In a book that I will continue to hype until everybody in America has read it, William Strauss & Neil Howe's 1990 best-seller Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2059, they gave the most cogent, coherent, and actually useful definition of a "generation" that I have seen yet. You can disagree with them about their labels for the generations, about the boundaries, about their theory of a cyclic trend in types of generations, but it's hard to dispute their definition of the term "generation" itself. A generation is a group of people who, because they were roughly the same age during major life-changing external events, experienced those events through the lens of a person that age. That commonality of life experience doesn't affect them all the same way, so they don't all grow up exactly alike -- but the experience of going through that type of event at that age does have predictable results, and those who react differently know that they're weird by the standards of their generation. To analyze broad trends in history, Strauss & Howe also created the term "generational constellation." The generational constellation is the pattern of currently living generations. What type of generation is recently retired, which type of generation is at the peak of their power, which type of generation is in young adulthood, and which type of generation are the children currently growing up? So with that in mind, and with no apologies for using their range of birth dates and generational labels because I find them just darned handy, let's look at the current generational constellation:
- Elders: Silent Generation. (Adaptive/Artist) Currently 63 to 80 years old, they were too young to have gone off to World War II, and grew up wishing they had. They were too old for the Counterculture of the 1960s, but that didn't stop them from (in many cases embarrassingly) trying to be part of it. Like all adaptive/artist generations, obsessed with emulating whichever generation is most popular, inclined heavily towards compromise, and mostly not respected by anybody else.
- In Power: Boomers. (Idealist/Prophet) Currently 46 to 62 years old, as children and young adults they were the leaders of a backlash against the secular pragmatism of their G.I. Generation and Silent Generation parents by pursuing spiritual ideals above all else, predominantly in the counterculture among the earlier half of the generation and in Christian fundamentalism in the latter half. Like all idealist/prophet generations, to them everything is a matter of principle, consequences mean nothing, caring about consequences means that you're unprincipled and therefore evil, and if you're not with them, you're against them.
- Young Adults: Generation 13. (Reactive/Nomad) Currently 26 to 45 years old, as children they were often at best ignored, frequently viewed as major inconveniences, and almost as often feared or hated by their Silent/Boomer parents. Whether as latchkey kids or street gang members, they grew up cynical, distrustful of authorities that they knew couldn't be counted on to protect them, self-reliant, and acquisitive, like all reactive/nomad generations.
- Children: Millennials. (Civic?/Hero?) Currently somewhere around age 6 or so up to age 25, they have been the beneficiaries of a public backlash against the rotten upbringing that Generation 13 got. Coddled by society's increasing obsession with safety for children, beneficiaries of an educational system increasingly held to high standards by parents and politicians, but most of all, like all civic/hero generations, they were/are being raised to trust each other, to work together, to trust moral (Boomer) authorities to make the right decisions, and that they have a collective responsibility some day to Save the World, just like their G.I. Generation grandparents or great-grandparents did.
Watchman: Absolute Edition is the 20th anniversary re-issue of a book that came out when Generation 13 were kids. For us, it's part of our childhood. Now that we're adults, there's a market for hard-cover special editions of things that were meaningful to us in our childhood. For us, Watchmen resonated, it matched our view of the world. Not for nothing is Nixon in his 4th term as President in the Watchmen universe (because a government hero murdered Woodward and Bernstein), given that those of us on the leading edge of Gen 13, the people they call Gen X, grew up with the Watergate hearings interrupting our afternoon TV cartoons. The latter half of the generation, Gen Y, had roughly the same experience with Iran/Contra, and I'm sure it didn't give them any sunnier faith in the competence or morality of authorities and their so-called heroes like Ollie North.