Yeah… It’s Time We Had This Conversation on Brandonia. 1,2,3,4… I Declare a Generation War!
I’ve written before about how I have respect for Millennials on a few different levels. My main reason for this is that they have access to more information than any other generation before them and they’re rejecting a lot of traditional notions about what it means to be happy and successful. Also, they drive Boomers crazy, and I LOVE things that drive Boomers crazy.
If you’re a Boomer and you’re reading this, I’m sorry, but I’ve gotta let your generation have it for a bit. And if, by the end of this article, you’re still reading, I hope you understand why… but, for reasons into which I’m about to dive, I doubt either of those things will happen.
I’m also going to try and draw a parallel between changes in generations and cultural changes among nations throughout modern history. I might fail in that pursuit, but goddamnit, I’m gonna try.
First Let’s Define Our Terms, Shall We?
Look. I’ve done some digging, and there’s not a real official consensus on what time periods to which each generation belongs. So here’s how I define them, and since it’s my article, that’s what matters. [wry smile]
Born 120-100 years ago…
The generation of people who were in their late teens and early twenties during World War 1 (1914 – 1918) were The Lost Generation. Many of them—mostly men, but many women, too—were killed in “The Great War.” (Remember, war kills civilians and soldiers alike, no matter what the generals tell you.)
Those who survived were disillusioned and sought solace in material excess during the 1920’s, the decade during which many of them had their own children—the next generation. Unfortunately, their excess caused the Great Depression of the 1930s, and those children of The Lost Generation grew up hard.
Born 100-80 years ago…
When many of the children of the Lost Generation were in their teens and early twenties, Japan decided to bomb Pearl Harbor and the United States went to war again. That generation—the one who fought both the Great Depression growing up and World War 2 as young adults—is called The Greatest Generation. And rightly so. They grew up in abject poverty and learned to live as tough, gritty individuals. Then they banded together to help stop a global threat. (Not to get into geopolitics, but the USSR was the deciding factor in defeating Hitler. Ask any historian with a shred of credibility.)
When they came home, like their parents, they enjoyed a boom of economic expansion in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. They moved en masse to the newly created suburbs and painted a picture of “The American Dream” that included a husband and wife, a house with a picket fence, a car in the garage, two kids, and a dog. And boy were they keen on the “kids” part of that dream.
Born 80-60 years ago…
The kids born during this time, the ’40s and ’50s, are The Baby Boomers. That’s my parents. Most of them grew up in households with two parents and didn’t really want for much. Then the ’60s and Vietnam hit, and when they were in their late teens and early twenties, they started a war against the establishment set up by their parents. They did a lot of things right during that time. But when they failed to change anything, they lost not only the war against the establishment, they lost their souls. They went for material success and birthed my generation… Their kids.
Born 60-40 years ago…
They had us in the ’60s and ’70s. When the oldest of us were in our teens and twenties, our parents divorced. The Norman Rockwell American Dream of the Boomers’ childhood had changed to one in which both mom and dad worked, and the kids took care of themselves once they got home from school. We ate TV dinners, microwave burritos, and ramen noodles while watching “The Disney Afternoon” for hours every day, and prime time all night. Some call us the “Latchkey Generation,” but I, like most of us, prefer Generation X.
We were raised by TV, movies, music videos, and video games. Our parents were both too busy to pay much attention to us when they got done with work for the day, and were content to let us take care of ourselves—hence the “latchkey” moniker. Just add water.
Born 40-20 years ago…
Because so many in my generation were left to our own devices, a lot of us had kids pretty early on in life. Not me, thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but a lot of others I know did. Those kids, the ones born in the ’80s and ’90s are known as Millennials. They were raised at the dawn of the information age, and their parents were determined to pay more attention to them than our parents paid to us. There’s been enough written about them, though. Besides, I’ve got other fish to fry.
Why Attack Boomers? They Were Hippies! They Tried!
That’s just it. They tried, they failed, then they turned to the dark side.
I watched Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for the first time around the turn of the century. I didn’t get it then, but I definitely understand Hunter Thompson’s opus now.
The first real view I got into what he concluded was when I saw The Rolling Stones in concert in 2002. The Stones—archetypal fathers of the hippie movement—had banners hung all over the arena letting fans know that E-Trade sponsored the show. Can you imagine that? What would have happened in ’72 if the “Exile on Main St.” tour was sponsored by AT&T?
Nevertheless, there we all were, under a dozen or more E-Trade banners, trying to align them somehow with the lyrics of “Street Fightin’ Man,” or “Gimme Shelter.”
These Boomers, the oldest of that generation, and their leaders during the cultural revolution of the 1960s and ’70s, were now slinging stock-market services instead of rebellion and upheaval.
After that, it really started to dawn on me. When we lost Vietnam, we lost the culture war, too. The whole Boomer generation had been demoralized, like the Lost Generation, their grandparents. And also like their grandparents, they went for excess.
They ramped up the military-industrial complex that has, today, kept us in a state of continuous, active war for nearly two decades, and locked us in a cold war for most of the decades prior. They built the greedy corporations that found the loopholes to change any regulations that got in the way of profits. Those same hippies who protested the pollution of the earth in the 1960’s turned around and kept up with the Joneses in the 1980’s by working for the corporations that destroyed the environment
They’re the ones who stand up and now tell us that climate change isn’t real.
