Are Boomers Responsible For Millennials Narcissism?

This post started as a jaunt and was tripped over by reality. Sort of like being at the carnival and looking into a funny mirror, then discovering the toilet is blocked. 

Our parents fought in a war, we stopped a war, and for our kids there is no war (or at least drone technology means it can be kept out of sight, along with those fleeing imperial conflicts vanishing into offshore gulags).

A friend who deals in such things tells a story of being in a meeting where the Millennial chairperson (an antiquated term for today’s young jargon laden professional) announces, “My name is Butterfly and I am your networking lead so let me spend the first five minutes telling you about myself and why I am important, while posting selfies as I do it.”

The Generation Gap

But let me put forth the proposition that if Boomers were a clean generational break from their forebears, then Millennials are the logical extension of Boomer pandering.

The ‘war generation’ returned debilitated from WW2, got married and settled down to rebuild the population. Carrying memories of Great Depression childhoods, they thrived in the post-war economic growth cycle when a family home was affordable and job security was for life (well at least those permitted membership of the White Australian dream). They also lived through the narrow constraints of the 50’s when McCarthyist witch hunting dominated and women were forced out of the formal economy.

As their offspring, we Boomers prided ourselves on being a distinct break from what came before. Our world went from radio to TV, Mantovani to Foxy Lady, and the basin cut to no hair cut. We declared open shop for sex ‘n drugs and rock ‘n roll, and challenged conventional orthodoxies.

We ended military conscription. Our youthful spirit initiated, or relaunched from a long hiatus, the feminist movement, the gay movement, the green movement, and international solidarity with oppressed people around the world. Fresh pathways gave impetus for constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians, the Aboriginal tent embassy, and the land rights movement.

There is no doubt that the period from, let’s say introduction of The Pill in 1960 through to the fall of what was then Saigon in 1975 (or the advent of the Fraser government, amazing we now think he was a good guy in comparison to what followed) was marked by substantive social and economic gains. Many of the achievements from that period still resonate today. There is a lot to be proud of.

Yet we can’t stop reminding subsequent generations that this was an unforgettable period in history. TV series continue to be made about it. Music from the era still top sales charts. We post photos of our youthful countenances as Facebook profiles. As Austin Powers would say, our world was psychedelic groovy baby. Many of us behave as if we are still in our youth, even if now we wake up at the same time when once we used to go to bed.

So what does this mean for our offspring?

Boomer children have been raised on a contradiction – to know they are exceptional, while the Boomer era is unsurpassable.

Millennials have been raised believing Copernicus was wrong because actually the sun, universe and everything else revolve around their splendid being. But at the same time they will never manage to reach the lofty heights of being a Deadhead.

We’ve all seen the sites where Millenials get asked if they had a choice which era they would prefer to live in and they say “the 60’s because Mum and Dad keep telling me how wonderful it was.” The newspaper headlines “All the classics were recorded in the sixties” (digital news of course, we are tech savvy – unless there is a glitch in which case we ask a Millennial to fix it).

We have found quirky unique names for our wondrous offspring, such as … oh I daren’t go there, you know what I mean. From birth we have been insisting that they were incomparable, while growing in them the belief the world was their magic pudding. Because you can eat it all and have it too.

We rocked them to sleep with the lulling tones of Black Sabbath or self-mocking commentaries from the Small Faces. We won’t be hypocritical and warn them away from asking Alice because we sure as hell munched both sides of the mushroom.

If our parents could not understand us then aren’t we the epitome of tolerance to our own offspring?

The war generation survived through backroom adultery, Boomer maturity embraced open promiscuity, and in turn we now provide our kids with sex education, condoms and the bedroom (making sure their dope is organic).

The exemplar for generational shift is underwear. It’s true!

Mums of the 1950’s were constrained by cream coloured corsets. In acts of liberationary defiance their daughters burnt their bras. Today’s young women nonchalantly display their coloured bra straps.

If you’re a guy, post-war dads wore pants so high they could strangle themselves. The freedom loving 60’s male hung loose with no undies. Our sprouts have pants down to their arseholes so the world can see what brand of undies they are wearing.

Mine was the generation that thought only bikies and sailors got tatts, and we have raised a generational that smears themselves in designs. The adornments may be unique but the trend for body colouring most certainly is not.

So just what has our insightful, caring, empathetic and articulate helicopter parenting produced?

We have kids that won’t leave home because they are on such a good wicket. No more granny cottages, now its brat flats.

