June 3, 2014

Anti-Boomer Rhetoric: Time to Can (If Not Ban) It, Once and For All

by Dr. Ellen Brandt

Baby Boomers aren't responsible for the Black Plague, the Inquisition, or the extinction of the dinosaurs. But you might think we were, judging from the irresponsible rhetoric of disdain - and sometimes pure hatred - for our generation that's been permeating the Internet the past few years.

One case in point: an article on the "dumbing down of America" featured at a leading Canadian news magazine just a few days ago. The article, very readable, if somewhat disjointed, covers everything from anti-evolutionism laws to gun control to government healthcare. Although I found it rather biased in favor of the political Left, I enjoyed the read - until two-thirds into the story, the author quoted a professor from a California university, who - Yes, you guessed it - blamed it all on the Baby Boomers.

Boomers, said she, "were so triumphalist in promoting pop culture and demoting the canon" (of traditional education) that we "deserve most of the blame" for the dumbing down of American culture.

Now, although as an ex-college teacher, I hate to disparage a fellow academic, this professor's comments are downright wrong on any number of levels.

First of all, the "triumphalist" extension of the academic curriculum which occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, when Boomers were undergraduates, extended it into such fields as African-American history and women's studies, which most now admit had been badly shortchanged and neglected in the "canon." This professor herself teaches film and media studies, a "triumphalist extension of the canon" which didn't occur until later decades, maybe the 1990s, at most universities.

Moreover, Boomers were students in these canon-stretching decades, not professors. The teachers who deserve the credit for curriculum changes in these years came from Boomers' parents' - or even grandparents' - generations.

Besides, looking down one's nose at "pop culture" is both foolishly snobbish and short-sighted in an historical sense. Well-educated people are those who want to learn about the world through various prisms - highbrow, middlebrow, and lowbrow alike. And as all historians of culture know, what's branded as  "pop culture" in one generation may well become highbrow "canon" as quickly as a generation or two later. The comedies of Aristophanes and the plays of Shakespeare, for instance, were part of the "pop culture" scene in their respective ages. The Impressionists, among other groups of artists, were scorned and ridiculed by the French Academie des Beaux-Arts, protectors of the "canon" in that country.

But our topic isn't pop culture. It's Baby Boomers and the off-the-cuff, by-rote condemnation of an entire large and influential generation, who deserve much better. The professor of media studies - whose subject area alone should have made her more sensitive to the effect such casual remarks can have - clearly felt no qualms whatsoever pinning so weighty an accusation as blame for the "dumbing down of America" on the beleaguered Boomers.

But snide, silly, and malicious remarks like these are now standard fare among a certain smarmy segment of the chattering professions - journalists, politicians, and to a lesser extent, business and academic commentators.

One glaring example was the apparently well-liked young female blogger, who compared Baby Boomers - all 80 million of us in the U.S. - to the Ku Klux Klan and expressed her hope that we would die off quickly, along with the Klan, because people like her - biased people? Mean Girls? - would never really be free to live the lives they want to live until the last Klan member - and Baby Boomer - were dead.

One could dismiss this screed as just plain idiotic, until one notes that it spread like wildfire all over the worldwide Internet - and pretty much no one "called out" this young blogger for her, shall we say, uncharitable attitude towards Boomers.

Similarly, a few young bloggers have taken to publishing Boomer Death Watch columns, a la the Celebrity Death Watch pieces that Hollywood has gifted us with for decades.

The difference is that the Hollywood stories, whether you find them interesting or in horribly bad taste, have focused on actors, directors, musicians, and other entertainment figures in their late 80s, at the youngest, with many in their middle 90s. Boomers, you may have noticed - or didn't - are in their 50s and 60s, or thirty to forty years younger than the Hollywood Death Watch "honorees."

To which I say: Enough! Basta! No mas! Stop the Insanity! and, if I knew them, similar phrases in Tagalog, Swahili, Navajo, and Tuvaluan.

If it is now Taboo to make malicious blanket statements about either sex or any race, religion, or ethnic group, it's high time anti-Boomer propaganda went the way of the apatosauri, which - No - Boomers did not make extinct by feeding them Brie gone bad and leftover sushi.

To editors and other media gatekeepers: When someone makes a nasty anti-Boomer comment on your site or channel, treat it the same way you'd treat a sexist, racist, or religiously insensitive remark. To Google, Bing and other search engines: Consider "filtering" such remarks, the way you now protect, say, Satanists and those who sacrifice baby antelopes.

And to my fellow Boomers around the world: When you come across a nasty or foolish or downright sadistic anti-Boomer blog or article, muster your courage and conviction - even in the face of lurking Trolls - and tell them, "I am a proud and honorable Baby Boomer, and what you said offends me."

Ellen Brandt, proud and honorable Baby Boomer, is Founder of the just-launched Bring Back the Meritocracy! project, which seeks to help the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" in the U.S. and abroad, including those over age 50. Read about it at: