Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Death and the whiniest generation, part 2

Maureen Dowd had an entertaining little piece in today's New York Times bemoaning the mortality of the boomer generation:

The deaths of iconic figures and the noisy debate over assisted suicide have brought boomers face to face with their nemesis. "Suddenly," The New Republic observed, "we are all speculating about the feeding tubes in our future." Boomers want to control mortality so they're looking at living wills, and legal and medical options.
Though readable as always, not only is her take sooo four days ago, she misses a key point:
it's always helpful to keep in mind the aggregate age of the baby-boom generation when considering the "next big thing". The huge popular and consumer power of this actuarial horror (disclaimer: I'm a tail-end boomer myself having been born in 1959) is difficult to overestimate as a factor in American popular culture.

Is it any wonder that in the mid 60s and early 70s , just as the post WWII generation was hitting its late teens that the "youth movement" flourished? And later in the 70s as this same generation moved into its 20s that the non-stop partying of the disco era took shape? This was followed by the coke fueled go-getters of the 80s, which also hosted the start of the housing bubble as boomers started to get jobs and couple off.

In the 90s the typical boomer self-absorption began to become focused on their off-spring and long term investments. It was the era of soccer moms, insane dot.com investing and a continuing housing bubble.

So now, when those born in 1945 and after are now looking at their 60th birthdays, is it any wonder what the next "real big news" will be? I believe all this talk of Social Security "insolvency" coupled with the ongoing unavoidable mortality of "the greatest generation" (i.e. the boomers' parents) has suddenly focused the boomer generation on what may be their last "next big thing", that is, death.
But icons have been dying for years, and Terri Schiavo wasn't the first, or, legally, the most important case in memory (boomer memory anyway, gen-Yers can be forgiven their ignorance I suppose. But the Karen Quinlan case made its way all the way to the New Jersey Supreme court in 1976, which case provided the basis for Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.

The difference is that then the boomers were in their thirties, and death, while always interesting, was a distant thought. Now on the other hand death, their own, is an increasingly unavoidable inevitablility.

I personally consider the proposition dreadful as the always self-obsessed boomer generation begins its ultimate navel-gazing exercize. But perhaps the very inevitability of the Big Sleep will ultimately shock the boomers into action. Perhaps the nation will be forced to clarilfy its flirtatious dance with death and make some rational end-of-life decisions. Perhaps the nation will "discover" that the only way it can afford medical care for the aging boomers is by insuring medical coverage for everyone.

But then I ponder the demagogues on the religious right whose entire raison d'etre is to prey on mortal fear.

I can't predict which way the balance of death will tilt, towards rational acceptance or superstitious denial, but I believe that finally, in their last years, the baby-boom generation will have the opportunity to step from their parents' shadows. Whether they, whether we, blow this opportunity as we have so many others only time will tell.

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