Book Excerpt: The Isolation Generation

In his book, The Isolation Generation: the Incredible True Story of the Group Between the Boomers and the X'ers, Dean Anderson explores the dynamics of a generation without an identity. Linking the isolation generation, or the Space-Agers, with the launch of
Sputnik I, he explores their characteristics in relation to the better known Baby Boomers and Generation X'ers that preceeded and followed them.

Back to Main Article

by Dean Anderson

August.10th.2001

A rivalry can be a good thing. The very nature of it could force people into performing at a higher level -- making both participants do better than either could have without the other.

Would Mark McGwire have hit 70 home runs without Sammy Sosa’s 66? Would Los Angeles Laker Ervin "Magic" Johnson have become a world-class superstar without Boston Celtic Larry Bird egging him on?

Yes, rivalries can potentially create positives for those involved: the Space Race being no exception.

But, bringing it back down to earth, in the midst of some economic hard times there was a message circulating among our parents: We would be the first generation not to do as well as our parents did.

Personally, I never heard any adults saying this as I was growing up. But, apparently, many parents took it to heart. This generation was destined to fail.

The pressure was on. Money was saved. Less cash was spent on us for concerts and theater experiences. Even more emphasis was placed on television as a "creative" outlet, simply because it was free.

What were we watching now? Our tube heroes: Archie Bunker, Fred Sanford, Tricky Dick.

Sonny and Cher were "zinging" each other at the top of their variety show. And nearly everybody who was anybody visited Dean Martin’s dais to skewer the "Person of the Week" on his "Celebrity Roasts" from the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.

This form of humor was everywhere. And, we all tried it, at some point, on our friends and classmates. Who didn’t want to be Muhammad Ali, there with the perfect comeback to a Howard Cosell query? Or Groucho, who was inexplicably enjoying a renaissance as Marx Brothers films were being re-released in theaters and his famed quiz show, "You Bet Your Life" was being rerun on syndicated television.

As a method of interaction, some of us became smart-alecks, roastmasters, insult comics, wise guys. And, with the specter of a dim future ahead, as seen by our parents, we were encouraged to beat out the competition, at all costs.

It’s not a surprise that people of this generation did find their way into comedy, or talk, or both -- Arsenio Hall, Stephanie Hodge, Chris Rock, and Janeane Garafolo, for example.

The rest of us managed to alienate -- or be alienated by -- our classmates. We were all too clever for our own good.

The response: pull away from the people who try to hurt us. Try harder to interact. Fight the people in your class and be the best. Do anything to beat the competition. Take the best paying, least creative job, and earn lots of money.

The Baby Boomers were the most blessed of all American generations. They got everything they wanted. It should come as no surprise, then, that these people aren’t going to step aside and dwindle and shrink into the obscurity of a quiet retirement. No, they plan to stay at the party until the party is over.

The Boomers have regrouped to form a solidified block, sort of like Union Workers. They are their own network of support. They elect representatives who have their concerns in mind. These are people of action.

Compare this to the passive Space-Agers, used to watching the world happen. Frightened and shy, generally ignored, overall these people tend to take what is given them and drift into a job. They don’t know when to be aggressive. Sometimes, they don’t even know how. This, a result of our parents and their desire to keep us safe.

What was the most popular newspaper comic strip when we were reading the funny pages -- "Peanuts." And what was the greatest lesson learned from Charles Schulz -- being a loser can be charming, noble, and even at times heroic. Charlie Brown was a kind of role model for the Space-Agers. Not getting love, never kicking the football, Charlie was there, day after day, always screwing it up. He was ignored, laughed at, parodied by his dog. He was abused by his friends and defeated by his enemies. Did we sympathize? Of course we did. Did we relate? I believe so. But it was a celebration of ineptitude -- this was not a guy you should aspire to become.

The Pre and Post-Lunar Space-Agers were not exactly the same. Here, we have an opportunity to examine these two subsets and compare and contrast their ways of life.

Even more than is true for a Magna-Event, there is plenty of cross over between the Pre and Post-Lunars. Some parents actually resented the spending of government funds on moon rocks. This is an understandable complaint, considering the state of the union at that time. Other parents were very receptive to every launch, showing their kids how far they might go in their lifetimes.

For the Post-Lunars, there wasn’t much of a space program to follow by the time they were old enough to understand it. It was a history lesson, not something experienced empirically. "Star Trek" was just as real as a NASA mission to them.

Post-Lunars might cross over to the Gen X side more readily, since they are becoming more socially friendly, getting more of the peer group support needed to assist them in becoming successful in a career.

Since they missed the "launch" party, the Post-Lunar kids were naturally less and less interested in space exploration. Concurrently, the government found less and less justification for continuing the moon flights. Perhaps, had President Kennedy not made that speech, asking to "land a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth," it wouldn’t have happened at all. The last JFK legacy almost as quickly as it was realized, it was set aside.

