Cuspers – a new generational category proposed – updated to 2018 (Part One)
By Mark Wegierski
(The notion of “cuspers” was initially proposed by this author on the blog of the Hudson Institute’s American Outlook, April 23, 2004.)
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 category -- “cuspers” – to better explain certain social, cultural, and economic realities of America and Canada in the last fifty years or so. It should be noted that it is in a period of very rapid change – such as that which the triumph of the Baby Boomers in the Sixties has inaugurated – that 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 the U.S. entry into 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, Toronto: Macfarlane, Walter & Ross, 1998) define the Baby Boom as people born between 1947 to 1966 – surely a too-wide 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 1958-1967. 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.” Also, the Hollywood libertarian Thomas M. Sipos has coined 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 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 rock” – groups such as Genesis, Canadian band 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 Godfather – which 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.
In the 1980s, “cuspers” were typically in their twenties, and they wildly embraced the whole New Wave/alternative/technopop music as their music. It was possible to give a “contrarian” reading to many of the Eighties’ songs – such as re-interpreting songs about “gay alienation” as songs of “conservative protest” against the stultifying consumerist society. The cuspers had a decided element of ambiguity between being critics and products of Eighties’ pop-culture. 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 (the fantasy movie with Tom Cruise), Labyrinth (with David Bowie), 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 1988 – but 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 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.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.