Maybe it's because I actually decided to miss my high school reunion last week, or maybe it's because there has been a lot of chatter about Hillary's having beencastrating or maybe it's because Obama claims to be aloof from the psychodrama of the baby boom generation, or columnists from David Brooks to Meghan Daum are ranting about boomer narcissism but I wanted to take a minute to say,
Hey, wait just a minute!
Why the avalanche of ranting about boomers, just now? Is it because we are at the very apex of population demographic and we've reached the tipping point? Or are there other more subtle shifts at play?
Not long ago, two stories with implications for boomers were prominently featured in the press. Though I was sure the editors and writers had not consulted with each other, they represented a right/left coast bookend of alt-boomer counterpoint: one a rant by a thirtysomething writer who is a columnist at the Los Angeles Times and one a diary of a young Gawker blogger who seemingly had lost her way until she landed on the cover of the New York Times Magazine alluringly draped upside down in her tattoos and camisole on what appeared to be satin-y gray sheets.
The first, by Meghan Daum, was a screed against being held hostage, culturally, socially, politically by the boomer generation. Daum is mad as hell and she's not going to take it anymore, her Network (ing) moment a rallying cry for her own Gen X generation and any other that is sick of hearing about 1968 henceforward, sick of being told boomers were better, smarter, more political with the best music just a decade before she came to life.
Daum does not mince words. She says she has been strong-armed,, has endured bored bewilderment and feels as if she was trapped at a reunion for a school [she] didn't attend (that's why I didn't go to MY reunion!), that she and her fellow Gen X'rs are victims facing debt, no more social security, expensive real estate, and most gratingly, years of memorials to events that boomers have made larger than life in a sickening cycle of self-congratulation. She says boomers have stolen the cultural zeitgeist away from those just ten or so years behind, not just once, or twice, but in a seemingly endless wheel of samsara hell in which they, and everybody else, is forced the relive our successes (does she mean Woodstock? ) and failures (does she mean Woodstock?) over and over again.
The other article is from an even younger perspective (Gen Y) the kids practically young enough to be boomer children, who have been so indulged that they think every thought, every whim, every vague notion is important and worthy of being shared. Emily Gould, former Gawker girl reveals just how little work she had to do, how little expertise she needed, to fall into (and Gould is pictured supine most of the time) a job that only demanded that she let the net suck her life up. Gould doesn't blame anyone but herself for her mistakes, certainly not pointing the finger at some massive generational malaise, rather blaming Mommy Internet for suckling her and then weaning her without teaching her how to walk and talk.
Women are reading and writing blogs, and are patrons of the internet more than any other demographic. While this says something mistressful (if masterful can be a word, why not this?) about technology, really it's because we love to chat with each other and share our thoughts, we are interested in learning about other people have solved problems and the net has just become another vehicle for so doing.
But let's do look at Boomers, at least Boomer women, who as far as I can tell by the small sample of People I Know are trying desperately themselves to keep up with their children (short skirts, again! Fillers) society (we can never retire since you can work from home) and the men (or women) they love. The Boomer women are the most ambitious of my acquaintance. They are working harder than anyone else, desperate, it seems, to claim a place for themselves, aspirational to an unimaginable degree, as if they had spent so much time serving (children, husbands, politics, being the best, ideals of one sort or another) that a new kind of ticking clock has emerged, one about leaving your mark on the world and not just your genetic material in the form of offspring. I see publishing executives, agents, film programmers, producers, writers, consultants, media baronesses, internet queens, and that's just on my turf. Last week in Aspen I met women who are on the ground in Afghanistan saving children, in Africa fighting Aids and in Washington fighting with Congress for dollars ( I also met a hog dog entrepreneur who turned me on the VERY best hot dogs I have ever had). The airports and executive suites are filled with them. They have started online newspapers that are competing with old media (hooray Huffpo) and stealing its thunder, they are helping launch their children into the world or letting them live at home; they are taking care of parents who are living longer and still want to go to Europe and Shakespeare festivals (vacations just becoming a euphemism for family reunions ), they are leaders in the art world, in the business world, in the not-for-profits and profits too.
Yes, we loved our Joni Mitchell and our Rolling Stones, and we still do. We do still think it's better than anything going now, but we are willing to experiment, even if it's Carla Bruni (new album, just out, yum) and we listen with our kids and we buy the stuff at Starbucks. We have Ipods and Blackberries and I phones and the latest Macs. We are insatiable consumers of new fashion (sometimes to our detriment) and of new television programs, and not just because we are the ones making the decisions behind them. Reality tv was created by Boomers after all, even though we now complain of its relentless focus on minor, mostly talent-less celebrity.
Daum thinks we have cheapened the culture, not enriched it, focusing endlessly on ourselves.
But the post WW II generation also memorialized itself in film and theater and in literature. Hello, how about Arthur Miller and Philip Roth and Saul Bellow and William Wyler and Frank Sinatra? I know there are talented Gen X'rs and they may not be on my radar (music from this period, it's true, has passed me by but I was having my babies and EVERYTHING passed me by) According to Daum, Gen X includes 1982 but goes all the way back to 1965. This seems to me a wild and crazy span to begin with, encompassing everything from Daum, at one end, and my son, who couldn't be further from her, on the other.
Daum thinks our original sin is not knowing when to quit. I say it's our original grace. The never-say-die-ism is rampant, it's true--(George Bush anyone? Hillary Clinton, anyone) but it also has made these years some of the most advanced culturally, technologically, scientifically--and has powered huge cultural shifts, ones that must even inpsire Daum. (Apparently, Daum's column generated more mail, 144 letters, most of them negative, than almost any other column so I guess we're still feisty. And Daum is writing a book about real estate, surely the hot Boomer topic du jour)
The blog girls like Emily Gould may not know where to draw the line but they seem more akin to boomers (there's boomer genetic material in these Gen Ys after all): shared, is our enthusiasm and our reach out and touch someone-ism, (now by net but used to be in person) which can get in our own way as well as everybody else's.
We probably have embraced the internet because we have been conditioned to give it all away for free, anyway. (Who knows how much impact Free Love and Free Speech and Free the Panthers ultimately has really had?) We are inclusive, not exclusive. We don't blame anyone else for our failures, or shortcomings (unless it's Richard Nixon or George Bush). We have taken the relentlessly self-absorbed ethic of the sixties and seventies and delivered it over to our kids and they are running with the ball like crazy.
Daum's generation is the middle generation, and like the middle child, they feel left out and anxious and a little bit worried that they will be overlooked when it comes time to hand out the achievement swag bag.
And by the way, it's not just women: a good friend, male, who used to run publishing companies and is now a best-selling author says it's because we are all finally having our moment. Daum would say our moment has passed. But I wouldn't count us out just yet.
I have deliberately left out our Dem presumptive because he already had a hard week. You could spin Obama's listing right as a course correction, pandering to the masses or just plain common sense for the general election. But you could also look at it as the quintessence of boomer legacy: we are chameleons and that is our strength; we know when to march without bras and when to wear the push-up kind too.