The Post-Lunars also missed Watergate. Most of the Pre-Lunars can at least remember their afternoon programs being pre-empted for boring talks with some guys, which ran for weeks on end. The oldest of the group were in high school, debating the issues of accountability and following the newspaper and television reports on the likely fate of the Nixon Administration.

But without context, history is meaningless.

The Pre-Lunar Space-Agers had some history, and, at a subconscious level at least, an understanding of and a connection with the Boomers.

The Post-Lunar group couldn’t claim that. However, their advantage was missing out on most of the negatives in our government and society -- this group was the beneficiaries of that Reagan era of good feeling. The cynical jokes about our country had faded. Positive thoughts about us as a people were growing.

The Pre-Lunars were involved with television’s "Sexual Revolution" (TV nearly always lags behind society). Programs that titillated young teens like "Three’s Company," "Charlie’s Angels," and "Wonder Woman" were extremely popular. Shows that provoked both thought and lust like "Maude," "Soap," and "Police Woman" created firestorms of criticism.

On the radio, the Pre-Lunars heard the thump-thump-thumping of Disco. The beat was taking over everything. Dance music was in. Sex music was in.

Hard rock was the response from the bands sick of the treacle from the early 1970s. The underground movement known as "Punk" began in England and quickly spread to the states -- a kind of vicious British invasion. All this while, the Pre-Lunars were reaching their teens or twenties. Finally, Cheech and Chong and all those drugs!

Many of the Post-Lunars missed this as well. In their television experience, a clear move back toward family values was happening. Programs like "The Cosby Show," "Family Ties," "Kate and Allie," and "The Facts of Life" were the ratings favorites.

Music had passed through the wild dance craze phase, and settled into the friendly rock sounds of Hall and Oates, Lionel Richie, Duran Duran, and Whitney Houston.

TIn the beginning you didn’t need MTV to seemusic videos. Programs like NBC’s "Friday Night Videos," and Dick Clark’s perennial "American Bandstand" eagerly trotted out the latest clips from Billy Joel, Stevie Nicks, and Elton John. All this while, the Post-Lunars were reaching maturity.

Meanwhile, across the pond, Prince Charles took a bride and married Diana Spencer, a Space-Ager. The fairy tale beginning had no happy ending though. The couple divorced. It was a grim reminder that what seems perfect from the outside looking in, may be something entirely different.

Just as Charles (actually a Boomer, by birth date, anyway) awaits his chance to lead England, his mother Queen Elizabeth II (born in the Titanic generation) sits on her throne like a massive iceberg sits in the water.

That Royal carrot is getting mighty old. So, Charles is doing what he wants and is dating a woman he likes, despite his mother’s -- and his country’s -- initial objections.

No matter what your opinions of Camilla Parker Bowles -- a fellow Boomer to her royal lover -- or your comparisons of Princess Diana to her, you must admire Charles for finally, at long last, taking some happiness after waiting so long for it to be passed like a crown and scepter to him.

To continue the metaphor, everyone is currently paying close attention to Prince William, the heir to the throne after Charles. And, as it turns out, just about everybody wants William, not Charles, to become the next King of England.

You can understand why. Gen X'er William is dynamic, handsome, fun, and he’s young!

Gen X'ers are, in the vast majority, the children of the Boomers, the direct descendants of the highly networked, most blessed generation in history. They will receive all of the benefits that implies. Actually, they already have it.

Here’s a look at their time line, to show how this was arranged:

Once the lying diminished, and President Nixon created the next Magna-Event on August 9, 1974, by resigning the office of President, the Gen X’ers began arriving, parented mostly by the Boomers.

After inflation was brought under control, the American economy took an upswing. Unemployment levels dropped and the stock market began to rise, supporting those who wanted to have larger families. People were on a health club kick and sensible diets were the rule.
The Vietnam conflict had ground to a halt and the nation celebrated her Bicentennial. The overall feelings about the country’s future were vastly improved from the general atmosphere during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Even television was different. The programs available to watch included "Sesame Street," -- perfectly timed to educate and entertain the X’ers and some Post-Lunars, but too late for the majority of Space-Agers. "60 Minutes," a program that achieved acclaim during the Arab Oil Embargo in the mid-1970s, when everyone stopped going on Sunday drives. Even the sitcom wasn’t the same, with shows like "M*A*S*H," "The Bob Newhart Show," and "Barney Miller."

By the mid-1980s, video cameras were in the hands of many families, in some cases documenting everything from birth onward. Where the Space-Agers were the first generation to be raised on TV, the X’ers were the first to be raised "on TV."

© Copyright 2001 frictionmagazine.com and/or respective authors and artists. All rights reserved.