The generation that fought World War II is, thanks to Tom Brokaw, now known as “The Greatest Generation.”
If his great grandson writes a book about Baby Boomers, what would the title of that book be? How will our generation be remembered?
Perhaps history will term us “The Kindest Generation,” for we certainly cared more for social causes than had previous generations. We tackled and for the most part were successful in improving the positions of the less powerful—blacks, women, gays, and the handicapped. It’s not clear exactly why we took on these challenges. Perhaps it was because we enjoyed an unprecedented era of prosperity and simply had the resources to do so. Or maybe it was just time. Every issue has its day, e.g., improvements in rights for black people seem to move in hundred year increments. Maybe our generation was just in the right time and place for a little kindness.
Maybe we’ll go down as “The Coolest Generation.” Certainly generations before us had “cool,” but it was typically confined to small subsets of the population, e.g., musicians and artists. We were the first generation to democratize cool. During the jazz era, there were many in the population who wouldn’t be caught dead listening to that “negro music.” But there’s no Baby Boomer that doesn’t listen to rock and roll, and probably none that doesn’t own a pair of jeans or think of themselves as “with it.” Surely no generation has tried to hang on to cool for as long as we have, at least in terms of paying exorbitant tickets prices to see ancient rockers rasp and creak their way across the stage. We’ve also spent our fair share on trying to keep ourselves looking cool through cosmetic surgery and pharmaceutical attempts to cheat the aging process. Of course, the Pharmacological Generation has a ring to it, too.
Of course, history may see our insistence on hanging on to our own fashions and culture and refusing to age as something that makes us “The Self-Centered Generation.” It’s amusing to see covers of Time magazine calling current young people the “Me” generation. Really? The only reason we think they’re the “me” generation is because they aren’t all about “us.” How dare they want their own music on commercials? Who do they think they are? Certainly our belief that we deserve everything we want is pervasive (“Eat, Love, Pray” anyone?). (Indeed, the idea that we get to name ourselves is a little self-centered to begin with.)
Perhaps we’ll go down as “The Silliest Generation.” And not silly in a good way of “joyful and carefree,” but silly in a bad way of “naïve and trivial.” After all, it’s hard to imagine anything sillier and more trivial than thinking that a few mass demonstrations would end war, or that a concert or two would solve world hunger, or stop economic forces like mechanization of farms in their tracks. We were the generation that thought that massive, intractable problems could be solved in a weekend with a party, like Live Aid or Farm Aid, etc. If they can’t, like climate change or the growing prosperity gap, why we simply pretend they don’t exist. “La, la, la, la—I can’t hear you.”
It’s possible we’ll be seen as “The Fractured Generation,” at least here in the U.S. It’s hard to remember a generation with more passionate factions and less interest in compromise. Although that’s one where our perspective may be skewed. History, after all, is written by the winners. There may well have been such factions at every point in history, and looking back we don’t see it. I doubt it though. I suspect that the echo chamber created by the internet and partisan media are creating groups more insular and intractable than any we’ve seen, at least for a century or two.
I’d guess the best we can hope for is to be remembered as “The Well-intended Generation.” No, we didn’t solve poverty, hunger, war, but we cared about them enough to buy the tee-shirts. We didn’t stop racism, but we did slap people who use the “n-word” and force race-mongers to use euphemisms. We didn’t defeat Hitler, or communism, or theocratic rule, but we certainly annoyed those states that espouse centrally-planned economies and assassinated the dictators that dared mock us. So we did something. In our own kind, cool, superficial, confused, self-centered way, we tried. We really did.
Or maybe we should just go with the “Wasted Opportunity Generation.”