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Belonging to a
An elderly sold-out baby boomer
who pines for hippie days.
HIST 4991-356, Summer 1994
Dr. Douglas Brinkley
July 19, 1994
Belonging to a Generation
With the retirement of Nolan Ryan, and the election of Bill Clinton,
all the important positions in America are held by juvenility.
A generation is a group of contemporary individuals regarded as having
common cultural or social characteristics and attitudes. The generations
I know are my sons, mine, and my parents. My sons are graduated from college.
They cut their hair and went to work; I grew my hair and went to school.
As a child, when my mother took us shopping, it was an event. The whole
family got all dressed up, left early on Saturday, caught the bus downtown,
and shopped all day. It wasn't necessary to buy anything, except a hamburger
at Woolsworth lunch counter. Shopping was an all day event, once every few
months. Groceries were ordered over the phone and delivered each day to
For my wife and I, shopping is a one or two hour quickie at the mall, and
we never take the bus. For my kids, shopping is a one or two minute phone
call, with the order delivered next day air. The mall is where they went
as kids to hang. Groceries are what we get on the way home from work, or
at midnight from the "Time Saver."
For my mother and father, the movies were important. My mother was a concessionaire;
that's how they met. Actually, they didn't attend movies together. Five
cents was too expensive, but they did get lots of left over popcorn to eat
on the way home. As a child, the movies were my baby sitter, just drop us
kids off for a double-feature. My wife and I very rarely attended a movie
after we were married. Although, my second son, Barret, is named after Oliver
from "Love Story." Not that it's important, my number one son
is named after Denny McClane, the year he became the first pitcher to win
more than thirty games in one season since who knows when. Now that my kids
are grown, going to the theater is an every week event for my wife and I,
too bad all the great theaters are gone -- but there is THX. My kids, now
23 and 26, almost never go to a movie theater, but they rent lots of VCR
Television is the marker for my generation. In a furniture store contest
my father's family won a Zenith Television. I only remember that the picture
tube was very small and a perfect circle. This event is trivial except for
the fact that there were no TV stations in New Orleans at the time. So,
this piece of furniture set in my grandparents living room for months before
the first broadcast programming. My father tells the story of how all the
neighborhood kids would come over after school and watch static. Then finally,
WDSU began broadcasting their test pattern. This lasted for at least a month.
Still, the neighborhood gang would gather round, and by now some parents
joined in, watching just the test pattern. Some discussion revolved around
the question of whether the picture was in color.
So my father's family watched TV for two months before there was TV. When
I was a child, my family did not own a TV until I was six. I remember, because
I was (about) the only kid in first grade who couldn't watch the Mickey
Mouse Club, or Howdy Dudey. I was very deprived. My kids probably watched
TV from the womb. In their preschool days, TV was a positive influence --
Sesame Street and the like. In their older years, TV became part of the
background radiation. They were unable to accomplish anything without the
TV on, and the stereo. Since they were both honor students, I gave up telling
them to turn it off while doing homework. Myself, I can't brush my teeth
and watch TV at the same time.
The automobile is the thread tying the generation I know together. It is
true that I was eight years old before my father owned his first car. Oh,
but what a car -- a maroon and black 1953 Buick convertible with cruise-a-line
vent-a-ports, power windows, power convertible top, power breaks, automatic
transmission. It was the bees knees. He bought it used from the guy who
owned the Glasshouse Restaurant and the Algiers Drive-in Theater. Too bad,
nothing ever worked right. My father sure took a beating on that lemon.
His second car was much more conservative. His first new car was America's
first compact --- a Ford Falcon.
Autos are for adventure, vacations. As a child, no mater where we went,
it took all day to get there. I was fourteen before we left Louisiana for
a wonderful week stay in Waveland Mississippi. For ten years straight, my
wife, the kids, and another family traveled Interstate 65 to the Great Smoky
Mountain National Forest. Actually, I65 was under construction during all
of that time, I think that only the last year was it complete, New Orleans
to Chattanooga. Still, only took all day to get there. There are many war
stories from these trips. Most are about driving (trying to drive, breaking
down, fixing up) there and driving back. We have as much fun telling the
stories as we did making the trips. At sixteen, my kids were spending (traveling
by themselves) spring break in Daytona. How come I couldn't tell them no?
Generations may be the most important concept of history. Generation is
a tool to analyze and categorize the past. As I ponder the generations I
know, GI generation (silent majority), the baby boomers, and Generation
X, I wonder what it is that makes them so different? Maybe, probably, we
are not so different. Is it that each successive generation lives out its
life in increasingly smaller and smaller increments of time -- shopping
all day, shopping an hour, shopping a minute? This is uniquely American.
We seem to have an appointment with destiny, and always in a hurry to get
there. The destination is not important, the traveling is. By wagon, train,
car, plane, each generation going -- faster. I have two wonderful sons,
but what always bothered me was their complaint ... "I'm board."
Maybe, we finally arrived ... too fast.
Coupland, Douglas. Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
. St. Martin's Press. 1991
Strauss, William and Neil Howe. Generations: The History of America's
Future . William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1991