Sunday, February 05, 2006

Laying the Groundwork for Generational "Warfare"

CBS fired a salvo in the looming generational wars this morning. On CBS's Sunday Morning Show (Read it here.), "Baby Boomers, who hardly can be lumped into one category, found themselves given short and bigoted shrift again. Says reporter Jerry Bowen:

It's the never ending party for the generation that's never stopped celebrating itself. And this year the leading edge of those over-hyped baby boomers are turning 60 at the rate of nearly 8,000 a day.

This story unfolds as one of the more blatant uses of negative framing, I've seen. Boomers were described as all about themselves, lazy, fat, spendthrift, and prone toward "risky" behaviors, even though the Santa Cruz researcher cited actually said only 1/7 of the generation could be described that way. It's as if something like "That 70s Show" was overlaid onto viewers' perception of millions of people. So, 14% was alleged to be "wild" (the researcher's word!). And the other 86% get stiffed with the stereotype. We never did learn about the nature of the research sample, BTW, or how the research was conducted.

We only hear about the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco -- as if that's typical of Main Street USA. Ah, but then Bowen gets to the heart of the matter. He tells us that Boomers created the Red/Blue State divide that still exists (never mind research contradicting the existence of Red/Blue distinctions in the first place).

So, what this is really about is stigmatizing "Blue" boomers. If you believe in reproductive choice, work for peace, or care about other "divisive" issues, CBS projects you as bad, bad, bad. The problem with the reporter's logic is that it's stories like this which create the artificial Red/Blue dichotomy. Boomers grew up and pushed every hot button, we are told. It's not the other way around, that bigotry infested governments of the 60s needed to be shown a better way, or that waging unnecessary wars of aggression (based on lies) isn't the right thing to do. Instead of saying boomers fought for civil rights, for the poor, and helped in communities, we hear nothing but negative. I know that my town wouldn't survive without the hard work of boomers serving on boards and working hard on projects throughout the community. That's not the face America saw on CBS today.

My personal favorite was the claim that all boomers have squandered their "wealth" (the assumption that all boomers had it in the first place is laughable) on -- are you ready for this? -- themselves, in their search for the "fountain of youth." Yesirree, that tube of Renova some use is a capital crime against humanity. Bowen claims "they've spent far more than they've saved." Think about it? That's true for just about everyone. But with a negative frame, Bowen can paint a sinister picture of Boomers. Even disciplined savers don't normally save more than they spend. It costs to live. Those who save 10, 20, 30, or even 40% of their income STILL spend more than they save. It cost to live, so all but the super rich would spend more than they save. No crime there.

The real point of the long, empty diatribe against essentially "Blue" Boomers was to build the not-too-disguised case for pulling the plug on Social Security. (The SOTU speech advocating such was even referenced and linked in the story. ) Bowen makes his case that you should be so disgusted you should pull the plug in pseudo-righteousness. It's a battle between those supporting an "expanded lifestule," after all, versus those who support authority. You wouldn't want those Blue-state type Boomers turning your neighborhood upside down, now, would you (that would be sarcasm)?

It's time to cut the demeaning effort to put tidy, but eroneous, labels on millions of people. Just treat others as we'd want to be treated. Those who pretend this is zero sum game forget that one day it will be their turn to age. It's not us versus them. It never was. It's our job to assure that periodic adjustments and real reform are delivered to stabilize Social Security, so it's there for current recipients and those who come after. A society is only as good as it's treatment of the vulnerable. And it's time stand up to the blatant privateers and their pathetic, vicious stereotypes. It's also time to repudiate reports like that of Jerry Bowen.