Bevan Rapson: Boom, boom, boom get over it

By Bevan Rapson

If you don't believe the boomers still dominate, look at how many times Leonard Cohen has been to the Vector Arena. Photo / Supplied
If you don't believe the boomers still dominate, look at how many times Leonard Cohen has been to the Vector Arena. Photo / Supplied

Following in the boomers' wake means inheriting an unstoppable tide of pre-used culture, built or adapted specifically to meet every desire of that famous population bulge. No, believe it or not, I don't want to cycle the Central Otago rail trail.

It's not that I'm an incurable couch potato or a hermit. Nor that I don't like the outdoors or Central Otago or can't stand the thought of a few days cycling.

And don't worry, I know how marvellous it is. I've heard all about it. From so many people. Over and over. With photographs. It. Sounds. Just. Great.

So many people have done it, are doing it and are loudly recommending that everyone else does it that I almost feel like I've done it already. So, I think I'll pass.

My loss, I know. Let's blame those damned baby boomers.

The boomer passion for "crazes" didn't die out with the hula hoop or the mung bean sprouter. They're still grabbing hold of things, thrashing the hell out of them and turning them into cliches. They're the excitable teens who never grew up.

And when the entire boom has been somewhere first, you can easily end up bored before you even get there.

You might have noticed we've been talking about the boomers a lot again lately, which is just the way they like it.

This time it's because the first of them starts turning 65 this year, provoking debate about our ability to cope with the welfare and healthcare demands that lie ahead.

Considering our leaders have been wrestling with these same demographic imperatives for decades, please excuse me for not proposing a solution. I'll try to stay as relaxed about it as John Key appears to be.

But the issue is just another example of how one generation looms so large in our societal viewfinder, and how tiresome that pervasiveness becomes.

Personally - and this may surprise those of you who have glanced at the photograph that accompanies this column - I prefer to disassociate myself from the boomers. Cue splutters of disbelief and outbursts of heckling ("Who does he think he's kidding?", "In denial!", etc).

Yes, being born in 1961 puts me uncomfortably within the standard 1946-1964 catchment used to define the boom. But I've long believed that those of us who arrived at the tail end of this period aren't the real thing. This view was encouraged a couple of decades ago when a story in a magazine defined Generation X, which succeeded the boomers, as beginning with those born in - tah-dah! - 1961. I'll take that.

It's not that I'm in denial about ageing, honest, just that it's downright misleading to confuse the Children of the Sixties with those of us who were children in the sixties.

Yes, we had a ringside seat, but that doesn't make us part of the circus.

Real boomers were brought up amid post-war prosperity. We grew up with oil shocks, carless days and shrinking foreign markets.

Real boomers were taught by returned servicemen. We were taught by boomers. At high school in the seventies our teachers were men with long hair and big bushy beards and home-made candy-striped trousers and women with long hair parted in the middle, either gender sometimes carrying a whiff of patchouli oil.

Did they read to us from the era's great texts - The Little Red School Book and Down Under the Plum Trees? Maybe not directly, but the loonier notions of those volumes seeped into the atmosphere nevertheless.

For a while, of course - and stop me if you've heard this one before, kids - punk rode to our rescue, seemingly freeing us from the sixties' grimy clutches. In the blink of an eye we went from listening to the same Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin as the guy in the candy-stripes to speaking Mockney and railing against boring old hippies.

Heady days, but sadly a mere blip in the boomers' relentless march of world domination. The sheer weight of their numbers continues to shape the world we all have to share. That's why Leonard Cohen seems to have some kind of residency at the Vector Arena, why faded stars sell out concerts in vineyards and why old men are falling off Harley Davidsons in unprecedented numbers.

Following in the boomers' wake means inheriting an unstoppable tide of pre-used culture, built or adapted specifically to meet every desire of that famous population bulge.

And it means hearing people of a certain age banging on compulsively about certain popular activities and topics. People took cycling holidays before the boomers arrived - but they didn't saturate the atmosphere with accounts of their thrilling adventures.

And yet all of this might yet prove to be only mildly irritating compared with having to fund the boomers in their retirement.

Once they've been through the system, don't be surprised if the welfare cupboard is bare.

On the bright side? I'm looking forward to picking up a cheap and only slightly dinged Harley Davidson.

- NZ Herald

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