Friday, 10 June 2011

The Wicked Generation?

There is a play on at the Oxford Playhouse called "Love, Love, Love”, which presents the Baby-Boomer generation as guilty of just about everything.
Selfish, irresponsible, they apparently thought of nothing but enjoying themselves and left the world in a wrecked state behind them
The author, Mike Bartlett, thinks that the people who had fun in the swinging sixties were monsters who voted in a harsh and unjust Thatcherite era, and they were also bad parents who have let their children down. “You climbed the ladder and broke it behind you,” someone complains. Bartlett is not, of course, the first to come out with this nonsense. He is following a fad, of which the book by Tory MP David Willets, “The Pinch: How Baby-Boomers Took Their Children’s Future” is another example. Willets seems to imagine that the generation born in the post-War Bulge were all prosperous, successful and had an easy time, while their children face poverty and other forms of deprivation. That is a complete myth. There were successful and unsuccessful people in the post-War generation, just as there are now. There were severe economic problems in the 1970s and a massive recession again in the 1980s. Not everybody who went to university ended up rich or even had a steady job. The grants in the 1960s and 70s were very minimal. I was at university then and I remember living in a shared room with a shared bathroom and heating from a gasfire that needed to have shillings put into the meter. Students these days expect private rooms with central heating, an en-suite bathroom and broadband. They also expect mobile phones and laptops. Could that have anything to do with their high cost of living? It is a fallacy to imagine that graduates necessarily earn more than people who don’t go to university. The sociology of Bartlett’s play is shallow and inaccurate.
The dope-smoking pop-fans of the sixties were simply not identical with the yuppies of the eighties, nor did they all end up rolling in money or sending their children to private schools. The play takes a bunch of stereotypes and strings them all into one, and the result is unconvincing. The truth is that the Bulge generation had their share of unemployment, redundancy (often without compensation,) mortgage foreclosures, debt worries, frustrations and disappointments. If some of them got divorced, there is really no reason to imagine that fewer people in the younger age-group will get divorced - unless it is because they don't get married in the first place. In the play, the children of the Baby-Boomers are supposedly traumatised by their parents splitting up. Don't tell me they are really more traumatised than the children who were subjected to the First World War, the Second World War, or all the massacres that have taken place around the world since. Would they prefer to leave school at fifteen and go and work in a factory or a mine, as many people did well into the 1960s?
Personally I feel that along with racism, sexism and handicappism, there is now a new form of bigotry, “generationism” and this is what Bartlett is offering. He is trying to blame the world’s woes on a single generation who listened to the Beatles and went downhill from there. It is true that the Bulge generation had fewer children than their parents, leading to a demographic wavy line. But what would be the point of having more? Surely a rising population would only create a housing shortage.
I felt quite disgusted by the play’s final scene, in which the wicked parents are blamed for wanting to spend the money they earned on a trip around the world instead of buying their daughter a house. We are facing a crisis in this country of lack of care for the elderly. There are very few baby-boomers who have huge private pensions like that of Ken in the play, and a lot of old people now have to sell their houses to pay for care. Moreover we have a severe lack of care homes, and standards inside some of them have been exposed as shockingly bad. In such a context, Bartlett’s whinging about the awful deprivation of his own generation is in poor taste.

Looked at from my point of view, and I admit I was born in the 1950s, the generation now in their twenties and thirties looks like a frivolous one. They have never fought for their country and most of them cannot be bothered to join a political party or a union. Most of them don't even vote. Just look at their lifestyle as portrayed on Facebook. Their interests are largely centred on their relationships, their foreign holidays (of which they've had more than any other generation in history), their cats and dogs, their parties, the films they see and the music they download from the internet. They give a running commentary on Twitter about how many vodkas they are downing on a Friday night. How can they call other people selfish? They have spent more time having sex and going clubbing than any previous generation, and their level of education is definitely lower. Many of them have never passed any real exams, only gaining qualifications on the basis of "coursework" which can be largely fudged and is marked by their teachers, who have a vested interest in passing them. This means they are finding it hard to compete in a global economy. There are plenty of rivals for every job, and every house, pouring in from all over the world.
Instead of blaming their parents and demanding to be bought houses, the pampered twenty-something generation should take more adult responsibility.