Stuck in time

Not much more to comment upon after reading this New York Times article, except that, with their greater numbers population-wise, it’s no surprise that we’re still debating the issues of the Sixties, and will continue to do so until the Millennials are running the country and we’re all in the Gen X old-age home.

“In part, it is probably because so many of the Americans most engaged in politics — as well as those who run campaigns and comment endlessly on them — are old enough to remember Altamont. It is your classic self-fulfilling prophecy: the more the ’60s generation dominates the political discourse, the less that discourse engages younger voters, and the longer the boomers hold sway over our politics.”

—NY Times, Matt Bai, May 25, 2010


On generations and immigration

The New York Times had an interesting article on yet another issue that (apparently) splits the Baby Boomers from the younger generations — the Arizona immigration law. What I like about this article, unlike typical “trends” stories (often, as not, from the Times as well as from other outlets) is that it delves (as well as a 1,200-word article can, anyway) into the potential sources of this particular generational divide:

Immigration, which census figures show declined sharply from the Depression through the 1960s, reached a historic low point the year after Woodstock. From 1860 through 1920, 13 percent to 15 percent of the country was foreign born — a rate similar to today’s, when immigrants make up about 12.5 percent of the country.

But in 1970, only 4.7 percent of the country was foreign born, and most of those immigrants were older Europeans, often unnoticed by the boomer generation born from 1946 to 1964.

Boomers and their parents also spent their formative years away from the cities, where newer immigrants tended to gather — unlike today’s young people who have become more involved with immigrants, through college, or by moving to urban areas.

—Damien Cave, NY Times, May 17, 2010

Certainly, like everything else, this is an issue that divides those within a specific generation. And of course your perspective may well depend as much on geography as anything else.

While the article specifically cites the Baby Boomers, and quotes people along with naming their ages, it does not name the younger generations — probably a safe approach. Still, it’s easy enough to decipher.

It’s interesting to see that most of the representative “young people” quoted in the article are in their early 20s and teens — Millennials (Generation Y, if you must).

That’s no slight to us Gen X’ers, by the way. Our worldview is trickier, and we’re firmly the middle child between the Boomers and the Millennials, which should be a surprise to no one, least of all, my fellow Gen X’ers. My best suspicion is we’re collectively more conservative-leaning, at least economically, though I’d also say it’s safe to say we’re also more tolerant on social issues, probably without even realizing it. Perhaps it’s merely by being exposed to a more diverse America (I hope) as well as our own Sesame Street upbringing, to cite an example in the Times article.

Cranky as we can be, hopefully we won’t follow the example of the (seemingly) increasing conservativism of the Boomers (marching in Tea Parties after marching in the 1960s). But neither will we go as far in the other direction as the Millennials seem to have gone, for the time being, anyway.

So where does Gen X stand on immigration? This post is my roundabout way of saying, I have no idea. I really do think we are generally more tolerant of diverse backgrounds, but we also want to see people working legally; though we busted our butts and bent a few rules to survive in the job market (both at our entry levels and even now), we felt we did it legally. However, we’d be blind to assign the blame at the job takers, and not the hirers. Laurie at PunkRockHR nailed it more than a month ago when she wrote:

Let’s stop employing people who don’t have a right to work in America. Isn’t it illegal to hire illegal immigrants? Isn’t it immoral to pay people below the minimum wage solely because they can’t speak English and they’re in a position of weakness?

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Oscars, John Hughes, and generations

Not much to say about Sunday’s Oscars show, though I thought did a fine job of capturing the generational divides on display during the televised ceremony. Troy Patterson, Slate’s TV critic, hit it right on the head in writing about the segment honoring the late John Hughes. Patterson writes:

In witnessing the canonization of The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, those of us who came of age in the ’80s (or were trying to, anyway) were watching the very soul of our collective adolescence pass into history. We’re getting old, and we must resolve to do so with more grace than the awful boomers, represented again last night by James Taylor and his tediously gentle guitar, which ruined the in memoriam segment.

Though, Dana Stevens, Slate’s movie critic, and herself a fellow Gen Xer (I believe), had a good line, too:

“When you grow up, your heart dies,” Ally says in a clip from The Breakfast Club. Whether you hear that line as one that ironizes adolescent self-pity or lionizes it, to scan the faces of those middle-aged actors was to confirm that when you grow up, your collagen tissue dies and takes with it your roseate bloom of precocious gawkiness.

