Volume 78 - Number 32 / January 7 - 13, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
The missing generation; Lost in the alphabet soup
By Daniel Meltzer
If Generation Y is with us now, with the treads of Gen X still visible in our rearview mirror, can Gen Z be far ahead? Around the next curve, perhaps? At the start of the next decade? Will it/they be funkier, brighter, hipper than the whole alphabet before them? Where will they take the lingo, the music, the art, fashion, politics, us? Will high tech reach higher yet? Or, with the cold winds of recession and energy crises shivering our spines, will the Luddites prevail and haul us back? Will gray be the new black? And, after Generation Z has come and gone, what then?
The writers who hung out together in Paris during and following the First World War drank and wrote prolifically, innovatively and intensely. Fitzgerald was among them. So was Hemingway, who named them the Lost Generation. More recently, newsman and author Tom Brokaw called those who fought in and survived or didn’t survive World War II the Greatest Generation, in tribute to their heroic sacrifices.
The Beat Generation of existential poets and jazz hipsters came of age shortly after W.W. II and waxed literarily, phonically and philosophically over all the carnage, the atomic bomb and the specter of annihilation, in particular, with volumes of prose, verse and music; venting their angst and doubts, challenging the pompous, the self-important, the self-righteous, wrongheaded authority. Enduring masterpieces of this fecund fraternity include Ginsberg’s “Howl,” Kerouac’s “On the Road” and Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
“We have met the enemy and he is us,” cartoonist Walt Kelly famously articulated in 1953, in the midst of all this. And yet we here in the West, and in the United States in particular, in what we like to think of as the most advanced civilization on the planet ever, seem to have learned little from Pogo, and from a century of tragedies, including Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, Beirut and Bosnia, continuing today, as virtually every continent is either aflame with war, or girding for one. Decades of navel-picking, psychoanalysis, confession, blame, tomes by historians, journalists, the pontificating by politicians, all abetted by consumer-ravenous media, have offered all too little to advance the cause of peace and humanity.
The Baby Boomers are what we call those born during the years between the end of W.W. II and the beginning of the Korean War (lovely how we define our eras, isn’t it?), sired largely by veterans arriving home by the shipload after “The Good War,” battle weary yet eager to get back to, among other things, siring. Thanks to Dr. Spock and others, their progeny today include flawed politicians and many of the pampered Wall Street “geniuses,” the movers and shakers of the ’80s and ’90s, the founders of the digital age and even the discoverers of the New Age.
When did we cease to be known as citizens and become “consumers”? The hippies of the late ’60s and early ’70s dressed cheap and advised us to “make love, not war.” Too few seem to have listened for long. Chastity and combat are back. “Make money not war” may have been the yuppie call to arms. Yet it was war, after all, that ultimately pulled us out of the Great Depression, wasn’t it.
And so, what might we now say of the Missing Generation, those born, in fact, during the Second World War, to fathers home on leave, or to families who, for one reason or another, managed to remain intact at least through the late ’30s and early ’40s? Kids whose parents, by hook or by crook, had survived all of that. Where are they now? Why were they never properly recognized along with all the other “generations”? Don’t they deserve a letter of their own, too? How about designating them “Generation W”?
Calling all Gen W’s — Who are you? What are you? Where have you made your marks? You know who you are if you are reading this. You are, of course, nothing like that other “W,” who may, in fact, have delegitimized forever this single letter for all time. Gen W — take back your letter. Can a single letter be tainted forever? Could a name? Is there a mother today who dares to name her newborn son Adolf?
Gen W: Not the Worst Generation, nor the Wealthiest; not even the Wisest Generation, nor perhaps the Worthiest. Perhaps we are just…the Why Not Generation? As in “Why not listen to us for a change?” Why not learn what we all should have from the first two “world wars,” as well as all the regional conflagrations, and the waste, and the innumerable screw-ups, from the miserable Great Depression? Why not try to prevent the world from hurtling headlong into the black hole of brushfires and forest fires, fanned by windy politicians, greedy connivers and power-famished killers and war profiteers, as well as the super-believers, the apocolypticos of all persuasions? Where are you now that we need you? Gen W — call home.