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Lions Roar : January 2007
IN THE CUTTHROAT WORLD OF MARKETING, where originality is the Holy Grail, it’s curious that all the invest- ment companies peddling comfy retirement plans to baby boomers are using some variation of the same pitch. As a member of the intended target group, I admit that when my inner flower child is evoked, I get stoked. And while the soci- ological and cultural accomplishments of my generation are indisputable, it’s interesting that our legacy seemingly has more to do with the time we spent as the antiestablishment than our actual turn at the helm of society. If anyone wanted an example of “truthiness” (this year’s hottest new word), the television advertisements perfectly provide the definition. Truthiness is a preferred truth, or “truth as decoy.” Truthiness always demands the retort, “Yes, but...” Yes, we baby boomers were an awesome force of “rev- olutionary” idealism and artistic grooviness, but what the heck happened to us? Our path from seekers of the philosopher’s stone to pur- veyors of the pet rock made us the wealthiest generation in history, but will that benefit our grandchildren in any way? Is the world better off for our existence? The only species I can think of that we saved from extinction is the Harley- Davidson, and clearly our collective obsession with things that go vroom has screwed up the planet in myriad ways. The technological wizardry developed on our watch may have provided a methodology for instant global communication, but it has done little to foster understanding among people. The development of drugs to keep our appetite down, men’s penises up, and our emotions flat are a sorry testament to our priorities. The fact that a billion people today starve while the so-called developed nations suffer from obesity is breathtaking in its irony and shameful in its truthfulness. Wisdom is supposed to be an attribute of growing older, but my generation’s weird morphing from antiestablish- ment to antiaging has evidently proved to be an effective defense against the process. In a way, maybe the baby boomers’ neurosis about aging is some nutty subcon- scious yearning for a time when we were committed to noble ideals. The simple truth is that, even if we convince ourselves that fifty is the new forty, and even if we nip and tuck and inject, nature always bats last. The handmade ideals of my youth haunt me these days. The rock anthems made famous by poets in our era have thankfully retained their cultural relevance, even if we boomers haven’t. What good is it, after all, to know the words by heart and yet have no heart for them? Maybe once baby boomers have relinquished the reins of economic and politi- cal power, we might actually do better in some emeritus ca- pacity. We still are, at least, financially significant. The thirty- year-old marketing brainiacs would rather massage our old hipster egos than confront us with the fraudulent reality. Now it seems that many of us are making the effort to become “spiritual.” Evidently, the Time magazine cover from our hippie era that declared “God is dead” was mistaken. I’d like to think that the impetus for this “holy hunting” is in part a penitent response to the realization that we had in- deed squandered much of our sociological capital. Clearly, the boomers’ legacy is one of both extraordi- nary accomplishments and colossal failures. Yet I hear no collective admission of remorse and see only a booming business that caters to our needs to “help me, heal me, comfort me, fix me.” Mental health professionals can now afford tony summer homes, “self-help” has become a sepa- rate category on the Times best-seller list, there are waiting lists to sign up for twelve-step programs, anything labeled “herbal” or “organic” is more expensive, astrologers and psychics are no longer just spooky-looking old crones, and traveling gurus make a fortune on the lecture circuit. Are the Boomers a Bust? The baby boomers had the world by the tail—or at least they thought they did. JANE HARTRICK does a post-mortem on a generation’s idealism. ILLUSTRATIONBYPABLOBERNASCONI