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Defining the "Cuspers"

Mark Wegierski

It appears that hardly anything can be added to all the ink that has been spilled concerning generational and/or “decade-based” politics in the United States and Canada, especially in regard to the apparently overwhelming presence of the Baby Boomers. Nevertheless, the author would like to propose a new generational categorycuspersto better explain certain social, cultural, and economic realities of America and Canada in the last forty years or so. It should be noted that it is in a period of very rapid changesuch as that which the triumph of the Baby Boomers in the Sixties has inauguratedthat generational or decade-based social, political, and cultural analysis becomes especially pertinent.

There has been a high degree of imprecision in regard to defining the actual period of the Baby Boom. The singer Tina Turner is often described as a typical Baby Boomer, although she was in fact born before World War II. The Canadian demographers David K. Foot and Daniel Stoffman (authors of the best-selling book, Boom, Bust, and Echo 2000: Profiting from the Demographic Shift in the New Millennium, 1998) define the Baby Boom as people born between 1947 and 1966surely too wide a period of time.

The term cusper is proposed to apply to a category of persons sometimes identified as the tail-end of the Baby Boom and sometimes as the first wave of Generation X. These would be persons born roughly between 1958 and 1967. This proposed generation has existed on the cusp of massive change, falling somewhere between Baby Boomers and Generation X in many of their social and cultural traits. A concept similar to cuspers has been proposed by the little-known website, “generationjones.”

The cuspers were children, not teenagers in the 1960s, and to many of them, the Sixties “revolt against the elders” was highly disconcerting, and not a badge of shared identity. The cuspers were typically teenagers in the 1970s, and the music they listened to was most often so-called progressive rockgroups such as Genesis, Rush, Supertramp, King Crimson, and Yes. Their favorite movies in that era were the Clint Eastwood action pictures, such as The Outlaw Josey Wales and Dirty Harry, as well as The Godfatherwhich may be interpreted as a portrayal of a highly traditionalist subculture in modern America. Two dystopian movies of the 1970s, Soylent Green and Rollerball, may also have had some appeal. The Happy Days television series pointed to the apparent Fifties idyll which had been lost in the cauldron of the Sixtiesa fairly common feeling for cuspers. The Star Wars movies (the initial Star Wars appeared in 1977, and the sequels followed in 1980 and 1983) created a widespread social ambience of wholesome freedom-fighting and heroic appeal.

In the 1980s, cuspers were typically in their twenties, and they wildly embraced the whole New Wave/alternative/technopop music as their music. Cuspers enjoyed such Eighties movies as Blade Runner, Top Gun, Back to the Future, Peggy Sue Got Married, Romancing the Stone, Jewel of the Nile, Ladyhawke, Legend, Labyrinth, Absolute Beginners (a “New Wave musical”), the two Conan films, Red Sonya, and Red Dawn. Many of these movies could be seen as expressing the theme of human authenticity against a near-dystopic world, as well as a longing for “true romance.” Politically, many of these twentysomethings were willing to vote for Reagan in 1980 and 1984. In Canada, they would be voting for Progressive Conservative candidate Brian Mulroney in 1984 and 1988but Mulroney’s Prime Ministership from 1984 to 1993 would prove an intense disappointment to many of them. They resented “the yuppies” of the 1980s, who they often actually saw as “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” (i.e., offensive to both social conservatives and economic liberals)but more importantly, holding all the good jobs. The cuspers mirrored the angst and resentments of the somewhat later Generation X, but at least some of their criticism could be interpreted as more “creatively destructive” of the Baby Boom ethos, or even socially conservative.

The cuspers had been born in a time of great social turmoil, and when they reached the age at which earlier generations had typically entered the main job-market and started families, they often encountered a series of frustrations. The highly evocative book by Adrienne Miller and Andrew Goldblatt, The Hamlet Syndrome: Overthinkers Who Underachieve (New York: William Morrow, 1989) looks at many of these types of problems. With quick career advancementeven for those with university degreesoften blocked by the prevalence of “the damn yuppies,” and with stable family life undermined by the unhappy consequences of the concatenation of sexual and social revolutions since the 1960s, many of the cuspers turned to embittered politics. The “angry white male” phenomenon of the early- to mid-1990s, and the unexpected Republican majority in Congress under Newt Gingrich in 1994, were likely in part expressions of cusper angst. In Canada, there was the rise of the Reform Party, initially a Western Canadian-based protest party.

The prosperity of the later Clinton years tended to dissipate much of the anger building up among many disaffected persons whose concerns were not being acknowledged in the mainstream media, except in highly caricatured form.

However, the apparent economic troubles of the George W. Bush periodwhich are arguably exacerbated by such phenomena as outsourcing; high, uncontrolled immigration; and massive H1-B visa hiringare likely to lead to renewed frustration among persons who are now largely in their forties and simply cannot afford to lose their jobs. For example, the frustration among many native-born American computer programmers and engineers is now undeniable. And many cuspers who have completed “useless” liberal arts degreessometimes simply out of a love of scholarshipand hold politically-incorrect views, have actually been in a twilight limboin terms of conventional career-advancementfor years on end. Most persons in the entire post-Sixties period have also had to struggle to construct a decent, stable family life in an often-hostile environment (such as a close to 50 percent divorce rate).

Perhaps the hope of some cuspers today is that some of their ideas (such as those partially seen in the ever-popular “retro” music of the Eighties) may attract some of the succeeding generations to adopt a similar creatively destructive critique of current-day, consumption-addled society. Some recent survey results have shown that American teenagers today have a surprisingly deep identification with religion and with the importance of fidelity in relationships, as well as some surprisingly realistic attitudes toward certain issues, such as the necessity for America to fight terrorism. It has been suggested that the fact that today’s teens pretty well know that they are abortion survivors has led to increased social conservatism among them. The same society that produces highly disturbed teens also nurtures ones that are manifestly willing to die for their faithboth of which were seen at Columbine. Perhaps the aftermath of 9/11 may indeed introduce some moral clarity to Americasomething which many cuspersdespite their frequently nihilistic posturing and moodinesshave often hungered for. Two great movie experiences of the early twenty-first century, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Passion of the Christ, may be pointing the way towards a social and cultural rebirth for America and the West. In such a rebirth, some cuspers may be hoping to assume a vanguard role in a society which they see as having been long-denied to them.

Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Hudson Institute.