Monday, 13 June 2016

Generation X - Revisited

An old chestnut this one. But I've been asked several times to explain why I still stand by my theory that Charles Hamblett and Jane Deverson's UK book Generation X (1964) is the very first significant use of the now oft-used term 'Generation X'. Especially when the phrase was very likely first immortalised in print a dozen years earlier. If you've stumbled upon this post and wondering what it's all about - or fancy a refresher - please check out my previous article on the subject, dating back to 24th February 2014. 

Holiday Magazine December 1952
What the Holiday editors were previewing was a three-part article which ran in the January through to March 1953 issues of Holiday magazine. The project was initiated by Robert Capa with the collaboration of a team of his fellow Magnum photographers - but the 'Generation X' title (attributed to Capa himself) was actually ditched in favour of the rather bland billing 'Youth of the World'. 

So 'Generation X' what Holiday calls "the projection name" failed to get beyond starring in this snippet when published in the USA. It was also not mentioned at all in the UK when the same photo story ran in a special edition of the popular Picture Post magazine in January 1952.

But the term was actually fully revived in January 1954, when Capa's piece was rejigged for Switzerland's stylish DU magazine:

A marvelous cover - published by Conzett & Huber in Zurich, January 1954
Undoubtedly it is this publication that justifies the argument that the term was coined well before the 1960s or certainly Douglas Coupland's 1991 novel. But I think that sadly back in 1952 and 1954, Capa's Generation X concept simply failed to break through, and so swiftly slipped out of sight.

The major reason is that this was a much less-celebrated return to an earlier study of the lives of ordinary folk across the globe called 'People are People the World Over', which was first published in the Ladies' Home Journal in 1947. This also involved Capa, and the newly founded Magnum photographic agency. But also, the subjects of Generation X were 'young adults', already too old to be part of the emerging 'teenager', or the rock and roll generation that was waiting just around the corner. So too conventional perhaps, even though it was fascinating to hear from those people who were still children during WW2.

To sum up - here are some pages from DU (in German) where 'Generation X' first appears to enter the lexicon of our sociologists and cultural anthropologists. But it is interesting how the term was completely (and thus not conveniently) forgotten when the term would later be truly seized upon to describe a new breed of youth...

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