After receiving the December/January issue of AARP: The Magazine, my eyes landed on a compelling cover headline: Special Report: How the Boomers Changed America. I searched between the covers until finding P. J. O’Rourke’s fatuous lead article, “How the Boomers Ruined Saved Everything.” This is the kick-off article for “a yearlong birthday bash for the boomer generation,” according to Editor-in-Chief Robert Love.
For context, here’s the article’s lede:
Yes, we’re spoiled rotten. We’re self-absorbed. And it seems like we’ll never shut up. But the Boomers made a better world for everyone else. You’re welcome.
When reading O’Rourke’s cynical (not humorist-inspired) account of the Boomer generation, I came to one conclusion: that his framing of the Boomer generation was PERFECT — in the context of an autobiography. It was mostly about the author and his politically overcharged framework.
Don’t misinterpret my consternation. There is plenty of room for measured humor about our Boomer lives, especially connected to youthful foibles in times past—something that might be featured in a sidebar, for example—but for the lead article in a yearlong exploration of the generation to be so inane leaves me bemused.
It’s as if Editor-in-Chief Love asked O’Rourke to write a piece that is as defaming as possible while tossing in a few back-handed compliments for balance. Can you imagine AARP producing a yearlong multimedia depiction of the GI Generation that begins so sarcastically? (“In our lead article, let’s be sure to make fun of their segregationist values in the 1940’s while downplaying their role in winning World War II.”)
If AARP is serious about pursuing an insightful and forthright accounting of this generation during 2014, sans stereotypical baggage, then I would encourage editors to seek out serious writers and thinkers who truly understand Boomer demography, sociology, and historical context. There are a lot of fine people available who have studied this generation, deeply and critically, and can bring insights and revelations to their writing, not just more Boomer bashing disguised as humor.
AARP: the Magazine has a history of presenting the Boomer generation with unfairness dating back to at least 2004, by my accounting, when the magazine published a mordant denunciation based on flawed research.
At the National Convention in Las Vegas in 2004, AARP distributed a research report prior to the 2011 Council meeting, entitled “A Changing Political Landscape: As One Generation Replaces Another.” This study sampled 603 boomers, 600 Silents, and 601 GIs.
A sample size of 603 does not adequately represent 76 million Boomers. According to the chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Colorado, whom I consulted, AARP researchers failed to adequately represent many critical Boomer segments such as Hispanics. Nevertheless, the study reached sweeping, negative conclusions:
Our findings indicate that boomers have a greater belief in government entitlements and a lesser belief in personal obligations than the GI Generation. Boomers are more likely to feel the government owes them something and less likely to believe they owe the country certain obligations, such as military service and paying taxes.
Aspects of this study and Boomer stereotypes (including an article illustration featuring a clueless, middle-aged hippie) also appeared in the September / October 2004 issue of AARP: the Magazine.
For those of us who have been following closely, we know that sometimes the magazine is driven more by celebrity than substance, caricature over thoughtful nuance, and dramatic impact over frank reflection. We know that there’s a longstanding institutional bias against Boomers that crops up periodically, and only time will tell whether or not AARP’s very loud megaphone carries a message that is true, resonant, and erring on the side of generosity over a veiled disapproving attitude.
Boomers do constitute the generational cohort upon which the organization’s financial future squarely rests. This makes their editorial decisions seem even odder.