11 September, 2012

It Isn't Easy: Baby Boomers and a Snapshot of their World

Trivial Pursuit: Game for Boomers!
Professionally and personally I have been interested (some may say "obsessed") by generational differences for over 10 years.  My first experience was a professional development on Davidson County Community College's campus and I recall using generational metaphors to underscore differences in values and perspectives.  In March 2012, I co-presented with Jody Lawrence on generational differences and leadership succession planning in Philadelphia.

I share this background to illustrate my opening: I have a long history of looking at the four generations living and working together in the US today.  However, as a Baby Boomer (I was born in 1953), my focus in my speaking about generation differences has been to illustrate TO Baby Boomers the differences they are likely to encounter in Gen Xer's and ME's.  Since my audiences have primarily been "Boomers," I was able to gloss over our perspectives.  Now I believe is the time to explore for my ME audience who we "Baby Boomers" really are.

One way to understand "Baby Boomers" is the simple demography: this generation was born from returning veterans of WWII.  My dad was a POW in Germany and he returned in summer 1945.  He and my mom married in 1947 and I was born in 1953--which is the mid-range of this "boom."  My brother was born about 18 months late in December 1954.  My mother could not carry any more children and our "nuclear family" was in place.

There are others ways to understand "boomers." For example, we can understand them through their interests in popular culture (did you notice the card above?).  Television was becoming increasingly accessible into homes across the US throughout the 1950s.  Both the standard of living and the technology itself were drawing the parents and their children.  Early TV included the "nuclear family" shows: Ozzie and Harriett (1952-1966), Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963), and Father Knows Best (1954-1960). Each of these shows perpetuated a myth of the "standard" family of being a heterosexual couple with 2.5 children (the Andersons, for example, had three).  This myth about the American family still haunts us today even though the "nuclear family" never really existed in American culture.

Another aspect of TV and popular culture has to do with values.  Look, for example, at this opening clip from the Adventures of Superman (circa 1952):

The values of this Superman are clearly and proudly stated: "Truth, justice, and the American way" are the values proclaimed at the end of this opening.  Not only are these values openly stated, note that there is no doubt that these values exist "out in the world" and that  anyone can readily see and embrace these values.

Contrast this clear values statement and the location of these values "out in the world" with the values from this video by Five for Fighting, "It's Not Easy (Being Me)" which is a song from the TV series Smallville (2001-2011):

Notice the differences between these two depictions of the SAME character! Listen carefully: the speaker in the Five for Fighting song is clearly the iconic Superman, but his values are extremely different from the 1950s character.  He is "in silly red sheet" and he is "More than a bird. . . more than a plane/ More than a pretty face beside a train."  The imagery here--tho' it resonates with the 1950s Superman--is twisted to show both different values AND the location of those values.  

[NOTE: I am leaving this right now so you can see how I am approaching this topic.]

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