steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Boomernormativity - a demi-rant

A lot my posts seem to start with something I heard on Radio 4, and so it is again today. A few weeks ago I listened to an interview with a man who was reminiscing about the early 1990s. “People forget what it was like then,” he said. “It was a time of cheap bedsits, drugs, and scrambling from one casual job to the next.” That’s funny, I thought to myself, I don’t remember it like that at all (apart from the cheap bedsit). Could it be that he’s extrapolating from his own experience and that of his immediate circle and making it apply to the whole world? How very myopic! 

That stuck out as a little ridiculous, because people who were twenty-ish in 1990 don’t usually talk that way, as if their own experience somehow spoke for everyone's. But there is a generation of people who do, and always have, to the extent that their experience of life has become normative. I speak of course of the Baby Boomers, and particularly that segment (which I think of as Boomer Classic) born between 1945 and 1950. 

“Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixty-three,” wrote Larkin, sardonically noting the birth of boomernormativity. And it was in the ‘60s that boomernormativity really got into its swing. Research indicates that there were plenty of people alive in that decade aged either less than 15 or more than 40 – I and all the members of my immediate family, for example – and that we were just as real and just as there. In Romsey, the ‘60s as popularly conceived left us almost untouched. But the Boomers, the collective only-child of WWII, succeeded then and have succeeded ever since, in making every decade All About Them. In the ‘60s they discovered Youth, then moving into acquisitive middle age in the 80s they fetishized Greed. Now they are the Grey Panthers (or whatever the phrase is), with their disposable income and gated communities.

You will see that I’m mostly – if not entirely – talking about middle-class boomers, here. As a group they have done especially well. In the UK this is the generation that went through university for free and supported by government grants, but then imposed fees on those coming after them. It’s the generation that bought/inherited houses when they were cheap and watched them quadruple in value before their wondering, £-sign-filled eyes. (Boomernormativity is nowhere more eloquently demonstrated than in the fact that houses are the only commodity where a fall in prices is usually reported as if it were a bad thing.) This is the generation that has legislated to make everyone younger than themselves stay in work several more years before retirement, so as to pay for their pensions. And while they celebrated Rebellious Youth when they were young, this is the generation that has gone on to demonize it in others. Gordon Brown is talking about bringing back the National Service he never had to do himself. Shopkeepers are installing mosquito devices to keep teenagers away from their premises. And verily, where two or three young people are gathered together it is written that they shall be issued with an ASBO. What price the Summer of Love?

Of course, not everyone should be tarred with this brush. There are plenty of self-centred people who are older and younger, some of my best friends are in their sixties, etc. I’m not really here to rant (much), just to point out the existence of boomernormativity as a phenomenon. It’s far from being confined to Boomers themselves. I suffered from internalized boomernormativity throughout my ‘70s adolescence. I had the continual feeling of being just too late, of arriving at the party as others were leaving, of kicking through the embers of last night’s campfire. Even today, the ‘70s (my decade) is often  seen as the ‘60s turned sour or run to seed. That’s nonsense, but I saw it that way too, at the time.

So, is boomernormativity for real? Or am I talking out of my behind? All opinions welcome! Meanwhile, as a change of mood, let’s hear from someone who was born before the outbreak of the Great War...


Tags: maunderings
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