Today, Norbert Cunningham wrote an introductory column on the baby boomers. He'll continue it on June 1. I have no idea what he'll write - so this is no attempt to disagree with him. It's just that he got me thinking about that generation. And I feel like writing about it while it's fresh in my mind.
The baby boomers were the first generation in which the great, consumer society became dominant - (though it had actually begun a little earlier).
Radio was the consumer craze of the 1030s, 40's, and early 50s. Radio came - and the churches began to go. Prime time on radio for the big shows like Bing Crosby and Lux Theatre - and for the high-priced ads. Prime time was Sunday evening. So was church. Guess who won.
But radio, though something to be consumed, was also something that required involvement by the listener. You had to listen closely, imagine the appearance of othe speaker, imagine the scene of a play, imagine a battle. Radio wasn't passive. It also featured lively discussion, often well-informed discusision. Then came television.
Television required nothing. No imagination. Few lasting memories of what was said. Television was moving pictures, just moving pictures. I learned early - if you have something to say, don't waste it on television. It is the almost perfect consumer item. It absorbs the viewer with no effort required, and leaves nothing behind it. It exists only to be consumed. It's been said that we burn more calories sleeping than we do watching television.
And it's quite wonderful for advertisers, giving them an audience that is so brain-dead as to be easy picking for advertisers. That's why so many newspapers are now going broke.
TV also defused the family as a social unit. Once 6 p.m. comes, radio is dead meat. Whole families are seated in front of the TV - for the night. The family supper and conversation vanished as families sat in front of the TV with fast food on their laps. Reading, hobbies, conversation, volunteer activities dwindled. The only purpose of TV was to be consumed - to be consumed without ever leaving the consumer with anything so that the consumer would sit forever, passive. That was the childhood and adulthood of the baby boomers.
They also, though, went through some normal childhood development. In their teens,they came to dislike adults, to want to fight back against adult authority, to proclaim their own uniqueness. We all go through that. The difference is that the process could now be commercialized and consumed. They wanted to be different and independent? Broadway and Hollywood gave them the musical "Hair" to consume.
They wanted to celebrate peace and love? Clothing stores happily stocked up on whatever was trendy, like torn jeans with T shirts that had peace and a heart printed on them. They were encouraged to believe that nobody before had ever thought of peace and love though, in fact, both go back thousands of years in religious thought.
They wanted to express their freedom in marijuana and cocaine? No sweat. Lots of sellers came forward to sell them their consumables. Strangely, few of the baby boomers who puffed drugs while they talked about peace and love seem to have understood that the money they spent on drugs went to fuel gang wars and large-scale murder.
Like all generations, they sought their own music. The difference was that it, too, given recording and TV, was instantly and without effort consumed. No effort was required. No understanding was needed. The result has been music that was all the rage for a week. But it existed only to be consumed - with something else essential for the next week.
The result has been years of writers producing eminently bad music to be sung by stars who cannot sing accompanied by guitarists who pretened to go into almost sexual ecstasies as they strum one of the only three chords they know. There were some creative and capable entertainers - The Beatles, Mama Cass, Johnny Cash, but not many.
In fact, all of life became something to be consumed without effort. Watching school dances for the last thirty years and more has been a dreary business. Nobody knows how to dance. First came the super- easy to learn steps like the cha-cha and the twist. But now they just stand and - slightly - quiver with no noticeable connection to the music.
Now, as baby boomers rise to national leadership, it turns out they aren't peaceniks after all. Bill Clinton and George Bush just wanted to avoid the draught. Once in power, baby-boomers like George Bush and Tony Blair, elected largely by baby-boomers, have been quite happy to mass murder, torture, and plunder And there's far more of that to come. Here in Canada, our baby-boomer prime minister is a soulless stuffed shirt whose ideas were out of date over a cenutry ago.
So much for the emptiness of the musical, "Hair".
The sad truth of the baby-boomers is that they were the generations that consumed anything that required no effort to consume, learned nothing, did nothing, and left nothing behind them.
They're the generations that now dominate a city not far away from where I sit, where schools have so little money that teachers have to spend their days raising funds just to get basic equipment and supplies for the schools. They live in a city and sit on the city council in a city that faces serious needs that council have council hasn't even bothered to think about. And, like baby-boomers everywhere, they call out, "Hey! What this city really needs is to borrow a hundred million for a new hockey rink."
Few of the baby-boomers will be missed.