Ouch, but a good shot, nonetheless.

For me, the best part of the Oscars show was seeing that John Hughes segment. Ironically, Hughes, hardly an Oscar-type director, received his due from the Academy after his passing with this presentation. Though it was a little unsettling to see the aging stars from my generation up on stage (and even more unsettling with the death this week of Corey Haim at age 38), what they said on stage — about Hughes, about growing up, and, by extension, what that all says about our generations — still rings true.

“His genius was taking the pain of growing up and relating it to everyone,” Ringwald said on stage.

Yes, of course, we weren’t the first generation to grow up and to feel awkward and unsure as teenagers. Nor were we the first to have films or mass media aimed at us at that age — Hughes didn’t invent the teen flick.

But John Hughes’ films spoke to us in our place in time and history with comedy, sentimentality, pathos, and most importantly, understanding. Simply put, those films were ours.

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Plumb idea: Two generations, same influences?

Additional evidence, perhaps, that the Millennials and the Baby Boomers have more in common with each other — at least, in whom they look to for inspiration — than with my fellow Gen Xer’s.

From Saturday’s New York Times, writing about the gonzo-conservative, Eighties-born Watergate Jr. quartet accused of intending to interfere with Democratic Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s office phones while entering a federal building under false pretenses:

But that approach was precisely the kind that he and others have been perfecting for years, a kind of gonzo journalism or a conservative version of “Candid Camera.”

Those methods took root on college campuses in the latter half of George W. Bush’s presidency, fostered by a group of men and women in their late teens and early 20s with a taste for showmanship and a shared sense of political alienation — a sort of political reverse image of the left-wing Yippies of the 1960s. They studied leftist activism of years past as their prototype, looking to the tactics of Saul Alinsky, the Chicago community organizer who laid the framework for grass-roots activism in the ’60s, as well as those of gay rights and even Communist groups.

—NY Times, Jan. 30, 2010

While Nixon’s Silent Majority is rising again (and ain’t being so silent), and while not commenting on the political leanings of any of the generations, it’s interesting to see these Millennial men, ages 24 and 25, looking to the twenty-something years of Baby Boomers for inspiration.

Of course, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and Abbie Hoffman were from the Silent Generation, and Saul Alinsky was even earlier, from the G.I./Greatest Generation. And one could quite easily say that the arrested Millennial quartet has more in common with the merry band of plumbers led by the Silent’s G. Gordon Liddy (born 1930) and the G.I./Greatest’s E. Howard Hunt (born 1918), neither of whom were anything close to Baby Boomers, but I’ll digress on that point.

Because, according to the Times article, it’s not so much that they tried to emulate Thompson, Hoffman and Alinsky, per se, but, as I read it, these earlier writers and organizers influenced the Watergate Junior Four in largely the same way as they did the college radicals of the Sixties, only on the opposite political side and taken to a Nixonian extreme.

On the other hand, my own fellow Generation Xer’s couldn’t be bothered to (allegedly) try to wiretap phones. No, our own embarrassing bad boys just made shit up (figure I’d get that in there before some else did — touché).

Richard Nixon’s Revenge

It’s surely a gross oversimplification, but does anyone else see the aging shouters and angry protesters at the health care town hall forums this month as the logical extension and growth of the Baby Boom generation?

In the late Sixties and early Seventies, these were the protesters fighting against the Vietnam War (and their younger siblings in awe of them), dismissed as hippies while chanting down LBJ and especially Richard Nixon, sacred protector of the so-called Silent Majority.

Four decades later, the tables have turned. The Boomers are still shouting at a President, but it’s in a Bizarro world. Fuck giving peace a chance (and health care for everyone). Now, don’t touch what’s mine, and fuck you if you can’t afford what I’ve got. And, oh yeah, now I’m a member of the not-so-Silent Majority, becoming what I’ve beheld.

The Ghost of Richard Nixon surely must be smirking somewhere, seeing how the kids that burned him in effigy on college campuses grew up, got old, lost some hair but are still shouting at a President as if they simply needed something to shout about, dammit.

