The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Feb 032010

OK, this story does have a generations-and-turning connection. Haggling spread with the growth of the Third Turning (Unraveling) free-agent economy in the ‘80s and esp ‘90s (the reference to e-Bay here is appropriate). And I’ve found that, on average, Generation X (born 1961-1981) are better at it than older generations. A few hip Silent (born 1925-1942), like William Shatner, really do get it—and the guys he tutors in the tv commercials are always Xers. Just try saying “namby-pamby” to a Boomer (born 1943-1960) and see what happens.

But the main reason I’m posting this is simply that you might find it interesting and possibly useful. Note btw the digital phone app that can scan the barcode while you’re in the store and give you an instant price comp to negotiate with! That is dynamite.

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.”

Jan 212010

This article in the Washington Post from last month is an interesting read. It seems fairly certain that, among the many reforms a [4T] reconstruction of government will require, elimination of the filibuster in its current form will be one of them.  Several years ago, when the GOP was in power, Trent Lott called overruling the filibuster “the nuclear option.”  I guess that pretty much suggests the crisis imagery that surrounds the idea of its abolition.  Sometime soon, though, one party or the other will just go ahead and do it.  A bare majority of the Senate has *always* had the constitutional power to overrule the filibuster on a moment’s notice.  The Senate has simply never exercised it.  Wait until more Silent (born 1925-1942) are gone and more Generation X (born 1961-1981) have arrived.  Pow!  It will disappear overnight.

Dec 252009

Very nice piece in the NYTimes by an officer who is almost certainly a Generation X (born 1961-1981) (he started serving too early to be a Millennial (born 1982-200?), and he is not high enough ranking to be a Boomer (born 1943-1960)). Any survey of generational divisions in today’s the armed forces uncovers Xer officers who feel bollixed by their Boomer superiors. The Xers want to decentralize decision making, reduce the bureaucracy, give more initiative to leaders on the ground, make decisive choices, and embrace risk rather than shun it.

Why all the smothering oversight? To reduce American casualties, of course, say Boomer and Silent (born 1925-1942)elders. To create an idiot-proof (Boomer-speak for Xer-proof) safeguard against bad headlines for political leaders back at home. But, counter the Xers, what if this approach simply ensures that America’s effort is ineffectual and that we are still there ten years from now, still slogging around and suffering casualties?

Speaking of the Nomadarchetype at war, I am reminded of the memorable scene in the movie “Patton.”  Omar Bradley (who was given all the best lines because he advised the director) got owned in one exchange after castigating George for being too aggressive in a particular attack in the Sicilian campaign and suffering needless casualties. Patton’s response—and I loosely paraphrase from memory: “Sure, Brad, some died. But we broke through, didn’t we? We brought this war closer to an end, didn’t we? If we did it your way, we might still be pinned down there, dying as we speak.” It is an interesting question whether the war would have been over in Europe in 1944, instead of 1945, if Patton had remained Bradley’s superior during and after D-Day. Germany might never have been divided, and the Soviet postwar domination of Central Europe would have been much weaker.

Ulysses Grant was another famous Nomad warrior who understood better than his elders (except for a few, like Lincoln and his friend Sherman) that sometimes you have to take risks, including the risk of losing lives, to get the job done. This is how the midlife Xer-in-charge pushes the mood toward the Fourth Turning (Crisis).

The final remarks in this article explicitly and eloquently point to the tethering of Generation X leaders:

“The culture of risk mitigation could be countered with a culture of initiative. Mid-level leaders win or lose conflicts. Our forces are better than the Taliban’s, but we have leashed them so tightly that they are unable to compete.”

Dec 222009

Nice piece in the Washington Post by Joel Achenbach on the weird hi jinks going on over the health-care bill in the Senate.  Here’s an excerpt.  Note the generational roles being played here.  Lieberman (1942), Bernie Sanders (1942), and McCain (1936) are all Silent (born 1925-1942).  Blindsided by the disappearance of politeness and process, they are expressing utter perplexity.  Franken and Coburn, of course, are (very) Boomer (born 1943-1960).  I’m sure they’ve never felt so alive.

Love the final reference to the “smoking tweet.”

Lieberman discovered to his great surprise how the tension of recent weeks has altered the Senate. Holding forth on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, he reached his time limit and made a routine request for an additional moment to speak. Presiding was the freshman senator from Minnesota, Al Franken. Party leaders had told him to be strict about time limits. Franken said, “I object.”

“Really???” Lieberman said, astonished.

He didn’t take it personally, and later said he realized Franken was just following orders. But the incident raised the hackles of Republican John McCain (Ariz.), who sensed comity going out the window.

“I don’t know what’s happening here in this body, but I think it’s wrong,” McCain said. “I’ll tell you, I have never seen a member denied an extra minute or so, as the chair just did.”

What’s happened is that there is no such thing anymore as a routine “unanimous consent” request. That notion died on Wednesday, when Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, used his senatorial prerogative to insist upon the line-by-line reading of Sanders’s 767-page, single-payer amendment. Three hours of droning by clerks later, Sanders had to pull his amendment.

Later, Illinois Democrat Richard J. Durbin said he’d found irrefutable evidence that Republicans had no goal other than to delay a vote on health care. His people had intercepted a Twitter message authored by a Republican senator that revealed an obstructionist intent.

“I have in my hand,” Durbin told assembled journalists, “a smoking tweet.”

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?

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.