The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Jan 252010

Three great—and gorgeous—actresses of the Silent (born 1925-1942), all born in 1929: Audrey HepburnGrace Kelly, and Jean Simmons. Now the last of them has passed away. (Grace Kelly, while certainly as gorgeous, OK, maybe wasn’t as great an actress as the other two, but come on: Her career pretty much ended upon her enthronement at age 26.)

Interesting how the serial parade of marriages and divorces of this cohort of actresses (typically starting, as with these three women, with older G.I. (born 1901-1924) manly men) presaged the later divorce revolution of their entire generation. What was OK only in Hollywood in the 1950s became OK in Peoria by the 1970s. Ditto for the alcoholism and drug abuse. And cigarettes, though this addiction spread through the generation a lot earlier. Note that Simmons died of lung cancer.

Not surprisingly, many of their films dealt thematically with people trying to break out of repressive social, religious, and (especially) family environments. Some of these were comedies, like “Roman Holiday.” Many were a lot darker, like “Two for the Road” or “A Nun’s Story” (Hepburn) or “The Happy Ending” or “Home After Dark” (Simmons). There are probably others. I’m not the film critic.

They all knew how to play (as this article notes) “the demure helpmates” of strong leading men. They were outstanding for their decency, humanity, and attention to emotional subtlety and nuance of manners. Here they really outshone their Lost and G.I. elders. Wonderful quote here by one reviewer of “Home After Dark”: “Jean Simmons gives a reserved, beautifully modulated performance that is so much better than the material that at times her exquisite reading of the rather mediocre lines seems a more tragic waste than her character’s wrecked life.” Not often we hear that about Generation X (born 1961-1981) actresses coping with Boomer (born 1943-1960) and Silent Generation scripts!

And of course they came of age at a time when the veil of modesty wrapped over anything erotic was considerably more opaque than it is today. Though who is to say that this did not actually intensify the longing and the desire? There is a great line in a People story on Simmons in 1987: “For men of a certain age, the memory of seeing Simmons naked from the back in the 1960’s ‘Spartacus’ ranks high among their early carnal thrills.”

Oct 262009

I’m talking about the Homelander Generation (born 200? – 202?) . And I mean—literally—silent in the case of this article about using sign language in the classroom.

Let’s glimpse ahead 15 years… to K-12 classrooms where every kid is polite, sensitive to the needs of others, and unwilling to “disrupt” classroom flow for a mere personal request. Another Silent (born 1925-1942) generation in the making?

Oct 012009

This recent article in the New York Times by Alfie Kohn caught my eye. First let me say that I really don’t agree with this well-known progressive educator. His thesis (“unconditional parenting”) is that a parent should be equally approving of his/her child regardless of the child’s behavior. My opinion? Parents cannot act this way—unless they have a heart of stone and are utterly indifferent as to how the child grows up and who the child becomes. Most parents who *think* they raise their kids unconditionally simply try to repress their hopes and desires and hope their kids don’t notice how the parent really feels. But kids always notice.

That said, I do agree with an important observation Kohn makes early on. He says that explicitly behavioral/conditional parenting strategies are gaining in popularity. We have long made this prediction about Generation X (born 1961-1981) parenting—and have pointed out the emergence of it in other contexts. Gen-Xers care less about how perfect their kids really are on the inside (no Bill Bennett’sBook of Virtues” for them), but they care a lot more about whether their kids behave in ways and acquire habits that maximize their long-term odds of success.

The Homeland Generation is already gestating.

Note: The Homeland Generation (Born 2005-?), now entering pre-school, will include the babies born between now and the mid-2020s. Their always-on-guard nurturing style will be substantially set by Gen-x parents, legislators, and media producers, who are already gaining a reputation for extreme sheltering.

Sep 292009

Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary Dies at 72

Wow. This is a milestone. So many of us who became teenagers in the early 60s were really into the whole folk revival—and Peter, Paul, and Mary was absolutely the dominant public image of that revival.

They took the progressive G.I. (born 1901-1924) folk movement (The WeaversWoodie GuthriePete Seeger et al.) and culturally radicalized it so that it hit the sweet spot for first-wave Boomer (born 1943-1960). But they were also basically mild mannered—never extreme, unpleasant, or confrontational. Their harmonies were never atonal. They were the most popular “beatniks” ever to perform for the public. The bio points out another Silent (born 1925-1942)  dimension to her life story: four marriages.

Sep 092009

This post from David Brooks and Gail Collins in the NYTimes blogs paints a banal picture of Ted Kennedy.

I have already heard comparisons in the media to Daniel Webster and Henry Clay.  The parallel with John Q. works also.  If (say Chappaquiddick never happened) Ted Kennedy had won the presidency, I suspect his White House tenure would have been as brief and unpopular as John Q’s. And, like John Q., he was always a lot more popular in his native Massachusetts than he ever was elsewhere.

The only comparable figure in the Progressive Generation who springs to mind—a famous reformer and flowery-tongued Senator who won many terms and often competed for the presidency—is Robert LaFollete.  But frankly Ted never had LaFollette’s passion and courage.  And, to tell the truth, he was not close to being the intellectual equal of any of the above.  More than any other political leader I can think of, Ted Kennedy’s early electoral success rested almost entirely on his family’s money and reputation.  Only as an elder statesman did he begin to gain, through his own affability and attention to process and detail, a reputation as a constructive and bipartisan dealmaker.  Not sharing the charisma or vision of his elder brothers, most young Boomer (born 1943-1960) hardly gave him much notice back in the ‘60s or ‘70s.  He was a quintessential Mr. Insider, far more beloved by his friends and staff and close associates than by the anonymous public at large.  Ultimately his insider strengths enabled him to become a coalition-builder and doer in an era when so many other legislators (esp Boomers) were distracted by ideological posturing.

Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of life is just showing up.  This is an  apt summary of Woody’s entire  Silent (born 1925-1942) generation: They came along at an opportune moment, they showed up, they played by the rules, and they got rewarded.  Ted Kennedy’s a good example of this.  Despite his obvious character flaws, he simply stayed around, persevered, went through the motions, did his duty, attended to his family’s crusades, and ultimately got plenty done.  Had he been born twenty years later, in 1952 rather than 1932, he would have run off to Katmandu or Bora Bora—possibly to return with some entirely transformed persona.  Not Teddy.  And that serves as an exemplary life lesson to all of us born in younger generations.

Hat Tip to Reena Nadler for finding the article.