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

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

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.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.