Skip to comments.Please, no more 1960s
Posted on 06/10/2004 9:21:50 AM PDT by qam1
Has any generation in history ever banged on about itself more and with less merit than the baby boomers?
Oh good, another 1960s retrospective. And another. And another. You can't move for celebrations of "the decade that changed the world forever". Tate Britain is honouring the art of the swinging decade in an exhibition starting at the end of the month. BBC Four is a week into its Summer in the Sixties season, while the Sunday Times magazine is devoting acres to the 10 years that shook the planet.
Why this surge of interest? Has a milestone passed? Or is there no better excuse than the fact that 2004 marks the 40th anniversary of 1964?
Not that the 60s generation need a reason to celebrate themselves and all their works. They rarely stop. Open a magazine or click on the TV any time and before long you'll see the raddled face of, say, David Bailey, cackling as he recalls how many beautiful women he slept with in those golden years. Next Alan Parker, Terence Stamp or Ken Russell will pop up to pay homage to David, each other and the decade that made them all.
To put the question simply: has any other generation ever banged on about itself more and with less merit?
I spent the weekend in Normandy with veterans of D-day, a group who can list saving the world among their collective achievements. They were studies in stoic modesty, depicting themselves as frightened lads who had only been doing their duty. Yet their children, the baby boomers, born at war's end, have no such reserve. They claim for themselves much greater accomplishments, constructing nothing less than a new society.
Note how everything they did was a first, a "revolution". Most have quoted Philip Larkin so often - "sexual intercourse began in 1963" - they've come to believe it, imagining their bedhopping was a genuine innovation. They seem unaware of the hedonistic 1920s, the naughty 1890s, the bawdy 18th century, to say nothing of the Roman and Greek empires. No, in their eyes, promiscuity was unheard of till they invented it.
They were "the first teenagers" too, as if before 1960 children mysteriously skipped from age 12 to 20 overnight. I know, I know - they're referring to the youth rebellion that gave the 60s its fire. Except that wasn't new either. In 1911, 30 kids walked out of Bigyn school in Llanelli, to protest over the caning of one of their peers, sparking a pupils' strike across Britain. Young people were at the forefront of the conscientious objection movement in the first world war a few years later. Whenever there has been a call for change, youth has usually been its voice.
Perhaps historical accuracy is not really the point. When the 60s crowd insist they were the first young people to walk the Earth, they mean it was the first time they had walked the Earth - and that's what counts. For what underpins all this 60s mania is solipsism on a massive scale: because it happened to me, it must have happened to everyone and must matter enormously. Thus David Frost sighs at "the joy, the exhilaration of being in your 20s - to be young was very heaven". I could say the same about my experience of the 1990s, but Tate Britain wouldn't do an exhibition about that.
All of us enjoy or enjoyed being young, but that hardly makes it a social phenomenon. "It was nirvana," recalls Eric Stewart of 10cc. "We were being paid huge sums of money for enjoying ourselves." No doubt Wayne Rooney or the boys from Busted would say the same today, but that doesn't make it a revolution. It takes the arrogance of the 60s generation to confuse their own agreeable personal experience with a historical shift.
The flipside of this thinking is that, just as the world was good when they were young, it must be bad now that they're old. So today's music, television, films and politics are all dismissed as pale successors of their 1960s forebears. We'll get to the substance of this charge in due course, but does it not strike the Mick Jaggers and Harold Pinters how much they now resemble the William Rees-Moggs and Mary Whitehouses they once lampooned, both generations sharing in the same dim view of modernity?
This conservative cast of mind should not be such a surprise. For all the grand talk of revolution, epitomised by the 1968 crowd who still regard sitting down in a few university offices as the height of political action, the 60s achieved strikingly little. The hedonism and search for self-realisation of that decade took just 20 years to calcify into the selfish individualism and materialism of the 1980s, with the old political content rapidly dropped. Sure, they still wore the laidback patina of 60s peace and love - businessmen in Richard Branson-style beard and jeans - but they were and are as hard-nosed as the capitalists they had once pretended to detest.
Even at the time, they were always more chic than radical. The sexism of the period was rank: women were "chicks" to be used as decorations or sexual playthings. The pill was hailed as a tool of liberation but, as writer Mike Phillips shrewdly tells BBC Four, it made women "not free, just more available". Nor did many of the great partygoers of the age seem too troubled by the racism in evidence all around them. Sarah Miles may remember "love bursting out all over", but there was not much love on the streets of Notting Hill or Smethwick. Enoch Powell made his "rivers of blood" speech in 1968, but it was not till the 70s - so easily mocked as the decade of naff - that the next generation of musicians did what Eric Clapton and the rest had palpably failed to do, forming Rock against Racism and taking political action that actually meant something.
