Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dick Clark and the Baby Boomers

On New Year's Eve, we broke from watching the Marx brothers to ABC for that ball dropping in Times Square. (Isn't it interesting the way some of us celebrate the new year by watching other people celebrate the new year?) When suddenly, moments before midnight, Ryan Seacrest sent us over to Dick Clark.

Forgive me for not following the man's ups and downs, but apparently he suffered a stroke in December of 2004 and has been recovering slowly but aggressively since then. I read that ABC had him on last year but got his numbers jumbled in the countdown. But he appeared to be in fine shape this year, though with a gravelly voice and a reluctant tongue. He seemed sharp, and his arms and hands were gesturing as though nothing were wrong.

It was clearly a great personal accomplishment for him. His wife (third, married since '77) gave him what seemed to be a more-than-New-Year kiss and hug. He's 81 and a stroke survivor, and he carried off his duties like he was 45. But that was the showman giving it his all. Breaking away from the street level celebrations, the camera then caught him momentarily, though accidentally of course, fumbling, feeble, and looking very much his 81 years or older. (Dick starts at 3:20, the kiss is at 4:17, and the awkward fumbling is at 4:05.)

In "Growing Out of our Cult of Youth," I take the man who has always been a metaphor for the baby boom generation and I view him as a metaphor for their cult of youth, their unwillingness to age gracefully and face the beauty of maturity and the inevitability of death and judgment. Ironically, the relentless passage of time, which the new year marks every January 1, is precisely what Clark and his bommers resist recognizing.

Coincidentally, The New York Times tells us that the boomers have started retiring. (“Boomers Hit New Self-Absorption Milestone: Age 65”) That article cites a new Pew Research Center study of the boomers.

The 79-million-member Baby Boomer generation accounts for 26% of the total U.S. population. By force of numbers alone, they almost certainly will redefine old age in America, just as they've made their mark on teen culture, young adult life and middle age.
But don't tell Boomers that old age starts at age 65. The typical Boomer believes that old age doesn't begin until age 72, according to a 2009 Pew Research survey. About half of all American adults say they feel younger than their actual age, but fully 61% of Boomers say this. In fact, the typical Boomer feels nine years younger than his or her chronological age.
As they approach or enter old age, they are reportedly, by and large, bummed with life. Perhaps they're sorry that Nancy Pelosi couldn't realize even more of their sixties dreams.

As for Dick Clark, the Dorian Gray many boomers see in each of their mirrors, I write,

Like the generation he has hosted for the last 50-some years, Dick Clark has not aged gracefully as a grand old man does. In fact, he has defined himself against it. Though not himself a baby boomer, he has spent his life preening, tucking, and tanning to preserve himself the way we’ve always remembered him.

None of us thought that the living were able to have themselves embalmed until we saw this guy.

But on the boomers’ last New Year’s Eve before retirements start, the man who seemed to embody their hope of living “forever young” flashed—unintentionally it seemed—the reminder that, like the irresistible advance of each new year, death comes to all men (Romans 5:12).
I saw the aged Dick Clark as not heroic but tragic, still clinging to youth that has left him long ago, as it leaves all of us. But it makes way for something better: maturity, and the "gray hair" that is "a crown of splendor," especially when it accompanies growth in "righteousness" (Prov. 16:31).

I expect one day to see most boomers clinging just as pitifully to their phony vigor as they play air guitar to their classic rock tunes in hip retirement communities, yet bummed just the same because though they taught the world to sing in perfect harmony, the world just went on as it always has.

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