And, true, while it’s probable that many of these aging Boomers were unlikely the left-leaning marchers of 1969 (though some of them may possibly have been, changing their stripes as they got older), it’s almost like their right-wing generational cohorts have been waiting 40 years for their own chance to shout. It’s as if noisily protesting — correct or dead-wrong — is in their generational genes.

Whiskey Fire and Latchkey Man, reliable as ever, have great posts on the age politics at work in the health care debate.

Bad-child movies and Gen X

Slate has a great article on the “bad-child” movie genre: “Why are we so fascinated with horror movies about homicidal children?”

Recalling my reading of Strauss & Howe, I had always thought the bad-child movie trend peaked in the late Sixties and throughout the Seventies, when my generation was being birthed to the soundtrack of screams from The Omen, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby (family rumor long has it that my mother went into labor with me while watching this last one on TV Correction: Mama Icepick tells me it was a viewing of 1963’s Children of the Damned on TV that sent her into labor with me; somehow, that seems to explain a lot, but I digress).

Strauss & Howe describe parenting in those years as hardly as celebrated as it later became — parental attitudes toward kids and young adults (more than they had been before or after, in recent times) were that they were inconvenient and unruly, if they were thought of at all, a somewhat lost generation that would grow into teen-agers and young adults as “an army of aging Bart Simpsons, possibly armed and dangerous. … wandering through a suburban wasteland of drugs and anomie in Bret Easton Ellis’s 1985 novel ‘Less Than Zero.’ Instead of Woodstock, they had MTV,” in the dated words (from 1990) of a nevertheless historically relevant New York Times piece (quotation h/t Strauss & Howe’s Generations, p. 317). So a generation of latchkey kids was born (with a nod to my fellow blogger, Wek) in the Sixties and  Seventies. “Devil-child” movies were popular in those decades. If I remember it correctly, Strauss & Howe pointedly noted that Roe v. Wade was decided in the midst of this worldview of children and parenting, while parental divorce hit many of our childhoods with full force.

The generational authors contrast the bad-child movies of the Gen X birth years with the “good-child” movies of the Eighties as the next-generation Millennials were being born: the execrable Look Who’s Talking series and the equally execrable Three Men and a Baby were big hits in those years (curiously, I think Strauss & Howe left out the Chucky/Childs’Play and Problem Child series of the Eighties, and 1984’s Children of the Corn, but perhaps they were weighing these films based on popularity, box-office receipts and the effect they had on those times, but I digress).

The rise of the then-ubiquitous “Baby on Board” signs fit in with the culture of the Eighties, Strauss & Howe wrote. Those would have been greatly out of place in the two decades prior. But it’s a trend that’s continued on to the present day, with an attitude of protective parenting perhaps even stronger now than it was in the Eighties (and even with some needed corrective push-back; witness Lenore Skenazy’s great Free-Range Kids blog).

Anyway, the Slate article does a good job of tracing the bad-baby genre to the Baby Boom years of 1956’s The Bad Seed, so there you have it, late-Boomers. And while Hollywood still loves it’s bad-seed flicks (from remakes like 2006’s The Omen to this summer’s Orphan, which provides the entrée to the Slate article), it seems to me that none of them had the cultural impact of the demon-child movies of my generation’s introduction into the world.

Tiananmen Square and 1989

“We never forget June 4,” said Mr. Jiang, a writer. “And I believe most of Chinese people of my generation don’t forget. They are just tied up with daily routine life.”

New York Times article (from an earlier edition) on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests

Hopefully, for our generation of Americans, we never forget, either. I was a junior in high school getting ready for final exams at the time, certainly a world apart in every way from the happenings in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

The Boomers had their years where history impacted them at a formative age, most notably 1968. And in no way am I downplaying that critical year that was filled with so much sadness.

But we Gen X’ers, too, had our own formative year where history unfolded before our eyes and influenced our developing world view, with 1989 seeing not only the Tiananmen Square protests and its vicious crackdown, but, later that year, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, along with the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

So, like the quote in the Times from Jiang Qisheng, who “was imprisoned for four years in 1999 after he published a letter asking the government to reassess the June 4th crackdown,” I hope my generation of Americans never forgets 1989, especially the image of one lone brave man standing defiantly in front of the tanks of the Chinese government.

For a new angle on that famous image, and a new appreciation of the defiance and inner strength of that one man, see the Times’ Lens blog, which displays for the first time a street-level view of that incredible scene unfolding in the background.