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At the risk of echoing others of my generation: don't label us. At least don't confine your image of us to an execrable group of complaining do-nothings. Allow us to define ourselves before you slap us with labels like Generation X, Baby Busters and the Shadow Generation.

There is not one culturally illiterate, apathetic, directionless whiner among my extended group of friends. Inaction and passivity are not our calling cards.

Our drive to succeed is tempered by our awareness of the socio-economic hurdles facing us. Studies may show that high-school students can't do basic calculations in their heads, but I bet even they know the nation's economic system is becoming bankrupt.

We lack the yuppies' cosmic luck. When they entered the job market in the booming '80s, a college degree and a ream of resumes most often led to a white-collar job with promise. In the '90s, even aggressive job searchers can only garner a room wallpapered with ding letters, a non-paying internship and the old room at mom and dad's.

If that sounds bitter and cynical, it is. But one stereotype with some measure of truth is that my generation prefers harsh realism to candied optimism.

Another Xer stereotype that rings true is that we suckled at the breast of TV. Not only did it invade our homes, but it also influenced our education. We learned in grade school about TV's power when our class lessons were shaped by TV movies like "Roots" and "The Morning After." In junior high civics we learned how TV helped JFK become president.

We've embraced TV vernacular and ad taglines, but try to cash in on this fact and we won't respond nicely. Our media savvy makes it easy to detect commercials blatantly aimed at us. I flinch every time I hear that smarmy guy in the plaid shirt murmur, "Ginger or Mary Ann?" in that Budweiser spot.

Witty, sharp ads that "speak" to our generation collect loyal followings. A friend of mine actually taped one of the Levi's For Women commercials so she could play it in slow motion to see all the images blinking across the screen. The magazine ads of the early '90s for Nike's women's line lined almost all my friends' dorm rooms in college.

In his book "Generation X," Douglas Coupland saddled us with the generalizations marketers are now feeding on. Just because we laugh at Beavis, Butt-Head and Bart Simpson, and find truth in Kurt Cobain's music and lyrics, doesn't mean we're a bunch of disenfranchised imbeciles "opting out" of society.

In fact, our basic desires aren't so different from those of other generations. In some ways we are striving for the ideals innocent generations took for granted: social, economic and familial stability.

To oversimplify my peer group is to underestimate us. Approach us with humor, intelligences and a little less disdain and you just might reap the financial benefits.

Karen Cooperman, 23, lives in Scarsdale, N.Y., and is an intern at a national TV news network.

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