A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
After The Bucket List there were some comments that I was being a little hard on the Baby Boomers. So to clarify, here, then, is a brief history of why I dislike the Baby Boom Generation.
In the autumn of 1945, millions of horny men and women around the world left the armed forces and returned home after a long absence. They had just fought the most terrible war in history, and even though they’d hadn’t all been through hell, every single one of them had been close enough to smell it. When they got home, they had one purpose in mind (Get your mind out of the gutter!): to forget the horrible things they had seen and done and reconstruct the world so their families would never have to witness the madness they had just been through. They succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, I’m here to tell you, but in the process, they created an enduring evil that still plagues us today – the Baby Boomers.
The children of the Greatest Generation were spoiled brats who grew into moody, inconsiderate adolescents. Now, they are about to become grouchy, grasping old people. The joys of adulthood escaped them entirely. They were raised on equal doses of suburbia, affluence and Dr. Benjamin Spock. They were indulged by everyone, who pampered them with everything the post war economic miracle could offer. HoverMoms guarded them against all evil, and absentee Dads worked ever harder to provide them the luxuries they’d never had growing up. Every pout required ice cream. Every scraped knee demanded an inquiry into playground equipment. Every wish was somebody’s command. One bratty kid is a problem; 50 million is a disaster. But they were the darlings of the world, a living symbol that, despite man’s hideous ability to obliterate all life on Earth, there was still promise and potential for a better future.
However, by the mid 50s, fractures were already starting to show. In 1955, Rudolf Flesch published Why Johnny Can’t Read. For anyone who bothered to look, Flesch’s book was not just an indictment of teaching methods but of the entire education system itself — and beyond. Flesch sounded the alarm that overindulgence was producing an entire generation who didn’t have any basic skills. He was also concerned that, as students moved through the system to more complex ideas, this ignorance would only snowball. Flesch was right and he was largely ignored.
In the early 60s, the cracks became clearly visible. Millions of young adults moved away from their suburban cocoons into the real world. The shock was palpable. For the first time, they saw deep social, political and economic problems and were astounded to discover that not everyone had shared their middle class privilege. Without any basic understanding, they saw this as a systemic flaw which needed to be corrected. Unable to grasp the simplest connections in a complex society or to formulate reasonable solutions they merely demanded wholesale change. However, not everybody shared their middle class values or their middle class solutions. There was no quick fix. Unable to understand why they were no longer the centre of the universe but very much aware that the powers that be were not going to snap to and pay attention, the Baby Boomers, as they were beginning to be called, got angry. The result was a five year temper tantrum that flared across university campuses all over the world. Forsaking Kennedy for Castro, young people decided that steady work for incremental change was too hard. They preferred the romantic life of the revolutionary (albeit free of serious consequences.) If the system wouldn’t change immediately to suit them, they would kick and scream until it did. Like most tantrums, this one tired itself out, but not before millions of lives had been disrupted.
The convulsions of the 60s tore great sections of our society apart. The problem was, the anger of the Baby Boomers never went beyond childish rage. Institutions were knocked down. Social systems were destroyed. However, without any long term dedication for reform nothing was built on the rubble. It became Revolution for the Hell of It. A sophomore party that got out of hand. By the end of the decade, the Boomers were already losing interest and by the time things got serious, one May afternoon at Kent State, they’d all but disappeared. They were gone, off to backpack Europe or the Himalayas in a frantic search for their “Me First” souls.
A couple of years later, they re-emerged when Disco swept the neighbourhood. Their social conscience forgotten, it was time to dance and do coke and play with therapy. The mess they left was somebody else’s problem. Yippies became yuppies, and the Boomers never even looked back. They had 40 more years of destruction ahead of them.
But there are other perspectives of the dominant generation. Here’s one translated from Dutch — Over mijn generatie