USA Today headlined a recent edition with the probing question, “Will Boomers Ever Yield the Stage?” and I thought, thank God someone’s finally asked…we’ve all been wondering. Haven’t we?
There followed a series of articles debating the query; timely, no doubt, what with battle lines now drawn on issues such as Social Security vs. job security, Medicare vs. Mommy-care and, of course, facelift vs. Facebook. The Young have apparently gone to the mattresses, weary of Woodstock retreads, relentless “new” Beatles releases, and the sense that no amount of fashion forward will ever convince anyone that bell-bottoms and platforms are “fresh again.” Those damn Boomers are a tough act to follow and every generation since has been left panting after this gluttonous bunch “sucked up a lot of the cultural oxygen.”*
ARE YOU KIDDING ME??!!
I remember when my son was about three and pretty much everything in life was a contest. Drinking juice, brushing teeth, eating an ice cream cone; he compulsively gauged his success by whether or not he got to the goal “first.” First to finish, first to spit out his toothpaste, first to crunch that cone; whatever the task, he’d puff up and holler, “I won, I’m first!” (I routinely abdicated, refusing to rush my dental hygiene or the slow enjoyment of a Häagen-Daz.) It was important to him, though, being first. Being best. Winning the prize. Cute at three and it’s a human urge, certainly, (think DWTS or American Idol) but without wisdom and humility it’s just juvenile. And this generational battle being debated in the media smacks of the same.
Except it’s not real. It’s manufactured. Despite the headlines and pithy analysis, it’s a faux battle whipped up by provocateurs who frame life along the lines of my three year old, pitting even eras against each other. And we wonder why we have wars.
Does anyone really think the Younger Generations (inclusive of X, Y, Z, ELEMENO P, whatever other letters are being assigned these days) are paying any attention whatsoever to what the Boomers did or didn’t accomplish…or to the Boomers themselves? NO. Laughably, no! They don’t have time and, frankly, they don’t care.
I know younger people. Some are my friends. Some are family members. I work with some, workout with others. The ones I know span several post-Boomer generations and I’m here to tell you, they are not gauging their lives, their value, their ability to contribute or their historical legacy against my large and lumpy generation.
First of all, they’re younger. And younger, by its very nature, means self-confident, self-focused, certainly thinner and with better skin. Regardless of which Gen we’re talking about, which sub-group of which Gen, they’re typically fixated on something youngish. Anything from getting famous, being hot, graduating college, getting jobs, designing software, starting foundations and pursuing extreme sports, to planning a wedding, buying their first condo, making babies, passing the bar, getting careers established and staying abreast of smart technology. They’re doing whatever it is people do at whatever stage of life they’re in. Why on earth does anyone think would they give a rat’s…well, care at all about being compared to Boomers who are all pretty much just…old? Trust me, THEY DON’T. They’re not even paying attention.
It’s a trick, this question, a red herring; a ploy to draw attention away from the fact that, in the zeitgeist of today, it isn’t what’s happened in the past that’s hogging the cultural spotlight, it’s the very now epidemic known as gerascophobia, “the fear of aging.” That’s the real hullabaloo; a syndrome so pronounced it has six syllables. Young folks aren’t afraid of Boomers per se, they’re just scared of that much old.
I’m not sure who’s to blame for this growing malaise — the media, reality TV, the cosmetic surgery industry, Taylor Swift — but nowadays it isn’t just lovely to be young, nice to have all that energy, delightful to be fresh and pretty, so many opportunities, all that attention being paid…no, nowadays, YOUTH is a religion, a movement; a CULT. And if you are not a member of the cult (unless you’re Cher), it’s time to go. Clear the stage. Make room for baby. We’re so squeamish about age we’ve evolved into a culture where a celebrity like 65-year old Jaclyn Smith is admired because “she just doesn’t age!” when it’s painfully obvious surgical intervention is behind her polymer doll gleam. Where an anxious 18-year old singer feels the need to “freshen up” with Botox before appearing on a youth-oriented show like Glee (Botox For Glee Debut). Where the quest for physical perfection in all its forms reigns supreme over every other characteristic or quality, with heinous entities like TMZ featuring (with big red circles) the cellulite that exists “even on the butts of young celebrities!” Holy hell. I’d be afraid to get old too if I was young in today’s world.
Gerascophobia has tsunami-ed over our society, leaving it willing to slough off its venerable elders like so much dead skin; implying uselessness, as if there are no admirable, appealing, energized, authentic older folk worth emulating, worth listening to. In doing so, we’ve literally scared our young into believing there really is no there there. There, beyond the dreaded fork in the youth-road (40? 35, even? I dunno…I’m so far past it I’m squinting). Our print media, our entertainment models, our determined standards of what is beautiful have so convinced the Young that youth is the only currency that matters that the black hole of OLD AGE is a terrifying specter. Age, with all its moldy implications, has become as hideous, as repulsive, as leprosy (in fact, in one article I read, the image of shoving Boomers out on ice floes or pushing them off the cultural cliff was actually articulated…could an island colony be far behind?)
