'A Changin' For the Better

I’m a Boomer. As with any generation, it’s probably one of the defining characteristics of my life. But on most days it doesn’t seem that way. I rarely think of it. And when I do, I’m inclined to lean ever so slightly to the opinion of so many that my generation is over-hyped, overexposed and over-rated. One only need look at our two Boomer presidents for any needed dose of humility. Is that really the best we could do?

Certainly the stereotype of sex, drugs and rock and roll grew stale a long time ago. I’ll put our music up against anybody’s. Boomers produced the greatest collection of popular music in history. Not only does one never tire of listening to Cream, the Band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Laura Nyro, Neil Young, Velvet Underground and the Miracles, Marvelettes and Vandellas, but their influence is obvious in virtually all the new music of today. Rappers are simply Beats with an edge.

Boomers may have loosened up our cultural sexual mores a bit, but our notion of Free Love certainly seems tame by today’s standards. And drugs were, and are … drugs. I’ve always been one of those who were vaguely uncomfortable talking in public about drug use, caught in the fear of a “do as I say, not as I did” hypocrisy.

The generation did have its prideful moments, duly captured on the pages within. The seeds of new and more enlightened approaches toward social justice, human rights and global sustainability found roots in my generation. But we never really got as far as we thought we would, or as many believe we have. In fact, for me the most intriguing aspect of our examination of Boomers (and a great many of the readers of this magazine are Boomers) was the opportunity to consider the predictions and promise of Boomer-ness against the reality as the first of us, those born in the Boomer dawn of 1946, turn sixty and begin to retire.

For the last couple of years this prospect has resulted in the growing sense of Boomer mythology; that the reality TV version of “Paradise in Boomerville” might look a little different than the images of hundreds of thousands of sixty-year-olds looking like fifty-year-olds, feeling like forty-year-olds and acting like thirty-year-olds. We might have actually been close in our predictions for technology, the stock market and Madison Avenue, but it’s beginning to look like we may have been a little optimistic regarding advances in science. And our youthful energies, enthusiasms and desires are running up against limits in flexibility, bone density, joint health (you should forgive the phrase), and other rather mundane, natural, inevitable and irreversible components of growing older.

There are many ramifications of all this, but a couple that come to mind include some new thinking by those philanthropic groups and recreational product manufacturers who have based their futures on the huge transfer of wealth once expected from the Boomers … wealth that may likely be spent on new hips, among other things.

But to the extent that perception is reality, I’ll hand my generation this: we’ve not abandoned the dream of a better world or the desire to do something about it. We care and we try. Which is why I think my colleague Pam Tauscher’s new franchise on WISC-TV will be a success. Pam and photojournalist Kathy King are soliciting and reporting stories for a regular series called “Taking A Good Look.” They are highlighting success stories—people and communities doing good things for each other. From the community of Beaver Dam rallying around a young Spanish-speaking couple raising newborn quadruplets to upcoming stories on an extraordinary blind painter and a soon-to-open transplant house in Middleton, these stories will feature the best of who we are and can be.

Pam and Kathy would love your stories and suggestions. Send them to ptauscher@wisctv.com. It’s about a better world. A Boomer thing, if you will.

Neil P. Heinen, Editorial Director

Comments and letters can be sent to P.O. Box 44965, Madison, WI 53744-4965 or e-mail: nheinen@madisonmagazine.com. Letters we publish may be edited for space and clarity.

Madison Magazine - March 2007
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