Generational Limbo – Caught Between the Silents and the Boomers


Limbo Party

Coming up with catchy names for generational cohorts has long been a sociological parlor game.   Ann has joined the game in this blog by objecting to the “perennials” tag being applied to our  “mature” cohort by the head of the Stanford Center on Longevity.  Now it is my turn to jump on the generation-naming soapbox.  I’ll begin by agreeing that the term “perennials” doesn’t quite make it for capturing the essence of our age group.  I also agree with her suggestion that the label “Go-to’s” would be a big improvement over “perennials”.

Having said that, I must point out that Ann and I came into this world in kind of a generational purgatory –  caught between what has been called the “Silent” generation” (usually defined as having been born between 1928 and 1942) and the “Baby Boomer” generation (which officially began in 1946, right after WWII).  Truth be known, I would prefer not to be saddled with either one of these labels.


Silent Generationists?

For one thing, who wants to belong to the “Silent Generation”?   According to the New York Times, this designation first appeared in a 1951 Time Magazine feature article that characterized the members of this age cohort as  “a generally drab lot: cautious and resigned, uninterested in striking out in new directions or shaping the great issues of the day.”  It is telling that not one U.S. president has been a member of this cohort.  Just hearing “silent generation” brings to my mind an image of a parade of elderly, mindless zombies wandering aimlessly through life.  Surely those entering the world at that time deserve a more appealing moniker.  Synonyms like “mute”, dumb” and  “speechless” are just a lame.  And “Mum” can’t be a contender because it is short for Chrysanthemum which is sometimes considered a perennial which Ann has already rejected.

Boomer Bus

Boomer bus.

On the other hand, we could get on the “Baby Boomer” bus.  But I would rather be thrown under it than board it.    Bruce Gibney recently argued that Boomers blew through resources, racked up debt, and brought an end to economic growth, using their enormous voting power to elect politicians who enacted policies that typically benefitted boomers’ interests, rather than future generations.

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And those are the positive qualities.  Gibney finds that the  baby boomers are unusually sociopathic, with significantly higher levels of antisocial traits and behaviors ― including lack of empathy, disregard for others, egotism and impulsivity, not to mention narcissistic characteristics.  Clearly these qualities are not on my personal self-improvement wish-list.


Narcissus – the first “boomer”?

But those of us caught in the generational limbo need not despair.  Ann discovered a book on the History News Network entitled War Babies: The Generation That Changed America by Richard Pells, a U.T. Austin history professor, who found a notable absence of recognition of the achievements of those who were born between 1939 and 1945 (my “limbo” crowd) and decided to fill that void.

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According to Pells,
…the war babies were the champions of cultural and political renovation. Their art and their activities transfigured modern America. Because of what they attained, they were as decisive as any generation in the history of the United States.

The list of notable “war babies” is mind boggling.  It includes musicians such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Barbara Streisand, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles.  Others on the list include Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino Faye Dunaway, Lily Tomlin, Billy Jean King, and Mohammad Ali.  The list goes on and on, but you get the point – Ann and I belong to a pretty special group.

Chubby Limbo

Now that it appears I no longer need be concerned about my limbo generational status, I plan to celebrate by doing some dancing to Chubby Checker’s 1962 “Limbo Rock” (as long as no one is watching and the limbo bar is held high enough for my war-baby body to get under it).  By the way, if you haven’t already figured it out, Chubby Checker is a war baby himself, born in 1941.

One last comment before I begin dancing.  After watching the coverage of the March for Our Lives protests and seeing the truly amazing presentations by a talented and vocal group of high-school-aged students, I am sure the upcoming generation will not have to worry about being saddled with the “silent” label.  It will be interesting to see how their name evolves.






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