I come neither to praise boomers nor to bury them. My intent is to both explain what I love and what I hate about the generation’s effect on American society, and also the one thing I DO hate about almost all boomers (it’s a tic, I swear) and which, IM(NS)HO is what causes most of the boomer hatred from the reasonable members of my generation – the unreasonable ones are like everyone else – and the generations after.
I’ll start with a clarification – I’m not sure when in heck the media started defining boomers as going from 46 to 64, but they can stop it already. I was born in 62 and until the nineties no one ever referred to me as a boomer. This was when boomer was a proud designation, all the good people in movies and sitcoms were boomers. We were… something else. We never joined communes, the ones of our generation who smoked A LOT of pot were usually troubled (not just part of what everyone was doing.) We – as PJ O’Rourke says at one point and I wish I could remember where – were dragged to the sit ins and didn’t sit down. We were lectured about the age of aquarium and kind of nodded. Then we cut our hair, put on our suits (in girls’ case skirt suits. Remember the shoulder pads? Yeah, I never needed them. I have shoulders like a line backer, which was pretty funny when I was young and dainty. Thank G-d the fashion hid it) and went to work.
To be honest, my brother, born in fifty four, was in the very last, straggling end of the boomers. Technically two years before it should be called so. Think about it. The boomers are defined as being the post war generation, conceived in the great effervescence of relief after the end of the European long war. (The latest European long war, I should say. Europe is good at those.) The generation was marked by one of the greatest waves of prosperity to hit worldwide and trickle down to the common people. (Because their parents had benefitted from the GI bill?) They were the most educated generation – en masse – the world had ever seen. (There are things that went wrong just because of that. Anytime an industry is booming, you get con artists, and in the boomers’ case the con artists often went into education.) They came of age in the sixties, in a great mass, straining the seams of every institution and focusing the attention of every marketer. Everything was directed at them. When they were very young, all the focus was on baby stuff, then toys, then… You get the point, right.
More, except in families like mine, they normally came from very different family structures. Most boomers I know have more than one sibling. In my generation more than one is rare, and if you go over more than two, that’s really rare.
(In my family we had two only – mom didn’t want kids. For reason.)
My generation – those born, say 57 on to 67 – had no name. We still don’t. The ones the media has tried to put on us, when not claiming we’re boomers, are repulsive. “Jones generation” because they said we had a “jones” for what the boomers had is just silly.
I don’t remember envying the boomers. Oh, yeah, okay, when I was young I tried to ape them – till about 17 or so – but that’s just what kids do, and besides my brother was my hero, as much older brothers are to little girls. But envy? No. They were just diferent.
They came of age in the sixties prosperity and got stuff thrown at them. We came of age with disco and the idea that we were running out of oil. By my birth year, in my area – I don’t know here – they were starting to close schools and consolidate, aware, as it were, that the boom wouldn’t last forever. There is a different perspective there.
If you go back and read Heinlein’s juveniles, you’ll catch the certainty that each generation will be bigger than the last and that each one of them will therefore have more power in societal activities. My generation was safely ignored. The marketers were marketing to boomers. We were left to do our thing. And that was difficult, let me tell you, because the boomers had this idea of themselves as being a different generation (we’ll go on about this, later) and therefore they had ‘generation consciousness’ (there is a story relating to science fiction, which I’ll tell later) and believed that people before – and by the time I came along – after were somehow different and inferior. If I had a dime for every interview where I was asked about my “social consciousness” or various other boomer-generation markers, (as defined by the media) I wouldn’t have needed a job.
There was a series of comic books – Mafalda – from an Argentine, which talked about my generation. The title of one of them was “We came afterward.” I think if we had a title it should be “the Worriers.” We came of age being told there just wasn’t enough for us. We came of age to worries about overpopulation and the horrors it would bring, we came of age afterwards, forgotten, as an afterthought.
Which is why most of us resent NOW being lumped in to the boomers. My standard answer is “Sure I remember sixty eight. I entered elementary then.”
