Get over it – baby boomer milestones deserve attention

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Sure, sometimes we baby boomers get tired of the way younger generations complain about all the attention we give… um… ourselves. But here’s a terrific essay by a young(er) man named Joel Rubinoff, whose writings about pop culture appear in The Toronto Star. He might sound upset at the outset … but ultimately, he concludes, Baby Boomer Milestones Deserve Celebration, Annoying Or Not.

I’ve been listening to the grousing for months: Why did The Beatles get so much press a few weeks ago for appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show a half century ago?

Who cares about the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination?

Why do baby boomers get all the attention? Not fair, not fair.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reunite on the 50th anniversary of the Ed Sullivan Show American debut.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reunite on the 50th anniversary of the Ed Sullivan Show American debut.

It’s the perennial cry of the jilted younger sibling, the overlooked, underappreciated generations unfortunate enough to come of age in any decade other than the ’60s.

Personally, I loved the ’60s but, as a pre-adolescent, I spent most of them smearing poop on the walls and running around with underwear on my head, so my perspective is basically irrelevant.

I heard about it though, over and over, from people ten years older who never tired of reminding everyone how they single-handedly changed the world.

The Sixties Generation. Youth quake. The pig in the python. The Only Generation That Matters.

Civil rights bus burning.

Civil rights bus burning.

They protested the Vietnam War, fought for civil rights, championed women’s lib, put a man on the moon, sparked a sexual revolution, tuned in, turned on, dropped out and had one hell of a party at Woodstock.

This, of course, sparked a massive backlash, because nobody wants to hear how all the good stuff happened before they were born, and how everything in their own lifetime is a big juicy wad of suckage.

“Shut up about the ’60s!” became the rallying call of my generation and those that followed. “Shut up about how you fought The Man, broke the rules and dragged us into a new age of enlightenment.

Jeez, we have our own accomplishments to trumpet, like the invention of the iPhone and, er . . . low fat brownies.

Jimi Hendrix performs at Woodstock, 1969.

Jimi Hendrix performs at Woodstock, 1969.

The problem, for those slighted by the cruel tides of history, is that it’s now 2014, which means that every major event of the ’60s is ripe for revisitation by a culture obsessed with 50th anniversaries.

Trust me, if you didn’t like hearing about boomer milestones like Woodstock and the moon landing during their 10th, 25th or 40th go-rounds, you’re really going to hate the wall-to-wall commemorations about to slam you upside the head for their 50th.

And the historical landmarks are coming fast and furious: The Beatles’ first North American tour, first movie (A Hard Day’s Night) and first-ever occupation of the top five spots on the Billboard singles chart; First Ford Mustang rolls off theassembly line; First African-American wins the Best Actor Oscar (Sidney Poitier, Lilies of the Field); Muhammad Ali named world heavyweight boxing champ; Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which shifted the Vietnam War intooverdrive; Civil Rights Act of 1964, which abolished racial segregation; Premieres of Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady; Martin Luther King, Jr. receives Nobel Peace Prize.

And that’s just 1964.

Murder of Robert Kennedy.

Murder of Robert Kennedy.

If you look to the next five years, there are major anniversaries for the Summer of Love, Expo 67, Trudeaumania, the assassinations of King and Robert Kennedy, the Manson Family murders, Bob Dylan going electric and the debut of Star Trek.

On one hand, it’s shameless nostalgia peddling: feel-good opium for the masses.

On the other — and I say this as a charter member of the “Don’t bug me about the ’60s!” club — the attention accorded most of these events is, gulp, completely justified.

Why? Because love them or hate them, the ’60s really did change the world.

Suddenly, in the intense six-year period between the death of John F. Kennedy and Americans landing on the moon, the universe shifted, the old signposts were obliterated and a bold new order was established.

And 50 years later it deserves recognition.

Take the TV tribute to the birth of Beatlemania.

I’m as cynical as the next post-boomer cry baby, and any show that showcases Katy Perry trilling “Yesterday” in an off-key warble isn’t going to endear itself to anyone over 12.

But even I felt a twinge of emotion when the iconic camera shot finally arrived: Paul McCartney, 71, and Ringo Starr, 73, side by side, pumping out Beatles classics with gleeful abandon.

Their voices were scratchy, two of their founding members long dead. But these were the remnants of the most influential rock band of all time — the only one, arguably, that will be remembered a century from now.

It was history.

“I think it’s really good when we go back and revisit what was going on, because a large chunk of thepopulation doesn’t know,” insists Bob Thompson, pop culture professor at Syracuse University. “It’s an ad hoc history lesson. Even those who were around will see and learn a lot.”

Not to sound like my Grade 11 history teacher, but it’s because the barriers were blown away by a glop of restless, entitled young people who came of age at the same pivotalmoment that people like me were able to grow up a decade later complaining about disco while loafing unceremoniously on the couch.

Racism. Sexism. Environmentalism.

