Thursday, February 01, 1996

Generation

IN 1987, when the producers of Star Trek felt that the time had arrived to offer a new, improved product, they knew that there was only one phrase that would accurately reflect this latest shift to warp speed. Not only did the title of Star Trek The Next Generation alert the unwary to the present absence of Captain Kirk, it also tipped off viewers that R & D had come up with significant product enhancements.

In all this, Gene Roddenberry and his colleagues were simply adopting the perbolic argot of the hi tech industry. The principle here is to ally Mendelian genetics with splash of technological determinism. Hence, whatever have just developed irrespective of its degree of innovation, or indeed the usefulness of its actual innovations hits the shelves smelling as sweet, natural and positive as the flowers of the fields.
The Spanish were quick off the mark in naming their generations, but forfeited their position as world leaders in the field when they followed up the unflashy but evocative "Generation of '98" with the frankly derivative "Generation of 27", the latter term being used to denote contemporaries of Garcia Lorca.

Soon, the Americans had taken control over the generation manufacturing business. Their terms tended to possess an unexpected stateliness and monumentality. Gertrude Stein reportedly offered the world The Lost Generation. Jack Kerouac apparently had to make up his own moniker, The Beat Generation. By the time Generations Woodstock and Me were up and running, the business had expanded into a global concern and it became the moral duty of critics and commentators to conjure up such terms.

Manufacturing your generation for pets or food is as simple as using the remote control. Simply flick through the various viewing options until your eye settles on something you don't recognise. Take the name of whatever it is that you are a little hazy about the show's title, the channel the product advertised and add the word "generation".

Forget Generations E, X for unless, of course, you are looking for a little retro cachet. So how about "Generation Friends","Generation True Lines", "Generation Tarantino", "Generation Babylon Zoo", "Generation Brad Pitt", "Generation Limited Edition Orange Flavoured Toffee Crisp"?

Now that you have created your generational tag, you are, of course, free to configure it in whatever way most fits your user profile. Served up hot in a pop culture magazine, cook chilled in the daily papers, refried on 12-1, or served with a sesame seed bun for that big client pitch.

Traders in "generation" monikers have had some difficulty realising that the value of the term has collapsed. The velocity of contemporary communication has not simply meant that the shelf life of a "generation" has been seriously curtailed. There has been another perhaps far more important change in the use of the term.

The tight focus of the media on just one minuscule imagined community, one tiny illusive "generation", means that the word has lost all its functionality. So that for every "generation" caught momentarily in the headlights of the communications industry's juggernauts, there is an almost infinite number of others, which have scampered off to enjoy glorious anonymity beyond the ring road.

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