Last night we watched 60 Minutes, on regular broadcast television. Yes, I mean through an antenna. We don’t have cable or satellite so it’s either that or streaming (which is my preference).
We’ve started making a habit of watching this show every Sunday evening, in part because we have a family member who likes doing things the old-fashioned way. It’s like a throwback to another era – you actually have to watch the show at the scheduled time, instead of whenever you feel like it! I’ve been getting my news off the Internet for years, and it’s refreshing to go back to this old format.
One of the segments was an interview with the Minneapolis Chief of Police, about the George Floyd killing, protests and police reform. The interviewer was Lesley Stahl (b. 1941), who has been a 60 Minutes correspondent since 1991. You could say she is the last of the old guard, certainly one of the last of her generation still prominent in journalism.
Stahl’s career took off when she covered the Watergate scandal as a young reporter. She’s been at CBS most of her life, and for most of that time with 60 minutes – the sort of career longevity that characterizes the Silent Generation, in contrast to younger ones. And she’s certainly in her element, lending gravitas to a profession that in many ways has been hollowed out in an age of sensationalism and misinformation.
My most recent Silent of the Week posts featured Democratic politicians, as the two stories that dominated the beginning of the year were impeachment and the Democratic primaries. That’s all on the wayside now, with the COVID-19 pandemic taking over news feeds. The crisis has thrust numerous leaders into the limelight, with some reputations faring well, and others not so well.
A highly credentialed physician and immunologist, Fauci has had a long career in the Federal government. He has been at the forefront of government policy and research involving epidemics, such as HIV/AIDS and Ebola, as well as bioterrorism. He has been in his current role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since the 1980s, serving under many Presidential administrations.
A long and distinguished career as a specialist mark him as a member of his generation, whose legacies include expertise and working within the system. Another legacy of his generation is acting as a tempering influence on the volatile personalities of the Boomers who came after them. And boy does he have that work cut out for him now, as evidenced by a recent meme of him face palming during a task force press conference.
For giving us hope that there is at least someone intelligent with expertise working within the White House in this most desperate time, and for valiantly continuing his long service under this most feckless of administrations, I name Anthony Fauci my Silent of the Week.
Silents of the Week: Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.
Well, after all that, the Democratic primaries have come down to two members of the Silent Generation. I’m a little disappointed in the Democratic party electorate; I was really hoping they would go with someone younger, given all those choices. I know that sounds ageist, but it’s not that I’m against old white men (I plan to be one some day). I just think the Democratic party needs to represent transformative change; it needs to look to the future. Rallying around a politician from the oldest living generation, who served in a previous administration, is looking to the past. It speaks of an electorate that is afraid. I can understand why people are afraid, but don’t we remember that fear is the killer? That fear itself is the greatest danger?
At least Elizabeth Warren, my personal choice, although she is 70 years old is at least a Boomer. That’s the generation that should be providing us with a champion on the left to fight against the reactionary politics of the Trumpian right. But alas, it is not to be.
I hope one of these two guys is up to the task. I’ll choose Sanders in the primary, and whichever one wins the nomination will get my #NeverTrump vote. And for coming out on top on Super Tuesday, and showing that their generation just won’t quit, I name Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden the Silents of the week.
I’ve written in the past about how the Silent Generation (b. 1925-1942) has held onto power for a long time in the United States, and how their influence has contributed in many ways to the kind of slow burn that characterizes our current Crisis Era. The old political regime, with its special interests and its money corruption, is associated with this generation and its long tenure. There are even two members of the Silent Generation running for President…
Oh wait, make that three! Almost as if to rub the corruption of politics by money in our collective faces, along comes Michael Bloomberg (b. 1942) to crash the Presidential race. He’s the 9th richest human in the world (Donald Trump is only the 715th) and a hero of 9/11, so why shouldn’t he flex his muscle in this era of populist strongmen? So what if he’s been a little racist and sexist in his past – that didn’t stop the current White House inhabitant from getting where he is today.
If you haven’t cut the cord, then you are probably going to see a lot of ads for this guy’s candidacy in the months to come. And you are also probably old, which means you might be in the demographic that Bloomer is trying to reach. That Sanders guy might be too scary radical for you, and Biden – well, that whole Ukraine thing…
Personally, I hope Bloomberg’s candidacy turns out to be history’s most expensive flash in the pan. But I have to give him this one post just for the sheer chutzpah of what he is doing – shoehorning his way into the wrong primary (since his party is a cult now) to try to transmute his personal fortune into political power, and prove to us that oligarchic plutocracy is here to stay. Money can’t buy you love, but it just might be able to buy you a Presidency.
For his thrilling debut on the stage of the Democratic debates, and the promise of much more media coverage to come, I name Michael Bloomberg the Silent of the Week.
Who is the most powerful woman in the United States today? It’s not Hillary Clinton, whose fortunes peaked a few years ago; we all know the story of her rise and fall. No, according to Forbes, those consummate rankers of the wealthy and powerful, it is none other than Nancy Pelosi (b.1940), Speaker of the House and highest ranking elected official in U.S. history. She is seven years older than Baby Boomer Clinton, and from an earlier generation – the Silent Generation.
