Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Boomers, America's last common culture?

Ross Douthat writing in the NYTimes about the (unexpected) popularity of the Roseanne reboot:
So let’s try to analyze the return of the Conner family in strictly cultural terms, without directly referencing the present occupant of the White House. The show’s sky-high ratings probably owe something to Roseanne’s political views and blue-collar goddess reputation, but above all they are a case study in the power the baby boom generation still wields, even as it begins to enter old age, over our collective cultural imagination. And not only that: They testify to the extent to which the boomers, for all the destruction trailing in their wake, might be the only thing holding American culture together at this point.

That’s because if the boomers were destructive, they were also creative. Indeed, you can make a reasonable case that theirs was the last great burst of creativity in Western history, the last great surge of mass cultural invention. The boomers were the last generation to come of age with some traditional edifices still standing, the old bourgeois norms and Christian(ish) religion and patriotic history, which gave them something powerful to wrestle with, to rework and react against and attempt to overthrow. And because they came of age within a stable-seeming (though not for long) common culture, their revolution was experienced as a communal experience itself, something that united millions of people simply by virtue of their being young and Western in 1965 or 1969 or 1975.
I'm a boomer, but "the last great burst of creativity in Western history"? Really? What does that mean?

And the recent era of "quality" TV?
What we often think of as two golden ages — the auteur years in 1970s Hollywood, and then the more recent golden age of television — are really part of the same generational takeover; it just took longer for boomer influence to work itself out on the small screen. But it did eventually: what David Chase did with “The Sopranos” and David Simon with “The Wire,” and before them figures like the just-passed Steven Bochco and Matt Groening and yes, Roseanne Barr, was all an extension and an echo of the era-defining pop cultural ferment that began in the 1960s and took off in 1970s.

But now we are in the twilight of that era — and it is not at all clear that the boomers’ successors are prepared to react against boomer hegemony with anything like the same creativity and vigor. In part that’s because technological and social change has left the rising cohorts of Americans fragmented, polarized, alienated from one another, too divided by belief and taste and language to build something new together. And in part it’s because the boomers themselves contributed mightily to fragmentation, leaving too little standing when they tore things down and rebuilding haphazardly and self-interestedly, bequeathing a spirit of transgression and permanent revolution that’s run out of things to deconstruct and is either feeding on itself, lapsing into torpor, or generating niche forms of radicalism on the further left and right that are too weak as yet to produce revolution or renewal.

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