Tuesday, July 6, 2010

That’s me: a member of the “The Peculiar Generation”

Last week, i entered an explanation of why this site and my current status is bringing changes along with what is a radical poem for me. Primarily because of Walker Hicks, all of my site is back up and accessible after the site was hacked about a month ago.

That’s me: a member of the “The Peculiar Generation”

SAN DIEGO – Last week, my niece emailed me an editorial which labeled me as peculiar, something I did not know.

Kate Jewell Hansen is unlike her uncle in many ways. To start, she is a scholar. She graduated from Vanderbilt cum laude with a double major in history and anthropology, and she just received her doctorate in American History, specifically 20th century economic history from Boston University.

Kate was born and raised in the Northeast corner, where my brother lives to prove we Jewell brothers could be brothers, close friends, and as far away from each other as possible.

But Kate has roots in Lebanon, and thrived at Vanderbilt, Her doctoral research explores the impact of southern industrialization on political formation in its embodiment of the Southern Industrial Leadership Council, headed by John Edgerton of the Lebanon Woolen Mills. Her dissertation is titled “As Dead as Dixie: The Southern States Industrial Council and the End of the New South.”

I Am Peculiar

Knowing I am significantly older than her father, she forwarded me the editorial, “The Peculiar Generation,” written by Richard Pells in the on-line edition of “The Chronicle of Higher Education.”

I have wondered why folks from my birth year had not been labeled. My parents are in The Great Generation. My sister and brother are in the mass of humanity known as Baby Boomers. But Lebanon friends of my age and I were born too late to be in the Great Generation. And being born during the war, not after, we are not Baby Boomers either.

This has not particularly bothered me.

Pells decided he and I were peculiar. I didn’t even know he knew me, but he pretty well hit the nail on the head. I agree I am peculiar. Most of the folks I know back home who were born between 1939 and the end of the war in 1945 are definitely not peculiar. With just a few exceptions, they are good folks, solid citizens, and very loyal to each other. In that regard, I hope I fit with them.

Transitionally Awkward

Pells describes us as being in a “transitionally awkward generation who were too young to have personally experienced the Depression or the war, but too old to have been embroiled in the turmoil on college campuses in the late 1960s.” He suggests the image of us peculiars is that we were “presumably too blasé or sedate to have participated in the battles against the Vietnam War or for the equality of women, much less in the revels at Woodstock.”

Then he asks, “What contributions, if any, has this generation made to American political and cultural life?”

Pells bemoans most of us men had “respectable but hardly remarkable occupations.” And he describes the women of the Peculiar Generation as “A few of the women pursued careers in primary- or secondary-school education, but the majority said they had concentrated on their families and volunteer work.” He disparages that “Almost everyone, male and female, seemed to love playing bridge.”

He does not approve.

The rest of Pells’ article attempts to debunk his own description.
He claims we didn’t like rock and roll but were hooked on jazz, and we didn’t watch “Ozzie and Harriet” or Walt Disney.

That’s where he lost me. This is not a column promoting liberalism or conservatism, but Pell’s column begins to sound like a liberal defense.

He praises a few of our generation, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and John Kerry, for rising above being just good folks. He then notes President Barack Obama acts much like Henry Fonda in his movie roles, “with his aura of ironic detachment from the political furies surrounding him.”

Peculiar Indeed

And Pells pats himself on the back for participating in the Vietnam protests when he was a Harvard instructor. He further states his heroes from the peculiar generation and President Obama’s emulation of Henry Fonda is what our peculiar generation has provided to improve our country in the long run.

Peculiar indeed.

The Peculiar Generation is hard to capture because we were and are so diverse. We span and therefore have characteristics of both the Great Generation and the Baby Boomers.

But to paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen in a 1988 vice-president campaign debate with Senator Dan Quayle: Believe me, Barack Obama is no Henry Fonda.

And I like being peculiar if it means I am solid, responsible, caring, and a family man.

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