According to the senior living page of ask.com, Baby Boomers are the “largest population group in US history.”
Since one in four Americans is a Baby Boomer, is it any wonder that, for better or worse, they’ve helped shape our culture and values? Baby Boomers are the generation that was thrust on us by a post-war America. While they adopted the optimistic outlook of their parents who, fresh from victory in World War II, thought that all things were now possible, Baby Boomers themselves ultimately rejected their parents’ values. They became the rock & roll generation — the Me Generation — that thumbed its noses at material things, government, and tradition.
Despite their radical split with their parents’ values, Baby Boomers, like their parents, are dyed-in-the-wool Americans: they crave seeing their story told on the big screen. Whereas their parents gravitated towards sentimentality (as in the 1930s Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers flicks or Gone with the Wind) to distract them from the Great Depression, Baby Boomers came to demand new kinds of film. They wanted sexual candor, sensitive social themes, and lessons on how to thumb your nose at the establishment.
Let’s look at three different films over the years that have resonated profoundly for Baby Boomers:
The Graduate (1967) with Dustin Hoffman & Anne Bancroft
This Mike Nichols movie entranced America when it was first released. Sure it was a comedy, but how could audiences not take it seriously? There was absolutely no precedent for a film in which the male star slept with his girlfriend’s mother, and then got back with his girlfriend after invading her wedding ceremony and carrying her off to God knows where. The film’s swipe at corporate America was also unprecedented, when Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) dared to rage against the system and scoff at “plastics” as a possible career. Baby Boomers used this legendary movie to help define a new, if impossibly difficult, way to live happily ever after.
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) with Meryl Streep & Dustin Hoffman
Directed by Robert Benton, this movie introduced the true pain of divorce to audiences during the 1970s, when real-life divorces first became rampant in America. The movie is blatant and sad in its treatment of child custody issues. It’s impossible to watch and not understand the price of individual freedom that a divorce exacts on a young couple.
Moneyball (2011) with Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill & Philip Seymour Hoffman
Though released only two years ago, this Bennett Miller film offers the ultimate recipe on how to game the system, and is destined to become a baby boomer classic. The subtitle from the Michael Lewis nonfiction book from which the film is adapted says it all: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.
The film documents the shrewd work of Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who hires a kid out of Yale (Jonah Hill) to compensate for his team’s lack of capital, to buy big-time baseball talent by crunching baseball stats to strategically employ specific players for specific skills rather than hunt down superstars. Based on a true story, the film is a Boomer slap in the face to the establishment.
As Baby Boomers approach retirement, they can look back on the ways they’ve both adapted to and shaped a dynamic American culture. It’s all there on the big screen.