Don’t Mistake the Fading Echoes of Boomer Culture for the Roar of the Crowd

Sure, he's still alive, but it's hard to ignore the wrinkled mien, isn't it?Sven Hoppe/DPA via ZUMA

Ross Douthat uses the big ratings debut of the Roseanne reboot to argue that baby boomers still utterly control our culture:

The same week that “Roseanne” hit it big, the number one movie in America was Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” — an aging boomer director telling a story saturated in nostalgia for the pop culture that defined his peak artistic years. And the big Easter television event was the live performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a musical that the baby boomer Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote at the tender age of 22….Now it’s just boomer culture all the way down. And since that culture is, for all its creaking repetitiousness, our only common culture at this point, it would not be surprising if we find ourselves still clinging to it even once its progenitors are gone.

You can make practically any point you want if you cherry pick a few observations and ignore everything else. Sure, there’s nostalgia for boomer-era entertainment. Why wouldn’t there be since lots of boomers are still alive? But there’s also nostalgia for I Love Lucy, and the same week that Roseanne hit it big, The Ten Commandments was on TV as usual. A couple of years ago we were all agog over a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. Today we’re celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

That’s all from the generation previous to boomers. Skipping forward, the most omnipresent aspect of modern pop culture is probably the Kardashian family. The number one movie in America for this entire year has been Black Panther, directed by a 31-year-old black man. Teen culture is saturated with Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, Twilight, and a truly astonishing mountain of decidedly non-boomer dystopian fiction. Contemporary feminist and racial discourse is driven almost entirely by Gen X and younger. What’s more, contemporary cultural discourse in general is driven largely by social media, which is very much a post-boomer phenomenon.

And while we’re at it, let’s not forget the steady stream of nostalgia-based entertainment that sank into oblivion almost as soon as it was released. Remember Pan Am?

Douthat claims that “boomers, for all the destruction trailing in their wake, might be the only thing holding American culture together at this point.” Please. Like all generations, boomers continue to keep the fading echoes of their youth alive. But this hardly means that boomer culture is hegemonic. It’s not even close.