Our progeny are entrepreneurs selling coffee beans that have travelled through a ferret’s digestive system or shelves stocked solely with breakfast cereal. There is a plethora of one-person do-gooder NGOs setup by rich white kids using mummy and daddy’s trust fund. All claim to have found a secret methodology for poverty alleviation or social justice. Most only embellish the ego of the CEO.

When they are not killing themselves taking selfies – globally over 50 since 2014 (more than shark attacks), all of them under 34 years of age, seventy five per cent males – they either have a psychological problem or food allergy with such a long name it can only be expressed by an acronym. Worryingly, here has been a significant increase in self harm.

We have created such sensitive little beings that their tolerance has possibly now become a form of inverse censorship (and this is not an argument against the politically correct use of language, which in essence is simply being considerate to fellow humans).

One university students union recently issued a list of 57 “triggering issues” where forewarning must be given being mentioning. Understandably the list includes the negative ‘isms and phobias (race, sex, able, homo, trans, etc). Yet it goes onto cite insects, spiders and snakes. Mentioning food requires a trigger warning. Along with trypophobia, scopophobia, misophonia, tokophobia and trichotillomania. How did we give our kids so many disorders? – seriously.

Let’s give the Millennials some credit. They rank high on the social consciousness scale, expressing their activism with the click of a images. Certainly, in the last few years there have been significant gains in the social justice arena and in broadening acceptance of what was a highly discriminatory definition of normal.

So as us baby boomers go truckin into the night (this year our heroes are dropping their mortal coil at a rapid pace), what can we claim as our legacy?

We are possibly the first generation where our progeny will be worse off. As the counter culture entered mainstream marketing, those of us aligned with ‘the left / social progressives / humanist / whatever’ were shown to be pretty impotent in the face of an ideology that declared ‘there is no society’ and set about proving it with Social Darwinist deregulated ‘free’ markets.

Twenty years after the rise of neo-liberalism a neo-con attempt to reshape the Arab world has caused over one million deaths, destroyed functional societies, continues to reverberate with ongoing civil wars, and created the mass exodus that we still witness.

The same form of thinking gave us the dotcom bubble and the Global Financial Crisis, from which the world has not recovered while lurching towards yet another economic collapse.

On our watch the world has moved from job security to the casualization of labour with accompanying loss of work benefits. Levels of inequality have risen to the highest levels since the days of lassez faire capitalism. The welfare state along with care for the most vulnerable has entered the realm of mythology.

We have gone from free education to university degrees costing more than a home mortgage. Post-modernist individualism has replaced the student collective with an en-suite and microwave in every bedroom.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room – the depletion of earthly resources. Finite resources are being extracted faster than the replenishment rate. Pollutants push the planet’s absorption capacity beyond its limits. Species are being made extinct at an unprecedented rate. The only records being broken are dangerous one, the trajectory escalating at an alarming speed. And we were warned about this back in the 60’s.

We elect governments that at best make platitudes to environmental concerns, and at worst deny the plausibility of anthropomorphic climate change. We remain a society of fossil eaters.

Not really anything for a parent to be proud of. Yet our children still love us.

But what about me?

I won’t comment about Millennial music. After all, what can a person say about repetitive syncho beats with some rapper going 200 words a minutes so no-one knows what is being said?

In 1968 one anthem was What About Me by Quicksilver Messenger Service. It was a demand that the world take note of our generation and what our issues were (and we lecture on narcissism?). Tweak a few words and the lyrics remain relevant. Think about it – fifty years later and our complaints remain valid.

Martin Luther King once said, “Those who love peace must learn to organise as effectively as those who love war.”

That is a call to all the generations. It’s not just bringing back a sense of community with a decent standard of living, along with survival of the planet. At some point in the future we don’t want to be looking back fondly to when the current mob ruled.


Listen to What About Me here

ps:       Don’t take me too seriously. I’ve not got any kids, so what would I know?

Oh, and I do extend the boundaries just a fraction for Boomerdom.


One thought on “Are Boomers Responsible For Millennials Narcissism?

  1. I do agree that boomers are responsible for the world millenials inhabit. To my mind what is most obvious is that we boomers did a lot but only on the periphery of the culture. Capitalism adapted and embraced and monetised social reforms – none of them struck at the heart of the system and now the boomers are just frequent flyers, the greed for indulgence overtook the boomer desire for reform, but we want to believe that we fought the good fight. Millenials have a new set of problems and they will find their own ways.


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