Your Twos—have you ever noticed how excited they get when the subject of the Kennedy assassination comes up? They start chirping and yipping about where they were, what they were doing, what they remember. Big nostalgia dump for them; nausea-inducing for everyone else.
What they don’t tell you is what they were doing the next day, and I can guarantee this for a fact: They were at home watching TV with their families. Boomer children got to stay home from school—but at a steep price, as they were forced to watch the somber, non-stop coverage of nothing happening at the hospital in Dallas and then at the funeral in DC.
Then a terrible thing occurred. Against all odds, Jack Ruby assassinated the assassin, Oswald, right there on live television. This confirmed the media’s news judgment. If you stick around and show everything, from the under-assistant somebody or other reading a press release to the janitor cleaning up the trash the reporters are leaving on the scene, eventually you might get lucky.
So all your Twos were treated to wall-to-wall coverage of the Vietnam War and the Watergate hearings. Both were signal failures by almost any system of reckoning, except the Boomer worldview. For these young, self-styled revolutionaries, Watergate and Vietnam were victories that would be become their touch-points and the lens that refracted every future experience.
The economy didn’t care what the Boomers thought. The price of oil quadrupled, courtesy of our friends in the Middle East who engaged our critical thinking as to whether we preferred to let them kill Jews at will or to wait in line for gas. U.S. stocks lost nearly half their value. Double-digit inflation cut purchasing power; mortgage interest rates were on their way up to 17%, and unemployment was higher than it had been since the depression.
It was not a wonderful time for recent college grads trying to find jobs, start families, or to make their way in the world. More or less like the present. Back then, Jimmy Carter came on TV to talk about “a crisis of confidence” in what became known as his “malaise” speech.
I can’t help but wonder if there wouldn’t have been a malaise problem, back in the previous millennium, if more television channels had been available. THERE WAS NO CABLE. People were pretty much stuck with the three networks, plus crappy local UHF stations. This was also pre-VCRs. Even movie theaters were just one-holers; there were no multi-plexes: If you wanted to see an older movie, you had to either hope to find it in a crappy “art house” theater or on your hopeless little 15” black-and-white TV set with its crappy UHF- reception.
NO WONDER EVERYBODY WAS DEPRESSED.
Even so, the Boomers discovered an incredibly clever way out of this quagmire, this slough of malaise. I can’t wait to tell you about it in the next Epistle.