Last month I introduced a new post format celebrating a member or group of members of the Silent Generation who are still making an impact on the world today. I’ve also posted in the past about how that generation is still powerful in our society, even though they are deep into elderhood. Perhaps this is a consequence of greater average longevity, or perhaps it is just a pattern of history that repeats sometimes. With the wielding of power in mind, the subject of this week’s post will be the Silents in the United States Congress.
The Silent generation currently comprises 9% of the Senate, and 4.6% of the House. Reflecting the partisan makeup of the two chambers, they are mostly Republican in the Senate, and mostly Democratic in the House. Their number includes the two Congressional leaders – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (b. 1942) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (b. 1940). The latter is the highest ranking elected woman in United States history, highlighting her generation’s connection with the feminist movement and with the advancement of women in American life. Other prominent names among them are Diane Feinstein (b. 1933), Maxine Waters (b. 1938) and Bernie Sanders (b. 1941) – with Sanders being possibly the Democratic party’s best hope of winning the Presidency in 2020.
It’s interesting how the three most dominant Congressional Silents are stand-ins for the factions that exist in such unyielding tension in U.S. politics today. Sanders is the great hope of the Progressives, who want to reshape the American system, tilting it back in favor of the struggling 99 percent. Understandably, he tends to be popular with the younger cohorts. Pelosi represents the old guard Neoliberals, who think the current system is sustainable, maybe with some tweaking, but let’s not rock the boat and ruin our 401Ks. McConnell meanwhile is the obstructionist enabler of the Nationalists, who are selling protectionism and fossil fuel extraction, and trying to turn the country into a wealthy Third World dictatorship.
The thing is, the Silent generation always plays by the rules, and as long as they are at the top the tension among the factions will remain fundamentally unresolved. When they are finally gone is when the rules will really reset, change will accelerate, and it might get pretty scary. There’s no way to avoid this reckoning, but since the change may not be in the direction you want, it might be good to enjoy this generation while we still have them.
Last weekend I went to Manhattan to catch up with my BFF, who was already there for a conference. It’s the greatest city in the world, and I love to go there and feel the energy of the teeming masses and all the things there are to see and do. But mainly the plan was to see a show. You know what I mean: a Broadway show.
We saw two, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. What we do is go to Times Square where there is a booth to get discount tickets. You won’t get to see a show that is selling out this way, but there are enough options to find something you are interested in, and the tickets will be about 50% off. I got to pick the shows this time, because my BFF was so busy.
Saturday’s show was Waitress, a reliably fun and romantic romp through the life of a working girl whose dreams are grander than her circumstances. These productions know how to tug on your heart strings, and take you on an emotional ride – up and down like a roller coaster. TV and movies can do the same thing, but live theater is much more powerful. The experience leaves me enervated, but during the show I feel my whole being expanding with joy, from the center.
What I’m feeling is my heart chakra blossoming open. That’s the central of the seven chakras – there are three below it and three above. Theater, done right, connects you to the emotional core of your being. It makes you care. Yes, about something fictional, but in doing so it has healing power. Mushy romance to stir up your heart is vital to living a long and healthy life. I highly recommend it.
Sunday’s show was King Kong. Which we absolutely love, and in fact we were seeing it for the second time. It is not as emotional a show as Waitress, but it is wondrous because of the skillful puppetry. It also has a standout performance from the lead, whose acting brings the great beast to life. I believe you have about a week to go see it before it closes.
But even if you miss it, at least get out there somewhere and see something romantic. Or even just watch it on TV. Your heart and soul will be grateful. Namaste.
I walked into a weird little store in Cleveland a few weeks ago, and saw this book. I think I was drawn to it because of all the apocalypse culture in my life lately, so I bought the book. It turns out to be an autobiographical account of two years in the life of the author in the late 1960s. The author, Marco Vassi, is Silent Generation (b. 1937) and what he did in those two years is leave New York City for the West Coast, mainly San Francisco and environs, where he was caught up in the student revolution and hippie life in general.
