The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Dec 272010

This article on Teen Culture from a while back completely misses the point about Boomer (born 1943-1960) moms and dads.  They didn’t “keep up with new trends” in the sense of trying to be fans of every new pop group.  Rather, they perceived (correctly, IMO) that music from all the new pop groups was a pale wannabe reflection of the pure glory of the vintage rock of their own day.  And so they condescendingly accepted it and even hummed along with it when their own kids played it.  Boomers enjoy most of their kids’ music precisely because they sense it to be derivative of their own.  Rap of course is an exception.  It is not derivative (but it is also a Generation X (born 1961-1981) phenomenon).  But this is the exception that proves the rule, since this is a genre than many Boomers have not and never will embrace.

As for Mexico, one thing I learned in my recent trip there is that “emo” is a code word for a subculture that we would call “goth,” that is, culturally to the left, whereas the punkers I am sure were standing up for traditional machismo, that is, the cultural right.  In other words, the fist fights were political.

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  • Richard Turnock

    In English the sound “emo” is spelled in Spanish as “imo”.nMany American slang items are used in Spanish.nIMO stands for “in my opinion” in English.nSo, in Mexico, speaking in Spanish the sound is “emo” meaning IMO and identifying themselves as unique individuals with a valued opinion but part of a group of individuals with similar opinions.

  • Anonymous

    I tweeted this post and stirred up a “grumbly grumbly” response:

  • HKA

    RE: u201cemou201d is a code word for a subculture that we would call u201cgoth,u201d nnBy “we”, Mr. Howe, I assume you mean Boomers. Younger generations would not necessarily use “emo” and “goth” interchangeably. nnI am sorely tempted to respond to the comments on Boomers and pop music, etc…, but I’m afraid my reaction would be as generationally stereotypical as the original post. (And yet here I am stereotypically resisting stereotypes – such a catch 22.)nnI think the truth is that Boomers will always be obsessively fixated on their own youth. I’ve had the music argument with my own Boomer parents many times, and while I can agree that there was some great music that came out of the ’60’s, I don’t think their generation is even close to having a monopoly. I’m also convinced that if Shakespeare were alive today he’d be a rap or hip-hop artist.

  • “Emo” is an evolving word for my generation (I am a Millenial). Emo can mean a person who whines about their problems and gets emotional about them, or it can mean a person that wears clothes from Hot Topic, dyes their hair multiple colors, and listens to heavy metal. However, while there may be some people that are both Goth and Emo, I don’t think the two can be used interchangeably. Goths are much more angry and not apart of the mainstream at all. They listen to heavy metal also, but are much more likely to get involved in drug use and participate in illegal activities. They wear all black, just like the Emos, but would probably not wear bright colors in their hair. Goths are also more likely to wear spikes (on bracelets and jackets), and wear leather (as in trenchcoats). And I definitely think that you’re right on the separation between these groups and the Punk movement. nnRelating to the comments on Boomers and music, I was wondering what you thought about the hipster movement. Their cultural ties seem to be with the Boomer generation, with a relativistic philosophy and music tastes ranging from the more classic early sixties (She and Him) to the psychedelic late sixties (MGMT, Animal Collective), as well as sixties folk (The Fleet Foxes, Iron and Wine).

  • Giustino

    Rap is actually extremely derivative. In fact, it is probably the most derivative “music” available, at least hip hop songs that still rely on sampling are derivative in that they make use of previously recorded music, largely from the Boomer youth era (sixties, seventies) though most of the musicians who made that music were not Boomers. One of the wellsprings for hip hop samples was Parliament/Funkadelic. Another was James Brown (and the musicians that came out of his bands). Both have been samples over and over again. I would say tha hip hop is tied in more to the generation preceeding the Boomers (James Brown and George Clinton’s generation). And neither JB nor George Clinton disowned their hip hop offspring. They embraced them. There is a very strong tie between Silent musicians and hip hop. Also between Silent entertainers and Xer entertainers. Ask Jon Stewart who his favorite comics are and he’ll tell you: Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Definitely not Dennis Miller and Richard Lewis!

  • Allenroth

    I am a late boomer (1957) brought up by a GI dad (1915) and a Silent mom (1926). Most of my contemporaries had much younger parents. Your music comments made want to add to this discussion. To this day, I don’t “get” boomer music, even the Beatles and other soft rock. I feel most comfortable with pre Glenn Miller swing, the stuff from 1929 to about 1938, such as Ray Noble, Isham Jones, early Duke Ellington, the stuff where it really swung. I hate Guy Lombardo and Lawrence Welk and other sweet crap, but I also hate metal, southern rock, basically anything after about 1960. I don’t even care much for Elvis! I also love classical and some country swing, such as Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. When boomers are brought up by “grandparent” era parents, is this at all a common phenomena? BTW, my mom was born in 1926, but she always seemed more a GI than a Silent – boys were killed from her high school class in WW2. She graduated in 1944. I have loved your work ever since discovering Generations back in 1992. And I love when you come on Coast to Coast. Thank you / Allen

  • Rochelle

    Here are some of my thoughts on this:

    I don’t think teens have any sort of organized pop culture because millennials are not that type of generation according to generation theory. We’re not a generation that felt the need to organize and stand up against another generation like Xers and Boomers did. So pop culture and specifically music today is very much a melting pot of different sounds and pop cultural movements. You have emo, but you also have throwbacks to glam metal like Lady Gaga and The Killers, you have throwbacks to 60s, 70s music like Band of Horses and Arcade Fire that intrigues a lot of my generation, and of course our interest in our childhood the late 80s-late 90s. There’s also a natural interest in the 40s, which seemed to make a bit of a comeback with the swing movement in the 90s. You stated that our generation will be similar to the G.I. Generation and thinking of the music they enjoyed…well it didn’t really have any specific movement or identity. It was a schmorgesbord of sounds that those kids grew up with, which included Tin Pan Alley, burlesque, but also surreal and dream-like classical movements like impressionism and expressionism.A lot of Boomers and Xers can’t imagine how a generation could have no cultural movement driving their generation.That doesn’t mean that we don’t understand or enjoy good art. How could a generation that heard the surreal and unusual sounds of Hendrix, Led Zeppelin (from their Boomer parents’ nostalgia) and Nirvana/Soundgarden (music of the 90s) not enjoy good music? Our tastes can be varied and wide ranging or they can be limited to one group. Speaking for myself, I enjoy anything to be honest. I like traditional folk music, classical (from Renaissance/Baroque-impressionism), 20s jazz, 40s swing and big band, 50s Sinatra, 60s, 70s, 90s-present rock, urban hip hop, broadway tunes, scores from film soundtracks…I mean my tastes really have no limits. It’s about what sounds pleasing to my generation, we’re not caught up in generational battles such as Beatles v Nirvana or anything. I also think that’s why there’s so much fragmentation in culture today. The generation before us seeks intense realism, but also their self destructive patterns seek what makes them money. Reality tv is cheap and gathers and audience and yet has taken all the imagination out of television to the point where nothing else really survives. This combined with our lack of interest in pop cultural expression has led to fragmentation of culture which will stay ultimately until the next youth rebellion during the new awakening period.

  • Lucelu

    As an Xer and in my youth, part of that punk rock scene, it was most assuredly not politically right wing but we also didn’t listen to the hippies– at that point most were selling out to become yuppies bragging about their glory days…. yawn.

  • emo girl

    Youth easily adopts what’s new. They tend to be expressive on themselves. Emo is about self-expression so does the youth. Youth are music lover especially nowadays that we are in the high  tech world, they could easily follow their favorite groups or idols in the music industry. Being a fan could influence you and sometimes wish to be like them.