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Baby Boomers Are Consumers

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To the editors:

I had expected the great baby boom controversy to die away before now, but I see that your most recent issue is filled with yet more letters commenting on Julie Phillips's diatribe [July 31]. So far, all the letters I've seen have been from boomers defending themselves or from younger people agreeing with Ms. Phillips. I think it's time you heard from a genuine geezer. Julie, may I extend my wizened old hand across the generations, around all those pigs in the python, and say, you're right kid, but you don't know the half of it.

You have been raised with the myth that says the baby boomers created the 60s. This is false. Baby boomers are consumers, not producers; audiences, not performers. In the 60s, they consumed radical politics, psychedelics, and rock and roll. Now they consume condos, Republicanism, and Aprica strollers. They are otherwise unchanged.

Consider the three major elements that make up what we remember as the 60s: politics, music, and drugs. The politics of direct action, the politics that expressed itself through sit-ins and demonstrations, began with actions like the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1955. The leaders of this one were old enough to be the parents and grandparents of boomers. Southern black college students held the first sit-ins in 1959 and 1960 when the oldest boomers, those born in 1946, the first postwar year, were 14.

The Port Huron Statement, the founding document of SDS and the first crystallization of the set of ideas and attitudes that came to be called the New Left, was written in 1962, when the oldest boomers were mainly worried about getting their driver's licenses. The northern white New Left and the southern black freedom movement came together in the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 when the oldest boomers were hoping to get a date for the senior prom.

Much of the leadership of the antiwar movement came out of the struggles of the civil rights movement. None of the defendants at the trial of the Chicago Seven was a boomer.

The fascination with weird states of mind can be variously traced to Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac, Timothy Leary, and Ken Kesey, all much too old to be boomers.

And the music. Look at the major figures of the 60s: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, even the very Bob Dylan himself: they are all war babies. None of them was young enough to be a boomer.

The boomers hit their peak at Woodstock where they served as the largest audience ever for music made by their elders. But by 1970, they were old enough, in theory, to produce their own stuff. Left to their own nearly nonexistent resources and dominating the media through sheer numbers and buying power, they have bored the rest of us with Leave It to Beaver reruns, Shirelles revivals, restaurants offering, God help us, food from the 50s, re-creations of movie genres that should have died with Humphrey Bogart, and that ultimate nostalgia trip, the Reagan administration.

Look on the bright side, Julie. At least you are likely to outlive them. I will probably rage against the dying of the light just about the time the newspaper feature pages start to fill up with gushy articles about the New Death or time-sharing mausoleums, or some other grotesque attempt at pushing the dying boomer into doing one last time the thing that he has always done best: consume.

Jerry Sullivan

Chicago

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