Sure… They didn’t start the fire, as Billy Joel is so fond of singing, but that bastard’s as Boomer as it gets. And I suppose he’s got a bit of a point.
They lost their war. They fought it on two fronts, like their parents did. They fought in Vietnam, and they fought at home. Unfortunately because of Vietnam, they turned on one another. Hippies spat on veterans who had no choice but to answer Uncle Sam’s draft order. They threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. The establishment effectively divided its enemy with shitty politics and media manipulation, and they lost.
The boomers reacted like their grandparents, who didn’t lose the war, but lost so many of their peers in a war that nobody could even explain. They turned to excess and selfishness.
In the late ’70s and throughout the 1980s they idolized characters like Gordon Gekko and bozos like Donald Trump. They sold their souls and worked for factories that churned out weapons and waste and pollution and didn’t give a damn about the consequences.
These same ex-hippies, who once rode busses to Alabama in the name of civil rights, are the ones who cared more about putting parental advisory stickers on albums than fixing race relations in the country when both Rodney King, and subsequently, Reginald Denny were savagely beaten in the streets of Los Angeles.
These same ex-hippies, who once exalted the merits of sexual liberation, are the ones who cared more about Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs than they did about the crack epidemic.
And speaking of crack, these same ex-hippies, the ones who advocated using every drug under the sun, told us all to “just say no” and championed a failed War on Drugs that has destroyed more lives than the drugs themselves.
Finally, when it comes to Boomers, there are just so damned many of them! We haven’t even touched the fact that they’re going to bankrupt Social Security if they don’t outright destroy it with privatization first. There are too many of them and they are living too long. (I’m not saying we need to get rid of them, I’m just blaming them for the current world problems and pointing out a couple of facts.)
Yeah, but What Has Gen X Done?
We’ve survived. On our own. We’ve been accused of being the most apathetic generation since The Lost Generation, and that might not be far off the mark. We were forgotten more than anything else. Our parents had money to make. They had work to do, climbing interest rates to keep up with, and divorces to finalize. When we were old enough, we took care of ourselves.
We consumed culture, and we saw that not much else mattered. After all, our parents showered us with material things in the ’80s and ’90s and it didn’t make us any happier. In fact, we grew up with depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
We didn’t live through any political assassinations, though we saw our share of race riots. Our great tragedy was a suicide. Not only that, but the suicide of a rock star. Here was a guy, the voice of our generation, who, upon achieving what we’d all been told to aspire toward, decided it was worthless and put a shotgun in his mouth.
We saw injustice everywhere on TV, and in between those glimpses of the cracks in the world, we saw advertisements. We knew our parents had fought and lost, and we said, “What’s the point. Let’s just watch TV.”
Now, though, we’re shaking off that apathy and speaking out. Our kids, those damned Millennials, have awoken something, and we want to be a part of it. For once, it seems to me that the Boomers just might be outnumbered politically. We’re in our forties and fifties, and we’re teaming up with our kids to try and change the world.
We may be too late, but I sure hope not. I’m sick of this railroad to dystopia that we’re on. It’s time to make some new tracks. So, don’t worry, Boomers. We’ve got this. We’ve been surviving fine without you our whole lives, and we don’t need your help now, either. Just relax, take your pills, eat your dinner, and go to bed. Let us clean up your mess for you.
So What About This Historical Parallel I Was Supposed to Draw?
Well, as I said, I’ll probably mess this up, but here goes.
In the wake of WW1, England and France were left shellshocked, and Germany was humiliated. Hitler, Mussolini, and others saw the perfect opportunity to take advantage and began to grab up territory. England and France were apathetic. They’d lost so much and nobody wanted another war. Therefore, they pursued a policy of appeasement for as long as they could. Eventually, though, their children were drawn into another war, and they rose to the challenge.
Similarly, on the cultural front, the Boomers fought and lost a war. Many of them were humiliated and decided to essentially switch sides.
And now, a few decades later, another madman has seized control—and he’s not the only one across the world (I’m talking to you, Boris Johnson)—and the Boomers, shell-shocked from losing their own war, are pursuing a policy of appeasement. “Well, I don’t care if he’s a racist, or a rapist, or a nincompoop, as long as my retirement account is safe.”
How’s that account doing now?
So again, it’s up to the newer generations to stave off this threat. And stave it off we will. This is our moment.
I acknowledge that this rant was full of sweeping generalizations and in no way fair or objective. Therefore, if you’re a Boomer and you’re like, “Hey, I voted for Hillary,” you’re cool. But you’re in the minority, unfortunately. To be fair, though, there are a lot of people in my generation who can fuck right off, too. Furthermore, yes, I acknowledge that Gen X is in no way a “younger generation.” I’m optimistic. Not delusional.
Selfishness and greed are the real problems, and each generation has its share of people defined by both. Of course the Boomers are going to have more of them, because there are so damned many Boomers. They’re losing their grip on our society, though, and I hope a new day is coming soon.