Words by David (he/him), 28 VIC
My parents were born a week apart in Sydney, in 1953. They came of age in the 60s and 70s, all while experiencing pangs of fear watching US vs. Russia, the Whitlam dismissal, and the Vietnam War. My mother vividly recalls watching the moon landing on her high school’s black and white television set, which was wheeled into the auditorium especially for the occasion.
Their stories don’t just date them, they carbon date them.
My father can describe, down to the millisecond, the time he saw Bob Marley in concert. Though, to be fair, every second at a Bob Marley concert might feel like years, depending on the substances in your bloodstream.
In September 1953, when my parents were born, Nikita Khrushchev was sworn in as the leader of the USSR. By 1994, the year I was born, the USSR had ceased to exist.
The world had changed.
I list these facts not only to demonstrate my proficiency with Wikipedia, but to make a point. Millennials and baby boomers aren’t just from different decades. We might as well come from different planets!
My generation occupies a rare middle ground between Gen Z and the boomers; we’re slightly older than the former and the offspring of the latter. With that in mind, I’d like to offer some perspective on the “culture war” between the generations.
By now we are familiar with the arguments. Baby boomers bleat about the insouciance of the young, and millennials decry the heartlessness of the old.
In reality though, when you strip away the content, they’re both saying the same thing… “those people don’t share my values”.
The truth is, they’re right. The young and the old don’t share the same values. It would be absurd if we did.
My mother grew up sending telegrams to friends and love letters to boyfriends. My generation sends WhatsApp messages to friends and nudes to their partners. Sometimes they send both to both. And people wonder why we can’t find common ground on the most fundamental issues. The pace of technological change is overwhelming. Our society is evolving rapidly, and it is getting harder and harder for people like my parents to get their bearings.
When older people read think pieces about “the evil baby boomers”, they truly take it to heart. When teenagers talked about “boomer remover” during the height of COVID, my parents didn’t see it as a dark, funny meme. They acted like Gen Z were actively gunning for them.
I’ve been on the internet for most of my life. I know how to take a digital punch. I’m aware that for every positive comment, a dozen negative ones will follow. I’ve made my peace with it. Would I like online discourse to be kinder and more thoughtfully directed? Sure. But I’d also like to eat an entire cake without worrying about weight gain. Life is about sacrifices.
The hostility of the online world has shaped the way my generation talks. We argue venomously because we know that’s the easiest way to get heard. We speak without considering others’ feelings because nobody considers ours. We need to remember that this is not the world our parents and grandparents came from.
It’s easy to be angry at the baby boomers. They were given an incredible array of advantages compared to young people today. My parents received free education, cheap housing, and entered a job market in which an arts degree was considered an asset. By comparison, my generation comprises mostly debt-ridden renters with eight degrees and even more housemates.
If we’re going to convince older generations that society is unbalanced, that their generation owes a debt to ours, that inequity has risen on their watch… then we need to speak to them in terms they can understand.
Perhaps we could start by finding common ground, something that all Australians enjoy. I have the perfect candidate: reality TV. Think about it: there’s nothing Australia loves more than a reality TV show. And the best reality TV always involves one thing:
We love a real estate show. The Block, Grand Designs, Better Homes and Gardens. If you have a dimwit, a hammer and a camera, you’ve got a hit TV show on your hands.
Let’s solve the housing crisis by launching a world first: a reality TV show about building sustainable housing across Australia, sponsored by the federal government! The boomers will love watching it, the millennials will scramble to be in it, and the Gen Z’ers will tear it apart online. It’s a perfect solution.
Most importantly, it’ll bring us together, rather than driving us further apart.
You can’t win a culture war through sheer abuse. As sappy as it sounds, the only way to get through to other people is with love and compassion. And tradies.
If we want things to get better, we need to meet in the middle. (Of a construction site. On TV.)