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Tune out, turn off, drop in

Culture | The '60s generation sees it has a lot to repent for

Issue: "Hail to the Fox," Sept. 15, 2001

The "Greatest Generation," after pulling through the Depression and whipping the Nazis, settled down for a well-earned family life, resulting in a demographic population explosion known as "the baby boomers." Maybe, having gone through so much self-denial and hardship, their parents wanted to make it easier for their kids, but, whatever the cause, the baby boomers tended to be self-centered, pleasure oriented, and defiantly immature. More than that, many of them turned against their parents and their values, replacing them with the "sexual revolution," the drug-infused '60s counter-culture, and the authority of the entertainment industry.

Not all boomers embraced the counter-culture, and many turned away from their past to higher things, including Christianity. But the baby boomers did much to change American culture, for better (civil rights, prosperity, and tolerance), and for worse (moral decline and the way the boomer-created pop culture has driven out real culture).

Baby boomers (and this writer is one of them) had their big cultural influence when they were teenagers and young adults, which is now long in the past. But many boomers still live in those halcyon days when they were young. At one time, their slogan was "don't trust anyone over 30"; but now that milestone is long gone, and they are in their 40s and 50s.

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Many of them still listen to the same music they listened to as adolescents, tuning in to oldies stations on the radio and refusing to allow their tastes to grow or mature. They imagine that the styles current 40 years ago are still "contemporary." Worse-to the embarrassment of their children-they still try to be cool. They wear baseball caps backwards, use slang that is 10 years or more out of date, and show up at rock concerts.

This Peter Pan syndrome, the goal of perpetual childishness, manifests itself not just in embarrassing the kids but in deep personal problems. Children typically demand instant gratification, think the world revolves around their desires, and do not feel burdened with responsibility. They are supposed to grow out of this sort of thinking, but when adults think this way, no wonder the baby boom generation has so many broken families, with one or the other parent demanding a divorce and abandoning children in a never-ending and never-satisfied quest for self-fulfillment.

But now that "the '60s" will soon be signifying their chronological age rather than the era of their youth, maybe the baby boomers are starting, finally, to grow up.

They are finally appreciating their parents. The heroics of those who fought World War II are being rediscovered, as evidenced by a flood of books, movies, and TV shows honoring them with a reverence seldom shown by the boomers. Tom Brokaw even named them (perhaps with typical boomer overstatement) "the Greatest Generation."

They are also taking stock of their lives, even to the point of repentance, for what they have done to the culture. They are buying books, written by baby boomers for baby boomers, excoriating themselves, either through sober analysis or venomous satire, about how wrong they have been.

Joe Queenan's Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self-Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation takes humorous though occasionally vulgar shots at himself and his fellow boomers' foibles. After he sets forth his specific indictments against his generation-"needlessly complicating everything and then yammering on about the search for 'simplicity'"; "an absolute inability to accept the ordinary"-he documents the key moments in baby boomer history, such as Carole King's Tapestry album.

Finally, he gives some positive advice for aging baby boomers: "Absolutely no fashion statements after the age of fifty." "Fear not the Republican within." "If you have to wear a baseball cap, please wear it correctly." "Stop sharing your feelings."

And then, the most important exhortation of all: "Make peace with your Maker. This is extremely important advice, because when the Last Judgment arrives you can be sure that God is going to remember every last one of your slurs and slights, your calumnies, your insults, your witticisms, your blasphemies, your bon mots, your general cattiness. You may not be terribly comfortable with the term 'God,' preferring 'Higher Power' or 'Prime Mover' or 'Life Force.' But God Himself prefers the term 'God'-it works for Him-and if you have dissed Him or gotten in His face in any way," Mr. Queenan concludes, God will hold even a boomer responsible: "Remember: Just because you don't believe in

God doesn't mean He doesn't believe in you."

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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