Thursday, November 4, 2021

Why Do Some Generations Not Have Names? (Sea Change)

Why are some generations labeled and others not? Is this a recent trend?

The "Greatest (and most modest) Generation Ever!" is quickly slipping away.  I saw, in my lifetime, the last World War I veteran die off, as well as the last confederate widow (last year, no less!).  In the next few years, we will see the last WWII veteran die off, no doubt some youngster who lied about his age and joined up near the end of the war, and had the good fortune to live a long time.

It wasn't that long ago.  I noted before that my neighbors were both born in a Nazi work camp, in 1945, and while they remember nothing of that time (being infants) it is startling to meet someone with a living connection to "History" as we now call it.

The postwar generation was called the "Baby Boomers" but I don't recall what we named the war babies or the depression-era kids.  Gertrude Stein labeled the generation that fought (and died) in World War I as the "Lost Generation" - but it seems this labeling of generations doesn't go far back further than that.

I came at the end of the baby boom, depending on which source you cite.  Most claim it runs from 1945 to 1960, which makes me (and Mark) "Post-Boomers" I guess.  But the subsequent generations are a little murkier.  The "Me" generation? And where does Gen X, Millenials, and GenZ all demarcate?  It gets confusing.  And who decides who are what label and what they mean?  And do they really tell us anything about anybody at all?

After all, the latest generation might encompass an unemployed Antifart who throws molotov cocktails at a McDonalds.  But the same generation might include a guy who brings an AR-15 to a protest to shoot the Antifart.  Same generation, different people, different "ideals" and ideas.  From the perspective of age, it just seems like the only common denominator is they're all crazy.

This generational thing is being used - by outside forces - to divide us.  I saw a cartoon  or "meme" the other day, written by a "Millenial" and the punchline was, "I work all year long and get a week off for vacation - while a Baby Boomer gets to take a month in the Bahamas!"  The undercurrent is, of course, that this is unfair, and that the previous generation took month-long vacations when they were 20, so why not them?

Of course, this is not true. As I have pointed out time and time again, my net worth was negative until I was well into my 30's.  This was due to my being young and having nothing - which is the norm - as well as my stupid desire to have things I really didn't need (or in retrospect, want) and pay for them with loans.  Calculating that net worth was the first step towards turning things around.

Yes, older people can (in some instances) take long vacations and buy nice things.  That's how it works, when you sock away money for 45 years.  Of course, the key is to sock that money away - a few dollars a day - and it will build up.  No one handed these older folks money on a platter, other than a small minority who had inheritances.

But things change over time.  And they will change for the current generations - X, Y, and Z - over time.  The key is, though, you have to change yourself.  My older siblings bought into the baby boomer mantra of the 1960's - that "materialism" was bad, and that having a job was "selling out to the man!"  There was this mentality that being poor was noble and that living in a commune and not bathing was somehow preferable to having a nice house, food on the table, money in the bank, and a car in the driveway.

It was just silly teenage and 20-something posturing, of course.  By the mid-to-late 1970's, most "Baby Boomers" changed their minds dramatically about these things.  They found jobs, mostly because, like today, companies needed employees.  And they got paychecks and bought BMWs and became "Yuppies".  It was quite odd.

I remember vividly going to Boston in the late 1970's and meeting some friends of my parents.  Their daughter had a job managing a "Crate and Barrel" or something and her husband was a young lawyer or whatever.  They bought a modest row house and were fixing it up - "Gentrifying" they later would call it. And out front was parked a new BMW 318i.  My hippie brother was fuming.  They sold out to the man!  Or maybe he was starting to re-evaluate his life choices.  After all, he owned nothing but the clothes on his back.  No car, no bank account, no nothing.  Just an empty stall to sleep in, in a barn, and orders to take from the commune Guru.  It would take another decade or so, but even he would change his mind about anti-materialism.

On retirement island, we are seeing the other end of this sea change.  When we moved here, nearly 15 years ago, the older generation ran everything.  They had their Parcheesi clubs and Mah Jong Tongs and social dinner clubs and whatnot - many of which fell by the wayside or are falling by the wayside.  Like I said, you can tell when they are desperate when they invite me to join.  It is like the guy who wanted to hire me at Home Depot - they are scraping the bottom of the barrel!

A new generation is moving in here, and it is interesting to see the change.  The old names are going away, one by one - either dying off or leaving to move to a real retirement community or to be closer to family.  The end game is messy, as I have noted before, and denying that it will ever happen to you is the worst possible strategy.

The new folks moving in are younger - and by that, I mean in their 50's instead of their 70's.  Many still work, have money (or think they do) and often are using the homes here as second, seasonal homes.  We are losing a lot of Canadians, even though the borders are open again.  The price of rentals is skyrocketing, which may be partly to blame.

Our neighbors actually have children.  When we moved here, you never saw a school bus on the island. Today, there are three - one for the high school, one for the elementary school, and one for the middle school.  They arrive starting at 6:30 AM which seems insane to me.  I don't recall school starting in the dark when I was a kid.  They come home at 2 in the afternoon.  It is weird!   Why are kids being shunted off to school hours before their parents are due at work?  I guess this is the crazy new world we live in - well, they live in.  I'm on my way out.

