P.J. O’Rourke, the seasoned political humorist with the National Lampoon pedigree, is at home in his small New Hampshire town desperate for some help.
Perplexed, he asks, “Do spaces count as characters?”
When told that the millennials living under his roof are no doubt the go-to folks in this particular situation, O’Rourke, 66, readily agrees that yes, of course, his kids possess the ability to easily answer any and all Twitter questions their ole dad might possibly have—but sadly, obtaining said information would mean that they "would have to talk to me first.”
So much for the kids; no matter. These days, O’Rourke is having too much fun trying to define his own prolific generation to make time to contemplate either “mopey” Gen Xers or their still-fomenting successors. The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way (And It Wasn’t My Fault) (And I’ll Never Do It Again) is the author’s quasi-comic exploration of self and the approximately 75 million other selves who, like O’Rourke (and President Barack Obama), came on the scene between the halcyon years 1946 to 1964.
“I started out writing this book with a very low opinion of my generation,” O’Rourke confesses. “I was kind of looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t turn out to be any great shakes,’ and I’m a perfectly average representation of my generation. But the more that I looked into it and thought about it, I thought, ‘Gee, we’re not so bad.’ ”
True, baby boomers sprung from the mighty loins of the “Greatest Generation” ever—those selfless sons of guns, who, along with their female counterparts, courageously put their lives on hold to beat back the ugly Axis powers and their mad attempts to take over the world. But O’Rouke thinks that one has to look a little deeper than Audie Murphy and Rosie the Riveter to ascertain the true measure of himself and his groovy kin.
“Think about our parents’ parents and the generation that caused World War I and World War II,” O’Rouke points out. “Before the Greatest Generation, there was the 'Idiot Generation,' the ones that let all that horrible shit from the 20th century happen. There were some bad people back there. Okay, look. Maybe we took a few too many bong hits—but really, by comparison, what damage have we done?”
Beyond their sheer numbers, O’Rourke has been struck by his own generation’s diversity and fortitude. And for that, he genuinely does feel at least a little bit sorry.
“Generation X is going to have this terrific financial burden because us baby boomers don’t ever die,” O’Rourke says. “And if we do, not until we have about $100 million worth of medical treatment in the last 15 minutes of our lives.”
Too late to turn back now: Even if baby boomers had the wherewithal for self-correction, O’Rourke doesn’t think it’s likely that many could alter their trajectory.
“They don’t carry around that kind of consciousness,” the former National Lampoon editor says. “Most people just mow through life. The second reason we can’t do it is the youngest of us is turning 50, and the only changes you go through after 50 involve things like kidney dialysis.”
Self-identified as strongly conservative, O’Rourke nevertheless can’t help but scratch his head at the current crop of right-wingers dominating today's political landscape.
“I’ve been around politics for a long time,” O’Rourke says. “And I know there are all sorts of unintended consequences to standing up on principle all the time (like the Republicans found out with the government shutdown). Among other things, you get your ass whipped. But also with things like immigration. I don’t want to hear any anti-immigration spiel from anybody that’s not, like say...a full-blooded Cherokee. The O’Rourkes weren’t exactly here when mammoths roamed North America.”
On second thought, this unrepentant Baby Boomer just might possess the essential perspective needed to save post-boomers—if not from their good-timey parents, then at least from themselves.
In any event, O'Rourke is hopeful that his generation's good-natured attitude towards life and the way that the nation started to "wriggle away from the prejudice and narrow-mindedness that marked previous generations" has rubbed off on its children.
“I guess screaming at each other makes for what they call, ‘good TV,’ ” O’Rourke says. “Which has been kind of interesting to me because whatever it is that makes 'good TV,' makes 'bad life.' I tell that to my kids when they’re watching television: ‘Do not try to make your living making duck calls.’ ”
Joe Maniscalco is a writer living in Brooklyn.