The book beautifully captures the spirit of an Awakening social era. The author is searching for a new way of life, seeking to defy social conventions and live spontaneously in the moment. He wanders from scene to scene, never staying with one particular group of people in one particular place for very long. All the familiar baggage of the 60s is there in the account – drugs, orgiastic sex, weird cults and communes – even the Grateful Dead. Vassi writes well, and is clearly very intelligent and well educated, describing his wild and decadent experiences with literary flair.
It is astonishing to read this book, describing real life events (we must assume) from fifty years ago, in light of the current hashtag era. It really highlights how much our society and its priorities have changed. No one today would admit to the things that Vassi does so explicitly, or even approach living with the same questioning, wandering spirit. The author’s career and reputation could not possibly survive the me too movement, but he is off the hook on that, having died from AIDS in the late 1980s. If you read the book, you’ll understand how that could have happened.
In the end, Vassi abandons his search and returns to New York and the life of a publisher. Whether in an individual or a society, there is only so long that the Awakening spirit can be maintained before sober matters of reality take over. Not that he led a particularly sober life afterwards, as you can tell from his page on Wikipedia. But I enjoyed this book as direct evidence of what life during the Consciousness Revolution was like – at least for the young adult generation.
I’ve posted earlier about the Silent Generation (b. 1925-1942) and how they are still an influence in our society. They are the eldest of the current generations, and I thought I would pay tribute to them in a new kind of post, focusing on one or a few living members of their generation at a time. I’ll call them “Silent of the Week” posts, with no claim that I will actually publish one weekly.
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing on July 20, 1969, the first Silents to be featured are the crew of the Apollo missions. Those missions were the culmination of the American High, led by the energy and ambition of the Greatest Generation, then in power. But the tough and dangerous work was done by the young adult Silent Generation, the test pilots with the “right stuff.”
Here is a photo taken for the 50th anniversary of 8 living Apollo astronauts. All would have been in their thirties at the time of the missions – at a peak age of youth and experience. They are Charlie Duke (b. 1935), Buzz Aldrin (b. 1930), Walter Cunningham (b. 1932), Al Worden (b. 1932), Rusty Schweickart (b. 1935), Harrison Schmitt (b. 1935), Michael Collins (b. 1930) and Fred Haise (b. 1933).
Now octogenarians, these men have a simple role in American society today – as revered icons of a glorious past. They make sporadic appearances in the pop culture, more so in the past week because of the anniversary. For example, Michael Collins narrated a recent Google doodle animation about the Apollo 11 mission. But for the most part, they are resting on their laurels – and who from a younger generation can match them in the daring of their accomplishment?
These men really were from a different age, and just to remind us of the generation gap, here’s a viral video you may have seen already. It shows Buzz Aldrin encountering an obnoxious conspiracy nut, and giving him a taste of old fashioned values.
My BFF and I started watching The Walking Dead again after a long hiatus. She just couldn’t stand the show any more after a certain something happened at the start of Season 7 (if you watch the show you know what I mean). And so we stopped watching it. But in time she was ready to get back to it, and we have watched all of Season 7 and are now in the middle of Season 8.
When I watch this show, I can’t help but think of how Gen X it is. The main characters are almost entirely from our generation or from the Millennial generation. There is a smattering of characters from older gens, but they tend not to last, and there are some token kid characters with no real story arc. The Gen Xers are always in charge of the different groups, and have to become ruthless enforcers and daring opportunists, always thinking on their feet and doing whatever it takes for the group to survive. The Millennials meanwhile are the hopeful and idealistic ones, whom the Gen Xer leaders are protecting. What stung so much about the opening of Season 7 was that one of the nicest Millennial characters was brutally murdered. As my BFF put it, “they killed the heart of the show.” That made it hard to care about the series any more.
