I’ve run a few posts recently on older generations running down Millennials, so I thought—before moving on—that I ought to add this clip. It’s from the new HBO series, “The Newsroom,” written by Aaron Sorkin (first-wave Xer, born 1961, creator of “West Wing”) and starring Jeff Daniels (Boomer, born 1955) as the cynical yet philosophical news anchor. In this clip, Millennials are portrayed as callow, shallow, and out of their depth. The starring Boomer, on the other hand, comes across as deep, passionate, heartfelt—and the flagrant insults he flings at his Millennial audience (e.g., “if you ever wandered into a voting booth”) would be rude only if he weren’t speaking truth to power, which in the Boomer mind justifies any manner of offensive behavior.
I’d be curious about what you all think:
One complaint about Sorkin as a screen writer is that he loves to create set-piece dialogue situations which sets up his favorite character to rhetorically vanquish an opponent, sometimes lending his shows a preachy tone. That certainly happens here. I’ve never in my life heard a Millennial ask a Boomer a question like, “Could you say why America is the greatest country in the world?” That’s like pitching underhand to Ty Cobb. As one might expect, it triggers this Boomer to unload a truckload of venom. (His initial reluctance, I guess, makes his explosion seem more authentic.) Did you feel you were on the side of the preacher? Or did you feel preached at in this scene?
And what about the substance of his remarks? Are they on target? Here’s a Boomer who no doubt recollects America’s First Turning greatness in the 1950s with the rising G.I. Generation at the helm–when we were “number one” in everything because the rest of the world was staggering among the rubble of WWII. But, as I recall, it was the explicit intention of the leaders of that era to raise the rest of the world up to our level of productivity, affluence, and education precisely because we thought this would make the world a safer and better place. Among other things, we thought it would foster liberal and democratic values worldwide. That’s why we funded the Marshall Plan and created the UN, IMF, World Bank, Bretton Woods, etc. In terms of geopolitical power, we remain the global hegemon. But in other respects, we are merely one of many. Would this result have really disappointed the leaders of the American High? Does it bother Millennials today?
One last point. Jeff Daniels (as anchorman Will McAvoy) does not talk so much about what his own generation has done that embodies a “greater” America (though he does talk about how we once did things for “moral reasons”). Rather, he talks mostly about what he recalls of greatness from the elders of his youth. Here, he epitomizes the Prophet Archetype, which seldom moralizes by invoking its own deeds—but rather by invoking memories of the Heroes it recalls from childhood. There’s a wonderful book by George Forgie (Patricide in the House Divided: A Psychological Interpretation of Lincoln and his Age) about how Lincoln’s Transcendental Generation–an extreme example of the Prophet Archetype–was forever talking guiltily about their parents’ nation-founding greatness. They kept wringing their hands about it even as they led American into the Civil War.
Or, if you want to go back to the Ur-Model of all Prophet Archetypes, look at passages by the wise old Nestor in Homer’s Illiad. He complains that all the Achaean warriors arrayed against Troy are mere “boys” compared to the right stuff he recalls from his own youth—the age of Jason and the Argonauts. When I first read this passage from Nestor, it made me think of all those fake re-enactments—like Mike Tyson versus Joe Louis in his prime. I’m suddenly thinking, did some ancient young Dorian wonder, after hearing the Nestor stanzas, about who would have won—Jason or Achilles–if they had been put in the same ring?