We still hang out with the older crowd.  A lot of the new people are from expensive suburbs of Atlanta (pronounced with no "t"s please!) and look down their noses on people who don't have fancy cars or designer clothes.  They are at that stage still where status means everything - they haven't learned yet that death is not so status-conscious.  A good first health scare might bring them around - then again, maybe not.

But the oldsters are mourning for the old days and old ways, and you can't blame them for that.  Our little Mayberry-by-the-sea was stuck in a 1971 time-warp for decades.  It wasn't until the old buildings were torn down and new ones put up that people started coming back to Jekyll in droves.  Now the roads are crowded with speeders and tailgaters - on a 7-mile long island with a 35 MPH speed limit, if that.  Times have changed - it no longer has that "small town" feel, and you no longer know your neighbors.

And change is inevitable.  It couldn't stay stuck in the past forever, something had to give.  The next generation doesn't want to live in a 1970's house with green appliances, unless they are doing it to be retro and ironic.  People today expect huge bathrooms and designer kitchens.  And they are not interested in joining the Rotary or the Parcheesi club or going to a supper club in someone's home.  They want to hang out at the fast-casual eatery and have someone serve them fried mayonnaise balls on a platter.

A lot of things simply wouldn't pass muster in today's environment.  The Pottery guild used to have a "Pot Smoking" party where they would all drive onto the beach (a no-no today) and build a big hot fire and then throw raku pottery into it.  A lot of drinking was involved, but not much pot-smoking.   They had an Indian drum and spear, and someone would dress up as a "Native American" and do a native dance and recite some sort of Hiawatha poem.  Today that would be considered cultural appropriation and politically incorrect.

But back then?  Well times were different.  If you've got an hour to kill, I made a slideshow of the 40-year history of the Jekyll Island Arts Association.  Back then, the old historic buildings were empty and unused, and they rented us one for $1 a year just to keep the lights on.  How much longer that will last is anyone's guess.  The old buildings are being restored and turned into wedding venues and overnight B&B villas.  You try to explain this to the older generation and they live in denial.  "They'll never throw us out!"  The only thing constant is change.

Back then, there was no museum on the island - not officially.  Some nice lady rounded up the artifacts of the Jekyll Island Club (that were being looted by State politicians at an alarming rate) and set up a museum of her own.  They named a street after her.  Today they have a professionally managed museum with interactive displays for the kiddies.  It's like $20 a head to go there - I've never been.  Between that and the turtle center, you can drop $50 a head to take your family there.  Disneyland isn't much more expensive!

Things have changed, and the people have changed.  What is interesting to me is that you can't pigeon-hole people based on age alone - within each "generation" there are radically different people with radically different values and interests.  Saying that everyone born between a certain year and another year are all alike is just, well, stupid.  But he media loves this shit, which is why I say to unplug from the media.  The media is stupid and aimed at the stupid.  Television is aimed at people with no more than an 8th grade education, if that.  If you are smarter than that, odds are, you will "dumb down" to the level of television if you watch it long enough.

The idea that the next generation has it better or worse than previous generations is also flawed.  My Grandparents no doubt thought it was awful that my parents' generation had to fight in this horrible World War.  My Parents' generation thought it was awful that I was brought up in an era of "the bomb" and atomic bomb drills at school (which we gave up only when we realized they were pointless).  Today, kids "duck and cover" to protect themselves from each other - school shooters.  Tomorrow? Kids will have to protect themselves from floods and wildfires due to global warming, I guess.

But of course, I never had to worry about getting Polio.  And I get to drive in a car with eight airbags and a killer stereo system and air conditioning - something that my parents generation never had.  Grandpa had his Cadillac, of course, but that was only after he worked for 40 years.  Today, a kid in high school has a nicer car that that!  So there are pluses and minuses for each generation.

I am not sure I want to go back to "the good old days" of slavery, discrimination, misogyny, gay-bashing and whatnot.  And those "good old days" weren't that long ago.

So what's the point?  I guess the point is, these generational labels are pretty much nonsense. The media loves them as they make for good click-bait stories.  Everyone wants to click on a story about how clueless and greedy the "Baby Boomers" are, or how lazy and stupid and politically correct the "Millennials" are - or Gen X or Z or Q or whatever.  But that's just click-bait, and often just thinly disguised class-warfare, trying to get us to attack one another.

Like I said, I was dead broke at age 30.  By age 40, a millionaire.  Life can change, and change dramatically as you get older - if you let it, and you work at it.  Giving up at age 25 because the $150 you put into "stonks" went nowhere is dumb.  It takes time - years, not hours - to accumulate wealth.

I am confident the younger generation will also succeed in life.  It may seem insurmountable, sure. The only mistake they can make is to give up, or subscribe to wacky ideas like denouncing materialism.  Even then, such things end up being a detour in life, not an end-game.  My hippie brother now owns a fancy house in a fancy neighborhood - one that costs far more than mine!  And he drive - get this - a gas-guzzling SUV!   Even if you try to denounce success, it happens anyway.