Three years ago, some 38 million Americans in their 20s were dubbed Generation X: a grungy, angry, hopeless group of gripers. But a backlash is emerging as many say that stereotype is wrong. Here's a brief history of the labeling of a generation.
* In a July cover story, Time magazine christens today's young adults "the twentysomething generation," spawning similar articles in other publications.
* Douglas Coupland's novel "Generation X" is published in April. Critics call it a guidebook for the twentysomething set. His book's user-friendly pages include Gen X lingo such as "McJob"--"A low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low-benefit, no-future job in the service sector."
* The first Lollapalooza tour--a packaging of bands popular among the Generation X crowd--sells out amphitheaters across the country during the summer and attracts throngs to its midway of body-piercing booths.
* In July, the film "Slacker" is released, setting off a bandwagon effect of other Gen X movies.
* In September, Kurt Cobain and his band, Nirvana, release the album "Nevermind," bringing the alternative Seattle sound and grunge wear--plaid flannel shirts and ripped jeans--to the Gen X masses. Fans hail Cobain's anti-anthem single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and tag him the voice of antisocial slackers. Less than three years later, Cobain commits suicide.
* "The Real World"--an MTV docu-soap--makes its debut in May, depicting a cross-section of Gen Xers living under the same roof in New York, allowing viewers to eavesdrop on their secrets, squabbles and sexual sparks. In 1993, the video verite program switches locales to Venice and moves to San Francisco beginning later this month.
* In July, "Melrose Place"--\o7 Angst\f7 , Gen X-style--debuts on Fox television to a slow start. Later, Heather Locklear arrives to goose the ratings.
* Signs of a Gen X backlash begin to surface. Movies with a twentysomething sensibility--"Bodies, Rest and Motion" (April), "Three of Hearts" (April), "Poetic Justice" (July), "Kalifornia" (September) and "True Romance" (September)--under-perform at the box office. A year later, "Reality Bites" tries to sink its teeth into Gen X movie-goers. The $11 million film brings in less than $20 million at the box office.
* Twenty-six-year old Harvard graduate Michael Lee Cohen, tired of the press overkill that has over-generalized his generation, treks across America to prove that young adults are hopeful and optimistic. After interviewing almost 200 people, he writes "The Twentysomething American Dream" (Dutton), published in October. It explores how his generation is shaping the world it will inherit.
* Twenty Twenty Insight, a business newsletter, advises corporate America to shun Generation X-themed marketing.
* Michael Krugman, 29, and Jason Cohen, 26, (no relation to Michael Lee Cohen) write "Generation Ecch! The Backlash Starts Here," (Fireside), to be published in August. Says Cohen, a self-professed overachiever: "We worry too much about what the media says about our generation. Ecch is about getting a life."