A GENERATIONAL PROFILE (Postmodern traits and stigmas)

The Postmodern Generation, 1924-33

by Joshua Glenn

Identifying and naming a generation, as I’ve already noted, is neither entirely a science nor entirely an art. It’s not just a question merely of demographics or world events, nor is it just a matter of identifying cultural touchstones. As a result, identifying and naming a generation is always and inevitably semi-malarkey, or “bullshit.” And since nobody is better at bullshitting than marketers, business consultants, and lifestyle trend journalists, we tend to buy into their generational periodization schemes. That is to say, we mistakenly regard their claims as natural, inevitable, unquestionable.

Generations-Howe-Strauss.jpg

Neil Howe and William Strauss * — authors of “Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069” (1991), among other popular books ** — have been highly successful at convincing us to accept their semi-arbitrary theories about American generations. They have described themselves as authorities on “generational change in American history,” and what they produce is not entirely unlike scholarship; but it also savvily combines marketing, business consulting, and lifestyle trend journalism. *** Which is to say, what they produce is bullshit. And I don’t mean that as a pejorative. Because what they write is entertaining! And it’s not entirely incorrect, or untrue.

My own generational theory is bullshit, too; but it’s less incorrect and moreentertaining than Howe and Strauss’s bullshit. At least, I think so. Which is why I’m still trying to convince you, readers, to listen to me, not them.

What’s wrong with Howe and Strauss’s generational periodization? I’ll tell you!

According to H&S, there were five US generations born in the past century:

1901-24: GI Generation
1925-42: Silent Generation
1943-60: Boomers
1961-1981: 13th Generation (i.e., the 13th generation to know the US flag)
1982-2002: Millennials

I’d argue that there were actually 10 generations born in the past century. See this handy chart:

***
BRAINIAC’S GUIDE TO AMERICA’S RECENT GENERATIONS

1884-93: Lost Generation The New Kids
1894-1903: Lost Generation Hardboiled Generation
1904-13: The Greatest Generation Partisans
1914-23: The Greatest Generation The New Gods
1924-33: The Silent Generation Postmodernist Generation
1934-43: The Silent Generation Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation
1944-53: Baby Boomers
1954-63: Baby Boomers OGX (Original Generation X)
1964-73: Generation X PC Generation
1974-83: Generations X/Y Net Generation
1984-93: Millennials
1994-2003: Millennials TBA

Please credit Brainiac/Joshua Glenn whenever you use this guide. Got a beef with my periodization, or different generational name suggestions? Leave a comment on this post or email me. Born between 1954 and 1993 and still unsure about whether you’re a Boomer, Xer, Yer, or Millennial? Here’s a handy guide.

***Note that Howe and Strauss don’t accept the straight demographic definition of the Boomer generation; I don’t either! Although the Boom began in 1946, they start the Boomer generation in ’43; I start the Boomers in ’44. But I’ll argue that point later.

More importantly, Howe and Strauss lump two generations together within each of their generations; even though they concede that some Americans born during the Boom (1946-64) share “political and cultural patterns very different from the Boomers,” they’re not willing to admit that two generations were born during the Boom: Boomers and Xers.

Let’s take a look at the so-called Silent Generation (1925-42). According to my periodization, there are two distinct generations lumped together here: Postmoderns (1924-33) and Anti-Anti-Utopians (1934-43). Today, I’ll discuss the Postmoderns.

Postmoderns — who were in their teens and 20s in the Forties (1944-53, from the end of WWII to the end of Korea; not to be confused with the ’40s), and their 20s and 30s in the Fifties (1954-63, from Elvis to the Beatles; not to be confused with the ’50s) — were mostly too young to fight in World War II. They came of age in the postwar years, the early Cold War era. The Soviet dominance over eastern Europe, the Soviet blockade of Berlin, and the threat of apocalyptic nuclear war made it an anxious era; the atmosphere on the domestic front was charged with paranoia. At the same time, African Americans were challenging segregation, a new youth culture was emerging (with new forms of pop music), and sociologists, social critics, poets, writers, and comedians were critiquing US society.

pkdick.jpg

Philip K. Dick
Why “Postmoderns”? Because, in Europe, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Michel de Certeau, Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Marin, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, J.G. Ballard, Luce Irigaray, Christian Metz, Guy Debord, Hélène Cixous, Umberto Eco, and Paul Virilio were all born between 1924-33. In America: Philip K. Dick, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, Andy Warhol, J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey Hartman, Harold Bloom, Richard Rorty, and Susan Sontag. These thinkers and authors identified and diagnosed a new sociocultural condition — one in which fixed, universal categories and certainty were replaced by difference, process, and anomaly. Postmoderns argued against “scientific” rationality and unitary theories of truth and progress; instead, they emphasized the ambivalence and indeterminacy and “undecidability” of things. Using “deconstructive” methods, they discovered and celebrated what they claimed was the eclecticism and hybridity lurking just beneath the modernist illusion of conceptual unity and institutional integrity.

