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Why don't you all f-fade away?

Enough with the 1968 nostalgia. It's time for boomers to move on.

May 25, 2008|Meghan Daum | Meghan Daum is a columnist for the Op-Ed page of The Times.

Anyone who believes that the cultural imperialism of baby boomers is limited to the generations that came after them need only see a recent documentary called "Young at Heart." Almost unanimously loved by critics (most of them baby boomers), the film depicts a Massachusetts senior citizens chorus (median year of birth 1929) that became an international touring act when its director (year of birth 1953) switched its repertoire from flapper-era ditties like "Yes, We Have No Bananas" to golden not-as-oldies by such artists as the Rolling Stones, James Brown and the Clash.

Many of the choristers seem to neither understand nor particularly like the material; their own preferences run toward opera or Rodgers and Hammerstein. But conditioned by cheering audiences of mostly younger people, these oldsters have been convinced that they are healthier, happier and sharper -- not to mention better traveled -- because of Mick Jagger and Mick Jones. Boomer-era classic rock is not just music but a life force.

As a member of Generation X, I should know -- I've been strong-armed into an appreciation of '60s and '70s pop culture my whole life. There are an estimated 76 million boomers (10,000 babies a day on average, born between 1946 and 1964), while we Xers (born between 1965 and 1982) number a paltry 48 million. So boomers set the tone for everyone. Their tastes, needs and values are considered America's default setting. They turn 60, and it warrants magazine covers. They get a cold, and the world sneezes with them.

So privileged is this group, they've been allowed to change generational labels the way they changed their (always "groundbreaking") clothing styles. They've been known, in whole or in part, as the Dr. Spock Generation, the Free Love Generation, the Generation That Changed America, the Me Generation, Hippies, Yuppies, Bobos and, to certain members of Gen X, "moronic aging hippie posers." Despite having grown out of the category years ago, they remain, thanks to a certain iconic TV show, etched in the popular imagination as forever "thirtysomething."

As we find ourselves now halfway through a year of seemingly endless commemorations of yet another thing that happened in 1968, it's hardly surprising that so few people are questioning the relevance of certain supposedly "historic" events. Granted, some are beyond dispute. In the first six months of 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and the North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive, which is widely believed to have turned public opinion against the Vietnam War. In the second six months, demonstrations turned violent at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Richard Nixon was elected president and Apollo 8 orbited the moon.

So why does this stroll down memory lane feel more like a carjacking? Maybe because for every truly significant event of 1968, there are half a dozen not-necessarily-newsworthy happenings that we're goaded into remembering with just as much gusto. Amid the nods to King and Kennedy, we can expect this year to be replete with art house revivals of the films "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Yellow Submarine," innocuous if tiresome public radio features about Valerie Solanas' shooting of Andy Warhol, and, if there's a slow week in entertainment news, maybe even an E! special commemorating the marriage of Jackie Kennedy to Aristotle Onassis.

Even though I wasn't alive when any of this stuff happened, I sure feel like I was. Maybe that's because my generational cohorts and I have already endured five anniversaries of 1968 (one for each decade, plus the 25th thrown in for good measure) as well as four Woodstock revivals and countless Summer-of-Love-themed concerts. As though trapped at a reunion for a school we didn't attend, pre- and post-boomers can only nod in bored bewilderment while the no-longer-hippies get their retroactive groove on.

It is, by now, a cliche for members of Generation X to complain about the excesses and hypocrisies of the hippie generation. (Gen Y has its grievances toward that generation too, but unlike Xers, nearly all of their parents are bona fide boomers, so their gripes may have their roots in bedtime or borrowing the car.) In the 1990s, when Gen Xers weren't busy thinking up synonyms for "alienated," we were carving out a collective identity largely concerned with our role as the victims of any number of boomer-imposed crimes (dwindling Social Security, fearsome divorce statistics, AIDS as the death rattle of the free-love party).

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