Free Markets, Free People

The usual "self-absorbed baby-boomers" article

I do get tired of these sorts of articles – this one in the New York Times. It is entitled "Boomers Hit New Self-Absorption Milestone: Age 65". The word I object too is "self-absorbed" as a description for an entire generation. It’s nonsense. My generation is no more self-absorbed than any other. Are there factions of it which fit the bill? Yeah, but they exist in every other generation as well.

The Times notes that today marks the first of my generation turning 65. Whoop freakin’ wee. The only one absorbed by that are the authors of the article.

Though other generations, from the Greatest to the Millennial, may mutter that it’s time to get over yourselves, this birthday actually matters. According to the Pew Research Center, for the next 19 years, about 10,000 people “will cross that threshold” every day — and many of them, whether through exercise or Botox, have no intention of ceding to others what they consider rightfully theirs: youth.

This means that the 79 million baby boomers, about 26 percent of this country’s population, will be redefining what it means to be older, and placing greater demands on the social safety net. They are living longer, working longer and, researchers say, nursing some disappointment about how their lives have turned out. The self-aware, or self-absorbed, feel less self-fulfilled, and thus are racked with self-pity.

Really? So "some researchers say" we’re "nursing disappointment about how their lives have turned out?"

That certainly doesn’t include me.  Heck, I’m in the middle of starting a new venture and I’m excited about life.  And self-pity is for losers.  Life is life – you deal with it as it comes along.  But do I feel less "self-fulfilled”?  Uh, no.  Have I had some set backs in life.  Hasn’t everyone?  I’ve also had some wonderful and unexpected successes as well.  But I’m damn sure not to the point where I’m assessing my life – I’ll probably be working at something until I die.

And by the way, folks, I don’t chase “youth”.  I chase “health”.  Youth is fleeting and can’t be recaptured and I don’t see more of an “absorption” by baby boomers with “youth” than I saw with the so-called “Greatest generation” or with those now in middle age. 

As for the “social safety net”, who the heck put it in place for the most part?  It wasn’t Baby Boomers.  And no one has mentioned any of the Greatest Generation turning up their noses at the net or not feeling some sense of “entitlement”.  It was they and the previous generation who are mostly responsible for its existence, not Boomers.

The Times seems to realize it is in deep water with its attempt at generalization:

Ascribing personality traits to a bloc of 79 million people is a fool’s endeavor. For one thing, people born in 1964 wouldn’t know the once-ubiquitous television hero Sky King if he landed his trusty Songbird on their front lawns, just as people born in 1946 wouldn’t quite know what to make of one of Sky King’s successors, the big-headed H. R. Pufnstuf.

Yeah, I remember Sky King (and many others).  But I also remember Vietnam and a large contingent who fought there because they were trying to live up to what the previous generation had done as a “duty”.  And the reason I find these sorts of generalizations of my generation offensive is found in the NYT’s very next paragraph:

For another, the never-ending celebration of the hippie contingent of boomers tends to overshadow the Young Americans for Freedom contingent. After all, while some boomers were trying to “levitate” the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War, other boomers were fighting in that war.

That’s correct.  And those same Boomers are responsible in large part for building the finest volunteer military the nation has ever fielded bar none.   And some Boomers are still on active duty today.  But this single paragraph best explains the problem I have – the Bill Ayers contingent of my generation does not represent me or the huge majority of my peers.  What happened is the “never-ending celebration” of the “hippie contingent” – again something the Greatest Generation was responsible for – forever tainted my generation with the stereotype of the “self-absorbed” Baby Boomer (just as it did with any number of cruel myths about Vietnam and Vietnam vets).   

Here’s another generalization:

Previous generations were raised to speak only when spoken to, and to endure in self-denying silence. But baby boomers were raised on the more nurturing, child-as-individual teachings of Dr. Benjamin Spock, and then placed under the spell of television, whose advertisers marketed their wares directly to children. Parents were cut out of the sale — except, of course, for the actual purchase of that coonskin cap or Barbie doll.

“It created a sense of entitlement that had not existed before,” Mr. Gillon said. “We became more concerned with our own emotional well-being, whereas to older generations that was considered soft and fluffy.”

Well much of this skipped my household. I was raised in a "speak only when spoken too" home. And while Benjamin Spock’s (another of the Greatest Generation) works were read and applied in some ways, my upbringing wasn’t at all like this generalization would like to pretend it was. And that goes with my peers – of course I was raised in and around the Army, so I can also say my upbringing might have been somewhat more "traditional" than that of others. But I’d never generalize about it.

And I never have had a "sense of entitlement" about much of anything – but to pretend it never “existed before" is to deny the existence of Social Security prior to the Baby Boom generation. It was created in 1935 for heaven sake and it established as much a sense of entitlement as has anything since. My generation had nothing to do with its beginnings nor have they been the first to demand this "entitlement".

