We Are Generation Catalano

I’d been thinking about this a lot, too, this conundrum that inspired this thing that I just read on Slate.com called  Generation Catalano. Like I’ve been having thoughts like Doree Shafrir’s thoughts. I feel exactly as she feels. I’m 30. If you, too, find yourself born between the years 1977 and 1981, perhaps you relate. We are a distinct, yet unlabeled, generation, distinct also in the fact that we feel we need a label in the first place.

Growing up I remember wanting to be a part of Generation X, because they had Winona Ryder. But I knew I was too young to be in Generation X because I didn’t understand Reality Bites when I first saw it, I just pretended like I did. (I watched it again a few years ago and everything made perfect sense.)

But I’m not a Millennial, either.  Millennials seem to be defined by the fact that they grew up with technology, computers, whatever, social networking. I was 18 when I got my first cell-phone, 23 when I joined gmail, 27 when I started a profile on facebook. I’ve never used Napster.

I thought for a while that I might be in Generation Me, or Generation Y, but I feel too old for both of those, too. I think Generation Me has fallen out of favor. Do people still use those terms?

One night in the very early 00s, on our way to climb elementary schools (this is what we did for fun before alcohol), my friend Zach told me to read Douglas Coupland, who Doree mentions in her essay because he wrote the book on Generation X, literally. He told me that Douglas Coupland’s writing reminded him of my writing, because when he read my writing he often thought “She has her finger on the pulse of our generation.” He told me that if I kept my finger on the pulse of our generation, I could make a writing career out of it, just like Coupland did with Generation X.

So at Slate.com Doree Shafrir has a post on “Generation Catalano” and I think these are my people. If you’re reading this and you are too young/old to know about Jordan Catalano, I suggest reading Why Shane is the New Jordan Catalano and watching  My So-Called Life from start to finish.

Doree defines Generation Catalano like this:

…what seemed to be the best moniker for our micro-generation was a Teen Vogue editor’s suggestion: “Generation Catalano.” Jared Leto’s Jordan Catalano was a main character in the 1994-95 ABC series My So-Called Life, a show that starred Claire Danes as Angela Chase, a high school sophomore struggling with the thing that teenagers will struggle with as long as there are high schools: who she is. “People are always saying you should be yourself, like yourself is this definite thing, like a toaster. Like you know what it is even,'” she says in a voice-over in a midseason episode. So even though the themes of the show are in many ways timeless, today, My So-Called Life also seems like a time capsule, and not just because of the Scrunchies. There’s no texting; Jordan leaves a note for Angela in her locker. There’s also no Facebook or instant-messaging or cyberbullying (just regular old bullying). It was a show that most accurately portrayed my high school experience, minus the dating of Jared Leto, in part because it aired while I was actually in high school.

We graduated high school when America was at its Dreamiest, and we graduated college during a period best described as Apocalyptic.

So! Here’s the funniest, bestest part — so, in 1998, I wrote an essay for my creative non-fiction class about the influence teen dramas like 90210 had on my social/romantic life. It was called “Shooting Kelly Taylor.” It was the first time I’d written about pop culture in that way. I felt like I’d found the thing I was good at — and 13 years later, here we are. In retrospect, it was a mediocre essay, but it was a place to start from.

The point is that here’s a paragraph from that essay:

After all, we are the “My So-Called Life” generation–the kids who had the one semi-realistic semi-functional television show ripped away from our preteen fingers after only 22 episodes, leaving us with only programs like “90210” and “Melrose Place” to satisfy our cravings for weekly escapist drama.  “My So-Called Life” was praised again and again for being realistic–for featuring a non-perfect girl living in a very nuclear family and angsting a lot, much like most of us.  Her parents had a normal relationship, she had a younger sister, a crush, not very many friends, and she didn’t even dress very well.  I don’t think we ever even saw her midriff.  The ratings weren’t high enough.  They yanked it off the air, and every single college and high school student remembers that junior high-day in May, when it was announced on MTV that there was no more “My So-Called Life”.  After the announcement, we stayed tuned for “The Real World”.