So on the show, each Gen X leader has their own unique way of leading, giving each group or community its own culture and political structure. The show ends up exploring questions of politics like what gives a ruler the right to rule, or how do you balance the needs of the many with the needs of the few. In fact, when one of our boys was taking a civics class and trying to understand the concept of “rule of law,” I used an example from the show to explain it to him.
There was one not very nice group in an earlier season that had a rule where if you saw something before anyone else and called out “claim” then it was yours. I explained how even the leader had to follow this rule; if one of the others called “claim” on something really nice, the leader couldn’t use his position to trump the subordinate and take that thing from him. If the leader acted that way, this basic rule that held the group together wouldn’t work any more, and the group would fall apart. That was the idea of “rule of law” – the law has priority over the whims of the politicians. This applies even in the very simple polity of a group of people banding together for survival after a zombie apocalypse.
What’s ironic about this show that explores politics being a Gen X show is that Gen X has actually eschewed political involvement our whole lives. It’s like we would only do politics if absolutely forced into it, as would be the case if civilization collapsed. In fact, it seems like Generation X has been waiting for the collapse – it’s our expectation after being told since childhood that the world is doomed. The popularity of end of the world shows like The Walking Dead is a manifestation of our yearning to see it all just go to hell.
I’ve even seen bumper stickers like the one above. You probably have too. We really do want to stand on the sidelines and watch the world burn. We don’t want to choose between the lesser of two evils – we want all the evil to come out all at once. We want to find out how we would handle it. We want the ultimate freedom of a lawless world where the winner takes all ethos prevails. Because that is just so Generation X.
Hence our society’s apocalyptic mood, our deep sense of foreboding that we express in this dark genre of entertainment. We are in a fin de siècle phase of history – the American century is coming to a close, and there’s no telling what come next. Possibly the Pax Americana is coming to an end as well. For some Americans, the wound to the pride has been too much.
Politics is driven by resentment. Long festering problems of economic insecurity and environmental degradation may have grown to the point of insolubility. It might seem that the only way out at this point is cataclysmic and violent change. To cut the Gordian Knot you need the sharp edge of a sword. Or a zombie apocalypse.
But remember it is the cycle that is coming to an end, not the world. Zombies are a fantasy. War, plague, climate change – those are real but of course we can survive them all. As we have before. History is inexorable and will take us into the next cycle whether we’re ready for it or not. We don’t get an escape hatch in the form of utter destruction. This craving for the end of the world is a cop out.
Consider the Greek roots of the word apocalypse: apo- ‘un-’ + kaluptein ‘to cover’. To uncover, to reveal. As in Revelations. The apocalypse is not a violent end, it is a moment of truth. It is the moment when the facade is swept away and the stark reality underneath is exposed, and we have to finally face the problems we have been putting off. It is happening now, shaking up and realigning our politics, pitting group against group.
Generation X can help lead us through this conflict. It won’t be the sci-fi extravaganza we have spent our lives fantasizing about. It will be a messy, mundane effort to reconstruct our teetering old political institutions to deal with life in the new century. And I hope that what prevails is a community built on the principles of one of the good groups from The Walking Dead – one that is fair and kind and inclusive. One that taps into, to quote Abraham Lincoln, “the better angels of our nature.”
But we can’t avoid the reckoning. We can’t avoid getting involved, hoping that it’s all just going to end. Not my generation, not any generation alive today can escape the future. We must face, without fear, the world that is bound to come.
I’ve posted a couple of times lately about the Homelanders, the current child generation. I am going to jump way up the age ladder now, and take a look at a generation that is well into elderhood, but still influential in our society. I am talking about the Silent Generation – the generation that was born between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.
There is actually some awareness of their existence, so you may have encountered references to them before. Just think about it like this – the Greatest Generation fought World War II – they were young adults by then. The Baby Boom came after that – they were the kids born after the war. Well, someone had to be kids during World War II, right? That’s the Silent Generation.
Before I go further, let me present the birth years that I am using for each generation, based on the theory which I study.
Silent Generation: 1925-1942
Boomer Generation: 1943-1960
Generation X: 1961-1981
Millennial Generation: 1982-2004
Homeland Generation: 2005-202?