But there’s a basis for the "sense of entitlement" as it pertains to Social Security or Medicare – government has been taking my money for both programs for decades. And while other, later generations may believe that neither will be available when they reach the age to benefit from them, don’t you even begin to believe they won’t have a "sense of entitlement" if they do.

As for the “soft and fluffy” nonsense, I’ll again point to the war in Vietnam.  Not soft, not fluffy, 246 Medals of Honor awarded primarily to Baby Boomers in a 10 year war. 

Every generation that I know of thinks the following generation is softer and more self-absorbed than they were.  They all worry about “what will happen to the country” when the next generation takes over, yet somehow, we manage to find the grit, determination, leadership, and ability to see it all through.

And lord save us from the sociologists:

A study by two sociologists, Julie Phillips of Rutgers University and Ellen Idler of Emory University, indicates that the suicide rate for middle-aged people, notably baby boomers without college degrees, rose from 1999 to 2005. And Paul Taylor, the executive vice president of the Pew Center, summed up a recent survey of his generation this way:

“We’re pretty glum.”

This gloominess appears to be linked to the struggling economy, the demands of middle age and a general sense of lofty goals not met by the generation that once sang of teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony, and then buying it a Coke.

Bull squat.  A paean to a tiny fraction of a generation that believed in unicorns and moon ponies.  Most of the rest of us were and are pretty darn grounded in reality and aren’t’ glum at all.  In fact, I’m elated each day when I open my eyes and am still among the living.  It’s the start to what I hope will be a good day.  Ok, I’m kidding about that, but you know what, I resent the hell out of some academic characterizing me as “glum” because I happen to have been born in a particular time period – like a characterization such as “glum” can be applied because we appeared in a particular span of time.  That just a crock of academic crap. 

My guess, given the “struggling economy” and how it has impacted lives all over the nation, we’d find parts of many generations “glum”.

So on this first day of the new year, let me start it out right – stick up you fundament, New York Times.  Your article is BS and you know it – not that I’m particularly surprised.  You’re in the middle of trying to perpetuate another myth. That three layers of editors sure are earning their pay, aren’t they?



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34 Responses to The usual "self-absorbed baby-boomers" article

  • If suicides among Boomers spiked recently, is that not rather a function of–
    1. hopelessness sponsored by the cynicism that IS post-modernism;
    2. the cultural push to make suicide not only OK, but a “right”;
    3. the idea that humans are a blight on the planet;
    4. there is no such thing as “wrong”…just your own “thang”

    • Perhaps it is just a function of the ofted whispered truism that those over 50 have a harder time landing a job.
      When you go from “bread winner” to unemployed with little hope, it takes it’s toll.

  • As a boomer I agree with what you’re saying. My parents didn’t read Spock or much of anything else. We had TV sort of, 2 channels and I don’t remember much to watch. I started my “self-absorbtion” at 14 by getting a job.
    I’m retired from working for others and my life has never been better (oh the gloom). I’m not old enough for Social Security but when the time comes shortly I do feel entitled to it after being forced into the system, forced to pay, told repeatedly how good it was for me and it was too risky to do myself, and watching the SOBs that did the forcing, game the system to line their own pockets far greater than the amount I’ll ever receive. 

    • ABC does an even better job of trying to perpetuate the myth. If you’d like a look at a type of propaganda, check out the video. I don’t recall “demanding” schools and note the final point about Medicare, i.e. we “demand” something that other generations will pay for – like we haven’t been paying since ’65 when most of us began our work life.

      Boomers didn’t approve Medicare and pass it into law. It was an entitlement the last of the “Greatest Generation” passed. All this griping about a large group who might “drain” a program they’ve paid into all their working lives seems a little misplaced if you ask me.

      • Well McQ I agree with you that the so called “greatest generation” are the ones who voted for socialism.

        But as a person who was part of the tail end of the boomers, I got to say that our generation was a bit more narcissistic and self important than others.  I think that came of being so large and as young people many boomers quickly figured out that their numbers gave them power.

        As for social security and medicare, they simply cannot continue in their present form, they will have to be somewhat curtailed,  so to all the people who put their trust in the government and want to rely solely on those instruments, all I can say is you should have known better than to trust government promises.

    • I remember my mother read Spock when I was in my teens and thought he was an idiot.

  • Hey, I identified with “Sky King” (brought to you by Nabisco) and who didn’t want to fly a plane at some point in their lives ?
    But H. R. Pufnstuf … you must be kidding.  Who ever wanted to be a big headed stuffed toy ?
    My personal & professional “hero” was “Barney” (not that damn dinosaur) .. Barney Collier.  I mean that black dude (played by Greg Morris) on “Mission Impossible” who could do anything.  He was in the style of “Sky King” .. a guy who did “good stuff.”

