< Bye Bye, Boomers


Friday, December 16, 2005

BROOKE GLADSTONE:: Reggaeton may rock the house, but will it move product? It's baby boomers who have long been the nation's biggest consumers, so when advertisers want to sell something, from orange juice to electronics, they've tended to rely on oldies like these. [BEATLES SONGS, OLDIES MUSIC] But advertisers are beginning to change their tune because, as Slate columnist Jack Shafer notes, while still the largest single generation, the boomers are steadily dying off, or, at least, going to pasture. He says, quote, "They peaked as a percentage of the population in 1980, at 35 percent, and currently stand at about 27 percent, or 77 million self-absorbed individuals. But sooner or later, the post-boomers will give them the necessary nudge, push and shove to sweep their rotting culture from the scene." It may seem like the boomers have ruled the culture forever, but Shafer says there was a moment when they seized power, though people may differ on exactly when that was.

JACK SHAFER:: My friend Glenn Garvin, who's now the TV critic for the Miami Herald, said it happened in the spring of 1977. He was in his mid-twenties, he was lounging at home on a Sunday afternoon, and a coworker his same age called him from the news desk at the Austin American-Statesman, trying to write a headline for a drought that had been visiting the Austin area. So he called Garvin and he wanted to confirm the lyrics to the Temptations' 1967 hit, "I Wish It Would Rain." Glenn proceeded to confirm the lyrics and he wrote the headline, "Sunshine, Blue Skies, Please Go Away." Well, it was a fantastic headline, and the editor expected a commendation, a raise or at least a cup of coffee - [OVERTALK]


JACK SHAFER:: - on Monday when he came into work. Instead, his bosses yelled at him for trivializing the front page of the Austin American-Statesman with rock n' roll lyrics that no one would get. Glenn thinks that that was sort of a turning point for him. After 1977, he started to spot all sorts of boomer references to boomer culture, boomer movies, boomer rock n' roll, boomer lit everywhere. And the boomers have basically stayed in the driver's seat ever since, I think.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:: I guess I peg it to quite a bit later. I remember saying to myself, when Jay Leno took over for Johnny Carson, "Now is the time for the boomers." But by then, I guess, it was well underway.

JACK SHAFER:: Yeah. And I think you were a little late to the party, Brooke.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:: [LAUGHS] So then are now the post-boomers finding a voice?

JACK SHAFER:: Well, the post-boomers are trying to edge their way in, but as you know, probably, from looking around your newsroom, boomers don't want to retire, don't really want to go anywhere if they have any positions of power, and so they'll probably have to be shot and drawn and quartered and dragged out and buried in shallow graves in the Sonoran Desert before we're rid of them.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:: [LAUGHS] But in the meantime, as the post-boomers find a voice, we're finding examples of crossover. You note the Lee Iacocca/Snoop Dogg Chrysler commercial. So what does that say about the battle between the generations?

JACK SHAFER:: I think it means that post-boomers have to go deeper into post-boomer culture to get a hold of references that post-boomers aren't going to get. I mean, boomers are omnivores. They'll glom onto the World War II generation's culture if they think that they can milk it. So what I think will happen is it'll be when you're on vacation, Brooke, and - [OVERTALK]


JACK SHAFER:: - somebody in their late twenties, rather than somebody like you, who's in, who are in their late sixties - [OVERTALK]


JACK SHAFER:: - does these segments, and all of a sudden there'll be references, I think, to some of the generation's favorite movies. As much as we may be cinemaniacs, when we were growing up, we were never able to see our favorite movie five, six, seven times in one day the way the post-boomers are. So post-boomers have seen movies like "The Breakfast Club" - [OVERLAPPING VOICES] ["BREAKFAST CLUB" CLIP]

MAN:: Come on, answer the question. [OVERTALK]

MAN:: Don't be a jerk.

MAN:: Come on, it's easy. It's only one question.

WOMAN:: No! I never did it! [END FILM CLIP]

JACK SHAFER:: Or "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." [FILM CLIP]

MAN:: Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? [END FILM CLIP]

JACK SHAFER:: "Heathers." "Dazed and Confused." To cite a new movie, "Napoleon Dynamite." [FILM CLIP]

MAN:: If you need to use any of my skills, I can do whatever you want.

