Sunday, July 18, 2010

the soylent solution

Was watching Tom Brokaw's repeat 'special' called "Boomer$" tonight, and maybe Rh is right not to bother watching news media.

First of all,'boomer' is such an ugly word — and Brokaw's cute dollar sign at the end does not help make it a term of endearment. I think the term is designed for us (or you) to despise it. 'Post-war generation' seems more apt to me. Although, I always thought 'Children of the '60s' was what it felt like (not children in the '60s, but of the '60s). Which maybe fits the claim that we spent our youth playing at being children. M always said he was reborn in the '60s (in Berkeley of course), and that works too. Point is, we identify with the era of the'60s more than we identify with being part of a population explosion that went on for a couple of decades.

Brokaw's show manages to blame the 74 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 for all the ills and recklessness of American (and perhaps global) society. Blaming especially the optimism he claims this generation has had. An optimism that, he says, led us to have high expectations of our own limitless opportunities, unable to think of the consequences of our own actions, irresponsible, irrepressible, frivolous, self-indulgent consumerist morons. Except for Tom Hanks, whom he appears to reprieve for his appreciation of Brokaw's favorite generation ("The Greatest Generation") who fought WWII. He makes it sound like Woodstock produced nothing more than mud and trash — as if (except for Ritchie Havens) nothing much really happened there. He shows us mini-mansions, and icons of the early high tech years implying that the 'boomer' generation alone is responsible for the financial meltdown, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, moral decay — you name it, it's our fault. And the fault of optimism.

Optimism, Brokaw says, meant that this generation did not prepare itself for the possibility that they might not get the next raise, that they might actually get laid off, that they might not ever get another job again. And when disaster struck, they used their credit cards to tide them over — thus increasing the national debt. Just the image of the name of his program — Boomer$ — reduces an entire generation (if that's really what we are) to nothing more than that dollar sign at the end. Somewhere along the line it's people like Brokaw who stopped calling us citizens and started calling us consumers. And post 9/11 that was turned into some kind of (temporary) virtue as we were told to go out and spend, like that was our job... Consume, we were told. We'll nail you for it later.

To balance things out, Brokaw covers the everyman heroes of Vietnam, four of the kids who lost their lives during the Civil Rights Movement, and a few seconds of the Women's Rights Movement. His critique culminates with his evaluation that we boomer optimists have been left not just unremarkable, but "unrealized" — by this he means to say that because all is not well in the world, and we are not all thriving and enlightened, that as a generation we have failed. (And here I always thought it was only the Buddha who was fully "realized").

And here's where his view of my generation missed the mark.

Ours is not a generation of optimists. We were not raised in a vacuum of privilege: We were raised on the tales (and results) of our grandparents' experience of the Depression. We were raised with the emerging details of the horrors of the Holocaust poured into us. We were raised with American responsibility for the use and abuse of nuclear 'solutions', raised with the McCarthy period, with the fear of impending global nuclear disaster, the assassinations of those we thought would make a difference. We were raised with the KKK burning crosses on our lawns or the lawns of our neighbors or loved ones. We were raised with Nixon and Watergate... Optimists? How could we be optimists? Has he ever listened to our music? The words, I mean. Believe me, we're no optimists.

The one thing being part of a post-war baby boom did give us was numbers. Just that, nothing more. And nothing less, either. For numbers led us to not feel like self-indulgent individualists. Having a generation, having those numbers, meant that when we had an opinion, we could express it collectively. Brokaw missed the mark when he skimmed over Martin Luther King, Jr. finding only the kids willing to go out into the streets and protest, while their parents declined to put themselves forward. That's the real story of my generation: We went out into the streets. Together. We took collective action.

Brokaw's Boomer$ ends with a projection fit to scare the shit out of every American not of the Boomer body. The most egregious acts of the post-war generation are those we are about to commit. Retirement, with the distinct possibility of longevity. Blame us for the future decline of the American Empire. Gotta blame someone, since that decline is inevitable. Might as well be Boomer$.

Having been raised on the Holocaust (and being a devout and life-long pessimist), I know an impending disaster when I see one. Eric Hoffer told us long ago that the easiest way to unite a divided populace is by instilling in them a hatred of a common enemy. My generation treated that conceptually. We united for or against principles — not segments of the population.

When one population, and one alone becomes the focal point of all that is wrong in a society, it's time to be sure you've got your passport in hand. And strangely enough, a growing number of my generation are getting out now while they still can.

After Brokaw, the Soylent Solution seems downright imminent. Not the Soylent-Green-is-People Solution. Americans (of any generation) aren't fit enough to eat. No, it's the other Soylent Green Solution. Instead of Assisted Living Facilities for us as we age, no, Brokaw helps set the stage for that other solution, the Holocaust solution that I was raised to expect again one day, Soylent Green's 'Assisted' Suicide Facilities, maybe at least with the Pastoral Symphony option still available? In holographic splendor maybe. And we're collectivists, remember? If you're gonna do it, make it a Woodstock moment.

Charlton Heston: "I know, I know. When you were young, people were better."

Edward G. Robinson: "Aw, nuts. People were always rotten. But the world was beautiful."

So much for optimism.

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