Monday, May 21, 2007

Warning: Generalization Ahead...

The Greatest Generation. Baby Boomers. Gen-X. Gen-Y.
But where, oh where, oh where am I?

Poetically, that sucks an incredibly big one of some kind or another. But, I think, the question is sound.

My friend Freebird’s 50th birthday has me thinking about more than the fact that mine will follow in one year, seven months, and six days (not that anyone’s counting). If I were going to “talk about my generation,” what would I put in the conversation (and, yes, I feel like a poseur for quoting The Who)?

When I was out walking Large Dog this evening, I let my mind range over the group of folks I’m fortunate enough to count as friends. Just exactly where do we fit? What is our defining moment? What are our catalysts? What gives us meaning, both personally and socially? I am not in the slightest bit qualified to issue an opinion that isn’t based entirely on anecdote and observation but, hey, this is a blog…not hard social science. So here goes.

Let me offer myself as a case study. I was born in 1958, at the midpoint of Eisenhower’s second term. My father served in the Army briefly before WWII, then in the Navy during the war. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. Neither parent completed a college degree. My two sisters graduated from high school in 1962 and 1968, respectively; this puts them solidly in the Baby Boomer demographic, although neither of them fit particularly well into the stereotypes of the time. Sister One certainly never cruised the strip a la American Graffiti, and Sister Two lived a totally non-countercultural life. Civil Rights? Watts? Either Kennedy assassination? Kent State? I can assure you that I, at age 10, was more engaged in debate on those issues than the rest of my familo.

I finished high school in 1977. All those years  - observing societal complacency - I’d waited for my majority, ready to step up to the activist’s plate on some burning social issue. I’d grown up hearing about The Great Depression (my parents were older than most) and The War Years. I’d watched all the great “moments” of the sixties on television. I’d pasted peace signs inside my bedroom closet because my conservative father didn’t approve of them and gazed longingly at my life-size poster of Peter Fonda in Easy Rider (humorous note: my father had no problems with the poster. He hadn’t seen the movie but he heartily approved of Henry Fonda – or at least of the packaged image Hollywood pumped out. If he’d known the truth about any of the Fondas, that poster would have been off the wall in a second).

At eighteen, I stepped out into the world and found…. Saturday Night Fever and Star Wars. And I’ll admit it: disco was danced.

We'd try to be socially conscious, but something was always a bit off. We were impostors, children in too-big shoes. The great battles had been waged, if not won: civil rights, Vietnam, feminism and reproductive choice. I was reaping the benefits without having done any of the work.

The picture in my college yearbook, senior year, of me with my little preppy hairdo and "Women Against Reagan" shirt says it better than I ever could.

All right. Now you know more about me than either of us really wants you to know. Where’s the meat of this post?

I am hereby anointing my demographic "The Unscathed Generation." You heard it here first.

Don’t get me wrong. We are not without our scars. But they are personal rather than collective ones, and for that very reason they may, in some ways, be deepest. We bear them inside. They are specific to our individual lives. We’ve buried parents. And spouses. And children. We’ve suffered tragic accidents, disability, economic adversity, addiction, and incarceration. We’ve anguished over sexuality and seen the lives of those we loved - or might have loved - lost to the ravages of AIDS or the searing grief of an elective termination.

Earlier generations banded together in response to threats foreign and domestic. Our threats come to us in isolation. Any community we form is dependent on self-revelation. We cannot seek comfort in common experience.

We have no shared text.

I welcome, and hope for, comments on this issue. My thoughts are still brewing on this and I plan to come back to it tomorrow or the next day on the implications for our society now that we, The Unscathed, are reaching middle age.


Misty said...

I'm willing to bet that not only was disco danced but that you boogied down as well!

This was a great post and I'm disappointed that no one ran with it. I too wonder about my generation (I'm a bit younger than you) and why we don't seem to have the heart for activism. Is it that we don't have the leaders that they did then? Is it that people truly don't know what to do? I hear that occasionally. I also hear that people don't believe that their efforts make a difference. From whence does our complacency or feelings of helplessness spring? If we could figure that out, then we could maybe start the fire! Hey, if you're going to quote The Who, then I'm going to quote Billy Joel!

Oh, one more thing. Do you think this Unscathed Generation is found only in the US or in other countries as well?

Kelly Hudgins said...

I'll have to think about the source of the complacency. And I suspect it's truly generational in other Western nations as well.