Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Boomer Oppression

Probably the most energetic arguments I have with my students are over music. I can't understand why so many of my students have written off the music of their generation and reverted back to the rock n' roll of the 60's and 70's. I especially remember walking down the street and hearing a student play something from "Frampton Comes Alive" and telling me that he played Frampton because today's music "sucks."

To me, all of this means that the sounds of the 60's and 70's, boomer sounds, are putting severe limitations on the musical imagination of the present. It's a kind of artistic oppression that prevents people from believing the ways that their own thinking, attitudes, and experiments are expressed in music.

I listen to classic rock stations and sing along quite badly to the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Steppenwolf, and Hendrix. But it's all nostalgia. Why would anybody under thirty listen to that stuff any more than I listed to Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington when I was 19?

I mention this as a preface to a letter from a professor in Mississippi that was published by Andrew Sullivan. What's interesting is that he views the boomer politics of left/right as having the same constraining effect on contemporary political imaginations. I have lots of doubts about the idea that an Obama presidency would break through the ossified conflicts of the boomer generation, but I have a lot of sympathy with the idea of breaking out of boomer constraints on the political imagination.

I'm a young, newly-minted assistant professor here at a large state school in Mississippi and I've got to say I've had just had an interesting conversation with one of my more conservative students. As far as I can tell he's a pretty 'die hard' Republican. He's really big into state and local politics and is even participating in a big way in a statewide campaign - and not for the first time. He is bright, sophisticated, and probably a future power in state and local politics here in Mississippi.

What surprised me was both his anti-war attitude and, moreover, his positive view of Obama versus Hillary. Though I did not ask, as it was not my place, who he intended to vote for, it seemed clear to me that he recognizes that 2008 is going to be a disaster for the GOP outside of the deep south and that Obama was probably the best the Democrats had to offer in terms of leadership potential. What most impressed him, he said, was that Obama was against the war from the beginning - giving credence to the effectiveness of the 'Obama has superior judgement' meme that is being put out by Obama's campaign.

Andrew, this is a young, white, male conservative, from the deepest of the deep south professing support for an intellectual, African-American liberal from Chicago. Democrats have written these folks off for decades.

A Hillary candidacy would merely continue this tradition and would represent a return to the familiar, divisive politics that has divided the baby-boomers for decades. Reagan and then the '94 election killed the 'old left' in this country. Let's hope 2008 and Obama kills the 'old right' because, like Dick Gephardt and the UAW, movement conservatism has outlived its usefulness. Maybe once both these old boomer ideologies are well and truly discredited something new, from both the left and right, can emerge.

An Obama presidency would be a stake through the heart of the vampire politics bequeathed to this country by the baby-boomers inability to set aside their differences over Vietnam and the cultural changes that shook this country to the core in 60s and 70s. We cannot be rid of their influence soon enough.


Todd Mayo said...

Interesting on many levels. As far as taste in music is concerned, I like stuff from the 70s, not so much from the 80s, quite a lot from the 90s, and quite a lot from right now. Can't imagine where that places me.

I do disagree with the young college professor's point however. While it is true that Barak Obama does represent a departure from politics-as-usual and would easily beat ANYONE the GOP might nominate next year, I could say that of every Democrat vying for my party's nomination.

For this man to suggest that; "A Hillary candidacy would merely continue this tradition and would represent a return to the familiar, divisive politics that has divided the baby-boomers for decades", is very simplistic and I think does a disservice to the Senator from New York.

The fact is, Hillary is the strongest candidate. She is very good at bringing people together toward common goals. She is the best-qualified in every way to lead this nation and I think most people know that.

Obama will have his moment. Just not for the next nine years.

typing and hitting [enter] said...

agreed, your students are limitimg themselves, but they are the children of the most selfish american generation. you can draw a direct line of causation between baby boomer coneitedness and the fact that their children worship what they did and shun 'modern music'.

also - you're at morehead.
you're not dealing with the most worldly student population or robust artistic terrain there.