Finger on the pulse, kids.

Riese is the 38-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2842 articles for us.

43 Comments

  1. A month or so after my high school graduation my friends and I ran into Jared Leto on Sunset Blvd in LA. We of course had to pretend not to care that we just saw Jordan Catalano in person…because we were all born in 1979…and we were 18… and drinking Boone’s out of a paper bag.

    He told us his name was Frank.

  2. I am a Gen Y-er, born in ’85. I had a computer class in 2nd grade. When I was 14 I started downloading music off of Napster and I was 16 when I got my first cell phone. My generation should be called Generation Spoiled.

  3. As a 29-and-two-thirds year old person, I think I would describe myself as Vanguard Milennial. I feel like it’s a big distinction that we didn’t grow up with the internet but the internet grew up with us. I’m sure that every generation feels that they have their own specialness but I feel like my generation has extra special specialness because just at the age when we were discovering the world, suddenly the world was expanding at an exponential rate, taking our curious little teenaged minds along with it.

    It’s to have been young at a time when nostalgic distortion rosily paints dial-up internet as a transcendental experience, where one’s soul was modulated up into a nascent shared consciousness to the ritualistic bleeps and crackles of a phone-line that your parents kept shouting at you to get off so they could talk to people.

    When being “on the internet” was a thing, before the need to suffix activities like booking restaurant tables or buying tickets with “online” became redundant, because of the assumed default connectivity of large, affluent swathes of the West and East Asia.

    I wonder if we are so precociously prone to nostalgia because it feels like so much has happened in this short span of our maturity and, unlike people just a couple of years younger, we can still remember a time of analogue simplicity.

    I liked the Slate article and I’m glad it didn’t bother to have the pointless paragraph other articles on the topic have about what’s the point of defining generations blah blah boring blah.

    Someone that questions the importance of generations has obviously never been up at 4am sharing reminiscences of kids’ tv like it’s the most important thing in the world. Someone that doesn’t understand that a person’s generation is as much of a self-defined part of their identity as their gender, sexuality or cute-animal-meme-preference just doesn’t understand people at all.

    Being part of my generation means that I belt out I Should Be So Lucky on SingStar and can never fall in love with someone that got Pokemon. I’m not sure there can be any more important personality indicators than that.

    I didn’t watch My So Called Life when it aired, so I don’t feel like I can lay claim to Generation Catalano, but I appreciate it as one of the last bastions of the pre-mobile phone era.

    I think I’m going to go and dream about VHS tapes now.

  4. I’m 28, so apparently I’m still technically Generation Y (from what I’ve seen it apparently starts in like 1981). But it’s a weird spot cause you’re too young for Gen X and you feel too old for Gen Y.

    Though if we go by shows that were on while we were in high school, I would be Generation Dawson’s Creek.

  5. April 1980, I’ll claim Generation Catalano.

    I also agree with Sally, we’re the generation that didn’t necessarily grow up with the Internet but the Internet grew up with us. I remember *begging* my dad for months to get us on AOL when I was 15. I would spend hours in the theater chat room on there. Hey, remember when you could go into a chat room on the internet and not automatically worry about getting targeted by a pedophile? Yeah, me too.

  6. Oh my….I am definitely old as dirt!! Born in 76′ here….uughhh!……BUT i can totally relate to that, “being” or “being with” stuff growing up…..a lot of time i never let myself realize i wasn’t only wishing to be Rayanne Graff….i was wishing to be with her. hmph!

  7. Thanks for explaining the feeling I get when people describe Generation X and the Millenials, I’m definitely an in-betweener. I remember when the first person in my high school got a CD burner- it was such huge news!