There is a rightwing critique of those times, and BBC Four will air it on Saturday with I Hate the Sixties. The programme argues that this was the period in which Britain lost its moorings, destroying the grammar schools, undermining the church and ushering in the permissive society. That is not my critique. I am grateful for the reforms that saw censorship lifted, homosexuality legalised and some of the pain of bitter divorce and back-street abortion alleviated. (Although left and right can surely unite on the folly of 60s planning policy: old Victorian housing demolished to make way for high-rise monstrosities, centuries-old town centres smashed for soulless concrete.)
No, my objection to the 60s generation is their own endless self-regard, their brimming confidence that everything they touch betters all that has come before or since. To puncture their arrogance, it might be worth taking the fight on to their strongest territory. Yes, the 60s produced some first-rate music and the Beatles remain the greatest band ever. But scan the charts and you soon see that the soundtrack of the 60s was not made up of Lennon and McCartney alone, but the Barron Knights and the Bachelors. Next time you see the smug face of a 60s veteran, utter these two words: Englebert Humperdinck.
Ping list for the discussion of the politics and social aspects that directly effects Generation-X (Those born from 1965-1981) including all the spending previous generations (i.e. The Baby Boomers) are doing that Gen-X and Y will end up paying for.
Freep mail me to be added or dropped. See my home page for details.
As a boomer, I have to agree..our generation is the most self-centered in history and will bankrupt this country when they start to hit 65. This is the generation personal websites were invented for because of the illusion that anyone really gives a flying crap about our "greatness" or "revolution. I hope the country survives us.
As a boomer, I have to agree..our generation is the most self-centered in history and will bankrupt this country when they start to hit 65. This is the generation personal websites were invented for because of the illusion that anyone really gives a flying crap about our "greatness" or "revolution". I hope the country survives us.
Except for the part about homosexuality and abortion, this is a great article.
>>>>>>>>To put the question simply: has any other generation ever banged on about itself more and with less merit?
boomers... never has any generation crowed so much about accomplishing so little.
Well, I do like the short skirts! Mary Quant ROUAWH bump!
The baby boomers were to their parents as Commodus was to Marcus Aurelius.
I suppose that you are just speaking for yourself. I am 58 years old and have been retired for almost 5 years (Not on social security) and I personally had nothing to do with starting and perpetuating the social security system that I assume you are referring to that's going bust when all us "boomers" hit social security retirement age.
Social security started before I was born. I have voted for conservative candidates since I have been old enough to vote.
I didn't do it Steve, if you want to accept responsibility for the mess, that's your call
Uh, it's Gen-Reagan, now, according to Cinnamon Girl. Can you please add me to your Footloose-dancing, After-school Special-watching, Gen-Reagan ping list.
Rush has a Gen-Reaganer on right now!!!
Why is this supposed to rattle me?
Humperdinck wasn't a Boomer. He was born in '36.
When his songs hit the pop-charts in '67, it was a clear vindication of the axiom "don't trust anybody over 30".
Jonathan Freedland has absolutely no idea what he's talking about.
Humperdinck was more popular with the Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin generation of music fans. Same with Ed Ames.
All that the Boomers ever did for me was make the '70s atrocious to live through, make me watch "The Big Chill" in class and sing "All we are saying is give peace a chance" IN CHURCH (!!!), and then the same crowd that disavowed corporate America in the 1960's and '70s were hogging all the jobs just as I was getting out of college and looking for one. And then, they had the audacity to call me a SLACKER!!!
I was born and some guy walked on the moon.
PS: They also earned me detention by filling my Elementary School English and "Reading" textbooks with stories by African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, who seemed incapable of writing about anything BUT BEING African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. I DARED TO ASK my Boomer Teacher why these writers were incapable of writing about anything but one issue, and I got detention.
Well, for some people, it did. (No names, please.)
imagining their bedhopping was a genuine innovation.
And for some people, bedhopping was never part of their repertoire.
The 60's youth was the first generation that managed to fool itself into an assumption of moral superiority and actually manage to hang onto that illusion into maturity (if you can call it that). It's a sort of cultural arrested adolescence, and is the reason so many of them cling so desperately to adolescent politics, adolescent morality, adolescent self-images. It's the reason so many indulge in such grotesque behaviors as frying their epidermises on tanning beds and injecting bacterial toxins into their faces to prevent the honorable signs of age. And yes, I'm "talkin' about my g-g-g-generation..."
Please add me to the Gen X list.