Based on these birth years, members of the Silent Generation today are between the ages of 76 and 94. And there are still people in that age bracket who are powerful in society. Two notable examples are Mitch McConnell (b. 1942) and Nancy Pelosi (b. 1940) in the U.S. Congress. Arguably, through their leadership of their respective parties, they are sustaining the pattern of partisanship and deadlock that began with the Gingrich revolution 25 years ago.
What’s truly amazing about the Silent Generation in politics is that the top two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020 are from their generation. That would be Joe Biden (b 1942) and Bernie Sanders (b. 1941). At least they represent different wings of their party. And considering that this generation has never had a President, it would be an historic event indeed if either of the two men were to be nominated and then win the general election.
Another group of powerful Silents are the billionaire investors, sometimes associated with the corruption of politics and conspiracy theories about dark money controlling the government. Depending on the conspiracy theory, they may serve either major political party, or perhaps just use them both as pawns. The most infamous examples would be George Soros (b. 1930) and Charles (b. 1935) and David Koch (b. 1940).
Two notable Silent billionaire investors are in the list of top ten wealthiest people on the planet – Warren Buffett (b. 1930) and Michael Bloomberg (b. 1942). I’ve named the most prominent wealthy businessmen of this generation, but many others still enjoy positions of power – if not name recognition – as C-level executives or corporate board members.
The presence of the Silent Generation in the top echelons of government and business could be part of the reason for the sense of long drawn-out and unresolved crisis in our society. In many ways we are still living in the regime of their generation. Special interests control the legislature, government action is stalled, true reform is impossible, and inequality gets worse as the country continues to slide in global standings.
This is the way things have been going for decades. But it actually hasn’t been bad – for the Silent Generation. The inequality in our country is in part generational. So we could hardly expect that generation to be the ones to instigate reform, when they are benefiting from the status quo. All of this takes on special meaning in light of the Democratic primaries with its large number of contenders spanning a vast age range.
I don’t mean to be resentful of the Silent Generation, just to make a point about generationally-driven social change. In a future post I’ll write about the Silent Generation in film and entertainment, where they are also still making waves.
In a recent blog post I mentioned three films featuring the Homeland Generation (b. 2005-202?). They are all great films which I enjoyed very much, and I thought I would give a little more detail and quick reviews about each one.
The first one is the best of the three films, 2017’s The Florida Project. A young girl lives with her mother in a motel somewhere near Disney World. They are poor, getting by through means semi-licit or worse. Despite this life on the economic fringes, the girl finds joy in her simple life of carefree play with her friends. When trouble brews, the ragtag denizens of the motel generally look out for each other. The Magic Kingdom is there in the background, but what is the true paradise – the artificial construct of middle-class America, or the innocent heart of a child? This poignant film will make you wonder.
The next film is about a girl whose circumstances are even starker than living in a motel. In 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, a girl and her father dwell deep in the swampland of the Louisiana coast, part of an eclectic group of squatters in a community called “The Bathtub.” Their impoverishment is just a backdrop for a tale that takes on mythic proportions and features some thrilling fantastical elements. When her life and home are disrupted, the girl must search for her past to find the courage to face her future. The movie ends with a note of confidence that, much like the child’s imagination, seems out of touch with reality.
Finally, there is What Maisie Knew, also from 2012. This is a retelling of a story from the late 1800s that was written by Henry James, about a girl whose parents are divorced. They share custody, but are both irresponsible, and eventually the girl finds a safer haven in the guardians who are entrusted with her care. The movie changes the story a little bit, and is also set in contemporary times. As such, it presents an anomalous portrait of how children are raised today. The parents are acting like parents from the 1970s, not those of the 2010s. It’s still a very touching film, and I thought it brought out some Homelander traits in the girl character, particularly her compassion for others.
