“Slacker” was, by all counts, a seminal film, although I don’t remember any of my Gen X friends getting through more than 30 minutes of it.
We preferred “Dazed and Confused,” Mr. Linklater’s celluloid Slurpee from 1993, because that was about high school students in 1976 — yes, boomers! — and for years we bought the lie that older people’s culture mattered more than our own, just because there were more of them. Rootless cosmopolitans, we were told to look to the past for significance, so we did — to the Sinatra Rat Pack (“Swingers,” 1996), to Kennedy-era Madison Avenue (“Mad Men,” created by Matthew Weiner, b. 1965), to the male blow dryer era (“That ’70s Show”).
What we did not find significant was the “slacker” label.
“The slacker tag never really applied to me, or anyone I knew,” said Sarah Vowell (b. 1969), an author and contributor to “This American Life” who spent her 20s juggling graduate studies with a teaching gig at an art school and multiple deadlines per week as a freelance journalist. “Even though my friends and I all looked like extras from ‘Reality Bites,’” she said, “our Puritan work ethic was probably more 1690s than 1990s.”
Central to the slacker myth was coming-of-age during the early ’90s recession, which, according to ’90s surveys of our generation, apparently doomed us to failure for life.
And yes, the recession was real. People lost jobs (including George Herbert Walker Bush, in the 1992 Presidential election). People looked for jobs and did not find them. But the recession that supposedly served as cement shoes for a generation was, in historical terms, relatively short and mild. It lasted just eight months, with unemployment bottoming out at 7.8 percent, compared to the 1980s recession that lasted 16 months with a peak unemployment rate of 10.8 percent, and the Great Recession starting in 2007, which lasted 18 months with unemployment around 10 percent.
But by the time the ’90s recession ended, in March of 1991, the oldest Gen Xers were barely 26. The youngest were in middle school. And the post-recession economy that followed was closer to the Roaring ’20s than the Depression ’30s, marked by the longest running economic expansion in the nation’s history. Gen X had it good.