Saturday, April 09, 2005

Mortality and the whiniest generation

I've found 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 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.

In today's New York Times, the ever ascerbic Frank Rich makes the observation, though without making the connection (one of the interesting things about boomer self-absorption is its failure to see how many of its interests are merely a function of its anomalous size):

Fox's howler was in its way the most honest barometer of this entire cultural moment. The network was pulling out all the stops to give the audience what it craved: a fresh, heaping serving of death. Mr. Smith had a point when he later noted that "the exact time of death, I think, is not something that matters so much at this moment." Certainly not to a public clamoring for him to bring it on.

Mortality - the more graphic, the merrier - is the biggest thing going in America. Between Terri Schiavo and the pope, we've feasted on decomposing bodies for almost a solid month now. The carefully edited, three-year-old video loops of Ms. Schiavo may have been worthless as medical evidence but as necro-porn their ubiquity rivaled that of TV's top entertainment franchise, the all-forensics-all-the-time "CSI." To help us visualize the dying John Paul, another Fox star, Geraldo Rivera, brought on Dr. Michael Baden, the go-to cadaver expert from the JonBenet Ramsey, Chandra Levy and Laci Peterson mediathons, to contrast His Holiness's cortex with Ms. Schiavo's.
Mr. Rich goes on though to make an entirely correct point on how the culture of death is being used by the wingnut right to support its ludicrous and dangerous agenda:
Once the culture of death at its most virulent intersects with politicians in power, it starts to inflict damage on the living.

When those leaders, led by the Bush brothers, wallow in this culture, they do a bait-and-switch and claim to be upholding John Paul's vision of a "culture of life." This has to be one of the biggest shams of all time. Yes, these politicians oppose abortion, but the number of abortions has in fact been going down steadily in America under both Republican and Democratic presidents since 1990 - some 40 percent in all. The same cannot be said of American infant fatalities, AIDS cases and war casualties - all up in the George W. Bush years. Meanwhile, potentially lifesaving phenomena like condom-conscious sex education and federally run stem-cell research are in shackles.

This agenda is synergistic with the entertainment culture of Mr. Bush's base: No one does the culture of death with more of a vengeance - literally so - than the doomsday right. The "Left Behind" novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins all but pant for the bloody demise of nonbelievers at Armageddon. And now, as Eric J. Greenberg has reported in The Forward, there's even a children's auxiliary: a 40-title series, "Left Behind: The Kids," that warns Jewish children of the hell that awaits them if they don't convert before it's too late. Eleven million copies have been sold on top of the original series' 60 million.
Unfortunately, as the boomers become increasingly obsessed with their own mortality I see little hope to combat the culture of death and its corollary of desperate psuedo-religiosity and psuedo-morality. Unless gen Xers and younger are willing to take up the fight, fully cognizant of the demographic battle they are fighting.

No comments: