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Gen X Would Very Much Like To Be Left Out of These Meaningless “Cancel Culture” Conversations

A scene from iconic Gen X film Reality Bites

A recent article from the NY Post is calling for members of Generation X to save the world … from cancel culture. And after getting picked up by Fox News, the article is being laughed into oblivion by Gen X on Twitter, who would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.

In the heavily exaggerated “wars” between Boomers and Millennials, and Millennials and Gen Z, Gen X–those born between the mid-1960s and early 80s–have largely been able to stay out of the fray. A lot of them also pride themselves on that. But writer Matthew Hennessey has decided that this generation is the last hope to stop this current trend of holding people accountable for their actions and shifting away from media containing racist images.

But despite being a self-proclaimed member of Gen X, Hennessey has a strange understanding of what the world looked like during his formative years.

“We grew up in a country that didn’t ban books. We all agreed that witch hunts and blacklists were bad. Censorship was an outrage. The 1980s were not that long ago. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about,” he writes.

I don’t know how he came to the conclusion that books weren’t being banned in the 1980s but they absolutely were. Everything from The Satanic Verses to the Dungeon Master’s Guide to The Color Purple and so many more were banned from schools and libraries. He even uses Huck Finn as an example of modern cancel culture, even though that’s been banned off and on in various forms since right after it was published nearly a century and a half ago.

“The generation that fought for its right to party should be leading the charge against these millennial Maoists terrorizing the culture via social media,” Hennessey’s article reads, making the extremely interesting choice to quote the Beastie Boys–a band that has worked hard to make amends for the rampant sexism present in their early work. Self-inflicted cancel culture!

Hennessey’s approach to his argument is poorly plotted. He brings up instances of “cancel culture” that his generation experienced–specifically, Tipper Gore’s campaign to add ratings to music with explicit lyrics. But he also frames the 80s as an era where “cancel culture” didn’t exist, where people could “agree to disagree.” In reality, those kids grew up seeing how absurd this sort of culture war was and now take offense to their Fox News elders telling them they should fight against censorship in any forms. (Especially since that view of “cancel culture” has nothing to do with censorship and everything to do with human decency.)

Moreover, that generation has already been through all of this once, when the big villain put forth by the right was “political correctness,” which really just meant “common decency.” Now we’ve got “cancel culture,” which is really just “accountability.”

Hennessey’s version of the present is just as baffling as his version of the past. In the fight against cancel culture, he writes, “We will have to engage in a thousand tiny battles every day and it will be terribly uncomfortable. It’ll be hard standing up to school administrators pushing an ‘anti-racist’ curriculum on your kids. It’ll take real courage to refuse to call yourself a bigot and to denounce the people who raised you.”

First of all, someone should tell him that there’s already a word for anti-anti-racism and it’s just racism. Also, I don’t think Gen X has any problem denouncing their parents–the people who tried to “cancel” D&D and Twisted Sister. (The latter of which, by the way, didn’t really happen–someone should listen to the recent You’re Wrong About podcast episode about that whole Tipper Gore campaign. They might learn something!)

“If we can’t find the guts to do this dirty job, the second half of our lives is going to look very different than the first half did,” he writes. “We will taste life in Siberia. Our children and our children’s children will be forced to navigate a miserable, paranoid world of lies and deception. They will be asked to spy on their own parents. They will denounce their friends.”

You heard it hear first. If we don’t buy all the books written by transphobes and keep watching movies with grotesque racist caricatures, then we’re basically inviting a new wave of Nazi Youth–a panopticon of surveillance and social banishment.

What an argument.

(image: Universal Pictures)
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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.