Boomer Generation Turns 50

February 15, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


SONG: It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to–

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: As you no doubt have heard by now the first of us are actually doing it. From Sally Field to Cher, from Sylvester Stallone to Leslie Gore, the boomers are turning 50. We may not be crying, but we are reckoning and will no doubt do so the whole year long, once again dominating the cultural landscape with our soul-searching and psyche scratching.

After all, we make up over a third of the country’s population, and between now and the year 2014, a boomer will turn 50 every 7.5 seconds. This birthday hoopla will inevitably reach a peak around August 19th, the day that our very first baby boom President reaches his 50th birthday. He, both the Clintons, in fact, somehow seem like the very essence of the boomers, competent and ambitious, arrogant and compassionate, self-righteous and morally ambiguous, the baby boom elite at its apex. Looking at them is like looking in the mirror, and it’s impossible not to ask: How in the world did we get here, and do we like what we see?

Our collective bio is well known. We tumbled into a country aswoon in post-war prosperity and from our arrival, we commanded the attention of our parents, our station wagon-driving, Dr. Spock-reading mothers, and our hard working, bread-winning dads.

BEATLES: (singing) I want to hold your hand. I want to hold your hand.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: We slid into the 1960s then with an already defined sense of self-importance and entitlement, a loud, sexually liberating sound track always cheering us on, a challenge to the manners and mores of parents who often didn’t seem that happy beneath the ceremonial surface of their marriages.

SONG: If you’re going to San Francisco–

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: We wanted more, more love, more sex, more fun, and by decade’s end were in a full tilt rebellion against pretty much everything–marriage, monogamy, sobriety, universities, you name it. And the TV cameras were always there, beaming us back to ourselves, making us the first hooked-on celebrity generation. That’s so much of who we are, who we have become, a generation of fame-obsessed media freaks.

SONG IN BACKGROUND: What a field day for the heat, a thousand people in the street.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Not to say that there weren’t genuine politics mixed in. For many, there were, adamant impulses towards improving the world, towards racial equality, and equality between men and women, and economic equality, though that was lower on the list. And, of course, there was the Vietnam War. (music in background) But looking back now from this birthday juncture, it is disquieting to see how Vietnam inevitably stained, if you will, the moral self-image of the men who did not serve. One need only stand before that wall or re-read the young Bill Clinton’s tortured letter to his draft board to understand that.

SONG: Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground. Mother Earth will swallow you, lay your body down.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: We must remember, of course, that many conservatives also did not got to Vietnam and that Newt Gingrich in his fierce ambition and political gyrations is every bit the boomer the Clintons are. (music in background) So what marks do we give ourselves at this reckoning point? There are things to be proud of, political movements that made the country more equal, anthems to tear the heart out, and an obsession to stay young and healthy that has infected the whole country. The question is: Are we jogging towards wisdom, or only towards more selfdom?

Stay tuned. We will no doubt let you know.

I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.