This urge to define generations is also about a yearning for a collective memory in an increasingly atomized world, at least where my generation is concerned. Indeed, where the Millennials tend to define themselves in terms of the way they live now, people in my cohort find fellowship more in what happened in the past, clinging to cultural totems as though our shared experiences will somehow lead us to better figure out who we are. The Internet is littered with quick-hit nostalgia websites like I'm Remembering, which posts pictures of toys and TV characters and old photos from the '80s and '90s. Certainly, discovering that someone else also had a Cabbage Patch Kid does immediately create a sense of shared history, no matter how superficial. This aligns us more with Gen X, which has also always bonded through nostalgia. Millennials, on the other hand, seem to be always looking forward, imbued with a sense of optimism and hope that to us reads as naive.
In her story, Malone writes that "every generation finds, eventually, a mode of expression that suits it," but perhaps every generation is also granted, eventually, a name that it deserves. Though Douglas Coupland didn't invent the term "Generation X" (that credit goes to the photographer Robert Capa, who used it to describe the generation of kids growing up after World War II), his 1991 book of the same name was what made it apply to this age group. Millennials, on the other hand, have Ad Age to thank for helping define their generation; the advertising trade publication first used the term "Generation Y" in 1993 to characterize the post-Gen X cohort. Later, William Strauss and Neil Howe's 2000 book Millennials Rising would become instrumental in defining this group; in his review of the book for the New York Times, David Brooks noted that "kids have a much more positive attitude toward parents and adult authority figures than earlier cohorts did."
In Generation X, one of the protagonists, Andy, reflects that "we live small lives on the periphery; we are marginalized and there's a great deal in which we choose not to participate." It's no coincidence that Gen X's greatest artistic legacy is probably grunge, which is all about glorifying marginalization and alienation. Millennials, though, have been forced to live lives on the periphery, when they had always expected that they would be at the center. As Malone points out, the Fleet Foxes, led by 25-year-old Robin Pecknold, sing about thinking that they were "special snowflakes" but finding that they are in fact "cogs in some great machinery." In contrast, the most famous musician from Generation Catalano is probably 34-year-old Kanye West, who actually is something of a special snowflake—and at the same time that he has released some of the best music of the last few years (and gotten very rich off of it), he's also been engaged a very public battle with himself. Like West, Generation Catalano is never fully comfortable with its place in the world; we wander away from the periphery and back again.
It's also somehow apt that I would be writing this essay in the first place: In Hebrew, my name means "my generation." As I was working on the essay, I called my mom and asked if she and my dad had deliberately chosen my name because of its meaning. (I was also named after my great-grandmother Dora.) "I didn't want to name you Dora, so we chose Doree. It was just a coincidence that it means 'my generation,' " she told me. The arbitrary nature of this choice, too, seemed fitting. But maybe we're not the only ones who feel unmoored. After explaining the gist of the piece to a 29-year-old friend over email, she responded: "I feel like I'm especially without generation because I'm not quite a Carter baby but not really a Millennial either. … I feel like Noreen, who is only two years younger than me, is of a slightly different generation, which seems crazy! But it feels true." Her email was a classic Generation Catalano move: dancing near the spotlight, and then dancing with herself.