MAN:: Thanks. If I win, you can be my secretary or something.

MAN:: Sweet! [END OF CLIP]

JACK SHAFER:: They'll see these movies over and over and over until they sort of carve spaces in their brains. And I think they'll dig real deep into the dialog of these movies and references to these movies to just blow us away with headlines we don't understand.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:: Well, you see, I guess that's the problem. The baby boomers want to stay young. They also have DVD players. So I can quote the entire dialog to "The Big Lebowski" and even "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" because I like those movies. So is it a question of whether or not I get the reference, or whether the reference is designed for me to get and not somebody younger?

JACK SHAFER:: I would say that you would probably not be so good on references to video games and rap music.


JACK SHAFER:: There's a popular old-school Nintendo game called "Contra."


JACK SHAFER:: And every post-boomer knows the reference, "Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start," which is how you get to the sort of cheat page of that game to sort of master it.


JACK SHAFER:: Every post-boomer is going to know that. Or they'll know dialog from "Grand Theft Auto." And as on top of the post-boomer culture as you try to be, you just don't have enough hours in the day to master it.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:: When you addressed us in your column, you threw up to your readers the question, "What post-boomer reference in a mass media headline or TV commercial will signal the culture coup?" So what did you get? And you left out "Seinfeld," "Saturday Night Live," REM, maybe "The Simpsons."

JACK SHAFER:: I didn't include any of those cultural touchstones because they are too shared by boomers and post-boomers.


JACK SHAFER:: But where the post-boomers can go that the boomers will never follow is when they engage in their slang - words like "chewy" or "crunk" or "crashy," - things that you could even begin to define for yourself - [BOTH AT ONCE]


JACK SHAFER:: - Brooke. One of my readers, Elizabeth Tarsky, suggested that we'd see a lot of headlines that contain content that might be drawn from IMs or text messages -


JACK SHAFER:: - the shortening - wanna, gonna, needta - and abbreviations like OMFG, which would include some of the censored words that we can't say on the radio.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:: Mm-hmm. Or LOL, laugh out loud.

JACK SHAFER:: LOL. But LOL I think is - you'd find that in a Dilbert comic strip.


JACK SHAFER:: So - dong! That would not include, Brooke.


JACK SHAFER:: I got a lot of mail on this with suggested headlines. The one that was the most frequently suggested would be some variation on "All your base are belong to us."


JACK SHAFER:: Do you know what that means?

BROOKE GLADSTONE:: Actually, I did receive that in the mail about three years ago and I know it relates to some badly-translated Japanese video game.

JACK SHAFER:: This is famous. You can find websites devoted to this mis-translation. So I think a lot of readers had a great faith in video games being this sort of cultural well that post-boomers could constantly draw from to sort of go, "Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah! We've taken over!"

BROOKE GLADSTONE:: [LAUGHS] All right, Jack. Late, bro. I'm outy.

JACK SHAFER:: Twenty-three skidoo.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:: Jack Shafer writes the Press Box column. ["BREAKFAST CLUB" CLIP]:

MALE STUDENT::: You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, with the most convenient definitions. But what we've found out is that each one of us is a brain -

MALE STUDENT: - and an athlete -

FEMALE STUDENT: - and a basketcase.

FEMALE STUDENT: - a princess.

MALE STUDENT::: - and a criminal.

MALE STUDENT::: Does that answer your question? [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] [SIMPLE MINDS]

LYRICS:: Won't you come see about me? I'll be alone, dancing -- you know it, baby. Tell me your troubles and doubts Giving me everything inside and out and -[UP AND UNDER]

BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Tony Field, Jamie York and Mike Vuolo, and edited - by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer. We had help from Katie Holt and Kevin Schlottmann. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe our executive producer. assist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and find free transcripts, MP3 downloads and our podcast at onthemedia.org, and e-mail us at onthemedia@wnyc.org. This is On the Media, from WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone.



BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield.


SIMPLE MINDS: Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling Down, down, down -- [END SOUNDTRACK] (MUSIC TAG)(FUNDING CREDITS) *****