Monday, February 06, 2006

A futile exercise in self-importance

Baby Boomers unleashed a tidal wave of social change on America, freeing women from the constraints of their kitchens, blacks from the shackles of Jim Crow and millions of citizens from intolerance of many formes.

All these changes created more American progress than the efforts of the preceding generation. At least that's the thrust of a new book called "The Greater Generation," a unimaginative title that rips off Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" label.

This book is unmitigated horseshit.

The premise is absurd as it is self-indulgent. Only a Baby Boomer could conceive of such a ludicrous comparison. Reading a synopsis of this book rekindled a lurking thought that's been in my mind lately: With all due respect to my parents, I don't think there's a more disappointing generation in the last 200 years than the Boomers.

The author of this book, Leonard Steinhorn, acknowledges the noble sacrifices made by the so-called Greatest Generation throughout the Great Depression and World War II, during which more than 2 million American soldiers perished.

But he essentially argues the social progress won by Boomers exceeds those accomplishments because their challenges were more insidious.

"Boomers were passionate idealists who demanded that America live up to its ideals. Disillusioned by official lies about Vietnam, appalled by America's pervasive racism, rejecting double standards for and discrimination against women, unwilling to blindly accept authority, the boomers fought for a more tolerant, enlightened, transparent and just society. They in fact embodied a deeply ethical and committed vision."

For a brief time, the Boomers agitated against a sterile society and protested the pointless Vietnam War. That is their achievement. The rest of that is nonsense.

For one, the civil rights advances of 1964 were won by John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, neither one of which were Boomers.

And go ahead and take a trip through the Deep South today and ask minorities whether they think racism has been vanquished. Ask them if their votes are counted. Ask those gays shot up in the Massachusetts bar last week if they think homophobia has been extinguished.

It's hard to fathom this arse calling America more "tolerant, enlightened and transparent" when the Boomers elected George W. Bush to two terms. It's harder to imagine, considering we live in Red State America, where an entire swath of the Midwest and South has veered from its Democratic roots into conservativism since the early 1970s.

That's progress?

In the late 1960s, the Boomers had an incredible opportunity. Their rebellion against the bland world of their parents caused admittedly important societal shifts. But their movement withered away. They ran out of energy after Altamont or something and just deflated before anything was accomplished.

All their change-the-world idealism spawned the Gordon Gekko greed of the 1980s, suburban sprawl, savings and loan scandals, insane national debt, SUVs and lattes. I generalize, but ultimately they've created a society that's gone soft.

I don't think the Boomers, or the younger generation for that matter, could fathom the hard times the Greatest Generation endured. We've lost roughly 2,300 soldiers in Iraq. Not two million. Most of us barely remember there' s a war going on. Television news doesn't report on it because our "viewer fatigue" sends ratings down. We've never been asked to ration rubber, metal or food.

Enduring these hardships like the World War II generation did may merely count as survival, and not an accomplishment, in Steinhorn's world. Even if you buy that argument, our grandparents existed on a pittance during the Depression, endured ghastly shit like the Bataan Death March, righted the economy -- and found some time to stop Hitler.

Meanwhile, the problems Steinhorn exalts the Boomers for fixing still exist. Progress has indeed been made, but in small and sporadic amounts. The Boomers had chances to achieve great things, and selfishly let them all slip away. That's why favorable comparions like Steinhorn's are inept. That's why the Boomers hold the title, in my book, of most disappointing generation.



At 8:59 AM, Blogger Joependleton said...

Cat, when I watch the news and they report that 2 Marines died today, I can only think what a WWII surivor would think watching that news.

Now, I'm not saying 2 deaths is nothing, believe me, it's 2 too many, but for all the casualties endured during WWI & WWII and Vietnam, I wonder what vets of that war think about the media treatment this war is getting.

As for the rest of your post, great point. The greatest accomplishment of the Boomers is figuring out the Grateful Dead and pot is a great mix and that Vietnam sucked.

On a personal note, cat, nice to see someone is still reading books. I think your post is the most I've read in 6 years.


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