Masks and Mirrors: Generation X and the Chameleon Personality

Masks and Mirrors: Generation X and the Chameleon Personality

Masks and Mirrors: Generation X and the Chameleon Personality

Masks and Mirrors: Generation X and the Chameleon Personality


As America experiences the growing pains associated with the rapid social changes in the economy, technology, and culture, various groups must develop coping mechanisms to help them deal with the anxiety that is brought on by such changes. Generation Xers, on the cutting edge of these changes, are no exception. More so than any other group, elite Xers, those who are succeeding in the new economy, have adopted a unique personality style, chameleonism, as a defense mechanism. People with a chameleon personality pretend to be what others want them to be in an effort to obtain for themselves the kind of security Xers feel previous generations have enjoyed, but which may not be available to their own generation. Rosen further argues that this personality component, of pretending to be something one is not, becomes a permanent part of the personality when it is practiced and used frequently enough. This riveting examination of the Xer generation sheds new light on the survival mechanisms employed by those who feel threatened by social changes, even as they participate in and benefit from them.

The author begins by providing a careful explanation of the chameleon personality before delving into the special problems and obstacles (both real and perceived) that torment elite Xers, and their ways of dealing with these issues. He discusses various sources of anxiety and how the chameleon personality comes into play with regard to conflict between generations, conflict between the genders, and conflict brought on by immigration and foreign competition. While Rosen's approach is primarily socio-psychological, he also provides historical background on issues of social change and other attempts at dealing with it in the past. He presents a reasoned examination of the chameleon personality as it is manifested in America's Generation X in an effort to shed light on this unique segment of our population.


In the 1990s America entered a new gilded age. Not since the late nineteenth century has the pace of getting and spending been so hectic and passionate. Conspicuous consumption, castigated by Thorstein Vehlen a century ago, has lost its taint. Anew elite, eager to enjoy its success, unembarrassed by charges of shameless bad taste and arrogantly indifferent to the angry stares of envious losers, has gone on a spending spree, seeking legitimacy through possession and display.

Across the country, people who have only recently grown rich in the burgeoning information economy are living the American Dream. In the city, they live in well-appointed apartments or town houses located in safe, carefully policed areas. Prudently, they avoid public transportation, stay clear of lower-class environs, and give city parks a wide berth. For neighbors they seek out people much like themselves: successful, discerning strivers obsessed with selfimprovement, with being lean and trim, with eating the latest nutritionally approved foods and drinking designer water, with staying on top of the latest fads in clothes, art, and music, with being eternally sexually attractive. None of this comes cheap.

Many who can do so escape the city altogether. Some build mansions in the country, palazzos that would have caught the admiring attention of a Frick or a Morgan or a Carnegie. No expense is spared. Nestled on estates sprawling over many acres, these big, elegant homes possess every convenience money can buy and architectural . . .

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