Bikers and Boomers

Yesterday would have been Christopher Hitchens’ birthday… April 13, 1949. I felt great sadness when he died last December.  He was one of my heroes, and not just because of his outspoken comments about religion. He wrote with wit and passion on many subjects, never afraid to call a spade a spade, or a fool a fool.

I imagine him in eighteenth century London, hanging out with Swift and Pope, trying to outdo them in finding the perfect skewering phrase. What would he have thought of the bikers? Would he deride (bad pun intended) the bikers with the same scorn he heaps on the their generation of boomers? Read on and decide…

The quotations below come from a much longer 1996 article in Vanity Fair, The Baby-Boomer Wasteland. Hitchens’ article begins, “Pity the poor baby-boomers. Beginning this month, one of them will turn 50 every seven and a half seconds, but all they have to celebrate is their own mediocrity, selfishness, and hypocrisy.” You can find the entire article by  copying this link to the search window of Google.

 To be a spoiled person is not to be well-off or favored by fortune or protected from brute realities. It is to be well-off and favored by fortune and protected from brute realities and not to know it. The post-1945 generation has been, at least until recently, free of the fear of untreatable disease and mass unemployment. It more or less grew up knowing that sex and procreation could be easily separated—the first generation in human history for which this was true. Every great book in the human record was available to it, for pennies, in paperback. Car ownership and cheap gas were rights, not privileges. Anybody who could read without moving his lips (and even some who could not) could and did go to college….

Every generation, of course, thinks of its predecessor as hopelessly hidebound and its successor as absurdly spoiled and selfish and disorderly. But the boomers are in the awkward and compromised position of the mule, which can claim neither pride in ancestry nor hope of posterity. …

Affectless, caps worn the wrong way round, subliterate rather than even illiterate, moving in herds or gangs, haunting the shopping malls and cinema multiplexes that no consumer ever demanded but every consumer jolly well got—the thing about these kids is that they can’t be blamed on anybody else. If the culture has declined into a brave new world of candified, soft-centered, massified, and mushy narcissism, on whose watch did this decline occur? And what were we doing while this was going on?

…Consider what the boomer generation has wrought with the great national art form of cinema. The predecessor group—Altman, Scorsese, Coppola—made some unforgettable stuff. But sometime after Jaws there was a steep decline into blockbusterdom and the empty, formulaic, and mechanistic world of Sly Stallone, Joel Silver, and Larry Gordon. By their fruits shall ye know them, and their fruits are DieHard and Lethal Weapon. The zombie kids we complain about are the result of a collapse—from hippie to mall rat—that has taken one generation of mutation to bring about….

… And what about saving others? For all the glib talk about social “concern,” boomers have become more swiftly hardened to stepping over bums in the street, or stepping around panhandlers, than their parents ever did during a time of mass unemployment and destitution. A certain kind of cognitive dissonance seems to be at work. Let’s deplore waste and ostentation while getting a new model of car every three or four years. Let’s lament the decline of literacy and education while transferring our kids to extra-“special” schools and letting the public-school system (another wasted inheritance from a more thoughtful age) wither on the vine…. Private affluence and public squalor used to be the name for this syndrome. In the therapy generation, which scripts even its own lenient satires, you are by all means allowed, if not encouraged, to feel guilty. Just as long as you don’t feel responsible.

If this has really been a generation (and half a century is a bit more like an epoch), then pray tell me what has been its greatest novel? All right then, its great legislative monument or imperishable politician? Or unforgettable political speech? What about the painting or the play that will survive it and tell its story? Suppose you alter the test slightly and say that rock music is the great achievement, and then ask what has been handed on? The last time there was an allegedly “lost generation,” it found Paris as a postwar provincial capital and peopled it with figures of jazz and literature and imagination. This generation is not lost. It has gone missing….

What would Hitchens think of the boomers and the bikers?

Here is my guess:

He would describe the bikers as aging boomers with more money than brains pretending to be young, pretending to be hip, pretending to be daring. I think Hitchens would ride in, do some serious drinking with them,  and have plenty to say.  It would have been interesting to see an article covering the social … and societal… implications in his column in Vanity Fair!

What do you think?

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