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“Baby Boomer” as an inaccurate, all-purpose insult

From a recent book review by Christopher Tayler:

In age and sensibility, they’re caught in the crossfire of the intergenerational squabble that caused David Foster Wallace, speaking for ‘the children of all the impassioned infidelities and divorces Updike wrote about so beautifully’, to characterise the typical Updikean baby boomer as ‘an asshole’.

John Updike was born in 1932 and is hence 14 years too old to be a baby boomer. Rabbit is about the same age (26 years old in 1959, I think it was). Not a baby boomer.

David Foster Wallace, on the other hand, was born in 1962 and is a baby boomer (of the late variety).

Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush: all baby boomers. So there’s lots of baby boomin’ to hate on.

But to use Baby Boomer as a synonym for “self-absorbed person older than me,” no, that won’t work. There’s no point in that.

13 Comments

  1. jrg says:

    Let’s not be too sensitive: the quote above is insulting “Updikean baby boomers” not “baby boomers” in general.

    This goes to one of your favorite points: heterogeneity of responses. Here the treatment is being born in a given set of years. The fact that there is a type of baby boomer that is “self absorbed and older than me” should not be generalized as the uniform response of all baby boomers. And the fact that not all baby boomers are “self absorbed” doesn’t mean that there isn’t a (substantial) subset that merits David Foster’s appelation.

    • Andrew says:

      Jrg:

      I have no problem with people hating on baby boomers. But it makes no sense to drag John Updike into this. Or, conversely, if Updike and his characters irritate someone, it makes no sense to identify this with baby boomers. Neither Updike nor his most famous characters are baby boomers. The phrase “Updikean baby boomers” makes no sense.

      The point of my post is not that baby boomers are or should be treated as a homogeneous group. My point is that “baby boomer” has now become such an all-purpose insult that it is used in settings where it is completely inappropriate.

    • It’s interesting that in the nomenclature the group between the world wars is sort of acknowledged as a “left out” group: http://geography.about.com/od/populationgeography/qt/generations.htm sometimes called the “lucky few” or the “silent generation” for example. It’s not surprising that they get lumped into the baby boomers I guess.

      • Basically just because most people have probably never heard of “the lucky few” or the “silent generation” or whatnot, but everyone’s heard of the baby boomers.

        • zbicyclist says:

          And for the older members of that group (e.g. my parents their siblings, born in the years just after the Great War and so prime candidates to win World War II) — did they become “The Greatest Generation” before Tom Brokaw gave them that name?

          Did we tend to name generations before the Baby Boomers?

          The baby boom made sense as a name, in part because it was unexpected. Pascal K. Whelpton had used cohort-component forecasts to forecast out the total US fertility for white women would decline from 2.42 in 1945 to 2.06 in 1960, based on data from 1920 to 1945.

          The reality was that the fertility rate jumped to 2.90 in 1946 and to 3.53 in 1960.

          [Juha M. Ahlo and Bruce D. Spencer, Statistical Demography and Forecasting, Springer 2005.]

          • Greatest Generation has always irked me. Names for generations… doesn’t do it for me personally. Glosses over a little too much heterogeneity for my taste.

            • Dog says:

              Here we are 4 years later, BOOMER is now a common insult used by millenials against people born in the 1980s :D

              quite literally in the worst case definiton: “anyone older then me that i dont like”

              doesnt even have “self-absorbed” reference any more either. it is more generic.

              If a person suggests the show “Dawsons Creek” was good ? “SHUTUP BOOMER”

              Take THAT psychologists! Shouldnt have presumed you could give a great idea to these kids and expected them not to use it!

              In reality its just inevitable if you ever try to classify a group of people in any way. The very invention of the concept of “this generation” “that generation” guaranteed the eventuality that this form of rebellion against the status quo would occur.

              • Andrew says:

                Dog:

                I love that, the idea that “boomer” just refers to middle-aged people. It’s a wonderful linguistic shift. So, a hundred years from now, our great-great-great grandchildren can be complaining about the “boomers” a few years older than them, who have grabbed all the best opportunities. No actually baby boom required (which will be good for future economists who can then confidently study 10-year age bins without having to worry about aggregation bias).

              • Ummm.. Millennials ARE people born in the 1980s… who reached adulthood in the 2000’s…

                Millennials is now just “the kids these days” I guess…

                meh.

      • Martha says:

        I’ve heard the phrase “silent generation” but not “lucky few” to refer to the generation that includes me. “Few” seems a good word to describe this cohort, since birth rates were generally low in that period. But “lucky” glosses over the heterogeneity of that group. I do count myself as one of the lucky ones, but there were many in that group who were not so lucky: those whose father died in WWII (or came home “shell-shocked” before we said PTSD), many who died or were disabled from polio or other diseases that were not yet kept down by widespread vaccination, many who died in infancy who would have lived a normal lifespan if neonatal care had been developed to the current state then, and many who died or became disabled in Vietnam.

  2. Paul Sas says:

    Wow, I’m going to defend DFW?
    Closer reading of the passage quoted clearly shows that Updikean philanderers are the DADs of the boomers. The offspring of the weasels that Updike chronicled.

    • numeric says:

      Obviously, the parents of the boomers were the real a-hats. The suburban milieu that Updike so tediously describes was their creation, with their divorces, infidelities, and otherwise self-absorption in materialistic acquisitions and their shallow emotional attachments. I think its a New Yorker thing (the magazine, not the inhabitants of that city, though maybe it applies to them also). If one reads the early Cheever, one sees that laudation of the same post-war environment that Updike describes, but eventually he gets tired of the whole thing (or maybe sees through it or maybe even he evolves–characters in novels are supposed to do that, so maybe authors should also). His more or less final word on the matter is Bullitt Park, where he finally seems to realize that the benefits of suburban existence come with inescapable costs (Hammer and Nailles personify this). Updike, wordsmith but not particularly insightful (except for introducing the blow job into American discourse), dismisses this work as “punchy”. I would say Updike never learned how to punch.

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