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June 20, 2007

Boomer Embarrassments

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

At the gym this morning, the music on the PA system was so whiney that -- try as I could -- I finally couldn't ignore it any longer. Damn!

When I allowed my mind to register the tune, I quickly recognized who was singing: James Taylor, sensitive bard of gentle melancholy, of nostalgic hopefulness, of sweetly Lincolnesque cheekbones, of sad and childlike loss ... Lordy, what a disgrace he is -- the Boomers really owe the world an apology for James Taylor!

(I confess that my sense of shame was amplified by the cringe-making recollection that, during one year of adolescent self-pity that I'd prefer to deny, I owned a James Taylor disc and even played it a lot. Adolescence, eh? What are those feelings all about?)

Which in turn got me thinking: What other culture-figures should the Boomers apologize for inflicting on the world? The man who sprang most quickly to mind was the awful architect Thom Mayne, a self-important buffoon we've done our best to expose to some ridicule on this blog: here, here, here, here, here.

After Mayne, though, I bogged down a bit, because the Boomers have supplied such an extensive set of riches to choose from. So with this blogposting I'm soliciting help: Which culture-figures deserve places on a short list of Boomer Embarrassments?

(Note to self for future blogpostings: Propose same game for other eras -- "Shame of the Greatest Generation"; "Disgraces of the Xers," etc.)



posted by Michael at June 20, 2007


Let's see, off the top of my head: Timothy Leary, Willie Nelson, and George Bush.

Posted by: Luke Lea on June 20, 2007 12:16 PM

Fill a room with 'serious artists' of the Boomer pursuasion. Close your eyes. Throw a brick. You've hit an embarassment.

The self-help shelves are filled with shameful cringe triggers. I nominate Deepak Chopra not so much for his asinine blatherings, but for his stone-simple followers.

Posted by: Sluggo on June 20, 2007 12:23 PM

Boomers should apologize for:

(1) The Brady Bunch, and in particular Daddy Brady's perm afro

(2) Tiny Tim

(3) Helen Reddy

(4) Joan Baez ("The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" should never be played again)

(5) Extreme feminism, and T-shirts that said "A woman needs a man life a fish needs a bicycle"

(5) "Room 222"---talk about early seventies PC!

(6) "Love Story" and making Erich Segal famous

(6) Platform shoes for guys and "leisure suits"

(7) Ever making "Both Sides Now" by Judy Collins a hit

(7) Marlo Thomas and Phil Donohue

(8) "The Love Boat"

(9) Paul McCartney and Wings--see "Silly Love Songs"

(10) Making "The Graduate" a superhit

(11) Donna Summer

(12) Charlie's Angels

(13) The AMC Pacer

(14) Perpetuating the myth that cocaine was non-addictive

(15) And the sad biggie: AIDS

Posted by: annette on June 20, 2007 12:31 PM

OK Let’s go:

JFK Sorry, he was the kernel from whence your free love movement grew.

The Chicago 7 particularly Abby Hoffman

Sir, er, Lord, er, Queen? Elton John

The Rolling Stones

Most, if not all, singer songwriters of the JT ilk, but not Bob Dylan

Dustin Hoffman

Jane Fonda

Bill Clinton, the full realization of the free love movement

Bill O’Reilly

Gore Vidal

Kenneth Cole

Steve Rubell and anyone who patronized his den of iniquity if they’re not already mentioned here.

More to Follow… Have to get back to work.

Posted by: Matt on June 20, 2007 1:02 PM

Willie Nelson!? For one, he's too old to be a Boomer. For two, how can you hate on Willie Nelson?

I hate to get too obvious and political, but I can't think of a bigger embarrassment than GW.

As for cultural figures, Jimmy Buffett is fairly ridiculous.

Posted by: the patriarch on June 20, 2007 1:05 PM

Hey gang, not be be a nitpicky snotnose ... well okay, in the best nitpicky snotnose tradition, let me gently point out that some of the people mentioned above aren't Boomers.

