Friday, March 05, 2010

Tom Brokaw and The Boomer Report

On Thursday night, Tom Brokaw did a report called BOOMERS on CNBC. It was of great interest to me because I was born in 1957---which means I am a part of the baby boomer generation.

Part of Brokaw's report was done at the University of Michigan. I'm not sure why. If I had been doing that report I would've gone back to Kent State University because that is where four young people (who would be baby boomers today)were gunned down by the police while protesting agains the Vietnam War. But that's just me.

Much attention is being paid to baby boomers these days as the first wave of us moves towards retirement and social security. Brokaw attempted to give us a 50 year look at the boomers in a two-hour period.

Yes, we were the first generation to grow up with television; many of us lived through the civil rights era and the Vietnam War. But the “real” image of a baby boomer is what I question. Brokaw failed to show the true diversity of us as a group. We are not all white kids who grew up in the suburbs watching the Mickey Mouse Club. He referred to us as the most diverse generation but the fact of the matter is some of us actually grew up in a separate and unequal society and according to a Duke University study, diversity has not led to equality. Brokaw didn't talk about that. Instead, he showed us how one black man in America was living a life he never dreamed of. The fact of the matter is many blacks in the boomer generation are no better off relative to whites than their parents and grandparents. Many older southern baby boomers can still tell you stories about the Jim Crow laws and the impact it had on their lives.

We have also been called the wealthiest generation but despite what some would have you believe, we are not all living in the land of milk and honey. Some of us may have plenty of disposable income but, according to the Duke Study, quite a few of us are struggling financially.

One thing I will agree with in the report is a comment made by author J. Walker Smith. He said baby boomers became more focused on self and a promise of economic prosperity as they grew up. They became more focused on "things", and tried to live beyond their means. Greed and ego were also the order of our generation.

Maybe that explains some of the financial mess we're in. You think?


Leslie said...

I wish I had seen that show -- I missed it..darn it. That's very interesting about greed and ego characterizing the generation and that it might have contributed to the problems in our economy now. I think you're right!

Eileen Williams said...

As always, THANK YOU Beverly, for opening my eyes and allowing me to reflect on aspects of society I might not otherwise consider. I was unaware of the Duke study and the statistics they quote. I was also unaware of the appalling financial inequity between black and white boomers. I naively thought we'd made substantial progress in that area.

I do, however, disagree with your thought that "greed and ego were the order of our generation." I'm a first-wave boomer and was part of the protests and movements that tried to make the world a better place. I guess I was naive there, too, but we did truly believe we could make a difference. And a lot of us protested against what we believed to be the materialism of the 1950s. It would be interesting to talk with you about that some time!

Thanks for shedding light on topics I may not otherwise understand and making me aware of the experiences and life-view of my fellow boomers. Your honesty is greatly appreciated!

Beverly said...


Thanks for commenting. This is a post I debated writing because I didn't think it would be a popular viewpoint. However, one thing i have learned as a journalist is everyone has a right to a viewpoint as long as you can be respectful in how you present it. I hope I have done that.

Ishould clarify something in reference to the "greed and ego" comment. This is my perception of some boomers TODAY. I certainly don't believe we grew up that way but as we grew into middle age, I believe many of us became more conservative, self-centered and focused on greed. Look at the mess on Wall Street--created mostly by boomer men. And let's not forget the mess with ENRON.

hetyd4580 said...

Very interesting blog, Beverly. Born in 1957, you're part of Generation Jones, not the Boomer Generation. Brokaw’s Boomer$ was an embarrassing failure for CNBC. By ignoring the growing consensus among actual experts that there were two distinct generations born in the post-WWII boom in births, the show was a mess of confusion and inaccuracy.

Most people born 1946-1964 (which the show defines as the Baby Boom Generation) who watched this show would not have related to it. This is because practically the whole show described those born in the first half of that period (the real Boomer Generation) while almost completely ignoring those born in the second half (Generation Jones). And far more babies were born during the GenJones years, which makes the fundamental idiocy of this show that much more pronounced.

The images of childhood presented were almost all those of the real Boomers: Coonskin hats, hula hoops, Howdy Doody, school bomb drills, ovaltine, etc., etc. Most Jonesers weren’t even born then. Where was the Brady Bunch and Partridge Family, Easy Bake Ovens and Beany Coptors, etc. etc. which Jonesers grew up with? The teen/young adult years presented were those of the real Boomers: Vietnam and anti-war protests, Woodstock and hippy counterculture. But Jonesers were just little kids then, not a part of any of that. Where were GenJones teen cultural touchstones like disco and heavy metal, Farah Fawcett and David Cassidy posters?

The show was filled with contradictions. It referred to Obama as a Boomer. But this was the same network that kept talking about the generational change at last year’s Inaugural. So the Boomers were passing the generational torch to the…Boomers?! The show repeatedly stated that the Boomers were the offspring of the Greatest (WWII) Generation. Does that mean the Silent Generation (between the WWII Gen and Boomers) didn’t have any children? In reality, most Jonesers were born to Silent Gen parents. This is one of many reasons why Jonesers are so different than Boomers, since experts emphzsize the big contrast between the Silent gen vs. the WWII Gen and parental influences are so crucial to the formation of generational personalities.

For our entire life cycle, we Jonesers have been mistakenly lumped in with the Boomers (and blamed for their excesses), while getting very few of the benefits. We are not Boomers. Every national poll on this question confirms that we don’t believe we are Boomers. Mountains of data confirm the clear differences in values, attitudes, etc. between Boomers and Jonesers. Most actual experts believe GenJones exists. Yet, CNBC ignores this and puts out this show using that old widely-discredited 1946-1964 Boomer definition.

Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. There was a demographic baby boom 1946-1964, but the Boomer Generation was born around 1942-1953, while GenJones was born around 1954-1965. This is what actual experts say, as opposed to clueless media companies who don’t bother to research current expert opinion.

Thankfully, many in the media have paid attention to the experts, and GenJones has been getting lots of media attention. Many major mainstream media companies now use the term; in fact, the Associated Press' annual Trend Report chose the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009. We Jonesers need to help spread awareness about our long-lost generation to help avoid the imbecility of shows like Brokaw’s Boomer$.

Here are some of the good links about GenJones I found:

George Fulmore said...

I just finished watching the show and I was looking for somewhere to vent my frustrations. I think that the negative review (in the New York Daily News) is a good start. I was really disappointed by the show. First off, Boomers today range from age 64 to 46. The latter age is of guys and gals who are just getting started with what they are going to really do in life, I'd think. As the writer says, the scope of the group is way too large to grasp in one show. But I agree with the writer than the show was not focused. What was with the guy who lost a giant house and a well-paying job after a huge severance? He now lives in an apartment and worries about his future? What else do we need to know? A divorce? Other stuff? Hardly typical, but possible, but what was the point? That a fairly middle of the road white guy Boomer could be failing? And the guy who said that society is not ready for "a very large number of relatively unhealthy people who live into their 80's"? What has HE been smoking. Boomers are relatively healthy group who will enter Medicare in relatively good shape. What a crock that guy was spouting! There was so much wrong with the show I don't have time here to retort it all. The old guy still fighting the Vietnam War and still believing that we were "abandoned"? Nonsense. The show really lowered my opinion of Tom Brokow.