Underachievers: Nirvana, Green Day, and Generation-X

“I wanna publish ‘zines and rage against machines…”

Toward the end of 1990, you couldn’t get away from Simpsons merchandise- from posters, to pajama sets, to pencil toppers- mostly featuring Generation-X’s very first mainstream media icon, Bart Simpson. You see, before The Simpsons (1989) became fixated on Homer’s gradual decline into retardation, the show’s initial protagonist was skateboarding prankster Bart- the country’s first take on their next generation.    

And those savvy Simpsons writers seemed to have nailed it. While Bart’s driving characteristic was apathy, it was a kind of self-aware apathy. Bart wasn’t stupid, he was an “underachiever”- he was capable of more but consciously chose less. This  hyper-aware apathy would become the generation’s defining trait. The following year Kurt Cobain was hailed as the “voice of Generation-X,” releasing Nirvana’s seminal Nevermind (1991) record. The stand out single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” served to define the generation with the very same self-conscious apathy: “I feel stupid and contagious; here we are now, entertain us.”

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