When I was a kid, no one in my family ever wanted to play Monopoly. I was the youngest by almost ten years so any attempts at board games were always a stretch, but everyone hated Monopoly the most. “It’s boring,” claimed my older brother, “only one person ever wins and it’s boring as fuck for everyone else.” I was reminded of this recently when I read yet another article about the still ridiculous property prices in Melbourne, though The Age somehow reckons it’s a great time to buy (if you’ve just got done robbing Trump towers, sure). When it comes to real life Monopoly, we’re at the boring bit of the game, and we’ve been there most of my generation’s life: the adults have Mayfair and all the blue squares and little red properties everywhere, while the rest of us hope not to go bankrupt on the exorbitant rents and maybe win second prize in a beauty contest or not end up in jail, if we’re lucky. By locking out younger generations from industry, creativity and forcing us into subservience rather than developing a fairer, richer world for everyone, the baby boomer generation have signed their own used by date. Worse still, they have betrayed the world they’ve always claimed were going to save.
This baby boomer monopoly isn’t limited to the property market. They dominate our media with their (often unchanged since nineteen seventy something) opinions about how the world is and what we should see – think of the recent gap between the press gallery and the actual world of humans regarding Julia’s anti-misogyny speech in parliament. It should be infuriating knowing the names of those still left in all the permanent jobs are the same ones Mark Davis listed in his Gen X rage against the boomer machine, Gangland, fifteen whole years ago: Anne Summers, Germaine Greer, Piers Akerman, Michelle Grattan, Laurie Oakes, Alan Jones, Gerard Henderson. The endless circle jerk of Australian media decries the forced redundancies and cutbacks like the sky is falling in for everyone, but it’s literally meaningless to anyone under forty: the endless binging and purging cycle of capitalism has been going since Gen Y were watching Play School and Gen X were fresh out of high school and directly into the recession we had to have. The only jobs with security we’ve known are the ones that involve standing outside nightclubs and supermarkets.
The baby boomer death grip on anything profitable, powerful or privileged is especially grinding considering the inherent dishonesty at the heart of their self-written narrative. This is the generation who grew up to exhort free love and peace, to proclaim they wanted to challenge the status quo, to challenge capitalism and materialism by creating a counter culture. Forget surviving the great depression; baby boomers use these calling cards to constantly remind us that they were (and still think they are) the greatest generation. When I was a kid, I used to wonder what would happen in twenty years when the “classic hits” stations would have twenty more years worth of music to consider. It turns out, little Courteney, absolutely nothing. The only “real” “classics” are the songs from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s – the songs I listened to on my Walkman at twelve and my father bought on vinyl forty years earlier. This year we’ve even managed to have our locally made television dominated by their stories: Paper Giants, Puberty Blues, Howzat and Devil’s Dust. We’re constantly fed their youthful dreams, stories and successes, daring not to open our mouths lest we are drowned by their self-congratulatory wank. And yes, we do have Offspring, but The Secret Life of Us Middle Class White People is far from speaking the for the depth and breadth of our generation.
Part of the reason for this total dominance is that the boomers were the first generation to grow up with television, and the last to have a simple modernist narrative for their story. For all the squealing done in Howard’s culture wars, the impact of post modernism can be seen in how Generations X and Y define themselves. Rather than one forever youthful, rose coloured rear vision mirror view of “life” (a dominant imperialist narrative crushing any dissonant voices), identities are now disparate and temporary, changing like flash cards moment to moment, refracted and recreated every minute of every day. Collectives and groups come together for events or ideas, like Occupy [Insert City Here] or Reclaim the Night, serve their purpose, then allow the individuals to disappear back into their day jobs and night lives. We know the power of collectives and unity, of speaking as one voice against power, but we also see how easily collectives, once named and solidified and made permanent become sluggish, inadaptable and live on with only stagnation and outdated ideas inside.
