so much sense to me. I’ve never identified as a Baby Boomer. I know a few people in their seventies, including my brother, and although I share the same generation category, I don’t share quite the same history, values, or social consciousness as they do. At least not like I do with my younger friends. And it’s no wonder. Look at all the historical things that took place in the first half of the “Baby Boomer” era. The whole Baby Boomer idea began just nine months after the end of World War II. The Great Depression was over, and many adopted a suburban lifestyle complete with a new-fangled TV, manicured lawns, and burgeoning consumerism. The 1960s, when many Baby Boomers were teenagers and old enough to understand life, brought a cultural shift that changed the world. President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated, the Cuban Missile Crisis had everyone on edge, and then there was the Vietnam War. The music scene was forever changed. Think of the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, James Brown, Janis Joplin. Think Woodstock. We put a man on the moon! Baby Boomers growing up during this time were part of a youth-driven counterculture. They were involved in the fight for women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, and, of course, the fight for peace.
I vaguely remember these things. I do remember my parents talking about “hippies”, but I was more influenced by the 1970s. The bras were burned, the hippies were getting jobs, and the Vietnam War raged on. But in my sheltered little corner of the world, I was content to focus on Donny Osmond, the Partridge Family, bell bottoms, and what to wear to the next school dance. Sure, I heard things on the news, but Watergate seemed so far away. The 70s were quieter than the 60s. Or perhaps we just went about things differently.
Those born at the start of the Baby Boomer generation, let’s say before the mid-1950s, had a much different perspective on life than those of us born towards the end. The older Boomers helped change the world, they paved the way for us, and all we had to do was continue with the work, maintain the trails already blazed. (We haven’t done a very good job of that.) Due to the world climate at the time, the Generation Jones rank and file were now faced with a failing economy, oil embargoes, two working parents, and The Pill. Life was more competitive than in the previous decade, and we struggled to do better than everyone else. Jobs were harder to find, our social security was questionable, and our economic future was dismal. If I remember correctly, it was easy to get a credit card, and we went on shopping sprees we couldn’t pay for. We were more concerned with individual fights than our older counterparts, who fought more for the collective good. We had to keep up with the Jones. Aha. . . that ‘s where the name came from.
Bridgeworks President Skylar Werde sums it up in the article Early Boomers + Generation Jones: Meet the Two Boomer Subgroups. “The power to make change and see that change flourish, coupled with their success in growing their careers during a booming economy, has left Early Boomers with an optimistic and idealistic set of traits that they have taken with them throughout their lives. This optimism has manifested itself into a youthful outlook on aging as they redefine retirement and continue to stay active and energetic as they enter the next phase of their lives. While the economy took a nose-dive, fuel prices spiked, the oil embargo impacted the nation, and job opportunities shrunk. Gen Jones had to become more independent and learn to fight for their future, because they quickly understood that nothing would be handed to them. With the tight job market, they knew they had to put their head down and work hard, dress for the jobs they wanted not the jobs they had, and develop methods of standing out. This was important for career growth, but at the time the main focus was on simply keeping their jobs. This period of fierce competition for job stability has stayed with the Gen Jonesers, who earned their names because they were constantly striving to “keep up with the jones” or “jonesin” for something more.”
When you come right down to it, it’s more about who you are as an individual than who you are as a generation. Those age-related labels can really pull people apart. But they do make it easier to create targeted marketing campaigns, political campaigns, and fodder for authors and researchers. Just google “generations” and see how many results come up. Despite my loathing of labels, I must admit I feel somewhat better now that I have my own “generation”. I never really identified as a Baby Boomer and now I know why. And yes, I do feel like a GenJones.
Interesting Reads & Things:
Jonathan Pontell (sorry, as of January 9/23 this website was under construction but check & see if it has been updated)