Consider our growing acceptance of those aforementioned taut, plastic faces, fat-injected cheeks and frightfully puffed up lips, a look so ubiquitous these days that children must think older people are simply tightly-wound and oddly unattractive replicants of younger people. How terrifying that must be! When I was growing up, the lined, sagging, utterly human face of my beloved Grandmother with her ample (and authentic) bosom and soft bread-dough arms comforted and charmed me. I wanted to bake like her, travel the world like her; be capable like her. I loved her embroidery skills and her indefatigable sense of adventure, flying after her to climb the steps of the clackety Chicago El to cross town in search of empty lots of dandelion greens and good deals at outlying department stores. She was magical and inexhaustible and I made no judgment of her based on her soft, aging body…and this was when she was not much older than the tight, taut, oh so shiny Miz Smith!
Contrast my sweet, anachronistic acceptance of my Grandmother to a Facebook exchange I read recently between two twenty-something women: Young Woman 1: “Wasn’t it great to see Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford together again on Oprah?!” Young Woman 2: “Dude, I was SO bummed to see how old they both got!!” Deep sigh. Is it possible this girl actually believed Bob and Babs would remain the way they were forever? Poor thing. What a shock to realize that if even rich and famous people can’t actually stop aging, clearly her fate is sealed.
In all fairness, some of our young are arguably less terrified of age than others. They’ve got lovable Grandmas, cool Dads, that amazing blues guy down the street or those feisty gals who sell empanadas at the farmers’ market. And the smart ones reject the idea that any one generation is a great big monolithic thing that is sucking energy, taking up space or “hogging the cultural spotlight” from any other generation. Whether X, Y, Millennial, Boomer, or The Greatest, a generation is less a thing than an amalgam of people, events, experiences, accomplishments, and serendipity, all in response and reaction to the times they’re in, their particular moment in the Youth Spotlight. We all get one. And one is not better than another, I don’t care what Tom Brokaw says. Every generation makes its mark, regardless of size or place in history. Accomplishment, discovery, invention, and innovation are happening every minute of every day, year after year, generation after generation and while we’re all still here on this earth, we Generations can peacefully coexist, continuing to make our marks simultaneously and uniquely, growing old, graciously and fearlessly, together.
And just so you know, we’re not going anywhere yet. So just breathe, all of you…there’s plenty of air to go around.
* (Leonard Steinhorn, Communications Professor at American University in Washington, D.C., and author of The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy.)
Woodstock: Complete Woodstock ’69 CD cover
Other photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke
Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.
14 thoughts on “Hogging the Cultural Spotlight…You Know How We Are.”
Hey thanks for yet another funny and interesting post. Where do you get your inspiration for all this :|? – Pregnancy symptoms week by week
Thanks, Simone. I guess the inspiration comes from what I read, what I see around me, what I hear people talking about. I think if one pays attention, you can’t help but find all sorts of ideas that evolve from what you observe. Appreciate you asking….LDW
Where did you say that island colony is located? Do they have ice cream? Keep me posted, and speaking of posts, this one is a keeper (along with all your other posts), as are you, but that’s getting pretty personal, I know
Mr. Wilke: I don’t believe they’ve yet located the island but given the age range of the proposed inhabitants, I’m sure ice cream goes without saying! 🙂 Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. Miz Devon Wilke
Bravo! What a well written, thoughtful, insightful and truly spot-on post! Thanks for taking the time to write this. It’s a shame that I would not know of this writer, unless I knew her! She belongs in a major newspaper. Her opinions don’t attempt to be just entertaining or interesting. You know when you read this, there is a person out there who is taking the time to really reflect. Yes, she’s got wit and knows how wield a word-sword, no doubt. But underneath all that….there is a real depth. And I appreciate that, so very much. Particularly in todays world where you can’t seem to have a conversation with someone without them simultaneously texting. Isn’t it ironic? To be in such a hurry as to not want the present moment….only to be racing to the very place that they dread getting?
Thanks, Pat. You makes some pretty insightful points yourself. I appreciate you taking the time to share them. LDW
Pete and Lorraine! PDA’s even when nuanced and coded in terms of culinary delights – don’t know if I can go there with you in my response without mentioning hot fudge, so I’ll confine my comment to the blog….
While recognizing there may be certain markers of shared experience that mark cohorts or ‘generations,’ my experience is that I often have more in common with a Millenial or such than I would with a George Bush type, a member of my boomer cohort.
Within the texture of each generational divide are unique events, cultural and political, which affect the formative years of youth. Despite a common experience, the reactions are still diverse. Thus, I don’t buy into ‘the best generation’ or ‘the greatest generation.’ History evolves, society and culture evolves and life circumstances differ.
As a boomer, I’m defined in this way merely because I was born in a certain year. I have a fascination with America in the 20’s, but that’s not when I was born. To simplify the boomers into some monolithic voting bloc or cultural mob with the same ideas about life is patently crazy and akin to thinking all members of the Roaring 20’s did the Charleston and swigged bootleg gin and wore raccoon coats.
