I’ve never been a very big fan of the term Baby Boomer. It’s fine as an actual nomenclature, but as I generally think of it the term spans too many years—say those born from the mid-1940s to the mid 1960s. I was born at the tail end of the span and, to be clear, it seems to me that the world I grew up in was considerably different from the one folks born right after World War Two experienced.
I know this is not a new thought. I’ve read several articles which call my period Generation Jones. While I obviously appreciate the thought, I hate that name, too. Depending on who you talk to, it’s based on the ideas of either “Jonesing” for things, or attempting to “keep up with the Joneses.” Blah. There’s nothing in those definitions that really says anything. I don’t relate to either.
At one point I was talking to my sweetie—also a poorly matched member of the late Boomer classification—and I admitted I didn’t have anything better.
But then I did.
Let’s say Boomers are those people born from 1945-1955. Makes sense. The Boom happened then. Their lives were full of the tensions and benefits that came post-War expansion. Technically, you could go back a bit and say kids born in 1940-1955 maybe fit that category. Dunno. Mine is not to be perfect here, right? That period, though, at least in the US, was about growth. Boomers.
But there was something different going on in my period, and it struck me that the era was really heavily defined by the Space Race that started with Sputnik in 1957, and ran from that point to the landing of a person on the Moon in 1969. This is the period when the Cold War heated up. It’s the period that Vietnam grew into what it grew into. Everything about that period can actually be looked at through lenses of the Space Race, and in doing so everything gets a different flair.
Pop Culture changed then, right?
Can I get a Star Trek, anyone?
Science Fiction as a whole entered a whole new age in which writing itself took a deeper turn.
Dr. Strangelove was made in 1965 and still influences cultural lexicon at points.
Dune won Frank Herbert a Hugo in 1966. “’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” did the same for Harlan Ellison. Two years later Ellison would win another set of Hugos, one for “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” and a screenplay for “The City on the Edge of Forever,” a still famous episode of Star Trek.
The SF world shifted in 1970 (going full Woke?) when Ursula K. LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness won the Hugo for Best Novel and Samuel R. Delaney took home one for his short story “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones”
You get the idea. The Times They Were A’ Changing.
In movies beyond Dr. Strangelove, James Bond Became James Bond. Proof? Well, the books were written in the 1950s and done as something closer to pure spy novels. But they took off in the 1960s when they were turned into movies and became more gadgety things. I use the term “took off” there in that they became a Pop Culture phenomenon that then colored the entire frame of reference as commentary on the Cold War itself. I’m sure Sean Connery didn’t hurt ticket sales.
Beyond Star Trek, the television world saw a major shift, too. Color, of course (I can still barely remember black and white TV), but shows themselves changed. A few obvious ones include silly bits like I Dream of Genie, Bewitched, and as I grew older, programs like The Six Million Dollar Man and Wonder Woman. Another example of the era? The Monkees documented the concept of prefabricated music, which feels oddly of the Space Racey era to me. Perhaps I’m just biased, though.
In the bigger picture, the period I grew up in was not so much about expansion as it was something else. We were transitioning from a resource-limited world into one where those limits more defined by our ability to distribute those resources and our politics than it was by our ability to produce them—something we (in the US at least) are still struggling to understand. Aside: A quick Google tells me the world now creates enough food to feed 150% of our population—10 billion people—yet global starvation continues to exist.
On the job front, the world my dad came into the age of professionalism (graduated college in 1959) was one in which an engineering student would have 23 job interviews and get 21 job offers. When I graduated as an engineer (1984-1985), those numbers were…um…much lower.
Civil unrest swelled in my childhood in ways it was not as obvious in the formative years of those born early in the Boomer years. Media changed, too. War protests shifted through the 60s and into the 70s. The Civil Rights bill was signed in 1965. The Black Panthers became public personas. Cassius Clay was kicked to the side for his unwillingness to kill, and later emerged as Muhammad Ali. Music became less about raw Pop entertainment and more about social change. Less optimistic. More pointed. For What it’s Worth.
All of this can be viewed through the lens of the Space Race — through the lenses of improving technology, and increased communications, and the tensions between some people’s need for transparency and other’s need for obfuscation, which is a Cold War thing, too.
Or at least a mass political thing.
Yes, the old Duck and Cover atomic bomb concern was a 1950s thing, as was the McCarthy Red Scare. And in ways those bits helped create the space race. But I get a different feeling from them now.
Those events were a lead-in to the public Space Race that JFK announced so publicly in 1961, but they were not the Space Race itself. Similarly, the Duck and Cover times may have led to the October Missile showdown, but those periods feel considerably different from the period after that confrontation.
Looking at government in the US feels different, too. I’m on shakier ground here, but ramifications of the Eisenhower/Kennedy period feel different compared to the transition to Johnson/Nixon/Ford. The one-two punch of obvious government lies throughout Vietnam (which arguably started with Kennedy, but did not become obvious to the public as at large until late Johnson and Nixon) and Nixon’s crooky Watergate scandal shattered the already dubious idea that leaders could be trusted—which then fed into media changes. (Calling Hunter S. Thompson, calling Hunter S. Thompson.)
Obviously, I can go on, or others who would do a better job than I’ve done can. But the more I think about it the more I’m feeling uncomfortable with being a Baby Boomer.
So, yeah. I’m totally into dumping “Generation Jones” and going with “Generation Space Race.”