The New Ageism: Boomer Chic
To All the Kids Who Survived the 1930s, '40s, '50s and ‘60s

Age and the Law of Unintended Consequences

In a comment on yesterday’s post about the New Ageism of Boomer Chic Terri, who blogs at Writing Away on Cedar Key, left, in part, this comment:

"’It’s just been moved forward a few years to accommodate boomers’ delusion of eternal youth.’

“…I don't think it's fair to say the above [as] a blanket statement. I, personally, do not have a delusion of eternal youth, nor do any of my friends or acquaintances…

”I also wanted to comment on that ‘silent generation.’ From my own experience with the over 65 age group, I'd have to say there's an element of truth in their definition. That's how society was - the male made most, if not all, of the family decisions. The women stayed home to raise the family. Many had no clue how to even balance a checkbook.

“But this "silence" didn't extend to all members of that generation. Just as not all baby boomers are caught up in the delusion of eternal youth. But I do also feel it was this baby boomer generation that refused to be silenced in our society...for good or bad.” [emphasis added]

Possibly, I'm guilty of of sloppy writing in that last sentence of mine that Terri quotes at the top of her comment, but every other word in my post makes it clear that I am talking about the media treatment of boomers and not boomers themselves - although I certainly know as many boomers intent on trying to live young until they die as I do others like Terri.

Terri points out that all generalities are unfair. But so is misinformation, as Maria of Silver Fox Whispers rightly notes in another comment on yesterday's post. Terri's statement that “…it was this baby boomer generation that refused to be silenced in our society…” flies in the face of historical record.

The oldest boomers were barely teenagers when the turmoil of the 1960s changed the social direction of the United States for - as Terri puts it - “good or bad”. In fact, most boomers were still children or not born yet when the groundwork for that upheaval was laid and the protests begun.

It was the “silent generation” who led the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war protests and the women’s movement. Here are some of the people, off the top of my head, whose courage and action pointed the direction of even my (born 1941) small efforts in these protests:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr.: born 1929
  • Rosa Parks: born 1913
  • Thurgood Marshall: born 1908
  • Muhammad Ali: born 1942
  • Michael Schwerner: born 1939
  • James Cheney: born 1943
  • Andrew Goodman: born 1943
  • Abbie Hoffman: born 1936
  • Dave Dellinger: born 1915
  • Tom Hayden: born 1939
  • Betty Friedan: born 1921
  • Gloria Steinem: born 1934
  • Bella Abzug: born 1920

Boomers - uninformed media and individuals alike - have been grabbing credit for the Sixties for decades, but it was the misnamed silent generation who “refused to be silenced” in that remarkable moment of social change in U.S. history. Our efforts resulted in the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, equal rights for women and brought down a president who would not listen to the will of the people about a misguided war that killed more than 58,000 American soldiers. I’m proud of my part in it and I won’t have it snatched away.

The boomer penchant for claiming ownership of the Sixties is a example of the law the unintended consequences. Because that generation is publicized and written about to the exclusion of others and because they were young then, those whose grasp of history is shaky (including boomers themselves) have come to believe in that erroneous ownership. It is a myth of twisted history.

The new aggrandizement of boomers as the leading edge of aging in America to the exclusion of those who are older is is beginning to create another set of unintended consequences - pitting generations against one another. Terri's post is a small example.

The president tried it too when, in 2005, when he goaded younger people to support his campaign to privatize Social Security by telling them old people will deplete the Trust Fund before they become old enough to benefit. Politics by age division didn’t work last year, but it wasn’t a pretty spectacle and it might work next time.

When one generation is consistently granted headline privilege resulting in the invisibility of others, mistrust and resentment build. Soon, each age group looks out only for itself, it becomes every man for himself and coalitions important to the benefit of all become difficult to create.

It is doubtful the media - or individuals - mean to set off generational warfare when they favor one group. They are only practicing lazy journalism, following a media trend by feeding off one another’s stories. But depending on what is at stake, the consequences are real.

The current administration in Washington shows no signs of curtailing its irresponsible war-spending binge or ending tax cuts which together are building an astronomical deficit that someone has to pay off in the decades to come. Should sanity ever return to the federal budget, there will be hard work to do, hard fiscal choices to make. All generations will need to give in, give back and give up things, and we can’t be bickering among ourselves as we make those necessary and difficult choices.

We are all in this together - the silent generation, baby boomers, generations X and Y, millennials and their kids coming up soon too. If the new ageism of boomer chic is not thwarted, those unintended consequences will bite us all, even the baby boomers.

Comments

Eternal youth is a myth. I prefer to live life to the fullest extent that I can .

I have always claimed the 70s as my decade; my husband, the 80s. And yet statistically, we're both lumped in with the boomers. So crucify us!

