What’s your biggest pet peeve about the way people talk about your generation?
Mine is that they’re all terrible at it. Baby Boomers are generally about as effective in their attempts to engage with the youth of today as Hillary Clinton was during the 2016 Presidential Election, during which she urged undecided Millennial voters to “Pokémon Go to the Polls.” (“How do you do, fellow kids?”)
That being said, Millennials don’t exactly make it easy for their parents to relate to them. Practically all of the progressive social changes that the Baby Boomers’ counterculture produced are followed without question, and we haven’t made too many of our own yet.
The Baby Boomers’ great cultural touchstones were just that – great. In 1964, advocates of racial equality saw the Civil Rights Act passed. In 1969, the Stonewall riots led to the emergence of the gay pride movement. In 1973, Roe v. Wade officially legalized a woman’s right to have an abortion. These were all landmark moments in American history, but more importantly they were revolutionary. They spit in the face of an establishment that legitimately opposed their goals.
Fast forward to modern times, and the changes those moments caused have become the new establishment. Millennials live in the society that Baby Boomers created – they’re demonstrably less racist, far more tolerant of alternative sexualities and largely pro-choice.
Liberals call this incremental progress, hard-right conservatives call it a slippery slope and the new protesters – most of whom are Millennials themselves – call it a revolution because they don’t understand that the outcomes of the major culture battles were decided years before they were born.
Groups like Black Lives Matter, the trans community and third-wave feminists have taken up the torch of protest in America, demanding further social change from atop the comfortable platform of progressivism that was built for them in the second half of the 20th century by activists who’d had no such foundation from which to speak. They did have something these new movements lack, though: the spirit of rebellion.
As the pendulum begins to swing back, reactionary conservative groups become the new revolutionaries in an era where progressive ideals of equality are the norm. If you want to know why the alt-right has gained traction in the past few years, this is the reason. Their goals are opposed to the very notion of equality, but their driving force is the same desire to bring about change that motivated activists of the 20th century. They are rebels fighting against an establishment that views them as radical and subversive.
To the great relief of progressive America, those rebels are not as numerous as they were in the ’60s and ’70s, and their reverence for the leader of a nation that was soundly thrashed during the Second World War makes it difficult for the average moderate American to take their arguments seriously. That being said, they exist as a direct response to the more liberal United States that the Baby Boomers helped to build, the country in which faith in the nation’s leader has been fundamentally broken since the 1970s.
That is the reason why Baby Boomers can’t relate to Millennials. The social revolutions of the ’60s came as a shock to the people who lived through them, but the generation that didn’t has no frame of reference. It happened before our time. We can’t care about it nearly as much as they do.
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