Deep Thought: When You Belong in a Museum
Roadside life on the Misinformation Highway is full of interesting sights. Sometimes I just sit and watch it go by.
Twitter is intermittently full of 'generational' fights. They keep accusing the 'Boomers' of harbouring right-wing notions, being hopeless at technology, and being prone to believe everything they hear on Faux News. The problem is that I was born in the early 1950s and am a Baby Boomer. I do not recognise any of these attitudes as being common to my 'generation'. I associate these attitudes with people older than myself – or younger. My question is: where did my contemporaries go?
I have a lot of trouble believing that people who came of age in the Summer of Love fit the descriptions I read on social media. That doesn't mean it isn't happening. But it might mean that this 'generation' business is an oversimplification.
In the first place, the people I attended university with were antiwar. They believed in civil rights for everyone. They were critical of capitalism and suspicious of alphabet-soup government: CIA, FBI, NSA… Upper-class students warned us in the language departments, 'Don't talk to the NSA. They'll try to recruit you, and they're up to no good.'
A few years ago, an editor boss of mine encouraged me to try an online 'test' of my political orientation. According to this academic study, my politics are somewhere left of the Dalai Lama's. I heart Bernie Sanders. I know where he's coming from. I chuckle affectionately when he mentions Eugene V Debs. I agree with him that Debs should have been president. Nobody else knows who Eugene V Debs was. Heck, when I was at university some young actors on a grant came around doing a play about the State of Franklin. Nobody's ever heard of that utopian project, either (except my late dad, who knew that if Franklin had become a state instead of being killed by greedy politicians and land-grabbers, his home town would have been its capital. Maybe knowledge like this isn't so much 'generational' as a matter of outlook and orientation?
Now, it occurs to me that maybe we weren't the only people alive in the Sixties. The country was what you call 'deeply divided.' Heck, LBJ didn't conclude he'd lost 'Middle America' until he heard Walter Cronkite question the war. My friends and I may have felt that Cold War attitudes belonged to the parental generation, but we may have been naïve – lots of our contemporaries may have had different viewpoints.
The same goes for technology. From watching my fellow students mess about with batch cards to observing hilarious real-time 'info dumps' involving reams and reams of funny-coloured paper to breaking semiconductor chips in the Siemens factory, I was a sideline participant and occasional casualty in the digital revolution. Of course every new program and app comes with a steep learning curve. But these 'Grandma can't figure out how to send a text' jokes come across as pretty lame. Until, of course, I try to explain it to an 80-year-old.
When it comes to misinformation, my lot were born skeptical. We accused all official bureaucracies of being 'Kafkaesque'. We tended to look for the fnords, and if you don't get that reference you don't read enough science fiction. Speaking of science fiction, one of the alternative newspapers peddled around our campus was called The Fair Witness. Where did all those skeptics go? They can't all have been abducted by aliens. Or could they? Maybe some sneaked into town one night and turned them all into Pod People?
My conclusion: I don't belong to a 'generation' so much as to what we were in the beginning: a counterculture. A school of thought and aesthetic appreciation that runs counter to the mass-produced reality around us. We were strangers in a strange land. Still are, those who are left. Whether we made much of a mark on our era or will end up as not even a footnote in the ebook of our time is immaterial. We do our thing. You do you, as they say these days. Just don't expect us to be impressed with Faux News.
I don't mind being a museum piece. I just object to being mislabelled. Do like the archaeologists do: if you can't identify our function, just call us 'cult objects'.