Taking a look at the Forbes lists over the years, it’s interesting to note that most of the American woman on it are C-level executives in the private sector. Other countries have their Chancellors and Prime Ministers, but the U.S. has its CEOs and COOs – reflecting perhaps the entrepreneurial bent of American society, or perhaps its failing in never having elected a woman to the Presidency. When government officials do make the list, they are usually in the executive branch, which makes Pelosi’s appearance as a member of the House of Representatives all the more remarkable.
Of course, she is no ordinary Representative. She is the first woman to hold the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives, and in fact the first woman to lead a party caucus in the United States Congress (which she has done since 2003). That would actually make her the only woman to have achieved this. She has held her seat since 1987, representing the city and county of San Francisco, and one key to her success is that she has one of the safest seats in Congress for Democrats.
Now, that’s not to downplay her merits as a politician and a leader. She’s has been very effective at guiding her caucus in a time of intense partisan warfare, and was an instrumental part of its major achievement in this era – the Affordable Care Act. Now she leads the Democrats in their first year with a Congressional majority in the Trump era, following the 2018 mid-term elections – and this after weathering opposition from within her own party.
Standing atop the Democrats’ only hold on power in the United States government, Pelosi’s primary accomplishment has been persisting in the face a hostile Senate and an unpredictable and disgracefully immature President. Her way of handling Trump is patient and resolute, like an exasperated mother dealing with a troublesome child. It’s summed up in an image of her that went viral during the 2019 State of the Union address, when he made comments about the need for unity and she rewarded him with a hand clap. If her applause was mocking in any way, surely Trump’s comments were just as insincere.
Pelosi has never lost track of the seriousness of our current state of affairs, and of her responsibility as leader of the House, and undoubtedly will be most remembered by history for her decision to impeach President Trump following revelations that he abused the power of his office in an attempt to influence the upcoming elections. It’s a decision she delayed longer than some might have wished, but in her role the choice was hers to make, and her timing may prove to be the wisest in the end. In deciding to proceed with the impeachment, she has restored honor to a troubled U.S. government. Whatever the outcome of the upcoming trial, I am grateful to her for her leadership, and to her generation – the Silent generation – for sticking around to help us deal with those obstreperous Baby Boomers.
Nancy Pelosi was already included in my “Silent of the Week” post covering Congressional leadership. In light of recent events, and with Forbes naming her the most powerful woman in America, I hereby declare Nancy Pelosi 2019’s Silent of the Year.
As a Gen-X film idolater, my two favorite genres of film are science fiction and crime drama. The latter in particular is something like a hallowed tradition in the field – just think of how many of the great classics are crime movies. It might have something to do with the film industry’s strong ties to the United States of America, a country which has long glorified crime and violence.
So for this week’s Silent in the spotlight, I choose Martin Scorsese (b. 1942), who has directed some of the greatest crime movies that ever entertained my generation. He’s been at it since the 1970s and is still going strong, and I’m just going to focus in this post on his film directing career. You can tell how much he has influenced people my age by this homage, by avant-garde rock band King Missile, to Scorsese and all of his excellent films:
And this is just up until 1993, before Casino! There’s been so much since then, including his contribution to the genre of good Nick Cage movies (Bringing Out the Dead) and his huge list of collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio, which started with Gangs of New York, then continued with The Aviator and his award-winning masterpiece, The Departed.
But wait, that’s just his films from before the Great Financial Crisis! Since then, he has directed all of these excellent films: Shutter Island, Hugo (proving that it’s not all crime and violence with this guy), The Wolf of Wall Street, and Silence.
You might think it couldn’t get any better, but now he’s coming out with what might be the perfect crime movie. Showing that his generation is always keeping up with the latest trends, he is teaming up with streaming giant Netflix to produce The Irishman. It features a cast of cream of the crop crime movie actors, and covers one of the most well-known stories in the history of the mafia – the disappearance of teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. It’s like the 1970s will never die – certainly not as long as the Silent Generation is still around.
Silents of the Week: the Cast of Grace and Frankie
Undoubtedly, the Silent Generation has made a huge impact in the field of arts and entertainment. Their careers go back to the Golden Age of film and to the dawn of the TV era. For my generation, which was weaned on television, they were the young actors of the sit coms and dramas to which we were first addicted as children.
So it is amazing to me today, after we have evolved past the convergence of TV and the Internet and into the streaming era, that their generation still has its own television show. That’s right, I’m talking about Grace and Frankie on Netflix. Every one of the four actors in the roles of the two comically disordered couples is from the Silent Generation: that would be Martin Sheen (b. 1940), Sam Waterston (b. 1940), Lily Tomlin (b. 1939), and Jane Fonda (b. 1937).
Now, it’s true that the show is produced by Boomers and the lead characters are probably meant to be parodies of Boomers, but the Silent personality still comes out. The characters are neurotic and confused, the tone warm and humane. The show is about elders opening up, pushing boundaries, and staying hip with the latest social trends and language – in the 2010s!
Grace and Frankie is the swan song of a generation that has managed to keep itself relevant through over half a century of social change. It is a reminder of the long-reaching effects of the transformative time of their youth – embodied in part in the family dynamic with the main characters’ quirky Gen-X adult children. The plot may be contrived, the writing clichéd and predictable, but the show is always fun.
We’re in the middle of the fifth season and we like the show almost as much as these guys do:
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.
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.