The last twenty years has seen organisations go from not just dominating the corporate or social or creative landscape, but to complete monolithic machines which not only have to beat the competition but actively destroy everything or everyone in their path. For a generation allegedly so keen to create a counter culture, they have somehow managed to oversee a time where not only have corporations flourished, they done so at the expense of eating or crushing every other living thing in their orbit. Why go to a milkbar when you can go to a 1200 square metre supermarket? Why go to the local cinema when you can visit a mega multiplex? Why compete with that tiny brand when you can just buy it (or steal it) and make it part of your own? Like some unkillable vine stretching across the landscape, not only do they take all the nutrients and sunshine, they grow bigger by killing anything in their path.
The narrative of being a peaceful, free love generation is especially grating when one considers that baby boomers have grown and overseen a military industrial complex that profits more from the ongoing wars in the Middle East than any other war in history. For a group so keen on creating a “counter culture”, they have done more to advance capitalism than Coca Cola and McDonalds and Donald Trump on Lance Armstrong amounts of EPO.
Not only do they insist on dominating everything, they have made themselves fat, bloated vampires by maximising monetisation to the point that you can bet money on what happens with money: it’s called the stock market. Howard’s greatest victory was the ongoing proclamation by our elders that money is king. Economic rationalism is reality. In a boomer dominated world, no matter what, money is the most important thing. Even the Global Financial Crisis was caused by their insane greed to make a profit from the monetisation of money itself – bankers gambling on whether mortgage owners would manage to pay their loans back or not. We see media organisations losing audiences hand over fist because they’ve made cuts instead of investing in their talent or their products or programs – killing their geese to get to the golden eggs faster.
Retail giants like Myer and Gerry Harvey are screaming blue murder now that people can google better information about their purchases than can be provided by a pimply nineteen year old making minimum wage as a casual (meanwhile, I don’t imagine Gerry is buying all of his stock from Australian manufacturers at higher prices than anywhere else in the same way he expects consumers to buy from him, do you?). Corporations have moved away from giving people what they want to giving them what it is easier and more profitable for them to give. People download television shows more in Australia than anywhere else in the world. Today, not only do TV stations detract from our enjoyment of the programs with ads and voiceovers and holding over programs for weeks and months beyond their release, they continue to expect and behave as though they will enjoy the monopoly forever. And to be fair, nothing so far has suggested to them that things will ever be otherwise. They have certainly reaped the rewards for their behaviour, too: according to the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, the average baby boomer household is worth $1 million dollars – four times the size of the average Gen Y household. In the UK, baby boomers account for 80% of the wealth, while making up approximately 30% of the population.
This endless thirst for profit sits strangely alongside an infuriating desire to escape consequence. Like perpetual adolescents, they enjoy abdicating their responsibility whilst relishing the benefits – they cut wages and investment and ship jobs overseas so anyone ever wanting an answer about a bill or a product or a program or even their own money ends up talking to another pimply nineteen year old somewhere, who not only doesn’t have the answer but doesn’t have the power to do anything about it, either. You’re never going to speak to the old white dude who’s enjoying a several million dollar bonus for upping your bank fees or losing your interest or almost tipping the whole economy down the drain by acting like people’s lives are just a game of blackjack on his lunchbreak. You’re just going to be talking to another poor wretch like you who will later be fighting someone else in another call centre about their own bill and incidentally hates their overpaid arsehole boss as well.
It’s ironic, then, that the generations after the baby boomers should be so much more comfortable than their parents with consequences. We need to be. After free love came AIDS, STDs, skin cancer, lung cancer, speed limits, BMIs, seatbelts. After those hippies wore flowers in their hair we came to realise that if we didn’t start treating the environment better, there wouldn’t even be flowers for very much longer. Like sons of Mitt Romney, the baby boomers have enjoyed a carefree existence where their inheritance of the world has seen them think only of more profit and power and pushing out the bill for it all endlessly, or at least until they are dead and won’t have to worry about it. Suffer the little children – and our children’s children as well – say the boomers. It’s only the less privileged – the less cloistered by permanent employment and power passed on by simply waiting their turn, the Generation Y and Xers, who know it can’t go on forever.
