Mark Sherman: Generation gripes

Generation gaps have always been important. I remember when I was in my 20s, there was a saying around that you shouldn’t trust anyone over 30. Of course, when we all got into our 30s we realized we shouldn’t trust anyone under 30. 

That said, I think we’re at least as generation-conscious today, and one particular generation is seen as the major cause of all our problems: It’s the baby boomers, the name typically applied to people born between 1946 and 1964. The term comes from the fact that in those years, there was a “boom” in births, generally attributed to the veterans returning from World War II, who were so happy to be home that they were quite fruitful and multiplied. Of course, this wouldn’t account for the tail end of the boomer generation, when, in fact, my oldest son was born. At the end of WW II I was not even three years old, way too young to have been drafted, let alone serve and then start a family. 

The boomer generation is large, representing approximately 23% of the U.S. population. And while in 2020 its members are getting old and crotchety, back in the 1960s, they were going to change the world. But today’s young people, those called millennials (or Gen Y) and the even younger members of Gen Z, seem to have totally forgotten that. In fact, in case you haven’t heard it, there is an expression going around today — “OK, boomer” — which is clearly a resentful dismissal — not just of parents this time, as in the ’60s, but also of grandparents. 


Now I am proud to say that while I feel a certain kinship with the boomers, I am not truly one of them, since I was born in 1942 and am therefore a member of what is often called the “silent generation” (applied to those born between 1928 and 1945). Not exactly clear where this term came from, but it certainly implies a tendency toward conformity and an unwillingness to speak out.

But I maintain that many members of the “silent generation” were far from silent, and, in fact, represent some of the greatest artistic creativity our world has ever known. Do you know the name Bob Dylan? He was born in 1941. And d’ya ever hear of The Beatles? John Lennon was born in 1940 and Paul McCartney in 1942. And how about Chuck Berry, who was born in 1926 (actually, a couple of years before the start of the silent generation, but we’ll proudly accept him in our ranks). Then there’s Philip Roth (b. 1933), Woody Allen (b. 1935) and Margaret Atwood (1939). 

I know, I know, we’re “digital immigrants,” and are not as comfortable with computers and social media as all you members of Gen Y and Gen Z, but what great artistic achievements have you given us lately? 

Okay, yes, my generation and the boomers have destroyed the planet. But, hey, we’ve given you younger people so much wonderful music to listen to as you fight climate change!

But seriously, folks, the generation that has really made all of this possible, that has cut down on so many early deaths from infectious diseases and allowed so many of us to live so long and still be active well into our 80s, is the one that gave us medical advances like the smallpox vaccine and penicillin. These were people born well before the silent generation, that is, long before 1928 — and they are known as the dead generation.

There are other generational names as well. For example, Tom Brokaw coined the term “greatest generation,” to refer to Americans born between 1910 and 1924, who lived through the Great Depression, and then served in World War II. Of course, the problem is that after the Depression, and then fighting in foreign wars (men) or doing the jobs the men had to leave to go to war (women), when the men and women got back together again they had lots of fun, and since the birth control pill wasn’t available until 1960, they had lots of babies. If the pill had been available by 1945, few children would have been born and “baby boomers” would be called “baby busters.”

Then there’s the beat generation. This didn’t refer to a whole generation in the usual sense, but rather a relatively small group of writers and musicians, who, in the late 1940s and into the ’50s, defied the prevailing cultural ethos, and were into a new kind of poetry, modern jazz, open sexuality and recreational drugs.

But today’s millennials and Gen Zers are not so much into that as they are into eating a vegan diet. Thus they could be called the beet generation.