By that point, most of the major battles had been fought and the specter of a world in rigorous lockstep, hiding from communists, terrified of loud music and new ideas, had been relegated to the sidelines.

So there is an appreciation. But with so many anniversaries barreling down the pike — and because boomers are anything but humble about their achievements — it’s important to know where to draw the line.

Do we, for example, need a half-century blowout to memorialize the Elvis Presley film Kissin’ Cousins?

How about the TV debuts of Flipper, The Munsters and Gilligan’s Island?

The Moog synthesizer reinvented baby boomer music.

The Moog synthesizer invented the signature sound of baby boomer music.

The introduction of Pop Tarts, Lucky Charms and the Moog synthesizer? Pop Tarts may seem an innocuous thing to reminisce about, but it points to the danger when the past hijacks the present: distorted perspective, cultural ennui, resentment from those whose own world-beating accomplishments have been ignored or forgotten.

“Thanks to us baby boomers,” writes an unrepentant James Wolcott in Vanity Fair, “the remainder of this decade looms like a commemorative rerun of a show you later arrivals didn’t see the first time. It will be a Ferris wheel of golden anniversaries, a rinse cycle of ’60s nostalgia nourishing the collective narcissism of boomers.”

I appreciate his gently goading tone, but personally, I can’t get too worked up. In six more years, the ’60s tributes will be over and the memorial sledgehammer will move on to the polyester-clad Me Decade.

Trust me, if you thought the media tsunami for The Beatles and JFK was extreme, wait till the 50th anniversary of The Banana Splits. Those ones are gonna be killer.

6 Comments

  1. You brought back memories, both good and bad. You reminded us of just how much the 1960’s was a period of time in which the world as we knew it, did change. And most of it we can be proud to have witnessed or hopefully taken part in. Thank you Joel.

  2. Can’t wait for the Banana Split anniversary! Yes, I understand the anti-60s feeling, I often feel the same (even though I’m a Boomer) and let’s face it, most of us didn’t do a darn thing for all those things to happen. And Woodstock was fun but let’s not overblow it. It’s just the beginning of what we still see today, all those open-air festivals drawing hug throngs of people of whom only a minority really care about what they see. Most people do that just to say afterwards “I was there”.

    As to the accomplishments, what strikes me is that most of them were not long-lasting. We are seeing now across the planet a reversal of much that we thought was permanently gained, like the respect for homosexuality (contested in a rising number of countries, especially in Russia but in Africa too) or worse, the respect for human rights and democracy. The reports are in, many countries are turning anti-democratic, starting with Egypt and Turkey. These are hard times and only promise to get harder.

    So, in that light, looking back to the 60s is nice to evoke nostalgia, it’s good for twanging those emotional heart strings – but, bottom line, it’s nothing more than a yearning for better times that were really only a flicker in History. Yes, a flicker. And that’s what so sad about all this…

  3. The author is stuck in a time warp of mostly mediocre events. I never thought the Beatles were THAT good. A lot of hype. I’m a Baby Boomer (class of 46) and I had a great fun and event filled time growing up. I got to do world travel with my folks, courtesy of Federal Government, and did my own things during college. I did not partake in the herd mentality that the author so worships. Look ahead not back. I like each stage of my life. All very interesting.

  4. Joel, you have a great sense of humor.

    Would love to hear more about the accomplishments of your generation.

    I am a perennial student, I remember the day when in one of my many classes, I realized that the tastes of my generation had been surpassed by the next — I could not name one popular movie star or musician, when at one time I felt I knew most of them. The focus of my life was on my career and economical survival. Discrectionary spending had dried up as my expenses increased — welcome to middle age.

    But, you really need to thank the “Greatest Generation” and beyond because many of the “causes” or social changes you attribute to “Baby Boomers” were advocated before Boomers were born. When you see yourself in the stream of history, you see all that came before then face the choice of the direction you want to go.

    1. Joel, thank you so much for this great feature. You have a fabulously dry sense of humour not to mention a very readable style.

      I’m with Ria on this point in terms of thanking the “Greatest Generation” and beyond. We will never know the hardships they had to endure to keep body and soul together in order to make a better future for themselves and future generations. If any of that generation remain, they will reminisce at length about life in those times; just as we Baby Boomers bang on about life in our times.

      Here’s an amusing point to consider. Do you still know some of the older generation who like to dance? They’ll like ballroom and sequence dancing won’t they? We boomers might like to bop and jive, maybe still try and do The Twist without causing too much physical damage, and personally, I can’t resist getting on the dancefloor if I hear Little Eva’s Locomtion! So what of our future generations? Will they he ‘head-banging’ to heavy rock when in their 60’s? Of course they will – neck problems permitting!

  5. I for one enjoyed the article. Doesn’t every generation feel this way about the impact their generation had on the world? These are “our memories” just like those before and those who will follow. It’s okay to reminisce – just as long as you don’t get stuck and forget to embrace what’s new! Nice piece.

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