T-T-Talking about my generation: Endless replays

Posted: Oct 01, 2003 12:00 AM
Maybe you have noticed the same things I have: The credit card ad featuring two grandparents in an RV, bragging they have better things to do than "baby sit" the grandchildren. The phone company that features a mom weighing $800 for tickets to visit the kids in college versus an additional wireless phone line. "We took the phone line, and this Jacuzzi," she purrs, self-satisfied. The triumphant proclamations that just because you're old doesn't mean you have to stop acting like an adolescent.

Debby Pike told Gannett News Service she fretted for months about turning 50. "Then about three weeks before my birthday, I realized 'Who cares?'" When her twin daughters got tattoos, she got one too. Now she's dying to get her nose pierced, but worried about how that would go over in her day job in the neurosurgeon's office.

"Do not go gently into that good night," the poet says, and a huge swath of aging baby boomers (t-t-talking about my generation) are determined to be rebels to the end, moving with the same mass-nonconformity into a graceless old age. Analysts at Zandl Group, a trends research firm in New York, call it "generational blur."

"Many of the traditional markers of adult development -- financial independence, marriage, parenthood, professional advancement, retirement -- are changing or disappearing, and the concepts of youth and adulthood have become very fluid," says Zandl VP Richard Leonard. Baby boomers (those between the ages of 39 and 57) are a "supremely narcissistic generation," he says.

For someone on the tail end of the boomer generation (I'm 43), this is not so much immoral as deeply depressing. In Harper's Bazaar, Carrie Fisher (46 years old) writes about the joys of a fling with a man half her age, which she heartily recommends as "providing you with the swirling illusion that something of charm and consequence is taking place in your life." How sad.

Having braved the storms of adolescence, moved into productive midlife, and raised children long enough that the end of this phase is in sight, I would like to think there is something to look forward to other than an endless repeat of what came before, only older, creakier and more wrinkled. I would like to think that the last half of life could offer more than the mere illusion of charm and consequence.

Boomers like to congratulate ourselves on the achievements of our generation. We came of age on the tail end of the great civil rights revolution (Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was NOT a boomer) and set in motion a sexual revolution. Growing bored with the entrenched difficulties of helping poor African-American kids, we moved on to the exciting task of helping educated white women achieve fuller lives. Once again success was mixed. Along with widening career opportunities, we helped destroy the family, creating a huge new feminization of poverty among single moms and their kids.

Of course, solving such an actual difficult problem bored us, so next boomer elites moved on to the exciting task of standing bravely for "sexual minorities," so that white people with graduate degrees can feel ever freer to have sex however we want, redefining even marriage to suit polymorphous sexual desire.

Aren't the young folk tired of us yet? Surely, they must be. But no: Our children are not rebels. Polls suggest they are anxious, obedient, hard-driving achievers, "organization kids" adopting our attitudes, respecting our values. However, they are more conservative than we were at their age about sex, marriage, divorce and abortion. No wonder. They and their friends have borne the brunt of the sexual chaos we celebrate as nonconformity and freedom, as if words alone could change all the realities against which we still rebel.