Three films about Homelanders that are highly recommended. You may have noticed that they are all about girls. Where are the boys of this generation represented? Perhaps we will see those films in the future. I will write more about girls versus boys growing up in a future blog post.
The rest of the family is on vacation at Knoebels this week. I would have joined them, but I couldn’t afford to take the time off; not with another vacation coming up in July. So instead I will work, and at the end of the day get back to binge-watching The OA on Netflix.
If you subscribe to streaming video, which you probably do, and if you live in a family, which you might, then you are familiar with the following pattern. If you start to binge-watch a show with a certain subset of the people in your family, then you can’t continue to watch episodes until all the people in that particular group are together again. So you end up with one show that you watch with one family member, a different one to watch with another family member, and a third show that you watch when all three of you are together.
And then you have series to watch when you are alone, or everyone else is busy. For me, it’s been The OA, an imaginative and drawn-out sci-fi/fantasy thriller. It has a little bit in common with the mini-series Maniac – what is it with Millennials and shows about being experimented on? It’s basically a genre – fantastical sci-fi where Millennials are tested, evaluated, rated, categorized – going all the way back to Harry Potter. Is this really how they’ve felt their whole lives?
Another kind of show you might have is one with short episodes to watch while enjoying a meal. The convenience of the streaming format really shines in this context; you’re home from work, you’re eating dinner, you want a 20 minute episode to watch, and there’s practically an endless supply of them available. For me lately, assuming it’s just me, the show I’ve been watching at dinner has been Rick and Morty. The girl has no interest at all in it, and the boys have seen all the episodes multiple times already.
That show is on Hulu. Yes, I pay for both Hulu and Netflix, and then of course there is Amazon Prime. I’m amazed that I am able to keep up as well as I do with which show is on which service. Even paying for all three still costs less than cable. And there are no ads. Who wouldn’t cut the cord?
Finally, there is another mode of binge-watching which you might have experienced – re-watching a series with someone who hasn’t seen it so you can enjoy their reactions to it. I remember how much fun it was to re-binge-watch (that’s a word now) Stranger Things with my mom and sisters during a weekend visit – just because they hadn’t seen it yet. And the girl and I have binge-watched old TV shows from her childhood that I missed – Dark Shadows for example. And I do mean the 1960s version – another awesome thing about the streaming era is how much old film and TV is available.
All of this just goes to show that I watch too much TV. I watch it like I’m running out of time, but as the girl reminds me, there is no way I will watch it all before I die. But I will try at least to watch all the sci-fi. 😀
I’m re-reading one of my old sci fi books that was published in 1972. There is this xeno-anthropoligist on another planet that was colonized by Earth, and he is looking for the original humanoid lifeforms that were supposedly on the planet but no one has seen for a few generations. But what’s great is that when he is inventorying his equipment as he sets out on his expedition, he includes tape recorders. And film for his camera.
Because the author did not predict that neither tape nor film would be used any more in the near future, long before humans ever colonize another planet. Assuming we ever do, though I suppose I shouldn’t make any assumptions there. Who knows what technological change awaits us, and how different our world will be decades to come? After all, no one predicted the ubiquitous smart phone, at least not in the form that it exists today.
Science fiction ends up with these fun kinds of anachronisms because of its efforts to extrapolate the unknown future from the known present. It ends up overconfident about some trends, and misses others completely. My favorite anachronism from sci-fi is from the movie A.I. which is set in a future after the ocean levels rise. In a scene where the main characters fly into the submerged city of Manhattan, the World Trade Center twin towers are visible, jutting out of the water.
Because the film was released just before the destruction of the twin towers. That’s something that actually happened, though the oceans have been slow to rise up to the point of submerging our coastal skylines, if they ever do. There is even something of a double anachronism in this depiction, in that the short story on which the film is based was published before the twin towers were raised, and so would not have been a part of the story originally. They appear in the movie as a strangely out of time anomaly.
For more ruminations on this, check out this older blog post of mine. Meanwhile, I will keep re-reading my old sci-fi books, and enjoying the anachronistic details. Which honestly are incidental, since sci-fi is really about humanity confronting itself, trying to understand its place in time.