    • I’m still trying to cope with the legacy of  Lash LaRue
      I wanted to name my baby brother “Crusader”…after Crusader Rabbit.

      • At least you didn’t fall for Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse.
        They were definitely not “PC” with Courageous having a gun for every possible situation.

  • Jesus, just look at all these boomers in the comments complaining about their image and reminiscing about ancient talking picture shows. 🙂

  • “for the next 19 years…”

    That I”m associated with the Baby Boomers Generation by that random date has always bothered me.
    The TV shows that were new in the 50’s were already laughable B&W repeats by the time I was old enough to reach the “channel” knob on the TV.
    What do I have in common with some Summer-of-Love hippies?  I was 3 years old in 1967, and less than 5 during Woodstock.
    When Boomers were queueing up for tickets to see the Dead and the Stones, my high-school pals were going to punk shows that were billed as anti-hippie and anti-corporate rock.
    The only Boomers I salute are those Vietnam vets who served before I was old enough to, and those same vets who trained me when I was a slick-sleeve no time in life buck private.

  • Yes, it’s awful when a whole generation is “generalized.”  But things are not necessarily all joy and glee in the land of the Baby Boomers.  Many are terrified, and rightfully so, about a future whose foundation has been shaken to its core.  Medicare funding is likely to be reduced, social security is a huge question mark, health care costs are escalating out of sight, and if we lose our jobs, it’s unlikely that we’ll find another, never mind one at the same pay level.   Yet, while trying not to generalize, so many in our Boomer generation are resourceful, bright and caring.  Will we get to the end of this tunnel with our dignity in tact?  I’m hoping so. 

  • I think that the Boomers referred to in the article are those known personally to the author of the NYT article.  As they are almost certainly all liberals, the term “self-absorbed” is probably spot-on!

    But don’t feel too bad: as a member of Gen-X, I’ve gotten a belly full of “lazy”, “slacker”, and (come to think of it) “self-absorbed” over the years.  Apparently, because not enough of us X-ers have grown unkempt beards, lived in communes, smoked dope as a social statement, and protested a war with sufficient vociferousness, we are branded by our elders as a waste of human life or something.

  • Yeah, sorry, but your generation is the most self absorbed.

    Every year I have to hear about the xx anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. Who gives a $#(%* about that ancient history?   Or compare and contrast when Lady Bird Johnson died to when Jackie O died.

    Ditto Woodstock.  Or the Kent State thing.  Or a billion other things which are irrelevant to anyone under 45.  But I have to hear about it again and again and again every year, like the tired old stories at the Thanksgiving table told by old people who are too caught into their pasts to live in the present.  

    The Boomers were given *The World* from the ones who fought and WWII,  and then you pissed it all away.   You were given the biggest prize in the history of mankind and squandered it.  And the rest of us hate you for it.  You will never live it down by saying “yeah, but it wasn’t me”.

    • Yeah … none of that ever happened with other generations did they (Civil war? Who cares gramps?)? Brilliant rebuttal.

      • Quick question…did the media nostalgically portray important cultural anniversaries for the Greatest Generation when you were growing up? Is this maybe one of those “when I was a kid, we had to walk to school uphill 3 miles of snow…” things?

  • As for the “social safety net”, who the heck put it in place for the most part?  It wasn’t Baby Boomers.  And no one has mentioned any of the Greatest Generation turning up their noses at the net or not feeling some sense of “entitlement”.  It was they and the previous generation who are mostly responsible for its existence, not Boomers.
    No but your generation sat over its abuse and misuse as a government slush fund.  Now its stuffed full of IOU’s and the generation that stuffed it is probably going to demand to skate free on the consequences.
    I fully expect when my time comes, to get a joke of a payout if anything at all.  At the same time I expect my pay-in to grow dramatically.  If there was an acknowledgment that it can’t continue and payouts were scaled slowly back starting now, maybe things could be softened.  But ultimately its going to be ridden as if nothing is wrong for as long as possible until it implodes.  My generation will bare the brunt of paying the bills of the prior generation ill conceived plan and your generations desire to have its cake and eat it too.
    We expect to get little or none while your generation demands to get theirs because, of course, it was someone else’s fault.

    • My generation did no such thing – Bill Clinton was the first Boomer president, JPE. Those programs were bagged well before then.

    • “No but your generation sat over its abuse and misuse as a government slush fund.  Now its stuffed full of IOU’s and the generation that stuffed it is probably going to demand to skate free on the consequences.”
      Geeze, what do you think we did, annihilate our parents and take over the voting rights?  The ‘greatest generation’ was still right there voting next to us.  the TwentySixth amendment to the Constitution allowed voting at age 18 – so Boomers couldn’t even VOTE prior for anything that happened prior to 1965!
      And how many boomers were in National political office BEFORE 1986?  Greatest generation provided every president up to Clinton!
      If it’s f’d up, we had plenty of help doing it up until pretty recently.