sontag.jpg

Susan Sontag
This is not to argue that everyone born from 1924-33 is a postmodernist theorist! But members of this generation grew up in a world in which two world wars, the Holocaust, the Stalinist Gulag, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrated the carnage and destruction that the modernist rhetoric of progress is capable of creating. If their elders (e.g., the New York Intellectuals) abandoned utopianism (the dream of a momentous, rational, all-encompassing change in the human condition, achieved through the revolutionary transformation of society), Postmoderns went even further, and repudiated the archetype of modernity as a force for unmitigated progress. Some of those who lost faith in Progress became conservatives; others (with the notable exception of those involved in the Civil Rights movement) balanced progressive concerns with irony, absurdism, and apocalypticism. Their (anti-totalitarian) destabilizing and de-essentializing of orthodoxies led Postmoderns to question whether there is any longer a meaningful basis for collective agreement or action. So, wedged between the activist Greatest and Boomer Generations, they seemed “silent.”

lee_merlin_miss_atomic_bomb.jpg

Meet the Postmoderns:

* Noam Chomsky, George Plimpton, Nathan Glazer, Andy Warhol, Robert Pirsig, J. Hillis Miller, Jason Epstein, Geoffrey Hartman, Jules Feiffer, Milton Glaser, Samuel P. Huntington, Robert Silvers, Tom Wolfe, Anton LaVey, Norman Podhoretz, Jasper Johns, Harold Bloom, Jimmy Breslin, Jim Jones, Richard Rorty, Dan Rather, Susan Sontag, Michael Novak.

littlerichard.jpg

* Bill Haley, B.B. King, Sammy Davis Jr., Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chuck Berry, Eartha Kitt, Stan Getz, Harry Belafonte, Fats Domino, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Ornette Coleman, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, George Jones, Ike Turner, Johnny Cash, Tiny Tim, Patsy Cline, Little Richard, Quincy Jones, James Brown

lewisnutty.jpg

* Johnny Carson, Art Buchwald, Jerry Lewis, Don Rickles, Mel Brooks, Mort Sahl, Bob Newhart, Jackie Mason, Dick Gregory, Carol Burnett, Stan Freberg

robertaltman.jpg

Robert Altman
* Sam Peckinpah, Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick, Paul Mazursky, Elaine May, Stan Brakhage

wallywood.JPG

Wally Wood’s “Superduperman”
* Truman Capote, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin, John Barth, Rod Serling, Flannery O’Connor, William Styron, Harper Lee, Allen Ginsberg, Cormac McCarthy, Gary Snyder, Poul Anderson, Philip Levine, Robert Rauschenberg, Maya Angelou, Claes Oldenburg, Anne Sexton, Peter Matthiessen, Cynthia Ozick, E.L. Doctorow, Toni Morrison, Thom Gunn, Donald Barthelme, Robert Anton Wilson, Gay Talese, John Updike, Robert Coover, John Gregory Dunne, Sylvia Plath, Philip Roth, Ed McBain, Wally Wood, Steve Ditko, Alex Toth, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Frank Frazetta, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Don Martin

rfk.jpg

Robert F. Kennedy
* Martin Luther King Jr., Alexander Haig, Malcolm X, Robert F. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, William F. Buckley Jr., Edward Abbey, Coretta Scott King

warholmarilyn.jpg

Marilyn Monroe and Andy Warhol: Postmoderns
* Lee Marvin, Marlon Brando, Buddy Hackett, Don Knotts, Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon, Rod Steiger, Tony Curtis, Donald O’Connor, Dick Van Dyke, George Kennedy, Audrey Meadows, Cloris Leachmann, Andy Griffith, Marilyn Monroe, Fred Gwynne, Sidney Poitier, Peter Falk, George C. Scott, James Garner, James Coburn, George Peppard, Gene Hackman, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Gena Rowlands, Robert Duvall, James Earl Jones, James Dean, Anne Bancroft, Debbie Reynolds, Anthony Perkins, Robert Vaughn, Gene Wilder

* Gus Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Buzz Aldrin

We’ll get to the Anti-Anti-Utopians soon. Until then, I invite your emails and comments.

Siurce: bostonglobe.com

think!

More importantly, Howe and Strauss lump two generations together within each of their generations; even though they concede that some Americans born during the Boom (1946-64) share “political and cultural patterns very different from the Boomers,” they’re not willing to admit that two generations were born during the Boom: Boomers and Xers.

Let’s take a look at the so-called Silent Generation (1925-42). According to my periodization, there are two distinct generations lumped together here: Postmoderns (1924-33) and Anti-Anti-Utopians (1934-43). Today, I’ll discuss the Postmoderns.