Growing up I always thought the boomers were the children of soldiers of WWII--who came home and started families and the suburbs. If that were true, those children would be in college in the 60s and protesting fighting their own war in Viet Nam. Those are the people I think of as the boomers--not the Kennedys and the Kings, but the people who came of age in the 60s.

My Dad was too young to be in WWII, just as I was too young to go to Viet Nam. (In fact it was my Dad who fought in Viet Nam after his stint in Korea.) We're tweeners--stuck between the official generation cutoff lines.

Personally, I've never minded the boomers. I've always viewed them as that older brother that paved the way for me by doing everything first. (Just the opposite of my personal experience where I'm the oldest of 8--and had to be the first kid in my family to do everything--the test case.)

You seem to treat boomers as the annoying baby sister, who always upstages you. I picture you with the same expression that my son had on his face when everyone was cooing over the new baby niece. He looked at me, hung his head, and said, "I'm not cute anymore."

As one who 'came of age' in the early 60's and saw, first hand, race riots/protest marches/suffered the angst and sorrow of Vietnam - I have been astonished at how MY generation has been tagged as 'silent'. I don't think so. You are right on, Ronni.

Labels, schmabels... What the heck does it matter what particular age groups are called? We are so much more than our ages; we are individuals who can do amazing things--without having to "fit into" generalized groups.

For anyone interested in looking at generational differences through our history, a good book is 'Generations, The History of America's Future 1584-2069' by William Stauss and Neil Howe. Their theory is that generations are repeated in cycles and you can look into history to see how one leads to another and how different ones in power impact events. It is just their theory, of course, but for anyone into writing or history, an interesting one.

I have personally never felt a part of either the Silent or the Boom generations but I was born on the cusp and impacted by both in some ways, I suppose.

As for how the media covers it, they are looking for something to write and trying to create stories. It's not like they just discovered seniors. I have read interesting stories over the years of oldsters doing things that weren't the norm... and that's the story journalists usually want. Like the 70 year old man a few years ago, who had never ridden, took horseback riding lessons and then went trail riding into wilderness areas with groups-- that made the Tucson papers. It's not a big deal when grandma goes to the the book group, but if she goes sky diving, that's a story-- well it used to be... More grandmas doing that these days.

Yes, Generations points out so many things. What really matters to all people are the conditions of the times they grow up in and are influenced by. The conditions of the 60s and 70s were most infuential on the boomers. It was not that they caused those conditions, but howe they were infuenced by them, that defines the generation.

The battle between boomer ideals is currently the most interesting facet of our political war, between those who believe the conservative mantra and those who know that progress and change happens. The 60s and 70s were times of tremendous change, and those who learned from those lessons know that progress and change are inevitable. Those who did not learn think the current strata of societal classes can be preserved as is, and the rich can be allowed to get richer while the poor get poorer. Those who leanred better know this is unsustainable.

There is a huge societal upheaval coming, and we all need to be ready for it. Those who are not are going to be not only very surprised, but very, very hurt.
Generations predicts things come unhinged around 2010, if I recall correctly. Seems about right to me.

Generational warfare? Not me. I gave up tilting at windmills long ago. I like myself better as an older woman than I ever have in my life. I no longer feel pressured or driven other than by that which I choose to be pressured or driven. Amazing how letting go of others' expectations can set a girl free. Let the media rant! I'm too busy being me . . . finally.

First of all...wow...I certainly didn't intend to create such turmoil here. But I've always felt intelligent (which you always provide, Ronni) debate is not only good, but necessary.
Strange enough, I posted on my own blog this morning before coming here and I believe what I happened to choose to blog on this morning ties in closely with this topic. (I guess it's called coincidence)
Intelligent debate (if one is willing to be open) hopefully forces one to look at "the other side."
Your words "pitting one generation against the other" jumped out at me but more importantly, made me feel sad. Because I never looked at it from this point of view. I have always been a strong proponet of equality in everything....and yes, this means our various generations. Each and every one has something to offer society.
Perhaps our media has woven their insidious thinking once again. Never having given much thought to the tag of "boomers" perhaps it's time for me to reconsider this thought provoking subject.
As always, thanks Ronni for stirring my own point of view.

In this dialogue about generational similarities and differences, I think it is worthwhile to keep in mind the current WH power structure was constructed on divisiveness over hot button personal, moral and ethical issues of our time.

I believe we would be wise to keep in mind, and do our best to thwart, any attempt by that same group to exploit our generational differences in a destructive manner. Wonder if you, Ronni, or others share my concern, or if this is off base thinking.

I only became really interested in this age cohort stuff when I read Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. He really does have the data to show that the social behavior of the generation that were adults in WWII really was more communal (and socially healthy) than any subsequent set.

I'm a boomer -- afraid I don't much like the kind of society we have made.

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