When one reads in online media about the generations that are alive today, it is most typically a story contrasting the Baby Boomers with the up and coming Millennials. Sometimes my generation, Generation X, gets a mention. In other blog posts, I have referred to the Silent Generation. You may even have read about the post-Millennial Generation Z, usually said to have been born starting some time in the late 1990s.
Clearly some generation must follow the Millennials, but I have my doubts about the Gen-Z concept. In the generational theory which I study, the next generation, still in childhood, is called the Homeland generation. This name was coined early in the century, around the time that the Department of Homeland Security was instituted in response to 9/11. The name evokes the idea of a country entering protective mode, and of a generation that is sequestered within it.
With the first birth year of the Homeland generation being 2005, the oldest of their members are just turning 14. What can we say about this child generation and their experience growing up in an America in crisis?
The Homeland generation has clearly been the beneficiary of the restoration of the American family that began when Millennials started being born in the 1980s. The era of rising protection of children has reached its apex; children are now completely ensconced within the family unit. You can see it online in social media with the endless stream of posts of happy families headed by Gen-X parents – and, increasingly, by Millennial parents.
Protective child nurturing has reached the point that there is are hints of concern that overprotection has gone too far. But despite memes extolling the free-wheeling child rearing of days past, there is little sign of the protection relenting. Instead, in a shift away from the way that Millennials were raised, Homelanders are being taught not so much that they are special and unique, as that they must learn to fit in and to get along with others. It’s a trend propelled by concern for the perceived negative consequences of being a social misfit in a time of rising suicide rates and mass shootings, or of standing out in an era of social media scrutiny.
Homelanders, in fact, are the first generation to have their entire lives documented on social media. It starts when they are still in the womb, with sonograms posted by excited expecting couples. Then comes a flurry of adorable toddler posts, capturing every precious moment. Once they hit school age, there is a mandatory start of the school year portrait for every grade from kindergarten on. My favorite indicator on social media of the centrality of family in American life, and the Homelander generation’s comfortable place within it, is the themed costume group photos that come out every Halloween.
It seems to me like Homelanders are always on exhibit. If not as the trophies of proud parents and grandparents, there are two prevalent ways in which Homelanders are put on display. One is the viral video featuring a toddler in some moment of discovery or precious and adorable behavior. Follow this link for a great example.
The other prevalent way that Homelanders are put on display is in the role of victims, as object lessons about the failures of our society. Movies like The Florida Project and Beasts of the Southern Wild portray young children in trying circumstances, on the economic fringes American life. Another example, What Maisie Knew, warns of the follies of the affluent and the damage that divorce and neglect do to a child.
The Homelanders who are truly on the fringes of American life are the undocumented migrants – their status raises doubts that they even belong to the homeland at all. The political left has made ample use of images of their tribulations to protest immigration policy. One photo of a crying toddler being processed by immigration authorities has become an iconic representation of these suffering innocents, caught on the edges of a fragmented society that is, with difficulty, trying to group itself back together.
In conclusion, the Homelander experience is reflective of the needs and priorities of their Gen-X and Millennial parents – to restore family stability, and to provide a controlled and safe environment for child nurture within a society that feels out of control and unsafe. With these goals in mind, children are being taught that rather than stand out, they should fit in. Rather than express emotions, they should manage emotions.
This is the opposite of how Generation X was raised half a century ago, at a time when family stability was not a priority, and parents sought to provide a free environment within a society that felt overly controlled and limiting. The reversal is a response by Gen-X, conscious of the failings their generation has faced as a consequence of lax parenting. Today’s parents will surely make there own mistakes, as all parents do, taking on what is the most difficult of all human endeavors. They will take things too far, and so set up the course corrections that will lead to another shift in how children are raised, for a new generation yet to be born.
To end this post on a positive note, here is a wonderful example of an adorable young Homelander viral video. These kids are our future.