Like anyone who taps out stories, my premises inform my writing. I leave many premises in the background but, when writing historical fiction, it’s important I’m on the same page - so to speak - with my readers. In that vein, some premises need brought to the forefront like the American Renaissance from my previous blog entry. Another premise that I not only believe but have my characters expound on is the two halves of what demographers call the Baby Boomers.
A couple sociologists already pointed out the split in the Boomer Generation. I didn’t plan on a blog entry until I saw television specials that lumped all Boomers together after Michelle Obama turned fifty. In these specials they talked how the younger Boomers (like Michelle and I) didn’t participate in the generation’s shaping events but “watched and learned”. I beg to differ and I’m adding my voice to the discussion.
I may be breaking new ground but I need to acknowledge sociologists: Morris Massey for What You Are Is Where You Were When and Gail Sheehy for New Passages. Massey makes the point that the world we “come of age in” makes a strong imprint in our value system. Gail was the first I’d run into to call out the myth of the homogeneous Boomer Generation as well as defining 1955 as the birth year break-point between “Vietnam Era Boomers” and those who followed.
Although I grew up recoiling from the seventies malaise in the US, I only thought about generational differences when I stumbled onto James Michener’s novel The Drifters. Here was a novel that described a country being torn apart by the Vietnam War. It was fascinating but also apparent that the visceral choices of that generation weren't mine. The heroes and voices of that generation weren't mine. There was something different going on than what the demographic post-war birth bubble suggested. I’m going to use fifteen – seventeen year generational spans and, in interests of space, jump to it:
The Greatest Generation – came through the Depression and won World War II. John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Gordon Moore, Bob Noyce, James Michener, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, John Glenn and many others are members of this world-beating generation.
The Vietnam Era Boomers – born 1936 – 1954 – iconoclastic and vocal, felt betrayed when the hope of Camelot turned into the horror of assassinations and Vietnam. Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Bob Dylan, Bill & Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Colin Powell, Norman Schwarzkopf, Andy Grove, Bill O’Reilly, and Stephen King are a few members of this large and influential generation.
The Phoenix Generation (my title – Gail calls them the Me Generation) – born 1955 – 1969 – came of age during the seventies “terminal decline” and sought to reverse it. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Barack & Michelle Obama, John Grisham, Tom Hanks, Spike Lee, Denis Leary, Michael Jackson, Kevin Spacey, Meg Ryan, Tony Hawk, and yours truly are members of this generation.
Generation X – born 1970 – 1984 – children of the Vietnam Era Boomers.
Millennials – born 1985 – 1999 – children of the Phoenix Generation.
I could add a lot more names (and probably will) but there are a couple points I want to make. The most prominent is that there is a vast gap in the formative decisions of Vietnam Era boomers with the Phoenix Generation.
The Vietnam Era Boomers couldn't escape decisions on the war. Bill Clinton joined ROTC in college for the express purpose of draft deferment which later prompted the infamous “I loathe the military” letter to the ROTC head, a decorated World War II veteran. George W Bush joined the Air National Guard in hopes of not winding up in Vietnam. John McCain, son of a Navy admiral, was shot down and spent years in the Hanoi Hilton. Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda famously protested the moral basis of the war. It didn't matter who you were, the Vietnam Era Boomers had to take a stand on the war. This generation railed against the politics of the day and today look to political solutions to society's problems.
Contrast that with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Both dropped out of college with nary a thought of Vietnam. They both looked to create the future and prompted profound changes. Individualistic self-actualization is the theme in much of this generation's pursuits which started with a roar in the 1980s. It’s easy to see both why Gail called these guys the Me Generation and why many are of the celebrity culture. Much of the Phoenix Generation look to capitalistic and technology solutions to society’s problems.
Someone should do a thesis on this topic because it’s endlessly fascinating but, for my purposes, it’s enough to contrast the value imprints of the Vietnam Era Boomers with the Phoenix Generation. There’s a built in value clash between the generations that’s political in one sense but also transcends politics. The boundary area of that clash is the Good Fight I write about.