Will the powerful, large baby boomer demographic change popular culture?

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The old adage says to respect your elders, but if Hollywood is any indication, this doesn’t always happen. Blockbuster films are typically directed at younger audiences with the aging population rarely put in focus. Yet as the baby boomer generation ages, will this trend change?

This year, “Hope Springs” starred Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep as an older couple looking to reignite their spark. The film was a box office hit. The British “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which follows a group of retirees relocating to India, raked in quadruple its budget in the United States alone.

Scene from “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

Christopher Kelly, associate professor of Gerontology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, has focused on aging policy, health care and long-term care in his research, and predicts new film depictions as demographics change.

“Baby boomers, like all generations, want to see themselves on screen,” Kelly said. “They want to see actors and actresses of their generation dealing with the issues they’re dealing with.”

Kelly cited “Away From Her” and “The Savages” as recent cinematic successes which tackle difficult topics like Alzheimer’s and dementia. These are exceptions, he says, pointing out that since the baby boom started in 1946, the oldest baby boomers are still only 66.

Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep in “Hope Springs.”

“These are still, for the most part, people who are still active in their careers and in their families,” he said. “It will really be in the next twenty years that they’ll begin to become identified as retirees and as older adults, and will begin to show more of these conditions, as well.”

Kelly said topics like dementia will likely be represented more, as those realities shift from the context of care-giving to self as diagnoses increase. For now, issues like age discrimination and romance have the greater focus, and Kelly explained the popularity of films like “Hope Springs” makes sense.

“There are 70 million or more baby boomers in the country,” Kelly said. “While they may have been younger 10 years ago and would have liked to have seen Meryl Streep in a younger role, they’re willing to age with her.”

The way of consuming media, too, differs according to generation, influencing who Hollywood caters to.

“There’s still a large percentage of the audience that buys tickets to movies and especially buys DVDs and rents them,” Kelly said. “Hollywood doesn’t want to leave out this market because there are a lot of consumers of that age group that are still interested in the movies.”

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6 Comments

  1. 70 million baby boomers, indeed, that’s a lucrative market and a huge one! You talk – and rightly so – about movies…But many (if not most) of these movies are based on books. I predict the publishing industry will wake up to the phenomenon, albeit later than Hollywood (!)and we shall suddenly find ourselves in the middle of a Baby Boomer Literature wave, just like back in the 1960s/70s, when boomers left their teens behind, we had a surge of YA (Young Adults)novels!

    The phenomenon has just started and for now, as pointed out by Professor Kelly, it is more focused on romance and building a second life/career rather than on dementia or Alzheimer. Which actually makes for pleasant reading and movies. Indeed, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has been such a success that a sequel is under development!

    But more and more Baby Boomer novels are being produced these days: there’s a special thread in the Kindle Fora to list BB novels and a group was just started last month on GOODREADS to discuss BB novels. It’s already got some 50 members, many more friends and 16 BB novels are on its bookshelf, many from well-known, bestselling authors. A poll listing 8 BB novel titles is currently running to select a monthly BB novel for the Group to read and discuss, interacting with the author, in an attempt to better define what BB literature is all about.

    For anyone interested in joining the debate, here’s the link:
    http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/81261-baby-boomer-novels-a-new-genre.

    Vote for the book of your choice (poll open till 14 December) and be the first of your friends to participate in the process of launching a new genre which, given the demographics, is likely to become as big a success as YA literature was some 40 years ago!

    I’m looking forward to seeing you there, all of you members of this Café!

      1. Thanks David, that sounds good! As you have probably already discovered, I’m the author of a Baby Boomer novel, A Hook in the Sky. I just submitted an article to the Café today describing the rise of this new genre in broader, more historical terms than what I put into that comment here, and certainly with no references at all to my novel. I’m not good at all about pushing myself (LOL!) and I really believe that we’re on the threshold of a new genre in literature and that there will soon be a surge in BB novels! I thought it would be interesting to share that information with Café members.

        Is it okay for me to follow-up so soon on the article submission with an excerpt of my novel?

        1. Claude,

          Terrific. Please check the Submission Guidelines on BoomerCafé.com. Photos are VERY important. You will find the correct email for submitting stories there.

          David

          1. I know, I already submitted the article! And I have plenty of photos, I do some photo-journalism on my blog and I’m a painter too (aside from writing fiction and non-fiction, remember I’m an economist – Columbia U. grad…oh well…)

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