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Overshadowed generation prepares to steer political agenda, author claims

53 million members of 'Generation Jones' ready to speak on their own

March 5, 2000
Web posted at: 11:03 a.m. EST (1603 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- They're tired of being fed the "scraps" left them by the Baby Boomers, and they're somewhat weary of the attention heaped upon so-called Generation X through most of the 1990s. There's millions of them, too, and chances are quite good you'll be hearing more and more about this generation of oddly disaffected folks who have reached a predictably comfortable phase their lives.

Meet the members of "Generation Jones." They're young but they're kind of old. By and large they're unhappy with the current state of American democracy, but many of them have attained the trappings of early 21st Century prosperity -- kids, cars, homes, stock options. And, they make up an estimated 26 percent of the electorate.

Generation Jones has had enough. At 53 million strong in the United States -- a nation obsessed with generational divides perhaps more than any other -- they're rising up to make their presence known.

So says Jonathan Pontell, a Los Angeles-based author who has spent more than four years delving into the wants and needs of his contemporaries.

Pontell, 42, is the author of "Generation Jones," set for a May release by Vanguard. He says the members of the generation were too young to participate in the social and political whirlwind that was the late 1960s, though most of them were old enough to understand what was going on, and wanted in on some of the action.

When did they get their chance to make a difference? The 1970s. Despite the adulation and prepackaged fond memories of the 70s marketed in the 1990s, Pontell says, the generation wasn't given much of an opportunity to hang their collective hats on anything particularly worthwhile in that decade.

"I was 11 in 1969," Pontell said Friday in Los Angeles. "I remember sitting at the table, telling my dad I wanted to go to Woodstock. He just looked at me and said, 'Eat your broccoli and go to bed.'"

So, while people like Pontell were sent off to bed, the Boomers dominated the landscape. They garnered the media spotlight with the antiwar movement and brisk changes in fashion and music. They grew up and sparked what is often described as the "greed grab" of the 1980s. Now, the oldest sector of the Boomer generation is careening toward retirement.

They've steered the agenda in some form or other for well over 30 years, and something about their values, their political outlook and strategies, doesn't sit well with the generation.

'Clearing the throat'

Generation Jones, by Pontell's numbers, begins around 1954, and cuts off at 1965, where Generation X -- by somebody's estimation -- then takes off.

That would place members of the GenJones in the 35-46 age range.

But why "Generation Jones?"

"The idea comes from a large, anonymous group naming," Pontell said -- "as if we had said 'Generation Smith' and 'Generation Doe.'"

But, Pontell adds, it also refers to a sort of craving or longing -- a "jones," a la the period songs "Love Jones," and Cheech and Chong's soul sendup, "Basketball Jones."

"Passions of kids were fueled in the 60s," Pontell said. "We were the true children of the 60s, not the Boomers. They weren't children when all that was happening.

"We were 'jonesing' to get into things that were happening in the 60s, protests and things like that. We just never got our chance."

"It's been hard for many of us to disconnect from that passion," Pontell continues, adding that now may be the time for that drive to turn into true results.

Pontell argues that now that many in the generation have reached ages where they may not have to worry about income, security and life's other basic necessities, they're discovering they may have the luxury of political and social activism.

"With their new financial security, there is growing evidence that Jonesers are looking to reconnect with their ingrained political feelings," Pontell said. That willingness is combined with a "residual resentment" of the Boomers -- something GenJones undoubtedly shares with the members of GenX and with their parents, the so-called pre-Boomer "silent generation."

"We've been in the shadows of the Baby Boomers all our lives. We're tired of being fed their scraps," he says. "At this point, Generation Jones is clearing its throat, and is getting ready to speak."

Pontell argues that there is quite enough reason for Jonesers and Xers -- Jonesers especially -- to dislike the Boomers.

What started out as a generation driven by "love, self-fulfillment and self-realization" morphed into a massive demographic driven by wealth and power in the 1980s and 1990s. Now, as they head toward their golden years, they've got their sites set on the reserves Social Security and Medicare, he says.

On the political landscape, he says, perhaps the most glaring example of Boomer indulgence and excess was "MonicaGate."

"Clinton, Kenneth Starr, Congress -- all Boomers," he says.

"Boomer politicians worry about the ideological -- things like posting the Ten Commandments on school walls," he says.

Jonesers, on the other hand worry about the practical, the everyday implications of political discourse -- much in the same way GenX voting studies have found -- but in a way that is more skewed to their life stage.

"We're concerned about things like school violence. These are our kids that are in the schools everyday facing potential danger."

"Yet, we've got people blaming us for the violence. You hear things like, 'Where are the parents?'"

"The parents," he continues, "are working. Americans are working harder than ever before, despite the economic boom. We work eight weeks more per year than many Western nations."

"We want to be with our kids," he insists, unlike Boomers, who practiced "non-participatory parenting" while seeking social and financial indulgence in the '70s and '80s.

"We're interested in things like flex time, and overwhelming number of Jonesers want a more family-friendly society."

The payoff

It is too early to say whether the Pontell's legwork, and the eventual release of his book, will spark the sort of interest generated by Douglas Coupland's accidental novel "Generation X" -- the 1991 tome that unintentionally launched the fevered efforts of a thousand marketers and focus groups, and somehow allowed a generation of 20- and early 30-somethings to come to voice.

"I don't think people my age have been losing sleep at night wondering why we haven't been labeled," Pontell says. "But it should be noted that what this group has in its side is sheer numbers. We've got a lot of clout."

GenJonesers, he adds, are not of like mind. "We're of all political stripe." The difference, he says, has been in watching the previous generation vacillate on its social consciousness, not that Jonesers haven't done a little of the same.

"Some of us were old enough to participate in the money rush in the '80s," he admits. "By for the most part, Generation Jones came of age watching the slow, hypocritical sellout of the lovefest of the '60s -- it turned into the money grab of the '80s."

"They swore they would never sell out. They gave in, they gave up and joined the establishment."

Advantage: Generation Jones. A generation that never had to make and then break such promises probably won't be burdened with so harsh a label. Perhaps there was some advantage to early anonymity after all.

 
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