Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Jonesing For a Trivial Label

Just the other day I discovered that I am a member of a subset of the Baby Boom generation, a group known as “Generation Jones.” Traditionally the Baby Boomers have been defined as those born between the years 1946 and 1964. Generation Jones is the younger half of the Boomers, defined as those born between 1954 and 1964.

The term “Generation Jones” was coined by a man named Jonathan Pontell. He describes us as a “lost generation between the Baby Boomers and Generation X.” Unlike the older half of the Boomers, Jonesers were raised on “The Brady Bunch,” not “Leave It To Beaver.” We were too young for the Summer of Love and Vietnam war protests, but we do remember Watergate and gasoline shortages. The Beatles and the Stones were pretty good — for a bunch of old guys — but we really preferred Springsteen and Skynyrd.
Why “Jones”? As best as anyone can figure, the word was chosen for a number of reasons. First, Jones is a common, plain name, and kind of embodies the idea of a large, anonymous group. Another possibility is the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses,” a phrase that describes conspicuous consumption, the frantic consumerism that has been so prevalent during most of our lives. Supposedly, the older Boomers were more idealistic, with JFK and the Peace Corps and trying to change the world, etc. The Jonesers, on the other hand, were too young for that altruistic stuff, and we reached adulthood during the so-called Decade of Greed, the 1980s, and the era of Jimmy Carter’s “malaise.”

Still another possible reason for the label “Generation Jones” is offered by Pontell himself, who explains that “this generation has a ‘Jones,’ or longing, for its own identity and for the world it was promised as children but never received.”

Although I occasionally have heard the word Jones used as a synonym for desire or craving — as in, “I’m jonesing for caffeine,” or, “He’s got a basketball jones,” or, “Are you jonesing for a new BMW again?” — it’s not exactly a common expression in my circle of acquaintances. For example, I’m not sure what my customers at work might think if I called them and said, “Hey Lenny, I’ve got an accounts receivable jones. When are you gonna pay that past-due invoice?” Or if I said to my wife, “Honey, I’m jonesing for some meatloaf tonight.”
Anyway, my main concern is not that using the word “Jones” as a verb is dumb, nor that my generation is best known for conspicuous consumerism, nor that I now have yet another label to add to my already over-labeled self: white, male, Irish-American, Catholic, pro-life, Libertarian, recovering alcoholic, male pattern baldness, left-handed, Red Sox fan. No, my main concern is that until the other day, I had never even heard the term “Generation Jones.” Where have I been?

A Google search of the phrase turned up 279 million matches. Pontell wrote a book titled “Generation Jones” way back in the year 2000. The media has been identifying Generation Jones — by that exact name — for years, especially in the context of politics and national elections.

I’m really embarrassed that I was asleep at the switch on this one. I kind of pride myself on being a connoisseur of useless cultural trivia. This is as useless and trivial as it gets, and it applies directly to me (self-centeredness, of course, being a hallmark of all Boomers, and I suppose, all Jonesers). And yet I missed it.
Well, I’ll try to do my best not to miss any future trendy catch-phrases or silly labels. After all, I’ve got a useless cultural trivia jones.

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