Many in my generation developed a knee jerk reaction “If the boomers do it/believe it, I’m for the opposite.” This is the reaction to being lectured to from a very early age, and from having every societal signal blare at you that the people ten years older than you are all that, and you just rained on the parade. Frankly, I’m surprised we’re not more p*ssy than that.
Trying to swallow us up just p*ssed us off more. Go and look at the magazines of the seventies. We weren’t considered fellow boomers. No, the marketing industry just kept creeping that forward, partly, I think to cater to this idea they’d created of the boomers as “forever young.”
Of course the generation that came of age in the late sixties is not uniform. It is not so anymore than any other generation is. And it is a mistake to think of it as defined by age. The president, mind you, is one year older than I, but he is an echo -boom baby, born of a (very young) boomer mother. His generation markers are closer to those of my older son’s (born in the last year of the echo boom): Robert’s classmates tend to be “more boomers than boomers” and talk about their parents with near worship.
However, the boomers were hit by some of the same influences, the same marking experiences: First it had to do with being the first generation born after the long war. I’m sure at some point, even the more detached, had at the back of their heads the certainty they were the next batch of cannon fodder being reared and the war would continue. Can you blame them for their (public, media fueled. I’m aware a lot of boomers served with valor) reaction to Vietnam?
Second, they were a prosperous generation. Larger numbers than ever were educated. This created a disconnect between a lot of them and their parents, particularly since (I told you I’d pick it up later) a lot of the colleges hired teachers/professors in a hurry to meet the boom, and a lot of crazy theories and marginal academics of the past generation got given credence and became mainstream.
Third, they were “homogenized” and propagandized by the media like no other generation before. Part of this was that the USSR (don’t bitch, we have papers) spent untold amounts of money to do so, to create a sixth column in our midst (they succeeded, but not with the ones they’d expect) and part of it was simply the ENORMOUS marketing wedge to be gained from catering to these young, relatively wealthy and NUMEROUS people who all were hitting the same stages at roughly the same time. (Bitter joke from someone my age around the eighties “Have you noticed how it’s never been cool to have babies, till the boomers are doing it? I wonder if fifty years from now, it will be cool to die?”)
It’s impossible to be on the receiving end of that sort of thing and not buy some of the ethos. A lot of the people from that time still think there was something… unifying about the generation, aside from the sort of influences I named. I think that’s where the odd defensiveness “Hey, you can’t trash talk about my generation” – even when someone isn’t! – comes from. It, of course, reinforces the stereotypes.
Fourth: a generation that large can’t HELP being a lobbying group. As I said, boomers focused the attention of marketeers. Now, I don’t know if they still do (I rarely watch commercial tv) but they do focus the attention of politicians. Stuff like Obamacare was with the idea of attracting them “Hey, get someone else to pay your last-years’ health bills. Because you can.” Of course it’s going to hurt them most of all, but that’s only reality, not what was marketed.
Now these influences hit people differently. I’m going to admit right here I have and have always had a massive weakness for brainy boomer guys. The sort who are so smart they’ve never made it at anything. The sort that took everything thrown at them and retained only one thing: new stuff is opening up, do/learn/try new stuff. Yeah, they often went to peace demonstrations (though they probably did it for the hippie chicks) and they probably did drugs. A surprising number of them kept the hair and the ‘tude but turned right when they aged. O’Rourke is sort of kind of one of those, Johnny Fever from WKRP in Cincinnati is the same type halfway through maturing.
I liked guys like that so much, when I was young, that I was shocked I married someone not at all like them. I still like them and have several friends who are like that – though they’re usually from the younger trail of the boom, born 53 to 57. There is something incredibly charming about the way they face the world: the willingness to try stuff and the refusal to condemn those who take different paths (but aren’t doing anything wrong.)
I even like the variety of them who were too “square” to do drugs or be promiscuous but who display towards the intellectual life that same curiosity. I’ve come across guys and girls (eh, they’re only ten years older than I) who have not only read more than I have, but more than I could read, and who have thought deeply about things I couldn’t begin to even be interested in. Those of them that went in academia are a blessing and usually a “burdensome stone” in the midst of their unthinking colleagues (and a lot of them turned away from Academia because they hated the group think.)
