The Cuspers Are Boomers, But With a Cultural Twist
It might seem that everything has already been said about generational and/or “decade-based” politics in American and Canadian society especially in regards to the overwhelming influence of the Baby Boomers.
Nevertheless, this author would like to propose a new generational category—“cuspers”—to better explain a subset of the Boomers that is often overlooked or overwhelmed by the conventional understanding of that predominant grouping.
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 the U.S. entry into World War II. The Canadian demographers David K. Foot and Daniel Stoffman, who wrote the best-selling book, Boom, Bust, and Echo 2000: Profiting from the Demographic Shift in the New Millennium, in 1998 define the Baby Boom as anyone born between 1947 to 1966—surely this is too long a period of time to encapsulate a shared generational experience.
Therefore the term “cusper” is proposed to apply to a category of persons sometimes identified as “the tail-end of the Baby Boom” or “the first wave of Generation X.” These would be persons born roughly between 1958-1967 “on the cusp” of massive societal change, falling somewhere between Baby Boomers and Generation X in many of their social and cultural traits. A concept similar to “cuspers” has been as coined as “Generation Jones” by author Jonathan Pontell, while Hollywood libertarian Thomas M. Sipos identified the term “Generation Keaton”—after the Michael J. Fox character in the 1980s show, Family Ties.
The cuspers were children, not teenagers in the 1960s, and for many of them, the counterculture “revolt against the elders” was highly disconcerting, and not a badge of shared identity. The cuspers were typical teenagers in the 1970s, and they listened to second generation rock-n-roll —punk and progressive rock. They grew up with Clint Eastwood westerns like The Outlaw Josey Wales and dystopian sci-fi like Soylent Green and Rollerball.
In the 1980s, cuspers came into adulthood wildly embracing the whole New Wave/alternative/techno-pop music as their music. They were contrarian and a bit cynical but open to the growing consumerism that became the materialist era. They were prime for the big blockbuster pop era that produced films (most often directed by their older Boomer compatriots) like Top Gun, Back to the Future, and Romancing the Stone. Many of these movies underscored the cuspers own conflict between the romance of the past and the cynicism of the future.
Politically, many of these twenty-somethings 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 1988, though 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 saw as “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” (i.e., offensive to both social conservatives and true 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-nihilist” 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 encountered a series of frustrations. The highly evocative book by Adrienne Miller and Andrew Goldblatt, The Hamlet Syndrome: Overthinkers Who Underachieve,published in 1989, looks at many of these issues. With career advancement—even for those with university degrees—often blocked by the prevalence of “the damn yuppies” and stable family life undermined by the unhappy consequences of the sexual and social revolutions of the preceding decades, 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 possible expressions of conservative 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 tamp down much of the anger building up among these disaffected persons whose concerns were not being acknowledged in the mainstream media, except in highly caricatured form, like in the movie, “Falling Down,” with Michael Douglas.
However, the economic downturn of the George W. Bush period—which was arguably exacerbated by such phenomena as outsourcing; high, uncontrolled immigration; and mass H1-B visa hiring—led to renewed frustration among persons who were then in their forties, and simply could not afford to lose their jobs. And even today, post-recession, many cuspers who have college degrees suddenly find themselves in limbo—too old to adjust to new market and economic realities but too young to retire properly.
Perhaps the hope of some cuspers today is that some of their ideas (such as those partially heard in the ever-popular “retro” music of the Eighties) may attract some of the succeeding generations to adopt a similar critique of the current consumption-addled society. (There were some surveys around the millennium that suggested that American teenagers of that time had a surprisingly deep identification with religion and with the importance of fidelity in relationships). The younger set, as well, matched the cusper cohort on being more hawkish than older boomers on the Iraq War.
The aftermath of 9/11 might have introduced a brief surge of some moral clarity to America— something which many cuspers, despite their frequently nihilist posturing and moodiness, have often hungered for. Two great movie experiences of the early 21st century, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Passion of the Christ, may have been pointing the way towards a social and cultural rebirth for America and the West. We see that continue today, though it contends with an opposing liberal progressive culture that sees that as a threat.
But in such a re-birth, some cuspers may be hoping to assume a vanguard role in society which they see as having been long-denied to them. The older, white cuspers are among Donald Trump’s biggest fans. From 2006 until the 2015 federal election in Canada, the Conservatives in Canada were said to have been successful, comparatively, in guiding the economy, but now the Liberals under Justin Trudeau are in charge, with some analysts predicting a major downturn. Then there is the extreme political correctness of the Liberals —thus also necessitating resistance from the same cohort there. Whether or not these conservative cuspers succeed as they head into yet another phase of life, remains to be seen.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based, Canadian writer and historical researcher.