  8. i just paused the walking dead to read this entire article. thank you

    then i thought to myself — wow i am pausing tv i paid for on amazon to read a blog written by a hip 30yr old lesbian on the internet

    and then i remember my bff from junior high and how we would sit on the phone in silence during my so called life to discuss it during the commercial breaks and my dad would get mad bc no one could call the house. no call waiting

    life’s funny

  9. So I am also a 1981 baby who, despite being away across the ocean from it, lived and breathed my so called life along with every one of my friends at the time. Not watching it equalled practical ostracism since it was all we talked about the day after it was on. I, as a closeted baby gay, was secretly disinterested in Jordan/Jared but publicly completely obsessed with him along with everyone else.

    I’ll never forget the day we “heard” that he died. Everyone cried. EVERYONE. To the point that the teachers nearly had to hold an intervention. There are probably still school desks with the words “Jared Leto RIP” right under “Kurt Cobain Lives On”.

    Now you are probably thinking “but…Jared Leto is still alive?” and you would be right. But in the days before the interwebs rumours like this took hold and wouldn’t let go. It was all a bit anti-climactic when suddenly he was on TV again when the next season aired. At that point we had all lost interest in our fickle teenage ways.

  10. i guess my generation could be defined as packaged. to be truthful i really think my time has a schizo identity. not really claiming anything as it own but rather grabbing bits and pecies from past decades. nothing lasts long enough to define any of us because of all the access to things like social networking. the moment anything innovative is done it rapidly becomes old and outgrown.my generation has this obsession of documenting their every movement with tweets and posts as if time is always fleeting and the need to be heard and special is ever more important. such an act really shows how discontent my generation is with the current times and the constant replay of media that fails to grasp that youth can’t be seen as a way of profit.and it’s media that quickly captures our youth, puts it in a package and sells it back to us. therfore if my generation is defined by whats on tv, then it’s even more of an example of how disconnected we have become to our inner self. shows like my so called life foucsed on the mind of a teenage girl in the midst of highschool. and now many shows directed to teens incorporate vampires, witches superpowers, or are about a group of people who binge drink and party without a care of the world. these shows reflect a generation that trys to drift away from the reality as much as possible, ethier because what is happening is too much to think about or as a consequence of growing up in media technoligical envoirnment where things are unstable and new ideas gets constantly created before the old can even sink in. i guess what i’m trying to say in relation to the article is that i find it very interesting how identity is interwined with popculture. and how our need for definement and attachment is always going to be there. i bet when i am older i will still try to look back at my youth and try to to capture its essence or associate it with one thing or another.

  11. Omg, yes! I agree with all of this. I turned 30 a couple weeks ago and I was obsessed with My So Called Life when it was first on tv. And I always felt too young for generation x but too old for whatever the younger marketing category was called.

    It is weird to have such huge changes over a few decades, to remember 8-tracks and rotary dial phones while now carrying the internet with me all day. And all the changes in social norms and structure that go along with all of that!

  12. Douglas Coupland is amazing. Probably one of my favorite authors of all time ever. I’m very envious of those who can capture the feel of an era just by paying attention to the little things, like TV shows and music, people use to define themselves and identify with their peers.

    But what I find most interesting is, even though we feel like things are changing so fast, like, “remember back in 2007 when nobody had iphones? how did we survive?” a lot of things stay the same. I recently reread Generation X, and I was struck by how much I, at 21, identified with the characters who technically belonged to the same generation as my parents. There was so much angst about the future, guilt about the environment and general alienation that feels verrry familiar. Or maybe that’s just me.

    Anyways, I guess I should go try to find this show on the internet now..

  13. I relate to this article. Riese you do have a finger on the pulse. I remember the day after the show was canceled kids were signing a petition in the lunchroom to send to ABC. And I also edited with 2 VCR’s.

  14. Born May of 81. This is it. I have a professor who equates us with the micro generation just before the hippies. Just after the Beats and before the boomers. Born in the late 30s/early 40s. Extremely smart and extremely cynical.

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