Shall We Go Nameless?
According to my brief research, and based on a birth year of 1960 (mine), give or take four years, we are, technically, Baby Boomers. I sure don’t feel like one. And even worse, we are a mere 5 years removed from being Generation Xers (1965).
“Baby Boomer” is directly tied into the dramatic increase in births following WWII. Other than our parents or grandparents, our connection to WWII is tenuous, at best. 1960 was already one war (police action?) removed from the Deuce, and Viet Nam was lurking and ended up being an ugly open sore we were never able to bandage properly. And the real Baby Boomers, the men and women who boomed out us babies, are defined starting when they were, at least, in their 20s. Why do we get the horse collar Baby Boomer label before we even turn 5? Again, WTF?
I don’t want to be tied into any definitive term that is connected even tangentially with a war. We are not a warring generation. Edwin Starr said it best, you ask me. “War, good god, ya’ll, what is it good for? Uh Absolutely Nothin’, Say it again”.
I’m not naïve, or supercilious or ignorant, historically, about war. But because it’s a necessary evil on earth does not mean I have to be personally tethered to it. My father was knee deep in the Deuce, bombing Berlin over many missions, and ultimately giving a year of his life to the Germans in a POW camp after being shot down. That proved to be HIS defining event, not mine.
I have an incredibly astute Professor of History as my great friend of 30 years, and he argues, quite successfully in my book, that 1968 was a year that will stand up to almost any other in American history for significant events. But we were 8 years old. We didn’t live it. We could only visit it years later, after the stain of deaths and assassinations had been (mostly) washed away.
Do we have a defining event? And maybe more importantly, why do I want or need one? Is my ego so unformed as to need a moniker-based lifeline to the years I’ve spent slogging across this pebble? Or, are we a generation that has proved independent, to the point of shrugging off a label? Do we fly on our own merits, needing no tag line, no cheesy catch phrase to put our time in perspective? Isn’t it pretty to think so.
We missed the signature decade of our lives. The 1960s will never be repeated, and our participation in that time was yanked from our grasp by fate. The 70s and 80s, historically shunned, even maligned, were the 20 years that made us who we are today. Who are we?
I’ve often felt that we slipped through the cracks of history. We did not have our defining moment on the historical stage, never got our close up, Mr. DeMille. Leisure suits, bell bottoms and rampant divorce don’t resonate when paired up against war and the collapse of public trust in our leaders and the political process. We are products of the malaise that is born out of a time in history that refuses to define itself. If it weren’t for the collapse of the Iron Curtain, many history books would gloss over almost half of our lives.
On what do we hang our collective hat?
Big hair rock? Stadium concerts? The orgasmic explosion of capitalism in the 80s? The artery-hardening jolt of going from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan? Becoming the global superpower that has proven, in my book, to be the ultimate double-edged sword, as we are now queasily forced into the hesitant role of Earth’s Top Cop?
America has long trumpeted itself as The Shit, as the country to be envied and imitated, as the Democratic example for all the unwashed masses to emulate. But Democracy, like life, is messy. We may lay our head easily on our pillow at night with the slumber-inducing thought that we are the Bomb, but 9/11 showed us many things, and one of the most significant was that the rest of the world does not sleep so easily on that sentiment. Their pillow supports a more unsettled definition of what life entails. Maybe even a more realistic, less utopian vision. 9/11 forced upon us many things; perhaps the most important was not the unfortunate burgeoning of our jingoistic, xenophobic, close-the-fucking-border instincts, but rather a less visceral, more reasoned compulsion to open our eyes long enough to see past our own nose.
Maybe we have not determined a home for our hat because we’ve chosen not to wear one. We view the historical Chapeau as constraining, limiting our sphere of influence. Perhaps that’s why we let our hair grow so fucking big, huh? “Frampton Comes Alive” could be our call to arms.
Having just written this, I am no closer to defining our generation. But I’m fairly certain we are not any more or less important in the course of the events of our lifetime than anyone else. And maybe eschewing a pithy term, resisting the historical pull to pigeonhole ourselves, is our greatest accomplishment.
What say you?
© Copyright 2016 Bill Rayburn. All rights reserved.