And it can’t. A study by Australian Insurance company APIA found that 72% of baby boomers surveyed intend to spend all their money before they die and leave none to their children. Which is hardly reassuring news – well, aside from the fact that they’re going to die, I guess. But the idea that we’re sitting around waiting for money to be given to us is hardly befitting for two generations of people I know who fight harder and do more to change the world than any boomer I know. Boomers who, incidentally, have 38 more hours a week and four times as much money and no mortgages to pay or anyone to support anymore, but hey, you’re busy on a cruise? No worries. Just don’t tell me how your generation are still young and spirited and changing the world. The world you built us is rotting from the inside. The monopoly is slowly crumbling. To generation X and Y, these are heartening signs.
Last week when Superstorm Sandy hit New York, the months-long silent Occupy movement re-emerged almost spontaneously to help those in need of emergency assistance. FEMA, exhibiting the problems of a monolithic, slow and unresponsive organisation, closed its doors in some parts of New York before the storm hit and kept them closed for days after. The Occupy Sandy people and those who joined them the day after the storm hit were there before FEMA, in some places even before the police – using their ability to form around a need and a circumstance in an hour of need as their strength. The Occupy members knocked on doors and got to work helping people without incentives or wages or overpriced insurance of any of the endless accoutrements that boomers insist we need to act now. You could even call it a “counter culture”.
The growth and popularity of Facebook and Twitter show how keen we are to reconnect with people rather than organisations who speak in muted corporate tones with sanctioned messages through their mouthpieces. (The fact that Twitter and Facebook are having such trouble making money from these endeavours is an interesting conundrum about post-modern capitalism that there is not enough space to resolve). But we can connect with people anywhere in the world over shared ideas and projects – this very website is made by a team of people all across Australia who share little more than a vision (sometimes) and a hatred of baby boomers (mostly) and generally a very dubious sense of humour (always).
With media dinosaurs slowing dying in front of us, people are using Kickstarter, messageboards, Facebook and Twitter to speak directly with their audiences and find their people. It’s not perfect, it’s still growing, there are always problems. But there is genuine discussion taking place rather than an email sent down from HR with a copy of “Who Moved My Cheese?” By locking young people out of contributing meaningfully as a way of maintaining control, the boomers have forced us to take our passion and drive elsewhere. Bands like Radiohead and comedians like Louis CK and Daniel Kitson have cut out the middle man from their work by engaging directly with their fan base and profiting handsomely from it. Fans don’t feel like they’ve been bent over the table and done over by ticketing agencies and DVD production companies and advertisers in order to enjoy their favourite things anymore. Artists get to see the rewards of their hard work, and can have their work out on the very day or week or month they produced it. After decades of making a production line of people taking a cut from every interaction, our generations are going back to basics. Like running water going around the wreckage of a world ruined by baby boomers, we’re finding another path and getting through just fine on our own.
Similarly, where the baby boomers paved paradise and put up a several acre shopping centre and parking lot, Gen X and Y have recreated the age-old town square debate and discussion in cyberspace – carried in their pockets everywhere. This is working for musicians, writers, journalists, artists, charities, scientists and environmentalists. Instead of waiting for baby boomers to choose us for the jobs we used to dream about, we are creating our own and cutting out the useless, leeching middlemen. Seeing big media slowly die out, unable to adapt to the fact that young people are more than just one demographic, more than people who will buy from you and work for you and wait patiently for you to pass on scraps from the table just makes the view of the crumbling media world more schadenfreude than scary.
And I know, progress is slow and change isn’t always good – but as I look around at mine and my brother’s generation, I see so much potential, creativity and generosity of spirit, and most importantly an adaptability and drive to create a better world, not just for ourselves but for the generations who will follow us. Where there used to be frustration and disappointment at the world the baby boomers built for themselves and locked us out of, I now see a whole new board game popping up around me, something I can share in and create and grow with people who want to make the world better for all of us. And the boomers? Congratulations on winning Monopoly, guys – just remember what your mates the Beatles said about buying love… it counts for respect, too.
Photo: George Laoutaris