Postmoderns — who were in their teens and 20s in the Forties (1944-53, from the end of WWII to the end of Korea; not to be confused with the ’40s), and their 20s and 30s in the Fifties (1954-63, from Elvis to the Beatles; not to be confused with the ’50s) — were mostly too young to fight in World War II. They came of age in the postwar years, the early Cold War era. The Soviet dominance over eastern Europe, the Soviet blockade of Berlin, and the threat of apocalyptic nuclear war made it an anxious era; the atmosphere on the domestic front was charged with paranoia. At the same time, African Americans were challenging segregation, a new youth culture was emerging (with new forms of pop music), and sociologists, social critics, poets, writers, and comedians were critiquing US society.

pkdick.jpg

Philip K. Dick
Why “Postmoderns”? Because, in Europe, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Michel de Certeau, Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Marin, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, J.G. Ballard, Luce Irigaray, Christian Metz, Guy Debord, Hélène Cixous, Umberto Eco, and Paul Virilio were all born between 1924-33. In America: Philip K. Dick, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, Andy Warhol, J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey Hartman, Harold Bloom, Richard Rorty, and Susan Sontag. These thinkers and authors identified and diagnosed a new sociocultural condition — one in which fixed, universal categories and certainty were replaced by difference, process, and anomaly. Postmoderns argued against “scientific” rationality and unitary theories of truth and progress; instead, they emphasized the ambivalence and indeterminacy and “undecidability” of things. Using “deconstructive” methods, they discovered and celebrated what they claimed was the eclecticism and hybridity lurking just beneath the modernist illusion of conceptual unity and institutional integrity.

sontag.jpg

Susan Sontag
This is not to argue that everyone born from 1924-33 is a postmodernist theorist! But members of this generation grew up in a world in which two world wars, the Holocaust, the Stalinist Gulag, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrated the carnage and destruction that the modernist rhetoric of progress is capable of creating. If their elders (e.g., the New York Intellectuals) abandoned utopianism (the dream of a momentous, rational, all-encompassing change in the human condition, achieved through the revolutionary transformation of society), Postmoderns went even further, and repudiated the archetype of modernity as a force for unmitigated progress. Some of those who lost faith in Progress became conservatives; others (with the notable exception of those involved in the Civil Rights movement) balanced progressive concerns with irony, absurdism, and apocalypticism. Their (anti-totalitarian) destabilizing and de-essentializing of orthodoxies led Postmoderns to question whether there is any longer a meaningful basis for collective agreement or action. So, wedged between the activist Greatest and Boomer Generations, they seemed “silent.”

lee_merlin_miss_atomic_bomb.jpg

Meet the Postmoderns:

* Noam Chomsky, George Plimpton, Nathan Glazer, Andy Warhol, Robert Pirsig, J. Hillis Miller, Jason Epstein, Geoffrey Hartman, Jules Feiffer, Milton Glaser, Samuel P. Huntington, Robert Silvers, Tom Wolfe, Anton LaVey, Norman Podhoretz, Jasper Johns, Harold Bloom, Jimmy Breslin, Jim Jones, Richard Rorty, Dan Rather, Susan Sontag, Michael Novak.

littlerichard.jpg

* Bill Haley, B.B. King, Sammy Davis Jr., Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chuck Berry, Eartha Kitt, Stan Getz, Harry Belafonte, Fats Domino, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Ornette Coleman, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, George Jones, Ike Turner, Johnny Cash, Tiny Tim, Patsy Cline, Little Richard, Quincy Jones, James Brown

lewisnutty.jpg

* Johnny Carson, Art Buchwald, Jerry Lewis, Don Rickles, Mel Brooks, Mort Sahl, Bob Newhart, Jackie Mason, Dick Gregory, Carol Burnett, Stan Freberg

robertaltman.jpg

Robert Altman
* Sam Peckinpah, Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick, Paul Mazursky, Elaine May, Stan Brakhage

wallywood.JPG

Wally Wood’s “Superduperman”
* Truman Capote, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin, John Barth, Rod Serling, Flannery O’Connor, William Styron, Harper Lee, Allen Ginsberg, Cormac McCarthy, Gary Snyder, Poul Anderson, Philip Levine, Robert Rauschenberg, Maya Angelou, Claes Oldenburg, Anne Sexton, Peter Matthiessen, Cynthia Ozick, E.L. Doctorow, Toni Morrison, Thom Gunn, Donald Barthelme, Robert Anton Wilson, Gay Talese, John Updike, Robert Coover, John Gregory Dunne, Sylvia Plath, Philip Roth, Ed McBain, Wally Wood, Steve Ditko, Alex Toth, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Frank Frazetta, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis, Don Martin

rfk.jpg

Robert F. Kennedy
* Martin Luther King Jr., Alexander Haig, Malcolm X, Robert F. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Ethel Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, William F. Buckley Jr., Edward Abbey, Coretta Scott King

warholmarilyn.jpg

Marilyn Monroe and Andy Warhol: Postmoderns
* Lee Marvin, Marlon Brando, Buddy Hackett, Don Knotts, Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon, Rod Steiger, Tony Curtis, Donald O’Connor, Dick Van Dyke, George Kennedy, Audrey Meadows, Cloris Leachmann, Andy Griffith, Marilyn Monroe, Fred Gwynne, Sidney Poitier, Peter Falk, George C. Scott, James Garner, James Coburn, George Peppard, Gene Hackman, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Gena Rowlands, Robert Duvall, James Earl Jones, James Dean, Anne Bancroft, Debbie Reynolds, Anthony Perkins, Robert Vaughn, Gene Wilder

* Gus Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Buzz Aldrin

We’ll get to the Anti-Anti-Utopians soon. Until then, I invite your emails and comments.

Source: bostonglobe.com

think!

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