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Talkin’ ’Bout Your Generation
  • November 15, 2013 : 00:11
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Ah yes, that time-tested evergreen, trundled out at holiday parties, family gatherings and pretty much anytime the alcohol starts flowing: “My generation is [glowing superlatives here]. Your generation is [insult here].” The argument is inevitable, considering the oceans of time and complexities of circumstance separating each epoch. After all, Grandpa may have checked out at Omaha Beach, but he certainly never checked in on Foursquare. Still, there’s one truth that binds us all: Whether you’re a member of the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers or the Gen Xers, Yers or Zers, you must understand the defining characteristics of each in order to issue an informed verbal beatdown. That’s where we come in.

HEROES

John F. Kennedy, Julia Child, Jackie Robinson, Walt Disney, Margaret Mead, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Jack Kerouac, Charles Lindbergh, Louis Armstrong, Betty Friedan, Jonas Salk, Ronald Reagan

VILLAINS

Richard Nixon, Joseph McCarthy, John Dillinger, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Joseph Bonanno, Leona Helmsley, Charles Keating Jr., Ronald Reagan

WHAT THEY’RE KNOWN FOR

Character forged on the breadlines of the Great Depression, bravery tested via drop-kicking Hitler to the great hereafter, ingenuity demonstrated while building America into the greatest country on earth—in the midst of the Cold War, no less. Did we mention frugality, personal responsibility and humility? Well, those too.

WHAT WE THINK OF THEM

“It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced,” writes newsman Tom Brokaw in his aptly titled best-seller The Greatest Generation. They fought “not for fame and recognition but because it was the right thing to do.”

WHAT THEY’D RATHER YOU NOT KNOW

According to polls conducted as late as the 1990s, the Greatest Generation might not have been as great as previously thought. The majority of them opposed interracial marriage, objected to the proliferation of working mothers and supported discrimination based on sexual orientation.

SHINING EXAMPLE

Like many of his peers, Ted Williams walked away from baseball, at the height of his powers, when his country needed him. Was one war enough for Williams? Hell, no. He served as a Marines fighter pilot in World War II and went back for seconds during the Korean War. “He was a marine just like the rest of us, and he did a great job,” said fellow soldier and future astronaut John Glenn. “Everybody tries to make a hero out of me,” added Williams with characteristic modesty some 39 missions and one hearing impairment later. “I was no hero. There were maybe 75 pilots in our two squadrons, and 99 percent of them did a better job than I did.”

NOT-SO-SHINING EXAMPLE

Like absolutely none of his peers, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency for his role in the Watergate conspiracy—a scandal involving wiretapping, robbery, hush money and so much more that served as a public-image wrecking ball to American politics.

BOTTOM LINE

Somehow brave and bigoted, progressive and regressive.

HEROES

Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley, Hugh Hefner, Jackie Kennedy, Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Malcolm X, Gloria Steinem, Warren Buffett, Andy Warhol, Clint Eastwood, Maya Angelou, Jim Morrison, Cesar Chavez

VILLAINS

Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, John Gotti, Jerry Sandusky, Bernie Madoff, Jim Jones, John Wayne Gacy, Dick Cheney, Ivan Boesky, Pat Robertson, Ted Kaczynski

WHAT THEY’RE KNOWN FOR

Baby Boomers carried the torch for racial and sexual equality, but the Silent Generation sparked the match, giving birth to the leaders who got everyone marching to the promised land in the first place. And though Boomers happily take credit for making rock and roll “classic,” it’s the Silent Generation who plugged in and brought the blues-infused monster to life in the first place.

WHAT WE THINK OF THEM

We don’t. After all, they’re not called “silent” for nothing. Born into the depths of the Depression, raised hard by a world war and made paranoid by anticommunist fever, the Silent Generation grew up, according to a 1951 Time magazine cover story, “withdrawn” and “cautious,” seen and not heard. (Being sandwiched between the history-book heroics of the Greatest Generation and the larger-than-life legacy of the Boomers didn’t help.)

WHAT THEY’D RATHER YOU NOT KNOW

Sure, they walked to school…uphill…in the snow…both ways. But their tales of hard rearing (which have come to be referred to as “old-school”) mask upbringings in the most stable families in U.S. history. Plus, they were the first generation to have unprecedented access to higher education, funded by veterans benefits earned during a time of minimal bloodshed.

SHINING EXAMPLE

Perhaps no single American has brought his country closer to realizing its democratic dream than Martin Luther King Jr. In a few short years, the engine of the civil rights movement helped deliver his generation, and all those to follow, from the Jim Crow dark ages into the very real promise of justice for all.

NOT-SO-SHINING EXAMPLE

Never short on uninformed commentary, televangelist Pat Robertson has made something of a second career offering his opinion on lifestyles other than his own. To wit: “Many of those people involved in Adolf Hitler were Satanists. Many were homosexuals. The two things seem to go together.” Naturally he’s had plenty to say about feminism: “a socialist, antifamily political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

BOTTOM LINE

Shattered but sheltered. Seeking a different way and a better quality of life without fully recognizing their role in either

HEROES

Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Michael Jackson, Bill Gates, George Clooney, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jordan, David Letterman, Tom Hanks, Magic Johnson, Madonna

VILLAINS

O.J. Simpson, Donald Trump, Karl Rove, Sarah Palin, Jay Leno, Michael Moore, John Edwards, Rush Limbaugh, Mel Gibson, Kathie Lee Gifford, Michael Milken

WHAT THEY’RE KNOWN FOR

Powered by 40 percent of the U.S. population, Boomers changed the face of popular culture like no generation before or since—its movies and music, its cars and clothes, its power and politics. Taking up the cause for peace, love and understanding, they made a clean break with the past. Better yet, they did it against a backdrop of unprecedented chemical and sexual experimentation. And half a century later, they won’t let us forget it.

WHAT WE THINK OF THEM

It depends on whom you ask. According to a 2009 poll, 27 percent of people surveyed said Baby Boomers would be remembered for challenging an unjust war and changing social values. Another 42 percent claimed they would be remembered for rampant consumerism and self-indulgence. The rest simply weren’t sure or chose “nothing at all.” (We’re fairly certain all of them pondered the same question: Why won’t this generation just shut up already?)

WHAT THEY’D RATHER YOU NOT KNOW

A generation once defined by its unflinching idealism became equally noted for its narcissism and epic self-indulgence. Before long, the Me Generation, as they became known, had turned drug use into drug abuse, given us disco, tried to get rich on junk bonds and handed an unholy national debt to their children. And they’re still not done: By 2030, social welfare will buckle under the strain of one in five Americans reaching his or her conclusion.

SHINING EXAMPLE

Seeing Steve Jobs’s name on a definitive list of the 20 most influential Americans of all time—alongside the likes of George Washington, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison—should come as no surprise. Who else so completely changed the way we live our lives? Before his death at 56, Apple’s founder revolutionized not only personal computing but also the wireless, music and film industries. And we had the feeling he was just getting started.

NOT-SO-SHINING EXAMPLE

Gordon Gekko, the character who claims “greed is good” in the 1980s capitalism-on-steroids classic Wall Street, is, the filmmakers admitted, partly based on Michael Milken. At his peak, Milken earned between $200 million and $550 million a year by bankrolling mergers and acquisitions with junk bonds. Since doing time for securities fraud, ponying up $600 million in fines and being diagnosed with prostate cancer, he has turned his moneymaking mind to the treatment of cancer and other diseases. If he funds a cure, we’ll call it even.

BOTTOM LINE

Apparently there is an I in team.

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read more: Celebrities, politics, issue december 2013

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