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You Sing Potato, I Sing Potatoe...

November 27, 2000|MICHAEL JAMES MOORE | Michael James Moore teaches communication arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Election 2000 is really about competing time capsules. Dueling soundtracks. Clashing screenplays. Dissimilar authors. Contradictory snapshots. As the first-ever boomer versus boomer Oval Office contest unfolds, the intergenerational schisms between the first wave of boomers--those born just after World War II--are personified by the Gore-Lieberman crowd (the GLCs) and the Bush-Cheney bunch (the BCBs).

These two civilian armies--these two Americas--were always divided. You can track their conflicts through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s--the formative decades for these masses, and we're not talking about policy debates here.

For the GLCs, the 1955-'58 pre-Army Elvis is the primary Presley (the greasier, the better; bluesman and rocker to the bone). The BCBs prefer post-Army Elvis "Blue Hawaii"; jumpsuit Presley circa 1973's "Aloha From Hawaii" suits them fine--little rockin', lots of ballads and imminent girth pre-approved. Elvis' movies? The BCBs made them profitable; the GLCs found them ridiculous.

Many GLCs feel that books by J.D. Salinger changed their lives; the BCBs would probably choose James Michener as the great American novelist. Nowadays, GLCs snap up John Irving's latest or Jacquelyn Mitchard's last; for the BCBs, Tom Clancy is tops. Ditto Dr. Laura.

In the mid-'60s, the most appealing duo to sing on TV was, for the BCBs, Sonny and Cher; the GLCs were all for Simon and Garfunkel.

The GLCs considered the Beatles the most trailblazing cultural force of the fast-changing 1960s, constantly noting how John, Paul, George and Ringo were four steps ahead of the evolving counterculture between 1964-69; the BCBs liked the "early" Fab Four (Ed Sullivan mop-top phase) but disdained the post-'66 "way out" hippie-like Beatles.

For a 1965 time capsule soundtrack, the GLCs would include "Ticket to Ride," "Satisfaction" and "Like a Rolling Stone"; the BCBs would best remember "I Got You Babe," "This Diamond Ring" and "Winchester Cathedral."

For the BCBs, the best sounds to come from the so-called British Invasion were the Top 40 hits by the Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Herman's Hermits; to the GLCs the greatest gift of the British Invasion was either Marianne Faithfull or Eric Clapton.

If one 1966 single could be preserved, the GLCs might choose "Eleanor Rigby"; the BCBs might select what was, in fact, that year's top-selling 45 rpm: "The Ballad of the Green Berets."

For the GLCs, 1968 is frozen in time by the murders of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy; for the BCBs, that year's ultimate event was the election that finally brought Richard M. Nixon to the White House. On radio, the BCBs enjoyed the Fifth Dimension or Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue"; the GLCs oscillated between the Stones' "Street Fighting Man" and the last hymn of that year: the Beatles' "Hey Jude."

To the BCBs, the paramount Life magazine pictures in 1969 were the Apollo moon shots; for the GLCs, the time was defined by the magazine's breakthrough publishing of the My Lai massacre photos. To the GLCs, Lt. William Calley was a war criminal; the BCBs saw Calley as a victim of the media. When Nixon pardoned Calley, BCBs saluted; the GLCs protested.

The best film of 1969--to the BCBs--is still John Wayne's "True Grit"; the GLCs (then and now) prefer "Midnight Cowboy."

For 1970--the year of Nixon's Cambodian "incursion" and the Kent State and Jackson State student killings--the GLCs would mandate a soundtrack heavy on Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young ("Teach Your Children," "Ohio," "Carry On"); for the BCBs, that period's best singles were by the Carpenters ("Close to You," "We've Only Just Begun").

If a Vietnam-era film fest were organized by the two sides, the GLCs would screen "Apocalypse Now," "Platoon," "Coming Home" and "Born on the Fourth of July." The BCBs would screen "Uncommon Valor," "Hamburger Hill," possibly "The Deer Hunter" and perhaps the first of the "Rambo" series.

The GLCs saw Muhammad Ali as a political hero; they rooted for him when he fought the pro-Vietnam Joe Frazier in '71; the BCBs still consider Ali a traitor and were thrilled when Frazier beat him as Ali attempted to win back the title he'd been stripped of after refusing Army induction in the late '60s.

Throughout the 1980s and '90s, as the indestructible Rolling Stones mounted increasingly successful world tours (visiting the U.S. in '81, '89, '94, '97 and '99), millions of GLCs attended their concerts. The BCBs always detested the Rolling Stones; then and now.

And speaking of then and now: Last month, the GLCs made "The Beatles Anthology" the No. 1 nonfiction bestseller according to the New York Times book review; but for the past few weeks, the BCBs have made "The O'Reilly Factor" the No. 1 nonfiction bestseller.

The more things change. . . .

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