I am one of the seventy-six million babies born in the United States between 1946 and 1964, a Baby Boomer, the generation once called the pig in the python, the bulge in the snake, not the first generation to be tagged as a generation, as the “Lost Generation” and the “Silent Generation” preceded us, but perhaps the first generation to be aware of ourselves as a generation. It was relatively late in our generational journey that our parents’ generation, the “Greatest Generation” received their due, when Tom Brokaw wrote of them as the generation that fought, not for fame or recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. I’m fairly certain that my parents did not consider themselves part of a great generation, the greatest generation. From what I could gather, both the Depression and the war were hellish, and they did what they did because there were no alternatives to hanging on, making do, and living in a constant state of flux. They shared the circumstances of their time, but in truth they were as poorly described by generational characteristics as were to be.
One Great Generation, one Lost, one Silent, and one … what? A boom? A bulge?
To be candid, we are also the “Me Generation”, privileged as other generations had not been, raised in post-war affluence with a sense of our generational superiority to the sleepy repressed stiffs littering the world and workplace, keenly aware of ourselves as the new generation. Thus, the “generation gap” emerging at the end of the 1960’s as we believed ourselves the champions of social awareness and humanitarian progress battling the useless vestiges of antequated, social conventions and convictions.
We watched Howdy Doody, wore coonskin hats, listened to The Witch Doctor, watched The Mickey Mouse Club. bought hula hoops, watched Leave It To Beaver, ate sugary cereal, watched Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, ate TV dinners,, listened to Chubby Checker, watched The Flintstones, went to high school, waited to see if the Cuban Missile Crisis meant nuclear war, fooled around, watched American Bandstand, saw JFK die in Dallas, ate pop tarts, stole copies of Playboy, watched The Man From Uncle, listened to the Beatles, experimented with drugs, registered for the draft, marched and protested, watched Laugh-In, went to Canada, went to Viet Nam, saw King and Kennedy die, went to Woodstock, saw Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon, watched The Mod Squad, wore bell bottoms, listened to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, put flowers in our hair, listened to the Doors, became hippies or yuppies or Republicans or Democrats, got jobs, watched MASH, got married, had kids, got promoted, watched Charlie’s Angels, went to roller disco, lost jobs, watched Magnum P.I., got divorced, watched the Cosby Show, got fat, lost hair, got old.
Looking back, we had a moment, somewhere between Watts and Detroit and Newark and Nixon’s resignation, when we might have made a difference. For all of our pride in our highly evolved sensibilities and sensitivities, we became a lost generation ourselves, a hedonistic, self-serving bulge, taking up space, distracted by pleasure.
We became the generation that did not recognize itself. What happened, we wonder? Weren’t we the generation that would change the world?
Look around. I’m afraid we did.
We believed in progress, that every subsequent age would continue to flourish as ours had done, but we did not hold the opportunities given to us in trust for those who came next. We liked the idea of an increasingly comfortable world so much that we wallowed in it without securing the future. We knew the environment was fragile. We knew natural resources were limited. We knew that cities built in the desert would need water. We knew garbage had to end up somewhere. We knew people lived in poverty and violence. We knew the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. We knew we were distracting ourselves with mindless pleasures. We knew that schools had become warehouses. We knew that children went to bed hungry.
We made a lot of noise in the 1960’s, but what remains? John Steinbeck wrote of the dignity shown by hard-working people of good will; the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. broke the silence of the Silent Generation with words that took us to the mountain. Where is our voice now? We once heard Dylan, but now, perhaps hear Stephen King spinning dark tales of fun house world and stalking killer clowns.
We are perched now on a thin branch at the top of a tall tree. The eldest of us are now seniors, seventy years old, retired, hoping that in these “golden” days, seventy-five is the new fifty.
I’m pretty sure it isn’t, but life isn’t over yet for many of us. Maybe there’s time enough to circle back and put a few things right, plant a few trees to provide shade for children we will never know. We’re outnumbered now, finally; Millennial are the current bulge, and our python is looking flatter with every passing year.
I’d sure like to see us go out as the next generation that did what we could, even at the end, because it was the right thing to do.