Is it fair to accuse one generation of being the "worst generation"? Or, to a lesser extent, to accuse them of being self-absorbed, hypocritical, diluted, and responsible for more of ills of society than they realize? No, probably not, but it is fun to do so. A meditation on any one generation in American history can yield conclusions that might not of been apparent before, and a lot of them might seem bad. All things considered, one could find fault with the World War II crowd, the beats, the industrialists, the founding fathers, and, quite easily, the Gen-Xers. But of all these generations, none are so easily targeted as the Baby Boomers. Why? Because they are easily the most obnoxious of the lot.
In his introduction to the very funny and quite often dead-on, Balsamic Dreams [Henry Holt & Co.], Joe Queenan claims that he is no longer going to be part of the problem, but part of the solution. He comes off as a self-loather, and why not? What’s not to loathe about the baby boomers? Sure, they can claim responsibility for The Beatles, the ousting of Nixon from the White House, Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin (not Scott), feminism, the civil rights movement, and even the Internet (which, by the way, is not true at all. The net’s been here since the 50’s-- long before any of the Boomers were out of grade school or even diapers. Just because very few knew about it doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.) Sure, they can claim these things, but, as Queenan says, they never accept responsibility for the crack epidemic and societies casual attitude toward drug use, the dumbing down of Broadway and literature, not to mention the overall embrace of all things culturally phony: Disco, Jimmy Carter and a slew of Democrats who either were ineffectual or morally questionable.
"A classic example," Queenan writes on the subject of their selective responsibilities, "(boomers) demanding their parents admit that Richard Nixon was Beelzebub, but adamantly refusing to admit that Jimmy Carter was Bozo."
Queenan writes so well and with so much angry yet well guided passion, that it is hard to put down this book. He generates laughter as he skewers the ball cap wearing business men, the porchini mushroom and balsamic vinegar obsessive herbal and Eastern types who promised they’d never sell out and then promptly did. He is hilarious, perceptive, and- agree or not- always interesting to read.
Along with the serious accusations are the lighter, but by no means less offensive crimes against society: retroactive political correctness, the inability to accept the ordinary (every experience, no matter how mundane, has to be an epiphany,) constant self-reference, the refusal to grow up and act like a forty to fiftysomething, the demand on their children to be smart, cultured, and proficient in everything from soccer to Akido while forcing them to live in sterile suburbs, outright hypocrisy (i.e. voting democratic but insulating themselves from the poor while sending their kids to private schools and grasping every dollar within reach,) and, worst of all, insisting that everyone know where they were when Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were shot, and what Woodstock was all about. Queenan suggests that these might make for interesting tales, if only they were not told ad nauseam. He talks of a friend who uses Vietnam as a metaphor for his wife’s abortion to show how Boomers will often connect their everyday lives with the events of their generation, regardless of how little they had to do with them. What’s worse, they take credit for things they personally had nothing to do with. "The Freedom Riders ended the lynchings in the South. Woodward and Bernstein and Ellsberg brought down Nixon. The rest of us had nothing to do with it."
For all of Queenan’s accusations he offers solutions at the end of the book, most of which seem easy and predictable enough. So why aren’t any of the Boomers doing anything to remedy these wrongs and lift the now fashionable label of "worst generation"? Queenan suggests, or perhaps I extrapolate, that they are far too self-absorbed to even admit that they have done anything wrong. Sure they are given to a brand of nostalgia (which came for them, comically early, at the age of twenty or thirtysomething) that makes them seem so ridiculous that only they fail to see it. But after all, they had Jimi and Joplin, and Morrison, so they have the right, right? Wrong.