Review: A Brief History of Boomers. Presented by Joe Queenan. BBC Radio 4.
I’m a Baby Boomer and so are all my school and college friends plus many relatives as well. I thought I’d connect to Joe Queenan’ s exploration into the lives, attitudes and impact of the generation that was born between the end of World War 2 and the mid 1960s. Or so I thought.
Satirist Joe Queenan presented Boomers as a generation living an easy retirement funded by Generation X and all the other generations that followed them who pay for the Boomers’ autumn years with the state pension. Basically if you are born after 1966 you are fucked. You’ll work until you drop.
The poor, the immigrants and those without a pension and savings will work to give the Baby Boomer Generation a comfy retirement while being left to fend for themselves – but giving 72-year-old Queenan a happy last few decades – as the Boomers only desire is to live as long as possible. Whatever happened to, ‘I want to die before I get old.’?
As you would expect Joe Queenan’ s love-hate relationship with his own generation is something of a curate’s egg. As a West Coast American on his way to a concert by Ringo Starr (and a visit to his son) he’s full of retirement cool – basking in the glow of a moneyed do nothing life. After all young suckers he’s seen Hendrix and Joplin. That’s Jimi and Janis – a tick boxing rock fan exercise for a fully signed up USA Boomer.
It all sounds wonderful for his 1945-1966 generation of well heeled old codgers until you accept it’s only half the story which his programme reminds us – wealthy Boomers are a minority of the over 60s.
We don’t learn about Russian Baby Boomers, the Chinese and Japanese Baby Boomers, African and South American Boomers as they’re not white and Western. In fact only about half of Boomers in the USA and the UK have enough savings to live on, let alone have a private pension.
And the fact that most Baby Boomers as defined by him in the West are wealthy, white, Middle Class and generally male – doesn’t help to complete a global picture.
That aside it’s an entertaining romp though the uncertain definition of how to describe a generation that survived the post colonial wars, the early Cold War conflicts and of life in the West when young people in the UK had free education, free health care and a thriving pop and fashion scene catering for their every need.
Why were so many babies born? Healthcare improvement led to one in 40 babies failing to make it to their fifth birthday in 1950 as opposed to one in four in 1900 which helps to explain the birthrate boom – in reality the size of families and birthrate didn’t change that much in those first 50 years of the 20th century according to Queenan – just the survival rate.
If you thought it was a bit state side there was some welcome down to earth comments from ex-BBC political correspondent John Sergeant who poured cold water on the idea that everyone in the 1950s drove Beach Boy type cars and hung out with Disney Girl blondes but were instead told off a lot and reminded by their parents how they had never had it so good compared to their experiences of the depression and the war.
Something I can relate to as my early years were dominated by adults saying how they had sacrificed their youth for my generation. Ouch.
Sergeant’s views chimed with my own memories of the era when a militarised Britain declared long hair and jeans as taboo and a criticism of the Empire was also not to be tolerated on BBC’s Any Questions programme.
One question asked of the programme was why couldn’t the Boomer Generation have done better – ended homelessness, and stopped world hunger? Queenan answered the question with examples of people who had worked for social and economic reform but sadly the world has been run in part by Boomers like Trump, Xi, Putin and Amin. And proxy Cold War conflicts created misery across the planet.
He had much fun talking about USA Boomers who spend their money on papering their pet dogs, flying out to visit their grand children, taking world cruises in vast floating hotels called cruise liners and trying to recreate their youth by attending Glastonbury to worship the likes of Boomer Elton John.
It’s an amusing and quirky listen – if you are a Boomer – but if you are too young then like old people talking about the past with references to The Grateful Dead, levitation and The Beatles it may all sound rather irrelevant and alien.
Rapscallion Magazine is an online publication edited by Harry Mottram
Harry is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc
Mobile: 07789 864769