Baby Boomers, Get Out of Your Funk
time to stop feeling so down on yourselves — you've accomplished a lot. But there are still battles to be fought. Gen-Xer Rod Meade
Sperry gives the baby boomers a friendly talking-to.
hard on you, you poor baby boomers. Not least of all, yourselves.
Back in the days when the comedian George Carlin
was soft-spoken and long-haired, he was one of your strongest
representative voices, the perfect boomer ambassador. In recent
years, George has taken to saying—actually, yelling—that
no generation in history has ever sold out like yours has. And
it seems few would disagree. Think back: you applauded when the young
Jerry Rubin was an upstart Yippie throwing cash onto the floor of the
New York Stock Exchange. Years later, when he returned to Wall Street
as a high-powered venture capitalist and market analyst, where was
It was with your kids. We were aghast. This was
against everything we were told you people stood for.
Whatever. The fact remains that Jerry Rubin
changed the world. And not just once, but twice: many of you
followed him right into Big Money Land. But maybe that’s OK.
Maybe the We Generation collectively earned itself a little Me-Time.
Only now you’re a target market. And believe
us, we know: it sucks. First, you’re labeled—which is
never pleasant—and then the advertising agencies get to
work playing on your sympathies. But wait. Stop a second, and look at
where your deepest sympathies lie: human rights, grimy,
days-long music festivals, family, safety, education, peace. Those
are nothing to be ashamed of, you know.
On the other hand, just look at how your kids (and
theirs!) are being marketed to. Of course, half the time, it’s
breasts and bling and celebrities and X-treme-this and
hootchie-mama-that. It can be downright embarrassing. The other half
of the time, though, the media seems to know that we post-boomers are
smarter than all that, that we have what appears to be some kind of
shared awareness of what really matters. We’re through with
racism. We’re tired of hunger and war and intolerance. And so
the media reacts by appealing to the boomers inside us.
They’ve done their research, and they know: we go to our own
grimy music festivals. We wear our silicone charity bracelets. We
meditate and do yoga and participate in book clubs and volunteer our
time. We work for peace. We care about the Earth. Just like many of
you did, and just like many of you keep doing. We learned it from
Regarding your sense of responsibility and guilt:
it’s admirable, but it’s also off the mark. Fact is, very
few of you were as radical as we’ve all been led to believe.
The real story is that the counterculture of your generation was
hijacked by the young admen of the late ’60s and ’70s,
whose business it was to know a good thing when they saw it. And so
they adopted the visual and verbal vocabularies of the
anti-establishment for themselves and their purposes, and proceeded
to cram them into every ad they could. Why? Because it rang true for
them as creatives, yes, but also because it sold stuff—even
in the heartland, where your movement found little other favor. (Read
Thomas Frank’s excellent book The Conquest of Cool: Business
Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism for a
full debriefing.) The idea that all boomers were idealistic and
committed to the betterment of society was, and is, bunk.
Still, some of you were deeply involved in the
real revolution. You taught America about equal rights and civil
rights. You fought an unjust war and, in ways, won. And you were part
of one of the ultimate happenings: you tilled the soil so that
dharma might take root in the West. You populated our first practice
centers, you welcomed Buddhist teachers from Asia, you translated
their words, and you made those words your own as practitioners and
even teachers yourselves. You changed the world.
Perhaps it’s these successes, ironically or
not, that have given you the wealth, opportunity, and demographic
appeal you collectively enjoy today. Let’s face it: boomers
have clearly proven themselves forces to be reckoned with. So it
might be worth considering that the thirty-year-old marketing
brainiacs of today might not be merely trying to manipulate you, but
are instead trying to speak your language. After all, to address you
in the same way they address us half the time would almost
certainly be insulting. There’s no doubt it would be bad
business. But whatever their motivations, remember: falling for a
well-crafted pitch doesn’t make you a sellout; it makes you
human. Maybe you should even feel a little flattered that your values
have made such an impression.
If you’re reading this now, odds are you’re
still engaged in peacework and positivity. But if you feel like a
sellout or a has-been sometimes, stop and take stock of how the world
has changed since you’ve been on the planet. Compassion is an
everyday word these days. Environmental responsibility is not just a
dream but a legal principle. And we’d like to think you’ve
turned out some pretty excellent kids. In fact, it might just be that
no generation, even ours, has ever done more to make a better world.
And you made it, pretty much, out of whole cloth.
If that’s not enough for you, fine: no one’s
gonna stop you from jumping back into the fray with us and getting
more work done. You might be aging, but you’re not dead. And
what’s more, you’ve got money, you’ve got
influence, you’ve got power, and we know you’ve got soul.
So if old Jerry Rubin was able to change the world twice, we see no
reason you can’t one-up him and go for three. All we ask is
that you take a little pride if we go for four or five, knowing that
we learned how to do it from you.
Oh, and also this: enjoy life to the fullest. We’d
like to be able to learn that from you, too.
An excerpt of this piece appears in our July 2009 "For 30 Years
the Best of Buddhism in America: Commentary" retrospective. Here, we present
the piece in its entirety. To see all of the complete "Best of" commentaries, click here.
Rod Meade Sperry is the Shambhala Sun's editor of web publications, and the creator of the website TheWorstHorse.com.
Illustration by Steve Heynen.
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