One Hell of a Year for #GenXers
2016 had all the potential of being one of those watershed years of life because the big 4-0 was upon me. While my birthday came and went, the significance of 2016 seems to be the unusually large number of pop culture icons from my youth that passed away this year. So many of them have profoundly shaped the culture we have today. Their influence, both good and bad, on Gen Xers is evident as my generation begins taking the reigns of society. Collectively, this group ushered in cataclysmic cultural shifts that have redefined societal norms.
Born in 1976, my formative years came in the 1980s and along with my Generation X compatriots we were shaped by a pop-culture in overdrive using art and media to redefine roles for men and women. Sex, pleasure, gender, power and numerous archetypes were explored and exploited by artists, politicians, business tycoons, musicians and activists. The seven below may have dominated the headlines decades ago, but the fruit they reaped in the past continues its harvest even today.
Gene Wilder, as Willie Wonka, (even though a movie of the 70s was repeated ad nauseum on TBS) taught us that pleasure beyond pleasure is possible, even purposeful for some. Yet, Wilder’s dark portrayal of Dahl’s candymaker told my generation that everyone has issues, deep issues. David Bowie, George Michael, and Prince pushed the boundaries of sexuality and androgyny. These men, and others, kept parents on their toes and kids confused, curious, and craving more. Due to these three, I don’t blink anymore when the man adorned in makeup at the local mall sells my wife her quarterly supply of Estee Lauder.
The 1980s were not all bad and there were particular female icons that advanced our culture. These women exercised real influence. Nancy Reagan put the power in the term “power couple” while Florence Henderson was the annoyingly perfect Mrs. Brady (again TBS constant repeats of a 70s show). They each had their own way of telling us that deep down, “Hey, grant some respect. At least I’m working hard a second time around the to make ‘family’ work.” Nancy had Ronnie to please. Carol had Mike to serve. As an observer, especially with childlike eyes, we knew the wives were supportive spouses, and yet suspected they were the real leader behind the scenes.
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia told us women were often the smartest, most courageous, and politically savvy even if made to wear a bikini and neck collar by a disgusting human trafficker. Some might say that the force was with her as she, both on and off the screen, was a force to be reckoned with and today’s women have greatly benefited. As a Star Wars fan, I cannot imagine how the saga concludes without her.
2016 took the ultimate turn when THE pop icon of the roaring, materialistic 80s won the White House. Wow. Donald Trump. Political scientists will be debating this one for a century.
I and my Gen X peers were deeply impacted by the culture of our youth, as is every generation. The passing of so many pop icons from my youth in this year focuses my attention on the cultural landscape of today. Perhaps turning 40 does, in fact, lead me to this question more than I realize: How will Miley Cyrus, the Notorious RBG, Hunger Games, ISIS, Hamilton the Musical, and Obama shape 2046 for better or worse? I am ever more concerned with cultural formation along with the response of the church.
Followers of Jesus are expected, nay commanded, to consider the impact of culture upon the weak, disenfranchised, the poor and the young. Much has been given to you and me; are we meeting the demanded requirement of our Lord to be the salt and light he calls us to be?
In 2017 may we strive to protect, consider, shape, create, challenge, and influence culture for our own sake, that of the weak, and that of the common good.
Dr. Case Thorp is principal of The Collaborative, and senior associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.