Naming the Names We Name Ourselves

One name I was never happy to embrace was “Baby Boomer.” There was indeed a baby boom after World War II, so it had some logic to it. I was a part of that. But stretching it to cover an entire generation and then arbitrarily cutting it off in 1964 was something of a joke—on the generation, which was not judged fairly for the full display of talents and faults that other generations enjoyed. A generation, practically speaking, is 30 years. That criterion alone makes all those “Gen Z,” “Millennial,” and “Gen X” designations meaningless—just media-driven memes for those who think in sound bites. 

The underlying purpose of these names is to divide. Filial piety is a problem for the new social reformers, as is brotherly love and the family itself—never mind any sort of patriotism or nationalism. For instance, imagine the mind who thought up the “greatest” generation. Greater than what, you might well ask? Tom Brokaw or not, most of those who lived through that period of time never fired a shot, and 80 percent never experienced the deprivations of the Great Depression. That’s not a knock. They went about their lives without losing their heads. I, for one, am very grateful. 

The unfairly tagged “lost” generation, which began in the last century, was directly responsible for reshaping the world in war and peace. They built Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and all the roads between—while the Hemingways and Fitzgeralds made hay out of their loss of faith and that of others caught in the impending world disaster. Given that the 30 years prior to 1945 included two world wars, it would seem fair to label them the “war” generation, would it not? The boom and bust between those conflagrations certainly give them a well-rounded profile of experience with human foolishness. 

I have used some of these short-hand designations myself for the convenience of it and have always rightly been taken to task for using too broad a brush. I suspect these names are all setups, anyway. It may be worthwhile to identify the significant influences on one age group or another, but parsing things in a way to set them apart from those who came before and will come after is not productive except for those small-minded types who cannot handle the true complexity of human character set against the history of their lives. As I have pleaded guilty to this, however, I will avoid the mistake whenever I can in the future. 

But, what about this “COVID” generation who have cowered in fear behind masks and walls for well nigh three years and willingly given up their birthright of freedom of religion, speech, the press, and assembly? And what of the Vietnam War generation that didn’t trust anyone over 30 but then became their own nemesis with drugs and dirty politics? How about the “digital” generation who can’t think outside of a box, and the “woke” generation who think they live outside of history. We would do well to remember that “naming names” was the nasty cause of the House Un-American Activities Committee, so we must be careful. 

The “green” generation appears to have no clue about the practical generation of energy, and rather than address that challenge, it has opted for a brainless program of population reduction. I would be happy enough to know when they themselves are gone, so long as they don’t take some innocents with them. The “beat” generation led to the “hippie” generation, but the “Pepsi” generation had more fizz. 

Perhaps some new names are in order—some rebranding, so to speak. If we build on the 30-year rule and set the mark for the end of the previous generation at 1945, that would take us to 1975. With both boom and bust, those born after World War II until the end of the Vietnam War might be called the “TV” generation for that device most ubiquitous in their lives. Maybe the “Kennedy” generation would capture the dispiriting impact of the president’s assassination and the loss of trust in government that tragedy engendered. On a more positive track, they could be called the “Moon” generation for that preeminent accomplishment in their time, or just the “high” generation, for all the smoke they generated as well as the altitude. There are a lot of choices there. 

And those born between 1975 and 2005 could be the “me” generation, or “meme” generation, or simply the “iPhone” generation. It’s all about them, isn’t it? The AIDS generation, for all the hideous repercussions of that disease, would be an unfair label for the greater majority, but the “Friends” generation might work given all the benefits without marriage that prevailed during the time. Or perhaps the “Internet” generation would cover their incessant and ephemeral communication so full of self-reporting but without substance or self-reflection. The attack on the World Trade Center in Manhattan reshaped their lives but apparently did not sober their minds. 

We are now in the midst of the generation that will end in 2035. But maybe all of this angst is for naught. Given the falling birthrate and the collapse of family and of religious wisdom, never mind the rise of absolute government, there will be nothing to worry about in another generation or two anyway. Indeed, this might be the “last” generation.

About Vincent McCaffrey

Vincent McCaffrey is a novelist and bookseller. Visit his website at www.vincentmccaffrey.com.

Photo: Getty Images

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