Timothy Leary was born pre-Boom. So were McCartney and Donohue.

Though they did their damage in the 60s and influenced actual Boomer generation kids.

Check that: the 60s McCartney was okay. He started to stink later. Anyone hear his latest CD? The one Starbucks is pushing? The Queen ought to strip him of his title.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on June 20, 2007 1:10 PM

Yes, Donald, but to nitpick back---it was the Boomers who gave these people their fame. All the Beatles were actually born pre-Boom, but it was the Boomers who made them famous, bought their records, etc. So Boomers are responsible for them. (Isn't it wierd that the Beatles weren't actually Boomers themselves?) Just like it was the Boomers who aggrandized Timothy Leary.

I just thought of another---Andy Warhol was given his fame by Boomers, too.

And Bianca Jagger.

And Liza Minnelli.

Posted by: annette on June 20, 2007 1:22 PM

Not that anyone has to play by my rules, but my vote is to confine the list to actual Boomers, not people they made famous. I mean, Boomers made Mucha and Escher and Hermann Hesse and Robert Johnson famous too. But a "Boomers" list that starts to include all those guys starts to lose its coherency, no?

Some more nominees: mid-period Jessica Lange (in her worthy phase), Wendy Wasserstein, most Bob Rafelson, "supergroups" (remember them?), Tony Scott, "jazz-rock" ... I'm tempted to say Vonnegut and Brautigan, but book-fiction is so dreary these days that I actually find myself remembering them pretty fondly now ...

Of course there's that other, beyond-shame category: so-bad-they're-good, or maybe just sui generis: The Monkees. Barry White. Billy Joel. Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 20, 2007 1:54 PM

Seven respondents, and nobody's cited Bill Clinton! Well, throw in Hillary, too!

C'mon, I voted twice for the son of a bitch, and I am here to apologize for it in spades.

Try to put together Bill's ceaseless philandering with the phony feminism. Try to make sense of Hillary's campaign to end corruption. She is the most corrupt of the corrupt. And, what about posing with black people as props? We all know that anybody who gets a black person to pose with them achieves absolute holiness. (Well, except for President Bush, who poses with the wrong kind of black people. You know, the ones who aren't into Mau-Mauing.)

Selling pardons as he leaves office, getting blown by fat chicks in the Oval Office, lying to a federal grand jury... can't beat that, can you Bill? And Hillary. Pretending to speak like a poor black, hiding her lezzie entourage from the rednecks, supporting the war and opposing it at the same time depending on the audience she faces. Hillary is pure shlock.

Bill and Hillary are the champion embarassments of the Boomers. No competition.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on June 20, 2007 2:00 PM

John Denver. Remember how popular that guy was? The guy could - like cotton candy - wave a wand around and come up with spun suger of a song. "Sunshine," "Perhaps Love..." Amazing. My 7 year old likes JT's "Gorilla." But it is all academic anyhow since subsequent generations will digitally erase and rub salt in any hint of Boomer Culture - the most spoiled, most self absorbed, most self obsessed generation in history - from the face of the earth...

Posted by: doug on June 20, 2007 2:06 PM

I nominate Letterman, come to think of it. I really hate that "I'm making fun of stupid talk shows while peddling a stupid talk show" attitude. "I'm better than what I'm getting rich doing" -- baloney to that. But I know a lot of people who think Lettterman is just great, so maybe he shouldn't be on the list. Still, there's a kind of Boomer irony and snideness and superiority that always ticked me off ... "I'm cooler than my parents even if I still covet what they have ..."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 20, 2007 2:10 PM

I nominate an activity, not a person: pot-smoking. Not the most dangerous of "drugs", but the most pernicious and anti-social. (I suspect Ecstasy has similar effects on people, but I'm too old to run into it much.)

