My Generation is Different…NOT

First I must mention that if one insists on dividing up the population by “generations” and attributing to those generations titles and unique characteristics, then I am without a generation.  I was born between the Boom and the Bust, and well before the alphabet soup.  My group has been called Boomers (incorrectly), Bust-ers (also incorrectly, as one year of the “bust” included the largest number of births recorded up to that time), the Envelope generation, the Cuspers, and Generation Jones.

As both Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden are/were of Generation Jones, it’s hard to assign a set of characteristics to my bunch.  Like every other generation, we are as varied as the sun and moon.  If anything we do tend to be slightly more spiritual than our predecessors the Boomers, and slightly less materialistic than whatever part of the alphabet soup it was that followed us.  But again, I said those differences are slight if they exist at all.

Now let’s go back a bit, to the anti-war protests of the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Yes, we have to go here, because Fox News is trying to paint the Occupy movement as consisting of the same sort of people.  You will see why it does not.  You will also see why it is not a generational thing, and why embracing that notion is stupid and dangerous.

It’s hard to conduct a survey 40 years after the fact (particularly difficult when the media coverage at the time was as almost, but not quite as skewed as it is today), but the anti-war “peace and free love” movement of the 60’s/70’s seems to have consisted largely of college students.  I may be wrong, but I believe that at the beginning of the Vietnam war college men were exempt from the draft, and at some point that exemption was ended and that’s when the campus protests started.  If that’s not the case, they may have been protesting because if they flunked out of college, or graduated, all of a sudden they were eligible for the draft again.

Before that, Vietnam had been a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight,” much as all wars had been to that point (in fact, I believe that quote may be from the time of the U.S. Civil War).

In short, it was easy to paint all the protesters in one large brushstroke with the words “spoiled brats,” and the media did just that.  The protesters ended up hated and marginalized (although their fashion sense made some marketers a lot of money and that continues to this day), and the sharp divisions caused by this newfangled generational ghetto persist even now.  In fact, to hear some people talk, you’d think that actual hippies from the 1960’s have somehow been magically resurrected, their youth intact, and are out on the streets protesting again.  Damn hippies!

Much as today, college was far from a universal experience, and it was expensive.  Quite different from today, and largely because of the unions, one didn’t need to be a banker, lawyer or doctor to make enough money to buy a house and a car and raise a family, often on one salary alone.  The middle class was alive and well.

And so the protests of that era were confined largely to college boys who did not want to go to war, rebellious middle-class kids who hated suburbia, and a few of the actual poor people who got stuck fighting the war.  As I said, it was a protest defined by generational divides that were heavily promoted in the media and swallowed whole by the protesters themselves in the conceited belief that yes, the Baby Boomers were different.

It was also, keep in mind, something that pitted the young protesters against the unions, who were very conservative at the time, jealously guarding that middle class they had created — that middle class that some of the kids were rebelling against.

Then the war ended and so did the protests, and the next thing you knew, Generation Jones was being labeled as the most conservative generation in history.  I wasn’t that way before the label and have never been since.  I do know that a lot of my friends, both young and old, have become brainlessly conservative out of fear of losing their middle-class status (which most have, anyway).   But it’s not all of us by far.

Some of the protesting Boomers and a few of my generation went on to become bankers, lawyers, politicians and marketers, and they strove to stamp out the unions and the middle class.  From the marketers we got an endless alphabet soup of newly-created and supposedly unique generations, all in the effort to sell stuff.  And as time went by, I couldn’t help noticing that all these new generations were as indistinguishable from one another as the Joneses had been from the Boomers and probably all the generations before.

Why?  Because human beings are divided by types of experience (and the ability to clearly recall experience), not by some mythical generational gizmo that, every 5 years or so, magically creates brand new, shiny, sparkly beings to sell things to.

This brings us to the Occupy movement.

As I understand it, the Occupy movement represents the 99%.  The 99% are not all of one generation unless there was some huge, unnoticed baby boom about 20 years ago accompanied by an equally massive and unnoticed die-off of elders.

Fox News and others are trying to paint the Occupy movement as identical to the anti-war movement of 40 years ago, with some success among those of us old enough to remember the protests, but not the details.  Unfortunately,there are a fair number of those.

And lately, some of the Occupy folks are not only playing right into the stereotype, but supporting it.

I’ve noticed this twice on Facebook recently.  With the first incident (blaming all people of my generation for the economic condition of their generation), I managed to argue back successfully.  With the second incident, where someone who runs a Facebook group called something like “organization for educating misinformed Tea Party patriots” posted an almost INCREDIBLY ageist slogan and then was pretty awful to the people who protested, I threw up my hands and quietly un-subbed.

I have some questions for people like this: why is it so chic to rage against those who bully gays, minorities, etc., and then turn around and be an ageist twit?  And do you have one shred of proof that EVERYONE born more than 20 years before you is in the hated 1%?  If you do, I’d like to see it.  And I’d like to see the money, because I have never had much.

And I have another question: what guarantee do you have that your “generation” won’t turn around in another 20 years and plunge the world into yet another economic crisis with their selfishness?  There is no guarantee.

Remember, people are not divided by some mythical generational calendar invented in a marketing department.  People are divided by experience.  It’s harder to sell to experience (which is why marketers hate experience and hate older people who have it).  But it’s easy to learn from it, even if the experience is not your own, if you will only try.

The biggest lesson to remember is NOT to let Fox News and others make the definitions.  The hated 1960’s hippie protester stereotype does not apply here.  Don’t fall for any attempt to make it stick.

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