Their influence in general has been good for society. It’s hard for people to remember this – the schools (argh) have worked hard at fostering the idea that the thirties-through-fifties were normal “before the boom” times, but they weren’t. Increased industrial production and marketing made society a lot more uniform than it had ever been. Let’s put it this way, in the fifties, 1984 was credible. By the seventies, not so much. (I don’t mean the future had changed. 1984 is an exaggerated fable and was never possible. People are not that uniform. BUT in the fifties it was possible to imagine them becoming so.)
But other people were hit very seriously: they took the idea that they were supposed to transform the world to heart. They took the very bad economics and redistributionist bull hockey to heart. They took the idea that all capitalism was corrupt to heart (remember, millions spent by the USSR.) They thought Castro was doing a good thing. They had Che posters.
Weirdly, these are the ones who early eighties cut their hair and went into corporations. They were by and large “daddy’s sons and mommy’s daughters,” i.e. fairly affluent and had connections. What they’ve done to our economic life doesn’t bear examining. Part of this was that they believed what they were taught. (If you think of our president as an exaggerated, cartoonish version of this, you’ll see what I mean.) The USSR was the way of the future. Oh, without the prison camps and icky stuff, but you just couldn’t deny communism was more efficient and besides they had no unemployment and no hunger. (Ah!) They were bringing these wonders to America, under the third-way.
What they’ve actually done is create an unprecedented level of crony capitalism. (which, yes, always existed. It’s part of how humans function.) They also – or at least a substantial number of them – took cold when the USSR fell, and since then have been intent on one thing only: feathering their nest.
Then there’s what I call the Rancid Hippies. They annoy me because at first glance you might confuse them for my favorite type of boomers. They’re not. They might have been hippies when they were young, they might have believed in trying new things and letting others try their own path. But somewhere along the line they hardened into twin convictions: other people are too stupid to do what they think is RIGHT, and they KNOW what is right.
Rancid Hippies mostly inhabit the education establishment, but also the media, the arts, and oh, yeah, publishing. This explains how well all these institutions are doing. These people are best exemplified by “Question Authority – except mine! You WILL obey me.”
Then come the vast number of boomers: they kind of heard the propaganda, and often have an untoward pride in “my generation” but they bought neither the snake oil of the USSR nor the “do your own thing” openness of the early hippies. They might have a bit of both, but they were just people, trying to do the best they could.
Of course, they aped the “ooh, having babies is cool” and all that, because it was shoved down their throats by the media.
But they don’t usually go around saying “Yeah, I’m a boomer” even if they come out and defend boomers when they suspect they’re under attack – even if they’re not. I suspect a lot of this is because anger has been directed at them because of their birth year, and they don’t realize to people my age and younger what they’re “defending”, what we identify on sight as “boomer” is the media image of boomers, not the people who were born those years.
Some of it stuck, of course, stuff like “build community” and “give back to the community” and “make a difference” were slogans thrown at them so uniformly that it would be amazing if most of them had ever examined them. Only the smarter and more conflicted have. The others just seem to think this is like some sort of memorized response. It drives people like me nuts, but my generation does it too, and my older kid’s even more so. (Your older kids? You say. But your kids are not that far apart. Uh, no. But there you can see the generational waves by year. Yes, there’s people like us, who had kids too late or too early – I always thought it was late – but Robert’s year most of the parents were ten to fifteen years older than us. Four years later, Marshall’s classmates all had parents ten years younger than us, and we were the “old” parents. Consider one was born when I was 28 and the other when I was 32. It makes no sense, unless you take in account Robert about hit the last year of boomer fertility without extraordinary aid, like Hollywood stars get.)
