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by Joe Queenan, July 29, 2010
Those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad, goes the trusty old saw. Well, I'm a baby boomer and I'm fighting mad. Long viewing ourselves as the coolest, hippest, most upstanding generation the world had ever known — the generation that stopped wars, that levitated Pentagons, that was capable of driving presidents from office — we now have the twin misfortunes of sliding from middle age into full-fledged senior citizen status, and simultaneously being saddled with the most inane, infantile, humiliating nickname any age group has ever known.
It is not enough that baby boomers must endure the obligatory misfortunes of the aging process — bad knees, bad feet, bad hair, no hair. We must also suffer the indignity of being abused via a generational nomenclature that screams "lame." It was bad enough to be called baby boomers when we were 30. What's it going to feel like when we're 85?
Unlike Gen X or Gen Y or the Millennials or the Lost Generation or the Greatest Generation, all of whom sport perfectly classy, tasteful, albeit synthetic, market-researched nicknames, baby boomers are shackled with one of the most ignominious, mortifying sobriquets in the history of the word. Not since the French middle class anointed the poorer classes "les sans-culottes" during the French Revolution has one social group suffered such outright mockery from another. But at least "sans culottes," if only because it is French, sounds kind of flashy. "Baby boomer," a weird mélange of the prepubescent and the guttural, sounds juvenile. Especially when you're collecting Social Security.
Seemingly harmless, yet ultimately pejorative, "baby boomer" is one of the most surreptitiously contemptuous nicknames ever devised. Unlike "trailer trash" or "pond scum" or even "the Great Unwashed," the term "baby boomer" seems innocent and good-natured on the surface, but it is actually diabolically cruel.
It is not a nickname; it is an epithet. It takes a generation that thinks of itself as being perpetually youthful and turns its members into pre-geriatric toddlers. And while the term "baby boomer" may mean different things to different people, all of them are horrible.
To the millennials, it conjures up tragic images of parrotheads in belted shorts and Hawaiian shirts, or of women who attend outdoor music festivals in oversized denim overhauls and tie-dyed T-shirts and who are themselves married to their third parrothead. To everyone else, the term captures the inextinguishably juvenile personality of the boomer. The boomer is the permanent child, the eternal Mork. The generation whose pantheon of heroes once ranged from Jimi Hendrix to Jim Morrison to Jimmy Page now finds its spokesperson and ceremonial icon in bald, bland, bathetic James Taylor. This is not the way things were supposed to turn out.
Who knows where the term "baby boomer" comes from? I personally believe it was coined by somebody in the Nixon administration who did hard time and then decided that the verbal infantilization of an entire generation was a way of getting back at Woodward and Bernstein. But whoever it was who coined the term, other boomers should have taken him into a back alley way back, worked him over with a couple of two-by-fours, and warned him that his body would never be found if he ever dared breathe the despicable words again.
For obvious reasons, baby boomers will never accept being called "seniors" or "the aging" or "geezers" or "old-timers." We'll always insist on the personal touch. Speaking for myself, I would prefer that my generation be called Sixties Survivors or Aquarian Agers or Birkenstockers or Bohos or just about anything. I'd rather be called the Me Generation or the Punks From Camelot or the Ben-and-Jerries. I'd rather be called Woodstock Burnouts or Agnew Era Alumni or the Mamas and the Papas or Dirty Old Hippies. I even might endure being called Oldster, Gramps, or Methuselah. Anything would be better than boomer. Anything.
Well, maybe not the Living Dead.
Joe Queenan is a humorist, critic and author who has written eight books, including the acerbic Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self-Important History of the Baby Boom Generation.
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