Get Off My Lawn, Old Man: Baby Boomers vs. Millennials
“The kids of today are throwing society away,” cry the Baby Boomers meanwhile the Millennial and youths are tweeting that the “olds ruined our country, our society and our planet.” Both groups are transfixed in this eternal smear campaign with each declaring the other to be morally repulsive and ignorant to their values, but this is rather ironic as each generation has been just as progressive and equally rebellious to society as the generation that came before it. Millennials and Baby Boomers aren’t even that different: they each fight for social change and justice, both create their own culture and find their own way to achieve nirvana, and neither really know where they’re going in life, yet both seek economic prosperity. Take this slightly warped political cycle for example, Ralph Nader’s five presidential candidacies have transformed into #Yeezus2016 with Kanye West jockeying for the nomination and yesterday’s oil crisis has evolved into the diesel scandal at Volkswagen – simply hippies have become hipsters. Granted certain things are indeed very different: a college diploma today is worth as much as a high school diploma was worth back then, the cost of education has risen at a rate far greater than that of inflation, and everyone walks around with cellphones in their pockets. Other than these few changes, many things have stayed the same, if maybe slightly altered in their message.
This concept of a similar central message with slight differing context is incredibly prevalent a few years ago with the Supreme Court in June of 2015 and in 1965, in both cases there was a passionate fight for the extension of human rights that many felt were not equally distributed to the public. While the recent decision to remove the Confederate flag from numerous federal buildings could be quickly paralleled to the white vs. black prejudice of the 60’s, this lacks the substance found in the heart of both the Civil Rights and LGBT Movements. It’s not racial prejudice per se, but the marginalization of minorities, and the attempt at promoting the rights of those with fewer civil liberties that has remained the same. Society had Martin Luther King and the great March on Washington in 1963, and fifty years later it had Occupy Wall Street and the epic tent cities of Zuccotti Park. While these two political movements were tied in terms of their sheer size, it’s the fight for legal recognition of the African Americans and Marriage Equality that ties these two generations together.
The Civil Rights Movement was enshrouded in a visage of non-violent peaceful protests and marches en masse with a few central leaders – MLK and Malcom X to name two of the most prominent. The huge span of time from Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts of 1955 and 1956 till the pseudo-culmination of the movement and the law surrounding it with the Civil Rights Act of 1968 speaks to the tenacity and patience of the individuals involved. In the same token this eleven-year spread is reflective of the opposition many faced from individuals and non-political figures, such as police officers and members of the KKK which led to a few violent attacks.
By comparison the LGBT movement (standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, but encompassing a far greater number of non-heteronormative or cis-gendered individuals) grips many a millennial discussion of today despite the issue predating the Civil Rights Movement. Instead of taking to sit-ins or boycotts, the youth turned their trigger fingers into Twitter fingers, blogging of the struggles faced by LGBT individuals in a “straight” world. The rise of social media has eliminated the need for sweeping protests and speeches delivered from the Lincoln Memorial by highly educated and well-respected figures rather these politically-fuelled messages can be distributed through Tumblr reblogs and Instagrams of couples showing their affection for one another. The Civil Rights Movement and Marriage Equality fight are entwined at their core with both demanding equal liberties for individuals that were otherwise kicked to the curb and shunned by society for being different. In both circumstances, Baby Boomers and Millennials, respectively rallied their own troops of like minded individuals to promote social progress and uphold a belief of the country that they believed in, that all men are created equal.
On an aside to protests and the greatness of America, the Kent State Massacre was one of the most crucial highlights of student resistance to the Vietnam War, specifically the Cambodian Campaign. This dialogue of bringing our troops home and ending the war in countries “we shouldn’t occupy” has merely shifted its war of choice from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq and the Global War on Terror. As such the youth has always opposed unnatural and unwelcome military presence abroad, regardless of whether they were listening to the Beatles or to Bieber.
Music has always been immensely cultural and emblematic of the generation of its audience with musicians like the Beatles becoming the voice for a generation and the face of youthful exuberance and the latter breaking the hearts of teenage girls. This music has been very interesting, for while some Millennials today will praise the greatness of the Rolling Stones, one simply will not find a Baby Boomer advocating for Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen.” Basically every older generation has criticized their juniors for having no taste in music and for making an utter ruckus of the culture around them. However, college kids turning up and going wild at Coachella and Burning Man are much akin to flower children popping LSD and ecstasy at Woodstock. Each festival-goer runs away for a week to surround themselves with their friends and the musicians they fawn over, all while medicated into a state of delirium. The drugs too - they simply go by different names (acid and molly respectively), but the stigma and the rationale remains the same. Both dream of escaping their surroundings and getting lost in the music, and of falling into a trance and living in the moment. Sometimes this moment extends through the night, how different is “Netflix and chill” from parking your dad’s Cadillac at the end of a quiet dirt road and seeing where you can take the night?
Roads and transportation are not superficially an encompassing element of both generations, in fact many polls and surveys will suggest that Millennials like driving less. Other studies will show that more members of the youngest generation will shun homeownership instead opting to rent for much of their lives. This is a very distorted worldview however as more youths are simply moving to bigger cities where there is no need for a car or it is fiscally impossible to buy a home. Thus the rationale for Millennials moving to New York and San Francisco is much the same as it was for Baby Boomers to move to Detroit or out to the suburbs – the hopes of economic fulfilment and creating better life for them and their family.
Defiance of the previous generation with the hopes and wills for great social action, a belief in the importance of the moment and creating culture, and seeking economic prosperity are central concepts that tie the Baby Boomers to the Millennials. While both get carried away in this façade of the musicians or issues themselves, at their core both subjects have merely shifted in context and not in substance. When Baby Boomers claim that the youngest generation is destroying society, maybe they simple don’t know, or maybe they’ve forgotten their own youth. Heck maybe even some day this generation will become just as straight-laced, stubborn, narrow-minded and seemingly unhappy as their parents.