It's the ruin of good minds, human energy, and parties. Probably partly responsible for the awfulness of mid-period baby-boom culture (i.e. from later than 1966 or thereabouts), just as cocaine use was responsible, in a different way, for ruining TV and movies between about 1973-1985. Those two drugs between them took popular culture on a dreadful journey from feckless soft-focus indiscipline to manic hard-edged indiscipline.

Nothing can raise the boredom level of any gathering like pot-smoking, or the sudden arrival thereat of people who have been smoking pot. Any drunk is more interesting and more verbal (until he passes out) than any pot-smoker, those giggling, food-scarfing yawns. The Boomers didn't invent it, but they certainly made it ubiquitous.

Posted by: alias clio on June 20, 2007 2:41 PM

MBlowhard---at least play by your own rules!! Letterman was born pre-Boom I believe, if the Boom started in 1946. Hell---James Taylor barely makes it in under those rules! I think John Denver might have been slightly pre-boom, too. As so, with Fonda and Hoffman.

But squarely on the shoulders of Boomers---Oprah and Disco! And the TV show "Dynasty." What a yuck that was. And the "Rambo" movies, parts I- IV. Sally Field and "Norma Rae." Olivia Newtron Bomb. Supergroups like Boston and Journey. The Sharper Image catalog.

Posted by: annette on June 20, 2007 4:02 PM

Most embarrassing boomer-icon has to have a beard, no? And will need to be vain, dogmatic and pietistic? Guess I'll have to go for David Suzuki.

Most lethal boomer-icon is easy: Rachel Carson. What book has killed more people than 'Silent Spring'? Why bother with collectivised economies when you got that little malaria bug to do your killin'?

Posted by: Robert Townshend on June 20, 2007 4:11 PM

Hey, I'm right for a change! Letterman was born in 1947, just sneaking in as a Boomer (ie., born between '46 and '64.)

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 20, 2007 4:16 PM

Hey don't mess with the Handyman!

My boomer parents raised me on him, 24/7 background on the 8-track. My iPod is filled with his CDs.

Sing on, Sweet Baby James!

Posted by: matthew mullenix on June 20, 2007 4:45 PM

The Captain & Tennille. As a Generation X'er, in elementary school, I was forced to do exercises to "Love Will Keep Us Together". The horror!

Posted by: Will S. on June 20, 2007 5:05 PM

Boomers. One word: vulgar.

Posted by: ricpic on June 20, 2007 5:49 PM

I guess there's confusion here between boomers and boomer-icons. I've named my icons. As for actual boomers...damn, where to start? (Just while I'm thinking: did you guys know that David Suzuki and his family produce just one bag of garbage per month? There's something almost sexual about Canadians tweezering through their garbage, if you're a Canadian.) I've got it! My utimate boomer embarrassment is...

Brazil's Paul Coelho! (Sorry, Canada.)

Posted by: Robert Townshend on June 20, 2007 6:05 PM

"Love Will Keep Us Together." See what I mean? Vulgar. Not earthy vulgar, which can have real deep down sex appeal. No. Bloated suburbia marshmallow vulgar. All doughy and soft and safe and sappy faced fat vulgar.

Posted by: ricpic on June 20, 2007 6:11 PM

From the culture of sports:

1. Baseball's Designated Hitter
2. Aluminum bats in baseball
3. Basketball's three point shot line
4. Artificial Turf
5. World Series games at night
6. Wild Card playoff teams in any sport
7. Proliferation of Resort Golf Courses
8. Bo Knows
9. 1970's symmetrical baseball stadia
10. The phrase "March Madness"

Posted by: raymond pert on June 20, 2007 6:22 PM

"Jonathan Livingston Seagull" has to be one of the sappiest pieces of treacle ever written. Boomer shame writ large.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on June 20, 2007 6:57 PM

Jonathan Livingston Seagull - I hadn't thought about that in years, but you're right - my God, that was almost cosmically bad. When I read it, way back in the 1970's, I kept thinking "is this supposed to be a joke?". I'm still not sure.

