Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Happy Rex Manning Day!

In case you don't get the reference, April 8th, 1995 was the day that the aging fictional pop sensation arrived at Empire Records in the movie of the same name. Kind of a cross between Barry Manilow and your dad's bowling buddy, Rex Manning was the antithesis of the counter-culture that Empire Records set out to define.

But there was just one problem, the generation had been exhausted and no one watched the movie. For the last few years, the media has delved into the rifts between Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. From BuzzFeed to CNN to the Onion, each generation has been blamed for all of the world's ills, and each done their share of the blaming.

Boomers didn't do enough, Generation X didn't bother, and Millennials are too busy looking at their iPhones to realize there's something to do. The debates are futile, a way to fill articles and create quizzes, and the arguments echo similar sentiments aimed at and from The Greatest Generation that bore the Boomers.

What's unique about Empire Records is that it represents a real demographic within an undefined generation. To those too young to grab coffee at Central Perk and too old to remember internet in our dorm rooms, Empire Records accidentally - and perfectly - defined the flannel-clad misfits too hopeful for Reality Bites but not ready to embrace the vapidity of Clueless, a movie that would lay the groundwork for the next twenty years. 

In a way we were posers. We were proud, but when it came to pop-culture, all we really had was Empire Records. We listened to Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but not with the angst to truly embrace them. We danced to Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, but recognized them for the crap that they were. To those of us who graduated high school between 1994 and 1996, we were the characters in Empire Records

Our little sisters had cell phones "for emergencies," we used pay phones. Our older brothers  read poetry at coffee shops, we got stoned and laughed. We bounced around from culture to culture, re-appropriating 60s fashion and music throughout high school and listening to the 54 soundtrack on repeat in college.

We embraced the best - or at least the most popular - of earlier counter-cultures, but had little to call our own. Despite the fact that Empire Records' success was lost, it was embraced by our nameless generation as the one piece of pop culture that recognized - deliberately or not - the rift between Gen X and what Y2K would bring. 

As "Happy Rex Manning Day!" fills up Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on April 8th, Empire Records has found good company. Along with movies that defined definable generations - Sixteen CandlesBring It On, and Mean Girls - Empire Records has found an audience amongst the classics.

Ten, twenty, or thirty years later, each generation has proven itself as capable as the former in their own unique ways. Boomer, Gen X, or Millennial, we were all once in that penniless place where nothing mattered but friends, late night coffee, and a youthful optimism that allowed us to detach from the cynicism that lied ahead. 

Perhaps that's why we're so quick to criticize the generation ahead of us. They haven't yet been crushed by the weight of the world, and their blind optimism is a scapegoat for our own insecurities. But critiques are useless. 

Like those wedged between Gen X and Millennials, Empire Records has proven that, to time, generations mean nothing. The truth is, we were all ass holes when we were in our teens and twenties, and a generation doesn't need a name to know that. 

Sure, I get annoyed by a liberal use of text messages, but there are too many productive Millennials who know no world without a laptop and smartphone to ignore the world we live in. Fixating on "why my generation is better" is only going to make the future seem weirder than it's already going to feel.

Culture changes and evolves, Empire Records closed, and Rex Manning didn't age well. Enjoy a classic for what it is, but it's history.

For now, let's just enjoy how hot Johnny Whitworth was...

Happy Rex Manning Day!

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