For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave…
– “Intruder In The Dust”, William Faulkner
I happened to catch the Summer Of Love documentary on American Experience on PBS the other night. The quote from Faulkner above came to mind. In the big media memory of the Baby Boom generation, it seems to be every Boomer’s birthright to recall the Summer Of Love as that great untarnished moment when great goals were laid down and a revolution, however imperfect, was set into motion. Every Boomer can go back there and think this is how it should have been.
This sort of nostalgia generally makes me sick. I know how the revolution came out. Yes, there are aging hippies still fighting the good fight, and I applaud them… but what is culturally left from that summer 40 years ago? Cultural artifacts. Drug culture. Music. Tie dye.
The rest of the revolution got diluted. For all the talk of rejecting materialism and living in harmony with the earth, the United States still consumes something like 80% of the world’s consumer goods. Remember that the next time you see some 50-something yuppie driving down the road in a Hummer and living his or her 2500+ square foot McMansion. We produce more greenhouse gas per person than any other country in the world. For all the talk of integration and peace, the Boomer generation still voted for Reagan in the 80’s and Bush in 2000, coasting on a sense of white anger and materialistic empowerment. Where is all that issue driven zeal now? Oh wait…that’s just what you do when you’re young, can still enter the middle class on a Unionized blue collar salary, and live off the fat of a society living on a 30-year post war economic boom.
I suppose that this generational bitterness and cynicism comes from feeling like being the good younger sibling in a house where the older one went wild. Mom and Dad act different. How can you ever live up to that? The Baby Boom generation lived through a period when nearly half the nation’s population was under 25. My generation gets to live in a nation where over half the population is older than you… or their kids who are younger than you.
Part of the rejection is also personal. I spent some of my college years in a college town full of aging hippies. One of them was the manager of an apartment complex where I lived. I can recall him telling me, with his beard and braided pony tail down to the small of his back, that “We just expected that your generation would just take up where we left off with the protests for peace and civil rights. It just seemed like what you were supposed to do.” Sorry. After (at that time) living through 10 years of the worst Federal budget deficits ever seen to that time… I was just more worried about making sure I had a few dollars in my pocket when I retired, and hoped that we could lower the divorce rate.
No, if there’s anything I see in the generational resolve of Generation X, it is a desire to clean up the mess left in the wake of the excesses of the Baby Boomers and their summer of love.