And yeah, Letterman is a jerk.

Posted by: tschafer on June 21, 2007 12:42 PM

What a fun list of disses to read. I like the fact someone mentioned pot. While I am not that strongly opposed to it, and the current laws are draconian, all the points alias made were dead-on.

I've gotta got to bat for my boy Billy Joel. If he's not to your taste, fine, but he wrote some great great songs.

Posted by: yahmdallah on June 21, 2007 12:43 PM

Helen Reddy, for commodifying feminist identity politics. "I am woman, I am invincible!"

Andrea Dworkin and her whole crazy ilk of far-left bluenoses.

Women's studies academics in general and Carol Gilligan in particular for the drivel women transferred from their classes to my ears. Thanks girls!

I don't know whether identity politics and the fencing off of victim groups for special coddling is entirely down to the boomers, but in lieu of a thoughtful argument, let's blame it on them.

Thanks Michael, that was cathartic.

Is Al Sharpton a boomer?

Posted by: robert on June 21, 2007 3:55 PM

It gets worse, ricpic; we also had to exercise to Blondie's "The Tide Is High".

Posted by: Will S. on June 21, 2007 4:16 PM

I don't know exactly how I feel about anti-marijuana laws. I don't think the stuff is especially safe. I do think it's been credibly implicated in triggering psychotic breaks in a few susceptible people. And for that reason I think it should be at least semi-controlled, as alcohol is, but without draconian measures.

What I was trying to say with my comment was just that I wish the @1#$ stuff would fall out of fashion, already! I think there was a brief period when it went "out" for high school students in the 1980s. Since then, to judge by the youngsters in my office, it's made a roaring comeback. Pity.

Posted by: alias clio on June 21, 2007 5:23 PM

John Hughes (b. 1950), the director of overly sentimental, self-indulgent teen movies of the 1980s. Also a big influence on others who directed similar movies.

Posted by: Agnostic on June 21, 2007 8:04 PM

O, boomer ICONS. In that case, Che Guevera.

I second Letterman. Also, Richard Brautigan. Apparently he agreed.

To me Willie Nelson is so sappy sentimental, almost as bad as Red Skelton.

OTH, I adore Tiny Tim's "Walking in the Tulips."

Posted by: Luke Lea on June 21, 2007 11:16 PM

And for three whose egos got in the way: Norman Mailer, Barbara Streisand, Phillip Roth

Posted by: Luke Lea on June 22, 2007 9:13 AM

Why all the hostility toward boomers? I grew up in the Eighties, the most godawful period in recent American cultural history. Most of the people mentioned in this thread who were prominent in the Sixties and Seventies were creative geniuses compared to losers putting out crap in the Eighties.

James Taylor is not my cup of tea but is he really so awful? Speaking of which, I just read a great book called "Hotel California: Singer-Songwriters and Cocaine Cowboys in the L.A. Canyons 1967-1976" by Barney Hoskyns. A great description of the L.A. and American musical scene at that time. Think you'd like it, Michael, even if you don't like the music it's about. It may even convince you to get out some of those cheesy old country/folk/soft rock albums. (I know it did me.)

Posted by: dan g. on June 23, 2007 6:21 AM

I nominate Jann Wenner, whose Rolling Stone is a perpetual orgy of self-love, generationally speaking. Think of any awful Boomer trend, and you can be sure that at some point RS hyped and glamorized it.

Actually, as an Xer, I think there's an awful lot of good things from Boomer culture, that actually outweigh the bad by a huge margin.
I find i can often relate to a boomer more easily than "the kids today".

Back to bashing though: Chevy Chase. And Annie Liebowitz, the most overrated corporate ad photog hack on the planet.

Posted by: Deschanel on June 24, 2007 4:18 PM

Oh, thank you, Deschanel. How did I forget Annie? Mediocrity is seldom so detestable.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on June 24, 2007 10:16 PM

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