Boomers on my mind
You've heard about the Michael J. Fox-Rush Limbaugh dustup by now. Fox is speaking in favor of stem cell research; Limbaugh accused Fox of trading on his Parkinson's disease for political purposes. For a truly biting and hilarious analyis of the situation, here's Stephen Colbert's segment, "The Word: shameless."
Yesterday, the fact that Michael J. Fox is in the news led to a piece that is "Only on CNN" called "What would Alex P. Keaton do?" Hard to imagine that this important issue, the ongoing life of a fictional character from a 1980's sitcom, isn't getting wider coverage. Way to get the story, CNN!
Not surprisingly, Fox says that Alex P. Keaton would agree with him that stem cell research is the right thing to do.
I was going to just ignore this story, then I thought of blogging just about how bizarrely unnecessary it was, but something about the story got me thinking about the Boomers and what Family Ties was really about. I looked at the photo of the Keaton family and thought, wait, the parents aren't that old. And Michael J. Fox isn't that young. When the show began in 1982, the actors playing the parents were both 35 years old. (If IMDB.com is to be believed, Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross were actually born the same day, June 21, 1947). Michael J. Fox was 21, playing younger, but an "older younger" in the form of Reagan-loving-son Alex P. Keaton. Fox is only 14 years younger than the actors playing his parents, and they are all clearly in the Boomer demographic, bookending the older and younger ends of what is considered one generation. So while the show is usually thought of as liberal Boomer parents coming to terms with their kids, I think the Alex-parents dynamic was channeling the clash of values within the Boomers as the younger wave came of age and became yuppies in the 1980's.
The Boomers have been on my mind lately as I've worked for Yankelovich analyzing trends in parenting. The Boomers have been such a cultural focus and magnet their whole lives, what they care about is always important. I have the impression that now the Boomers are having a hard time realizing just how many people are coming up behind them in younger generations. We don't share their cultural memory, or we experience it as history. In talks, I've told a Boomer audience that I am coming up on 40 years old, and yet I was born after Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were shot. This tends to blow their minds, to realize how far the cultural touchstones of the 1960's have receded into the distance.
Why is this important to motherhood? At least two reasons: first, the Boomer wave has moved on beyond first time motherhood. Women making the transition to motherhood now are almost all Gen X or Y--the youngest Boomers are now in their mid-forties. Yet the marketers, politicians, bosses, decision makers of all kinds affecting our lives are largely Boomers.
Second, as I argued in my Motherlode conference talk, "The Fall of the Unencumbered Worker and the Future of the Motherhood Movement," the Boomers are about to get very interested in caregiving as their parents and then they face the challenges of the elder years. The Motherhood movement needs to become very aware of this fact and form alliances with groups such as the AARP to advocate for caregiving as a social benefit. I've written about this before, most notably in my Literary Mama essay, Linda Hirshman's Middle Finger Raised to Gen X Values. There can be discord between the generations but there are great opportunities for collaboration as well. What I find interesting about the emerging wave of elder care is that no one chooses to have elderly parents--with choice taken out of the equation, or at least minimized, how will that change how we view caregiving? Will it generate more empathy for parents of young kids as well?
Will kids finally become valued as a societal resource instead of a burden? My hope is that we will all finally learn to appreciate the youngsters we'll all rely on to take care of US when we get old.
Maybe Elsye and Steven Keaton will move back in with Alex one day and we can see how it all plays out.....