Free at Last
So now that Tom brokaw has branded the previous generation “The Greatest,” what title is left for Boomers? Are we doomed to be the Phil Bengston Generation? (He’s the guy who followed Vince Lombardi.) At first blush it seems foolish for us to pretend that we have accomplished anything compared to the previous brood of Americans. They overcame a Depression; we medicate ourselves to achieve same. They conquered Hitler, Tojo and saved the free world. We invented the half-hour drum solo and dancing in mud. They stoically refused to discuss their heroism. We can’t stop shouting our opinions. Or as one Onion headline proclaimed: “War Heroes Give Birth to Whiniest Generation.” It is easy to rip Boomers, if for no other reason, because there are so many of us. America has beheld our tantrums for the span of our lives. One research firm suggested that, for as long as we are around, America will be subjected to ”the social tyranny of the Baby Boom generation.” But as the rest of America waits for the last Boomer to croak before throwing a big-ass party, allow me say a few things on behalf of my class. First, the previous generation was blessed with the moral clarity presented by Pearl Harbor, Hitler and Auschwitz. Their actions at Normandy and Guadacanal took great courage. But the decision to fight was a clear and uncluttered call. We would have answered the same beckon. Secondly, and most importantly, the Greatest Generation wasn’t so great for everyone. Back in that day you could still knock the wife and kids around and not go to jail. You could tell the Mills Brothers, or any hard working black family, that they couldn’t rent a hotel room in your town. You could beat the crap out of sissy boys with no consequences. And you couldn’t really question our government. At least not on anything important. Even if the government was utterly and tragically wrong. Adherence was the rule. Even if the rules were flawed. The Greatest Generation’s finest asset during the war, conformity, seemed thick headed in a new and different time. As a child, I had a hard time assuming things were hunky dory while watching a parade of the nation’s young leaders assassinated before our eyes on black and white Sylvanias. Hell, we even saw assassins assassinated while sipping Campbell’s tomato soup. Just as we watched, from beneath our desks, the Cuban Missile Crisis unfold. It was hard to think all was well when all hell was breaking loose. So when we hit adolescence and our voices changed, we used them. Used them to question the emperor’s ensemble. We asked: Is this war a good war? We asked: Why can’t that black kid go to that school? We asked: Why can’t a woman be a doctor? To be honest, we also asked: Are you sure this isn’t oregano? We traded crew cuts for whatever shape our hair took after going unshorn for a semester. A few girls burned bras. Most just stopped wearing them for a while. Which was great, but I digress. What did all this mean? What is the Boomer Legacy? Having grown up in Madison, ground zero along with Berkeley and a few other hot spots for the Boom Experience, I believe we have bequeathed the following to future generations: Freedom. Not wholesale freedom from international tyranny. But the first awakenings of true individual freedom, regardless of race, age or gender. The freedom to be just whoever the hell you want to be. Elie Wiesel mused that the Holocaust was not the death of six million people, but rather the death of one person six million times. Well maybe a twist on that thought is the Boomer legacy. We did not free millions at once, as the Greatest Generation did, but we began the process of freeing one person millions of times. One black person. One young girl or woman. One Hispanic kid. One gay guy. Or gay girl. And, yes, even white males were freed. Freed from expectations they did not embrace. So I suggest that we be called the Freedom Generation. We could copy the Brokaw superlative moniker and call ourselves the Free-est Generation, but that would not be correct. Hopefully that title will fall to generations that succeed us. We just started the ball rolling. Peace.
Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Comments? Questions? Write firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Madison Magazine - March 2007|