I understand the urge to scorn Boomers. We make no sense to younger people. We think we’re edgy and cute doing things that look to those younger/edgier/cuter than we are about as outré as cutting the grass. Like, for example, displaying our undergrad education by using italicised French in an introductory paragraph.
Lord knows those of us in the never-trust-anyone-over-thirty generation deserve some karmic leveling, so scorn away. But when we Boomers leave the stage —I mean, if we leave the stage; we’re spending your inheritance trying to live forever— we deserve respect for our significant cultural accomplishments. Here’s a short list:
Fat Elvis — Young, sexy Elvis Presley was a pre-Boomer. We processed him through our generation’s presumption of eternal youth and enabled him to evade the dignity of old age — just like we believed we could. We cheered him as he replayed his “Elvis the Pelvis” prime as a wheezing, dry-humping 350-pound self-parody. We were ecstatic when he wobbled onto stages in Vegas and at state fairs, where crowds of sexed-up housewives re-enacted their own youth by launching queen-size undergarments at him as an offering. We treasured even his sweat (imagine what the inside of his leather jump suit must have been like), clamoring for scarves passed to The King by a stagehand, wiped through his gushing neck wattle, and lethargically tossed to his adoring fans.
Hippies — Boomers twisted the disaffected beatnik-and-biker legacy of World War II PTSD into a hallucinogen-driven, self-important “movement”. We found meaning in daisies and inspiration in the on-stage destruction of musical instruments. There was nothing obvious we couldn’t belabor, no poem so simple we couldn’t misquote it, and no mystical theory too ridiculous for us to believe — for example, there was that time we thought we could end the Vietnam war by telekinetically levitating the Pentagon into outer space. Ah, those were the days: a bunch of entitled, upper-middle-class college kids rebelling against the hard work and accomplishment of our parents by taking so many drugs we forgot to bathe. Who wouldn’t be nostalgic?
Self-Written Wedding Vows — As if people planning a wedding didn’t have enough to do, in the late ’60s we made it a near-requirement for those getting hitched to compose their own vows. We recited Kahlil Gibran, quoted dialogue from “Love Story” (a film one critic called “Camille with bullshit”) and held hostage wedding guests who’d come mostly for the open-bar. Everyone pretended to be emotionally moved, but the tedious, utter meaninglessness of it all was the perfect expression of eternal commitment from the generation that more than doubled divorce rates. No wonder young people don’t get married anymore.
Disco — It’s hard to fathom a generation hurrying home from work to nap so they could go out again at midnight to par-tay. But that’s what we did, leaving our warm, comfortable beds to wait in line for entry into crowded, smoky dance clubs. That was disco: the men in white suits and women in satin hot-pants all hoping to be judged worthy of admission by hourly employees holding all-powerful clipboards. And when we got inside — if we got inside — we consumed weak, vodka-based cocktails and revelled in the epic debauchery of bralesses, men’s bikini briefs, and listening without irony to Abba. The only things that saved us were no one had AIDS or camera phones.
The Brazilian Wax — Yeah, Gen X thinks this was their idea. But no. We got this started in 1990, when a Manhattan day spa offered the eternal youth of a pre-pubescent vulva to 40-ish Boomer socialites fearful they would age beyond their husbands’ sell-by date. Operated by seven Brazilian sisters — hence, “Brazilian wax” — the spa elevated society’s already ridiculous beauty standards, making women self-conscious not just about areas of their bodies that could be seen, but also about those that mostly weren’t.
Cocktails with Smutty Names — The thing most of you young people don’t understand about sexual revolutions is that they’re unscripted. You have to keep coming up with provocative things to say, and that’s hard for most people. Marketers of liqueurs came to our rescue by giving icky-sweet cocktails names that sound like sex acts. That meant female bartenders got to be charmed infinity times by insurance salesman in fuchsia polyester leaning over the bar to coo, “I’d sure like a Slippery Nipple.” Or Sex on the Beach. Or a Sloe Comfortable Screw. The acme was a cream-topped shot that enabled those of us who struggled to get a date an excuse to pound the bar and demand a Blowjob, just like in our alpha-male fantasies. We should get bonus credit for laying the inspirational groundwork for the coming #MeToo movement.
Cable Television News — We fight for what we believe, we Boomers, and the arguments you see every day on cable are the same ones we’ve been having since high school. On one side are the clean-cut jocks and on the other the dirty hippies. We started screaming at each other about whether the band at the homecoming dance should wear jackets and ties, but we’ve grown. Now, we’re arguing about the ways climate change affects our investment portfolio and whether trans people should be allowed to use the bathroom. But it’s all the same. Our passionate, meaningless, and never-ending quarrels have bent public discourse into a UFC brawl of self-righteous animosity. American public life sucks as a result — and we don’t get enough credit for that.
Male Strippers — Like so many Boomer things — like Boomers themselves, in fact — this started smart but ended stupid. Feminists called-out men who degraded women by paying them to dance naked. That was smart. The logical reaction would have been for men to stop doing that. Instead, we decided men should strip for women, too. That was stupid. When the performance art value of male stripping wore off, what was left for subsequent generations was a bachelorette party ritual that reduced women to the same debauched, slobbering demi-perversity feminists originally scorned. So: equality, Boomer-style.
Stadium Luxury Boxes — It used to be, we all sat together at sporting events — some a little closer than others but sharing largely the same community-building experience. The Boomers’ later-in-life Reaganite acceptance of wealth as the defining human attribute turned even sports into stratified demonstrations of social dominance. We spent precious public funds building stadia where the rich and privileged watched from tax-deductible, climate-controlled suites with catering and cocktail service. Everyone else sat out in the sleet praying for a visit from a vendor of cold hotdogs. That rich-are-better-than-you ethos spread through American life in things like pay-to-play express lanes on freeways and no-wait passes to Disneyland.
SUVs — If you have been nearly run-over by a 92-pound grandmother in a three-ton monster truck, you understand the terrible mistake Jeep made when it introduced the first SUV in 1984. SUVs are an environmental and public safety catastrophe, and Boomers love them. For 20 years before the introduction of SUVs, auto mileage rose; for the 20 years after, it fell. Forget all the other cars and trucks; SUVs alone became the second largest source of carbon emissions, trailing only power plants. While cars and SUVs hit pedestrians at about the same rate, the SUVs proved much more deadly. One study found that 16 people a day die under SUVs — which is bad, but have you ever driven one? Sitting in a soft leather armchair high above all those others in their economy cars? Man, it doesn’t get better than that.
Coach-Class Air Travel — You youngsters won’t remember this, but air travel used to be comfortable. Passengers dressed as if going on a date. Skycaps with cheerful smiles helped travelers hoist their baggage onto convenient, curbside conveyors. There was space in the cabin to stretch out. Back in the day, each flight had four flight attendants tending fewer than 100 passengers — a ratio of 1-to-25. They had time to prepare and serve full meals on white linen. We weren’t satisfied with that. We wanted air travel to be cheap, too. Cost became our only criterion during ticket purchase, and now there are 50 passengers for every flight attendant, bringing a suitcase costs extra, and you’re lucky if you get a tiny bag of pretzels.
We’re leaving behind a different kind of America, we Boomers. You don’t have to thank us. Just keep paying our Social Security.