Baby Boomers dominate American culture, and this generation has since it supplanted its parents (the World War II generation, Brokaw’s ‘Greatest Generation’) in the mid-to-late 1960s. However, ask someone what a Baby Boomer is, simply what the age range is for a Baby Boomer, and you’ll get such varied and board responses as to almost make the term hollow. For the record, the US Census Bureau considers folks born between 1946 and 1964 to be Baby Boomers, so this generation spans 18 years. 18 years seems to be a bit of a wide swath to my mind.
I have difficulty with the idea that someone born the same year I became old enough to vote is my contemporary. I have difficulty considering someone I may have fathered as part of my cohort. A social generation needs to more in line with a biological generation, and a biological generation seems to be more akin to 12 years at upward limit. Again, the Census Bureau would like to put Boomers, Generation X (1965-1984), and now Millennials (1985-2005) in handsome twenty-year boxes, and I can certainly see how for statistical reasons that makes sense. Again, someone I could be the parent of is not part of my generation. Just as it’s not okay for a 25 year old to date a 5 year old, a 30 year old to date a 10 year old, a 35 year old to date a 15 year old, a 40 year old to date a 20 year old, etc.
Not to be sidetracked…
To my point, the Baby Boom Generation is huge and far-reaching, which is why it has dominated American culture for the past 50 years. Baby Boomers have birthed two children, Generation X and the Millennials, both of which have been used to inflate Boomers’ egos, purses, and set against one another their desultory approval. The Baby Boom Generation has gone out of its way to hamstring its own children in order to pursue (not necessarily even meet) its own fantasies and desires.
Perhaps the best cultural example of this is John Lennon. Not the poster version John Lennon, not the mop topped Beatle, not the idealized/idolized man, but the father. John Lennon was a terrible father, and as such, an inferior human being; he is the soul, conscience, and icon of the Baby Boomers. Why am I disparaging a dead man? Because, his two children (Julian Lennon and Sean Lennon) are superb analogues for the relationship between Gen X and Millennials as well as the relationship of each to their parent.
John Lennon was 23 when Julian was born in 1963 to Cynthia Powell and 35 when Sean was born to Yoko Ono. Lennon abandoned Powell and his new son in order to become the Beatle icon we know today. He nominally cared for his wife and that uncaring attached itself to his son, whom Lennon only saw as an extension of a woman he felt was a weight around his neck and parasite on his ambitions. Once The Beatles had run their course, making Lennon obscenely wealthy and beyond influential, a matured Lennon fell in love with Ono. He then showered his younger son with attention, gifts, and adoration. One could say that he had learned from his mistakes, yet Lennon still had no interest in repairing or salvaging his relationship with Julian and then Mark David Chapman murdered him.
There is jealousy between siblings, always justified and never legitimate. Julian Lennon became (however briefly) a pop star in his own right in the mid-80s but when this fame waned, he persisted. Sean Lennon was given one of the first Apple computers by Steve Jobs, Elton John is his godfather, as a teenager he wrote songs with Lenny Kravitz when Lenny Kravitz was a huge star—my point is, the capital of the John Lennon name was duly and liberally spent on and by Sean Lennon. If we abstract the narratives of these two in the proper manner of pop iconography, we can see they are but proxies for the tensions between Gen X and Millennials.
The first child of the Baby Boomers, Gen X was raised in prosperity but in the midst of constant personal anxiety. Gen X experienced a brief but notable bit of fame and have since then quietly soldiered on. Justifiably bitter towards their parentage—not for what was provided to them but because of the context in which it was delivered—but intelligent enough to make their own niche and come to peace with it. Millennials could be seen as the spoiled second child, but that would misplace blame. Millennials were showered with not just opportunity but a context that pathologically reinforced in them the primacy of their own self worth. Baby Boomers disregarded their first child because it got in the way of their ambitions, Baby Boomers then mollycoddled their second child as a way to demonstrate their own success. The result was to emotionally cripple both children. But the brilliant thing is, Gen X and Millennials are smarter than their parents are, more self aware than their parents, more responsible and less egocentric than their parents. Yet both generations have had to go through the exact same process to not only make this clear to itself, but also make it clear to others, and hold their parent generation accountable.
Except, you can’t convince the pathologically narcissistic and vainglorious that they are culpable or liable, attempting to do so is only translated by such persons as inappreciative persecution or galling jeremiad. At a certain point, you have to make your peace. I’ve had a hard time with the Millennial generation and unfairly so. This is a generation young enough that they aren’t me, yet old enough that I do know them. Both of us are complete mysteries to our myopic parent generation. If it weren’t for our parent generation, we’d be friends–a bit like Gob & Michael in Arrested Development.
Why am I going on about this? Because I heard this segment on Marketplace Morning Report. Listening to it, I realized that I’ve heard this all before. I graduated college in 1999, which means the wealth of the Clinton years (a rabid self-congratulatory time for Boomers) was ending. The bubble burst, and just as the nation was coming back a bit, 9/11 happened and the Boomer Congress whipped the nation into a fury of revenge that lead to two separate and pointless wars. As these wars deepened and stained the national psyche, the Great Recession occurred. Listening to this Marketplace story, I realized that I have never experienced prosperity in my working adult life. For nearly fifteen years, I have been underemployed and working poor even though I have an advanced degree and have grown up with all the technology that so confounds and dumbfounds Boomers. Millennials are just now experiencing this (and by ‘just now’ I mean over the interval of the Great Recession) and every one of their grievances seem to be mirror reflections of those my generation had in the early and mid-90s.
I have now experienced two government shutdowns prompted by Boomer hubris and disregard for the lives of their children. Boomers seem to be making it a point to deprive their children in order to satisfy their own craven appetites. These last two election cycles have revealed a polarized nation, but I think underneath it all you’ll find that the divisions aren’t necessarily political but are generational. Recently the New York Times gave us this wonderful map showing the districts of those ultra-libertarian Tea Party Republicans that are responsible for the current government shutdown:
What’s fascinating about this is that if you were to overlay it with this map showing the current lack of Internet availability you’ll notice some suggestive correlations:
I would venture to guess that if you found a third map that showed the median age of the areas lacking connectivity and being represented by members of the so-called GOP Suicide Caucus, then you would find a domineering…sorry, my mistake…dominant presence of Baby Boomers over Gen X-ers or Millennials.
My longwinded point is this, Generation X and Millennials are sibling generations and together are at the very least equal to but most likely greater than the Baby Boom Generation. As such, we need to work together, we need to agree to put our parents in a home and take charge because we are the first generations whose default moral and emotional stance and expectation is one of total equality, total equity, genuine magnanimity, and self-effacing opportunity.