Sure, I think think the boomer generation lived in interesting times. But some went to the land and some went to Wall Street; the mythic hippie or yuppie characterizations are sloppy thought patterns often reflected in poorly written teevee ‘documentaries’ or movies about the 60’s. Sure there was upheaval and chaos which always get the play, but plenty of people lived then who were not apathetic but continued to live their lives outside the contemporary issues.
The world today may be faster, the young may be exposed to more earlier, but fears of aging come in many forms. When you are closer to our age and people start dying, the fears may relate less to wrinkles or pounds than “what does it feel like,” “am I prepared?” “what about my family?” “what can I do to optimize my health so I can really enjoy life with as few limits as possible?”
I wouldn’t have traded my Youth Spotlight years – they were stimulating times and largely contributed to the roots of an evolving lifeview I currently hold. Thus, I can look back and see from whence I came. Not always pretty, but pretty interesting.
Demarcation of generations is a fallacy if it’s intended to differentiate; most of us find many things in common with interesting people or caring people or inspiring people, no matter how old. It’s good for me to be around younger people – it would be foolish for me to imagine that makes me ‘young.’
Bottom line – I came from a generation whose mantra was “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” How funny is that in retrospect? Guess I’ll have to look forward to “When I’m 64…” Optimistic, tongue in cheek – that’s more my speed anyway.
It seems only through these personal relationships that elder esteem
Cris: your extrapolation on the topic is brilliant. As always. This whole Generation generalization is madness and feedback like yours helps dissect it even more specifically…succinct, articulate and an appreciated addendum to the piece.
Like you, I have a deep fascination and affinity for earlier generations and find overlap and collaboration all over the place. There are no dividing lines between us (those, too, are manufactured) but when they are falsely drawn, they only serve to separate and define people, times, eras, in a completely unrealistic way. It’s not dissimilar to how we acknowledge decade changes in our own lives. There is something so BIG about leaping from one decade to the next – parties are thrown, black roses are sent, jokes are made, we feel oddly uncomfortable in the “club” of this new decade, and yet that, too, is manufactured. We’re just another year older, no different from when we went from 25 to 26, or 37 to 38; decade markers are nothing but artificial categories that seem to shake us up more than they need to (I’m guilty of dreading those myself!).
So our assignment as sentient, sensible human beings is to throw off these imposed burdens, reject these lines in the sand and declare ourselves as simply part of the human tribe, regardless of age and generational title. We’re all in this together; what we create, destroy, inherit and bequeath affects us all, age and time be damned. We owe it to each other to respect and honor each age, each generational contribution.
And it would be lovely if we could do it without mutilating our faces and bodies for the fear of being found out to be a person who’s lived enough time to show some wear.
Thank you, my friend, for stopping by. And by the way, hot fudge is always a topic worth commenting on! LDW
My last comment kind of tailed off….oh, dear a middle aged moment. I did want to concur with your observations about the shallow attempts to physically preserve our looks and bodies through surgery or artificial fixes. I earned every line in my face; each tells a story and is evidence of a life.
Emulating a Barbie doll’s plastic affect screams “aging” to me.
Real progress in this country is when a female will be elected President who doesn’t have to worry about comments about her hairstyles being newsworthy.
Brava! For a couple of decades, I have consciously made it a point to NOT be coy about my age. Even as an actress (where people excuse the great secrecy as a necessary evil of the business), I feel strongly that women should revel in their age. “I’m 56,” I say. People sometimes respond, “Oh! You don’t look it!” And I usually say, “Well, thanks, I know you mean that as a compliment, but this is simply what 56 years looks like on me. It looks different on others. It’s just an indicator of how many years one has lived.” Every time a woman does that coy-giggly-whispery “I’m not telling” thing, it makes me MAD. Women should not be promoting the notion that we are somehow worth more younger and less older. CELEBRATE life. It’s short. And it feels like it’s rushing by. So CELEBRATE your years and experiences! So that’s my soapbox…
More importantly, GREAT piece, SO TRUE about the boomers, LOVE the photos of Jenny & pals, the gal on the ice floe, and your Grandma. You totally rock, oh Mistress of the rock-paper-music.
Susan, my dear friend and fabulous commentor: of course I’m totally in sync with your perspective on how we women play into the weary stereotypes of what we’re supposed to be, look like, etc., at any given age. We’ve helped create the monster that is those taut, puffed-out, phoney faces and until we can once again accept and embrace the journey and ignore the cultural madness, we will continue to go down that road. As you say, life is precious and too short and I, for one, cannot imagine wasting any of it on feeling shameful for the sheer act of growing old. It’s an honor to grow old, to live well, to gain wisdom and perspective. Having a great ass is good, too, but if I had to make the choice (and given my current ass and age, it seems I have!:), I’d choose wisdom and perspective any day. So there, you cliff pushers!
You rock yourself, girlfriend. LDW
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I just had to take a second to praise you for sharing this with us. As a commonstandard individual I’ve really appreciated the general insights and content obtained from reading your blog. I hope you will continue to build a good community here as I will be coming back often!
wow, nice post…funny to think about how each group views aging. Go Boomers!
BTW, I found your site by yahoo. Much useful stuff here, now i have got some idea, I’ve bookmark your site and also add rss. keep us updated.
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