  • whatever and jpm100 raise some good points about why the Boomers are considered self-absorbed: there is a plethora of people and dates that not only don’t mean much to Gen-Xers and Millenials, but lead us to wonder why the hell they are important to Boomers.  In the past few weeks, there’s been a good bit of news coverage about John Lennon, for example.  I’m not a Beatles fan myself, but I recognize that he is considered to have been a talented musician.  However, the Boomers seem to go on about him like he was some sort of demigod.

    Ditto Woodstock, Kent State, and even JFK: excessive importance based on some imagined significance seems to be the order of the day when Boomers think about their history.  A bunch of smelly hippies getting high and filthy at a rock concert in a field somewhere is supposed to be a milestone event, filled with significance about peace and love and… something.  A handful of morons throw rocks at armed troops and get shot; we’re supposed to weep over them in perpetuity as great martyrs who died fighting the good fight against… the Ohio National Guard.  The death of a president is unquestionably significant, but JFK has become some sort of mythological figure who WOULD have done such great things had (sniff) he not been taken from us.

    It’s as if the Boomers, standing in the shadow of the “Greatest Generation” have a need to feel important and relevant: “Yeah, you guys might have beaten the nazis, but WE… um… er… WE were, like, totally in touch with our social responsibilities, man.  Yeah, and, like, you know, we were out protesting against racism and imperialism and Nixon and stuff!  And we had, like, IMPORTANT cultural icons like John Lennon and Janice Joplin and Woodstock!  And we were FREE, man!  Like, we EXPERIMENTED!”

    Let me hasten to add that this is not an indictment of all Boomers, most of whom could care less about Woodstock or Kent State and have otherwise served family, community and country in the same quiet, unostentatious way as generations of Americans before.  I suppose the problem is that so many news people are Boomers and use their broadcasts and publications to keep beating the rest of us over the head about how gosh-darned wonderful their generation is and scolding the rest of us because we aren’t more like them.

    • You guys need to note that JFK was not a Boomer. And, unless you just missed that part of your life, your parents generation also celebrated their past as they got older.

      You can’t do that when you’re young ’cause you haven’t got enough of a past. Just hide and watch – you’ll be doing the same thing and your kids will by saying “boy are they self-absorbed”.

      Two other reasons its more obvious – huge changes in mass media over the past couple of decades (so, I don’t know, it seems more open and obvious than in the past?) and the Boomers are a rich demographic so they’re pandered too by those who can and who obviously hope to collect off of it when they do.

      But just remember this when you start seeing REM retrospectives, Gen-X celeb tributes and the media talking about the late great whomever when you’re the age of the Boomer gen.

      This. Happens. With. Every. Generation.

      • McQThis. Happens. With. Every. Generation.

        No doubt.  I think that the Boomers get singled out for criticism because, in a real sense, they are “oversold”: their accomplishments simply don’t live up to the hype.  Further, it MAY be that they are the first generation to make a big deal about BEING a “generation”; I think “baby boomers” was in the lexicon before “greatest generation”.  I think that members of previous generations identified with personal participation some large event or endeavor instead of getting a free pass just because they happen to have been born in a certain time.  It’s gone from “I was at Chancellorsville / the Argonne / Normandy” to “Yeah, I was born in ’52.”

        With regard to JFK, his significance to the Boomers is not that he was a Boomer himself, but rather that his death was a seminal event that has led to him being romanticized / deified by that generation.  He was young, handsome, had a pretty wife and adorable children, was a war hero, wrote a book, spoke well, and otherwise embodies everything that (liberal) Boomers seem to think that a president ought to be.  Hence, they are always looking for their candidate to be JFK v2.0.  Remember when Slick Willie’s administration was supposed to be the second Camelot?  Jean-Francois tried to play himself up as the new JFK, and even The Dear Golfer was marketted in this way.  Again, however, accomplishments didn’t live up to the hype.

      • Great article McQ, spot on, and yep 1917 birthdate for JFK would put him a generation and a half (or so) before the first baby boomers.   Can’t wait to draw my SS pension, watch reruns of “F” Troop,” “Bronco Lane”, “Johnny Yuma”, “Combat”, and other great TV shows, including the beautiful Penny on “Sky King.”   Of course most of us  were/are just dirty, filty hippies wallowing in the mud at Woodstock, and then aimlessly flowing through life, with a doobie tucked over our ear.   Well written!

  • Pretty pathetic, how many people from every generation live in the past. It crosses generations and cultures.
    The greatest, most prosperous, most admirable are those who live for the future. Those are a culture that is a distinct minority.