The Arts and a Generation of Whiners (?)
Consider this the next time you’re trying to raise money for an arts organization or trying to rally support for the creation of an arts center or just trying to see the world in a fresh, new way.
Baby Boomers — those 76 million born between 1946 and 1964 — are the most pessimistic, disappointed, and self-entitled generation of the 20th century.
Let’s be clear: I’m not saying this, though it makes sense to me. This is from a report in The Washington Post.
This is according to a social and demographic trends survey released recently by the Pew Research Center. The survey measured the pessimism, dissatisfaction and general curmudgeonliness of 2,413 adults in various generations. The results validate any member of the Greatest Generation who ever looked at his or her offspring and sadly thought, “soft.” Simply put, boomers are a bunch of … whiners. More than older or younger generations, boomers — born from 1946 to 1964 — worry that their income won’t keep up with rising costs of living. They say it’s harder to get ahead today than it was 10 years ago. They are more likely to say that their standard of living is lower than their folks’ but that things don’t look too good for their kids either (67 percent of younger generations, meanwhile, feel they have it better than their parents).
And this attitude problem isn’t just because of middle-age crises.
Another report on social trends from the University of Chicago, which surveyed happiness levels for the past 30 years, suggests that boomers have never been happy. Again, the Post:
In 2004, 28 percent of respondents born in 1950 considered themselves “very happy,” compared with 40.2 percent of those born in 1935. Back in 1972, the figures for those same generations were 28.9 and 35.4. A whole lifetime of whining.
So what’s made them so unhappy? There are many theories in the Post article, but I like this one from Yang Yang, the author of the University of Chicago study, because I’ve seen this in action:
Boomers, born into families riding the American Dream, expected that such easy living would always come naturally. Happiness was seen as a right and inevitability.
Put another way: The boomer attitude is not collaborative but confrontational. It’s not one of compromise but of conflict. It’s doesn’t begin from a position of pragmatism but of ideology.
This is why Barack Obama is so appealing to many people under 50. This is why that same group of people — the so-called Gen X and Gen Y — were so disgusted by the 2004 presidential campaign, in which it came to light how much boomers were still fighting about the 1960s. The last straw, for me anyway, was to brouhaha over John Kerry’s adventures in swiftboating.
Why compromise when happiness — and many other things, I would argue, like the American Dream itself — is your right?
This attitude as applied to the arts: People should care about the arts, boomers say. They should give money to arts organizations. If they don’t, boomers say, then they’re stupid. If they don’t, then artists are victims.
Perhaps boomers, who are now facing retirement and old age, can afford to be so dismissive of the very real challenges facing younger generations of artists and art lovers, but those under 50 cannot be so dismissive. We have to face the realities before us.
I saw this during the first “Creative Spaces” discussion at Redux Contemporary Art Center in April (in Charleston, SC) when Marian Mazzone, chair of the Redux Advisory Board, said that artists are being “displaced,” and artist Linda Fantuzzo said that “artists have had to flee” the peninsula.
In an interview with me, for a story on the future of Redux, Mezzone said she was hesitant to talk to me, because I didn’t appear to have sympathy for Redux. She said this, I think, because I’ve said many times that the current venue problem is one of the performing arts not the visual arts.
If I’m not with them, then I’m against them, another trait of the Whiner Generation.
“People born in times of cultural renewal tend to take an overt attitude of pessimism,” says Neil Howe, an author who gained fame for his theories of recurrent generational behavior. They see their pessimism as a tonic that will wake up the world, then they just end up drunk on disappointment.
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