An old friend, I'll call him Joe, rang me up all excited and breathless last week and started griping about a CNN list he'd just seen: The 25 Most Important Pop Culture Moments of the Past 25 Years.
"Did you read these?" he asked and rattled them off before I could answer. "I agree with Live Aid and Titanic and some other ones, but 'NSYNC and Game Boys? And they've got Tupac Shakur in here -- all I know about him is he's a dead rap guy. Where's the Beatles?"
"Well, you know, the Beatles broke up more than 25 years ago. You might as well expect them to include Fizzies or Fruit Stripe gum."
"Yeah, I guess. . .but reality TV shows? An important pop culture moment? Please."
Finally, Joe calmed down and, half-chuckling, half-dejected, sighed, "My man, I guess we're just on the back side of a generation gap."
It's true: stuff that's important to one generation is largely just old crap to the next, just as things that seem important now have a good chance of landing below the nostalgia radar a few years from now. To me this seems like a pretty natural process, but for a lot of baby boomers, getting used to not being the center of pop culture attention has been hard. Ours, after all, is the generation for whom the terms "youth culture" and "counterculture" were invented. Our music ruled for decades, our film stars were the world's film stars -- hell, our fashions were on those stars' bodies. Some of us thought the ride would go on forever, but the truth is that boomers haven't been at the front edge of pop culture for some time. Frankly, that's fine with me, but it really bugs the hell out of others who share our generation's, um, advanced youth.
Joe hung up, sadder but less angry, and I started thinking: what would an honest inventory of baby boomers' 1980-2005 pop culture milestones contain? A list that would celebrate our own, real-life cultural changes. Try as I might, I couldn't find such a list anywhere, so I created one. And here it is. Let me know what you think.
1981: MTV debuted. Squirrely looking guys prancing around to music by bands with British singers who sound bored to death. No way this will last.
1982: The Who Farewell Tour. What better way to celebrate the waning days of youth than one last ear-splitting show from a favorite band? If you missed it, there were plenty of "We changed our minds, we're back again" Who concerts to come later.
1982: VCR prices finally got low enough for most of us to buy one. Now we could watch SCTV, which didn't come on till 1am, the next day and without falling asleep.
1982: Like VCRs, we finally caught on to Sony Walkmans -- doubly useful for boomers. We used them to keep up with music in the 80s and later switched to books on tape to ease the boredom of all those walks we started taking when we found out we had high blood pressure.
circa 1983: We started hearing about something called AIDS -- could it possibly be as bad as mono? Then, people we didn't even know were gay started dying, which launched a slew of sick Rock Hudson jokes.
1983: The first minivans, the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, were introduced. Those of us with kids were thrilled -- no more baby seats or soccer balls clogging the interior of our Pintos.
1985: Live Aid, which confirmed how great boomer-era rock was -- wait a minute, who's this Madonna?
1988: Roseanne debuted on TV. For once, characters on a TV sitcom were as gross and tasteless and argumentative as your own kin.
Late 1980s: We woke up one morning and rap had become popular, leading to boomers' most common interface with hip-hop culture -- the loud, thumping bass in the car next to us at the traffic light.
1989: The Great Disposable Diaper War, when Pampers and Huggies prices just kept getting lower and lower! Way cool!
1991: Disney's Beauty and the Beast began a revival of great animated films, just in time for me to take my 3-year-old daughter. When the Beast showed up, she ran screaming up the aisle, giving me a new perspective on people who complain about children at public events.
1992: Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, running for President, donned shades and played saxophone on the Arsenio show. That was good enough for us.
1994: The Eagles' Hell Freezes Over tour introduced the world to $100 concert tickets. Not too cool for fans who can't afford them, but we checked our social consciences at the gate and went anyhow.
1995: The Beatles Anthology is shown on television. We got up to dance with our spouses and kids to "I Saw Her Standing There," many of us sprained an ankle.
1998: First Viagra ads appeared on TV. Ha! That'll never happen to me. Right?
1998: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published -- the beginning of your kid knowing more about a subject than you do.
1999: TV series started appearing in DVD box sets. Now we can watch the good, old stuff as often as we want.
2001: In a Friends episode, Rachel bought Joey a recliner with a caddy for his remote controls. We all bought one the next day.
Since 2001: Well, um, we've been kinda busy. . .