Things that affect almost all boomers and which I find completely understandable: their refusal to have kids in the number their parents did. If you grew up thinking you were the next wave of cannon fodder, wouldn’t you? Also, you were being told so much was expected of you. You were going to change the world. Left d*mn little time for kids; the mass demonstrations against the war (yes, I know most of you never did, but the ones who did were still a higher percentage than at any other time) – well, between the propaganda over the air waves and the suspicion the battlefields of Europe were waiting for you your whole life… what do you expect?); their unwillingness to grow up till late in life – when you’re told you’ll be forever young, why bother? The way they treated older and newer generations, too, had to do with gaps in education and with mass propaganda. (Let’s be glad the days of mass anything are passing. No generation should have done to them what was done to boomers.)
That part, though, is also part of the resentment, particularly for those of us in the media, in the arts, in education. My generation was DELIBERATELY kept away because we weren’t “idealist’ enough (i.e. didn’t agree with leftist boomers) and then we were told we were too old, and the way was opened for the echo boomers.
Don’t tell me I’m imagining things. I would bet you if you do a head count, my generation accounts for most of the midlisters and the shattered writers. It hit me in the face as more than a suspicion when I read an interview in Locus with one of the major magazine editors – one I admired – who said that no one under 45 had enough life experience to write. This was around 98, I think. I was in my mid-thirties. Ten years later, it was breathtaking to hear the same editor talk about how there was no market for writers in their forties, because the future and the interest was in the twenty somethings, whom they were buying in droves. Because those were their sons and daughters and aping their opinions.
I realize that’s mostly in art and writing, but I’ve heard similar stories from corporate life. People being treated as the “bratty kid” well into their thirties and then within a few years being agglutinated to the boomers, who were ten years older, and being told there was no future for them, and they would never make it far.
Why this is important – it’s important for those born in the boomer years to realize they were sold a bill of goods and that institutions they trust are still selling them a bill of goods. That is the only way they’re going to realize the health-care-law backed by AARP will not in fact pay for all their needs in their late years. No, they mortgaged MY kids, and instead they’re going to get killed. Most of them don’t know the number of slots in medschools were cut by Obamacare, even as supposed universal access was granted (and don’t get me started on how we’ll all pay the penalty and no one can have insurance, because we can’t afford it, and how the penalty will go into the general fund, of course) and therefore what they’re going to get is “death panels.”
It’s important for them to realize they have less in common with the conmen of their generation and with the rancid hippies than with people like me who are trying to save the nation.
Those people are not your friends; the image they sold you was beautiful, but it was a fairy glamor. It never existed. Behind that image are the con men who take advantage of the image and the rancid hippies that are destroying art and entertainment and making education an authoritarian nightmare (yes, I know, on the framework that was there, but the command to “Question authority” bellowed from above is a special refinement.) The free spirits never subscribed to the image – or much of anything else – and the normal people shouldn’t be defending it. Nor should they buy the sappy adds and propaganda aimed at them.
I know it’s hard to change your mind after forty five, but I’ve seen some of you do it. Do try. The “third way” was a lie, your generation was not particularly blessed, just large (everything else came by accretion) and you don’t have to defend the crazed rancid hippy beardo the weirdos in education. You also don’t have to die for the Hillary Clintons of the world, corrupting the polity from within. You can trust people under fifty five. (Over fifty five, it’s mostly you guys and some of mine, now.)
The circumstances of your birth are not your fault, the time at which it was, and the fact the USSR propagandized you is not your fault. My circumstances are not my fault either, and truly we’re trying very hard to forgive what the boomer gatekeepers did to us, and to remember they’re not representative of all boomers. Most of us try to do more good than harm. None of us are cartoon characters. It’s time to reexamine assumptions, and it’s time to help those who came after slog our way out of a mess that started years before any of us were born, in the trenches of WWI.
We didn’t start the fire. But we have firehoses.
The other reason it’s important is that the more you push that image at us, the more you create people who will throw the baby out with the bath water. The more you insist on the authoritarian-non authoritarian model, the more you tell us “Resist authority except ours” and the more you talk about fighting against the man when you ARE the man, the more people younger than I will go “Everything the boomers ever thought was a lie. I’ll do the opposite.” And the pendulum swings towards 1984.