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Ripple effects from `Boomer' generation

March 28, 2007|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

They may be 60, but the baby boomers are alive and well and plan to live forever.

At least that's the premise of "The Boomer Century," a two-hour PBS documentary that attempts to analyze the most-talked-about group of people since the Spartans. Rhapsodize is perhaps a better word, since your host gerontologist and psychologist Dr. Ken Dychtwald, "a boomer myself," has apparently never met a person born between 1946 and 1964 that he did not like.

The premise of "Century," at least as it's sold in its introduction, is a look at what will happen when roughly 78 million souls hit the geriatric wall. Will society collapse under such an enormous elderly demographic?

Compelling and fascinating questions. Alas, only the final half hour or so attempts to address them.

First we must take a not-so-brief trip through the glorious past -- we hit the numbers (a child born every 8 seconds), the props (Gerber's baby food invented to satiate all those appetites) and all the requisite footage: from the returning GIs to the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

There is no denying that a lot of things have happened since the first boomer drew breath, and commentary from folks including Erica Jong, Rob Reiner, Tony Snow, Eve Ensler and Oliver Stone offers a occasional insight on issues like the long-term effect of more participatory fathers, of real equality on the state of marriage, of the digital age, but on the whole, "Century" is hobbled by the self-fascination, and self-congratulation, of which its subject has been so long accused.

Lewis Black rants about the ineffectuality of his generation ("We never even legalized marijuana. And that was No. 1 on the to-do list!"), yet no mention is given to problems of addiction, depression, narcissism and rampant consumerism -- all of which have also been part of the boomer experience.

Instead, Dychtwald maintains an unflagging, "Go, boomers, go" attitude.

So there's not really enough time to deal with the interesting stuff -- the very real possibility of extended life spans and chemically enforced youthfulness and what that means. Instead we gallop through an on-the-one-hand / on-the-other construct. Yes, our boomer loved ones may still be playing tennis and running the company at 100, but they will undoubtedly eat up social security, pass on hideous debt and destroy -- through sheer volume -- our already shaky healthcare system.

Yet Dychtwald does not despair and nor, apparently, should you. Because the boomers, being boomers, could devote their final years to fixing the very problems they have wrought. Or they could just move to those states where medicinal marijuana is legal and tune in, turn on and drop out.


`The Boomer Century: 1946-2046'

Where: KCET

When: 9 to 11 tonight

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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