In honour of the life and witness of Molly Ivins, I declare to all marketers and lazy journalists of the world -- especially in the US of A -- that I ain’t no Baby Boomer and will never buy products, services or opinions from people who approach me as such.
I have been ruminating – with increasing moral and intellectual indigestion -- for at least a decade, over the labeling of all Americans born between 1945 and 1965 as “Baby Boomers.” I was born in 1950 and Baby Boomer is Not the name of the Generation I belong to.
Baby Boomer is an utterly banal label, dreamed up by some marketer in the 1960s to track the consumer choices of the large demographic of babies born in post-WWII America. If it had remained with the marketers, I might not care, but by the end of the 1990s, this noxious moniker had managed to colonize everyday language, erasing any reference to the “angry blacks, militant Indians, uppity women and motley assortment of other misfits and troublemakers” who Molly Ivins had covered for the Minneapolis Tribune in the late 1960s.
Ahistorical, amoral and anti-intellectual, this ubiquitous Baby Boomer Rag swift-boats millions of post-WWII Americans, insinuating we all sit around snapping our fingers and tapping our feet to the tune of “Me, Myself and I”. Conspicuous consumption; vapid obsession with social status; pseudo-psychological navel-gazing; and political apathy have become the (supposed) hallmarks of the Baby Boomer generation. But when I mentioned this to my 80-year old mother, who served under General George S. Patton Jr. in Europe, she choked on her chicken wing and sputtered, “I didn’t raise no damn Baby Boomers!”
Google Baby Boomer today and you’ll come up with more than a million and a half hits. Read the news headlines and you’ll find: Aging Boomers fuel burgeoning health food sales; Boomers could start market meltdown; Boomers buoy boat business; Tourism B.C. takes aim at North American Baby Boomers’ affinity for nature; Boomermobiles are causing global warming; Boomers are destroying Social Security, ad nauseam. We Baby Boomers have become a veritable industry!
“But is that all we are?” a small voice whispers. “Where are our stories of idealism and social justice that led us to march for Civil Rights and against the Vietnam War? Where are our stories, which taught us a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle? Where are our stories of proclaiming Power to the People and singing “All we are saying, is give Peace a chance.”? Where are our stories of all the fun we collectively had attempting to subvert the dominant paradigm?
In the ten days since Molly Ivins’ death, I have read 1000s of on-line tributes to her
by friends and fans who extol her political insight, her mighty wit, her big-as-Texas heart and her fearlessness in speaking truth to power through her journalism. The one point, however, that virtually all the writers make, is that Molly was a great Storyteller. One admirer commented, “Molly was sort of the human campfire that all the progressives and liberals, particularly those who grew up in the 1960s, gathered round.” She indeed was a shining light for so many of us, destined to live under the Shrub’s dark reign, but one must always remember -- around a campfire, everyone tells stories and kibitzes about the stories shared by others. Good campfire storytelling is loud and raucous, wild and woolly, full of laughter, camaraderie and usually beer. Good campfire storytelling is not just a string of good jokes, but good talk about what’s important in life, individually and collectively. Good campfire storytelling creates community.
Molly’s true gift to us wasn’t her great storytelling, but her encouragement to each of us to tell the stories closest to our hearts, over and over, and not to be silenced. Some of her favorite stories were the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, habeas corpus, the role of a free press, the fact that We the People are the true Deciders on matters of war and peace. And in the process of telling her stories, Molly retold stories of mentors -- Tom Paine, Horace Greeley, Mark Twain, Mother Jones, Woody Guthrie, Edward R. Murrow – who had dared to challenge government corruption and mendacity in their own times. It was in such a community of memory that Molly Ivins found the courage to speak out boldly, and so can we, if we persist in telling our own stories and not allow ourselves to be smothered by market-driven claptrap like Baby Boomer.
In her last essay, Molly challenged us to a daily regimen of protest against the Iraq War (fueled by the military-industrial-complex and a patriotic duty to consume). I propose that each day, in whatever way, we refute the label of Baby Boomer and replace it with a meaningful story of our own. In my case, I now smile sweetly when approached as a Baby Boomer and say, “I’m so sorry, but this seems to be a case of mistaken identity. I belong to (variously): The Martin Luther King Generation; the Vietnam War Generation; the Custer Died for Your Sins Generation; the Our Bodies, Ourselves Generation…I ain’t no Baby Boomer and will never buy products, services or opinions from anyone who slanders me as such.” And for those born after 1965, my nephews and nieces, I encourage you to throw off the chains of “X, Y and Z Generations”. Share your stories of idealism and hope as members of the Internet Generation; the Dixie Chicks Generation; the Inconvenient Truth Generation; the Barak Obama for President Generation and proudly proclaim “I ain’t no X, Y, Z automaton and will never buy products, services or opinions from anyone who slanders me as such.”
Think of it as a great, intergenerational balloon-popping! Armed only with the pinpricks of memory, we can instantly deflate marketers’ narratives that claim we were born to shop. By retelling our own stories of dissent and resistance; by exercising control of the purse; and by never forgetting to laugh, we collectively can stop this damn war. Now. Thank you, Molly.
Cynthia McLean is a writer and cartoonist in Vancouver.