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My parents were in town the other day and I casually mentioned over dinner that I really hate Baby Boomers. They digested their curries and eyed me up with annoyance, mentally stowing away yet another reason to disinherit me.
- All those chocolate bars I stole from my older brother when we were kids, after which he shoutily predicted I would “probably grow up to be some kind of criminal or something”.
- That time I told my dad I was considering taking a journalism job in Iraq. On his birthday.
- Instinctive socialist opposition to all inherited wealth.
- That time I mentioned that I hated their entire generation.
- Fuck him, that’s enough. Cut him off.
Obviously I should caveat this by saying that my parents are excellent people with impeccable moral instincts and fantastic genetic material (except for the eyesight, the male pattern baldness, the Coeliac disease, and the hammer toes), but I’m sorry. Baby Boomers suck. They just. Fucking. Suck.
My parents were both born in 1953. In 1959, when they were six, there were twenty-one unemployed people in the whole of New Zealand. Both my parents graduated from university with no debt. In the early 80s they bought the house I grew up in, in a middle-class neighbourhood in Christchurch. Their generation ensured that such comfortable facts as these would never again be considered normal.
That generation, the Baby Boomers, was the vaunted spawn of much vigorous postwar boning, producing one of the biggest demographic spikes in modern history. As children, they reaped the benefit of the social-democratic consensus of the late 40s, 50s and 60s, their parents’ high taxes enabling lavishly-funded, egalitarian public education and welfare; as they entered the 60s, they began to question and reject the social values of their parents, instilling a new zeitgeist of pacifism, acceptance and diversity; as they entered adulthood in the 70s and 80s, becoming society’s largest and most powerful voting bloc, they were faced with making for their children the same sacrifice their own parents had made for them, of giving up most of their income to fund a just and supportive society; from the 80s onwards, they dismantled the welfare state that had reared them, pulled up the ladder and fucked our generation over.
This isn’t a screed against neoliberalism because nobody wants to read that shit; suffice it to say that to maintain rising standards of living in a neoliberal world, it became necessary to build new advances upon mountains of debt. Forty, sixty, eighty years ago, the idea of a twenty-something entering the world with seventy thousand dollar’s worth of debt (my loan balance when I graduated) would have been alarming. That the debt could be leveraged not against any assets but against one’s own future earning potential, and accumulated not through recklessness but through purchasing a piece of paper to signify one’s competency to join the middle class, would have been condemned as a fucked-up system of extortion. Yet that’s now the social norm.
God forbid our generation be as indolent as the 60s hippies or 70s punks, otherwise we’ll never pay for our parents’ fucking retirements.
The system of debt exists to mask the fact that our generation, the much-reviled Generation Y, are the victims of the biggest case of intergenerational theft ever seen. Not that anybody would admit this; cities would burn, which is inconvenient because we need to be kept productive. After all, in a few year’s time the economy’s going to fucking collapse under the weight of the Boomers’ superannuation payments—that little multi-billion-dollar nest egg they set aside for themselves even as they took away our free education and priced us out of the housing market. God forbid our generation be as indolent as the 60s hippies or 70s punks, otherwise we’ll never pay for our parents’ fucking retirements.
It’s ironic that the generation most aware of its place in history—hell, they pretty much invented the concept of a “generation”—should so visibly fall victim to collective hubris and greed. After all, Baby Boomers are arguably the most historically vain, self-mythologising generation humanity has ever known—the “chosen generation” of postwar children who’d grow up free of the conflict of the first half of the 20th century. They would usher in an era of untold prosperity. They would cure society’s ills. They would invent music.
It’s worth pointing out that they succeeded, in part. The New Zealand my parents grew up in was an extremely difficult place for racial or sexual minorities; and while there may have been only 21 unemployed New Zealanders in 1959, countless women were simply out of the labour force, raising families in patriarchal conditions far more severe than those of today. And “Little Wing” is a great song.
But the Boomers’ inbuilt instinct to wrap it in a flag and crow with triumphalism, all while dumping on the “selfish” youth of today (all those selfies! they don’t even vote! get off my lawn!), is galling in the extreme. No, you didn’t have smartphones and the internet when you were young; but your parents didn’t have televisions, microwaves and peace. And what are we going to pass on to our children? Extreme weather events, mass extinctions and a semi-uninhabitable planet because THE BOOMERS FUCKING KNEW ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING AND DID NOTHING TO PREVENT IT. Of course by that point they’ll be dead anyway, denying us the chance to murder them all in their sleep. Which is just typical.
And if we’re talking about music (let’s not get too murder-y quite yet), how about the cultural lockdown imposed by the Boomers and their self-imposed arbiters of taste? Any establishment list of “greatest songs” or “greatest albums” features a surfeit released between 1965 and 1978, “when music was good”. In the New Zealand context, the recognised canon consists almost entirely of stuffy Boomer-approved dad rock. No, Dave Dobbyn and The Finn Brothers(TM), I don’t want to listen to your nonsense lyrics and hokey melodies. Give me Mountaineater any day.
While we’re on the subject, how about the long-standing, racist rejection of hip hop as a legitimate musical genre? Granted, being anti-(white)establishment was kind of the point, and whenever old people try to like hip hop they just end up looking patronising and/or desperate, but the reasons trotted out to legitimise the cultural snobbery are thin at best. Oh, it’s misogynistic! Wait, didn’t Led Zep sing “soul of a woman was created below” and “way down inside honey you need it” and spend their heyday raping underage groupies?
But back to my super-awkward dinner with my parents. “Yes, our generation has dealt you a bad hand,” they spluttered through their naans. “But not all Baby Boomers are responsible for that. You can’t tar us all with that brush.” I love my parents and, mixed metaphors aside, they’re right: not all Baby Boomers, just as #notallmen and #notallwhitepeople. As anybody should know by now, these are not good arguments—group politics don’t stop being relevant just because some people deviate from an overall trend, or don’t consciously perpetrate the injustices from which they benefit.
Because we are talking about group politics and group injustices here. “Generation” is more than just a lazy term invented by amateur sociologists to make sweeping statements about “the youth of today”. Generations are real. They’re real because the environment young people are raised in changes over time, and therefore so do people; they’re real because people have, at various points, chosen to identify as members of particular “generations” in order to advance their interests against other “generations”. At this latter tactic the Boomers have been masters, leveraging their demographic size to engage in a decades-long redistribution of wealth and cultural capital to themselves, at the expense of their own children, rationalising the whole time. Progress is inevitable. What we’re doing is right. We are the chosen generation.
God damnit fuck, I fucking hate Baby Boomers.