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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‘Round and Round’ was my 13-year-old anthem

Calif boy, 13, aims to be youngest on Everest peak

(h/t a Facebook friend who is actually someone I don’t mind newly sort-of keeping up with from high school).

On the one hand, I want to say, good for you, plucky Millennial from the great abbreviated State of Calif! Your future as a leader and inspiration is secure! When I was your age, I was trying to score a Ratt T-shirt and avoid getting beaten up by big, fat kids who either later became illiterate drop-outs or scored jobs at IBM; I forget which.

On the other hand, I want to say to his dad, WTF? To think, I thought I was a pushy Papa for trying to get my 3½-year-old son to hit a curve and to keep his batting stance more like a left-handed David Wright and less like a left-handed Brandon Inge, even though he likes it. (Icepick Jr. sure can drop down and nail those low-and-outside pitches, though, but I digress).

Meanwhile, the Calif Kid has already Klimbed Kilimanjaro … at age 10. Which, naturally, leads me wonder if he discovered and can explain what the frozen leopard was seeking at that altitude.

At age 10, I was still wondering how Leia could be Luke’s sister and did that make the banter and smooching in the first two films less PG-flirty (to my fragile adolescent mind) and more icky incesty? And should there be a fourth film, would we discover Han Solo was secretly her uncle? But I digress.

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).

Our Conan, ourselves

Almost week-old hat tip to my man at Latchkey Man for pointing out that the excellent JenX was quoted in the Washington Post regarding the generational split that underscored the Conan-Leno divide.

My fellow Gen X writers have written about this better and with far more insight than I can at this late stage, except to add one point.

Ours is a fractured, scattered generation, and that goes beyond our upbringing. Or perhaps it goes straight to our upbringing. I don’t know. Our smaller numbers, in comparisons to the generations ahead of us and following us, already puts us at a disadvantage in setting the tone in arts, business and politics. To make things worse, our only cohesiveness, perhaps, is our lack of cohesiveness.

Maybe our generation simply has too many entertainment options, and though that is true, too, of Millennials, it seems a bigger problem for a generation over age 30, than for a generation still in their 20s, and younger. Here we are now, entertain us, indeed.

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.

Degrees of journalism

Jack Shafer is one of those reliably irritable writers who gets it right more times than not (his crusade against Bill Moyers was one of those times that are not, but other than that, I can’t think of any others right now). He’s the prototypical cranky journo, and the world is better for it.

Right now, I tend to think Shafer is absolutely right about the future of journalism, and the fact that the downturn of today could portend a rise tomorrow. To wit:

Let me say it another way: The barriers of entry into the journalism business have been battered down, making it easier than ever to enter the profession. That will read as small consolation to the journalists who have had their publications shot out from under them—the Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Ann Arbor News (come July 23), and magazines too numerous to tally. But please notice that I’m not saying there has never been a more lucrative or prestigious time to become a journalist. The cash and status associated with the profession are fairly recent. Until the early 1970s or thereabouts, the average journalist made an average salary (if that), and his societal standing was modest.

If the downside of the battered-down barriers to entry is less pay and lower status, the potential upside is that a flood of new entrants into the field could portend a journalistic renaissance.

This hardly aids journos of my generation and the Millennials. Our bosses, most of them Baby Boomers, sold us a bill of goods that said we needed more and more college degrees to be “real” journalists, even though many of them didn’t have Master’s degrees when they entered the field. This isn’t exactly what Shafer is saying in his recent Slate column, but it got me thinking.

To me, this touches on something Laurie at Punk Rock HR wrote about recently regarding MBAs in the work world in general, and what Jimmy Breslin has long said about the reporting world in particular — why the hell do you need a Master’s to be a journalist, or for that matter, a degree from a Journalism school when you should be learning about history, literature and the like in school (with a healthy re-up of grammar lessons, but I’m hardly one to call the kettle black on that one), and learning the how-to’s of journalism as a cub reporter under the tutelage of a seasoned veteran? It’s real-life experience that matters, and that makes good writing.

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Star Trek for the Next Generation

OK, I get it. Optimism, team-building, we’re-all-in-this-togetherness. I’ve been wrong before, but even I am looking forward to the new Star Trek flick, which is already getting positive reviews.

It seems a perfect film for the rising generation of Millennials (Generation Y to the unimaginative mainstream media; Generation Un-ironic, if we’re scoring at home), with all its “making optimism cool again” of director J.J. Abrams.

“Not your father’s Star Trek” (to quote the TV ads), indeed.

And even if we’re still far from coming out of the economic woods (or light years away from the utopia of Sixties Star Trek), we could all use a little more hope and optimistic fantasy. I know that might sound strange coming from this cynic, but even I’m ready for some hope in my popcorn movies to go along with the hope in the White House.

I know I’m putting the cart before the horse on this (especially since the movie hasn’t officially come out yet), but it will be interesting to see if this becomes one of the Millennials’ touchstone action/SciFi flicks. That it’s directed by Gen X’er Abrams (born 1966) merely helps it fit the pattern. How many of us Gen X’ers were huge fans of Indiana Jones, E.T., Jaws and so on from the 1970s and ’80s canon of the 1946-born Steven Spielberg, himself the prototypical Boomer? I was a huge Star Wars guy, which was the product of another Baby Boomer, 1944-born (yes, that year counts) George Lucas (never mind that he killed the franchise starting in 1999 with its awful prequels, or that for the last 15 years has resembled — to quote a friend — a big, stoned Ewok).

And of course JFK, the iconic president of the Boomers’ youth, was naturally a member of an earlier generation — the G.I./Greatest Generation — much like the new president, who has been most enthusiastically supported by the Millenials, is our first Gen X president.

Meanwhile, could Star Trek and it’s über-cool optimism (and Apple store-inspired Enterprise bridge) spell the end of the brooding, dour action hero? It might have reached its height (both critically, culturally and commercially) with last year’s The Dark Knight, perhaps the best film this decade. But the days of the brooding superhero may be numbered.

Spider-Man 3 was criticized for its emo side, and angst-ridden Wolverine’s movie also received so-so reviews (even if it opened to great box office numbers last weekend). Perhaps the clearest case in point was the commercial flop of the nihilistic Watchmen earlier this year, which even I (as a fan of the graphic novel) felt was overdone and over-violent.

Strange as it sounds that this cynic may be mellowing, but I’m ready for some optimism in movies and pop culture. Maybe it’s the spring and the start of baseball season (hope springs eternal, on opening day, anyway), maybe it’s raising Icepick Jr. Whatever. I’m ready for optimism to be cool again. A little bit.