...American Reunion is an extremely specific type of wish fulfillment, and I’m ashamed to say that it mostly worked on me. I am that demo, and I hate myself for it. For years, I’ve ridiculed the Baby Boomers for turning most of pop culture into their own self-congratulatory circle jerk for the last 30 years. Now, I realize that my own generation is going to be EVEN MORE ANNOYING. We’re ALREADY getting nostalgic about shit that happened like FIVE YEARS AGO! As smug and obnoxious and terrible as the Boomers were, at least with them, things happened – the war, the sexual revolution, the Civil Rights movement (you know, debates we’re constantly forced to re-argue long after they’ve lost all relevance, but that’s another story). MY generation’s version of a watershed moment? “HEY, BRO! REMEMBER THE VERVE PIPE??”True, true, true.... And yet. This lone paragraph reveals more self-awareness and shame than the Baby Boomers as a entire generation have yet to muster, so we still win. Low bar, I know. But still.
WE ARE THE WORST, AND IT’S ONLY GOING TO GET WORSER. Did you see Ferris Bueller hawking minivans?
I am biased. An excerpt:
I should have known something was up when my 7th-grade social studies teacher told us that every major problem in the United States could be traced to the 1960s. When I repeated the claim to another teacher, he responded with outrage, insisting that the social studies teacher was too young to know anything about that decade. My teacher went too far—certainly we can come up with some contemporary problems traced to other decades—but the response illustrated something more important. For many who lived through the events of the '60s, true understanding required personal experience with the decade—a poor standard by which to evaluate the past, because as soon as different individuals who live through an event disagree on what happened, all of the accounts come into question. Indeed history is built by sorting through competing evidence and using the evidence to build a compelling account of what happened.Baby boomers are terrible.
But not for the generation of Americans who lived through the Vietnam War years. For them, all that really matters is that personal impression into which they invested so much emotional energy. They made the 1970s into the "Me Decade," and while Christopher Lasch saw many long historical antecedents to the phenomena of his times, it was no mistake that The Culture of Narcissism was published in 1979. Just think of their favorite historical parlor game: "Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated?" Which is really to say "Where was I when Kennedy was assassinated?"
Fascinated as they are in their own aging, Baby Boomers assume of course that as they head towards dotage all of the rest of us would like a front row seat. To be fair, Boomers are neither the first nor the last generation of Americans to be self-centered, and time will tell whether such self-regard has become a permanent American trait. For now, however, the persistent narcissism of the Vietnam generation goes a long way toward explaining why the debate has been so pernicious in its repetition. Earlier this year, journalist and academic Todd Gitlin wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
I was not one of the three-million-plus Americans who served in the armed services there or nearby, but another kind of veteran, one of "the movement," as we used to say, whose idea of how to invest our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor was to strive to extricate America from a moral catastrophe and leave that unfortunate country to its own devices. The war was both my obsession and, for years, the pivot of the life I cheerfully lived instead of a career. Whoever I might have turned out to be had John F. Kennedy lived or Lyndon Johnson made different decisions was a question that fell out of my mind...
...and so on. The article was called "My Vietnam." Of course. Is there any other kind?