Generation X Welcomes the 1940s
(or Why Boomer Feminists Don't Swing)
by Dana Sherman
February 11, 1999
By virtue of my age and my experience, I am what is popularly known as a Gen Xer. A Generation Xer is a person born after the assassination of President Kennedy, but before the inauguration of President Reagan. I fit the description. I was born in 1965. My memories of childhood include reruns of 50s and 60s sitcoms, 1970s Barbie dolls, prime time shows like Charlies Angels, The Dukes of Hazzard or Three's Company. The music of my childhood and teen years was the Bee Gees, Air Supply, Andy Gibb, Olivia Newton John and Journey. The movies of my youth were Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Animal House, Porky's or Halloween.
We Gen Xers, it has been claimed in many media outlets, are cynical slackers, brought up in the world of excuse making, victim status claiming, and establishment blaming for so long that we no longer even regard responsibility as something to shirk because it simply doesn't exist. To us, civil discourse is supposed to be screaming at the top of our lungs on the Jerry Springer show, and the noble pursuit of justice and compassion is represented by wearing different color ribbons or by reading a book of inspirational meditations on the train.
We were given a world which was made by the baby boomers after they tore down, in the 1960s, the last vestiges of the world of their own parents. The baby boomers are not our parents. They are not old enough to have been. The boomers were born between 1946 and 1963. We Gen Xers were born between 1963 and 1980. It is possible for the oldest of the boomers to be the parents of a few of the younger Xers, but for the most part, the boomers are our older brothers and sisters (or perhaps the younger brothers and sisters of our parents), not our parents themselves.
So, here we are, in our late 20s and 30s, the first generation brought up in the world of moral relativism, psychobabble excuse making, and the sacred cows of feminism, liberalism, rebellion, and legal abortion. The old, pre 1968 world of morality, marriage, and manners is completely gone, buried by the boomer's cultural cement mixer. It was supposed to be forever gone and soon forgotten. Existing only in grainy black and white pictures in our grandmothers photo albums, two AM showings of Casablanca on TV, or the rantings of old men with nothing better to do than to sit around reminiscing about the good old days. When those old men died, the boomers believed, the era only they could remember was supposed to die with them.
Then something happened. Maybe it was the popularity of the movie Saving Private Ryan. Maybe it was the revival of swing music, not simply that of the past, but of new contemporary swing bands with names like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Royal Crown Revue, or The Brian Setzer Orchestra. Maybe it was the revival of cocktails, martinis, steakhouses, cigars, cigarette holders, high heels, wing tip shoes, or fedora hats. Maybe it was watching people in their 20s, born the year Star Wars came out, flipping each other around dance floors to the sounds of Glen Miller and Benny Goodman music. Whatever it was, one thing was obvious. The Generation Xers were rejecting the most sacred of all the sacred boomer cows. We were saying that we were not going to bow down at the altar of the sainted 60s. You can take your hippies, your Rolling Stones, your Grateful Dead, your Janis Joplin, your Jim Morrison, your Easy Rider, your VW bugs, your draft card burnings, your women's lib rallies, your sexual revolution, your new morality, your sit ins, love ins, be ins, and sleep ins. You can have the 60s. We don't want them.
We have discovered the 40s.
It is a different world. A world that is an anathema to liberals, feminists, and 60s types of all varieties. How the ex-hippie must cringe at the very thought of it. A world which celebrates the very things he did his level best to destroy. A world that celebrates the morality and etiquette of pre-60s America. A world where the sexes are anything but identical in either appearance or behavior. A world where the very concept of unisex anything is unknown. A world where, by the very nature of the dancing, the men lead (in spats and hats) and the women follow (in seamed stockings and rolled hair)
People dance in this world. They dance together. They are partners, not rivals. To swing dance, as a woman, is to do something few feminists of the 60s and 70s are able to do. You have to trust a man. You have to trust him fully. You have to trust him with your life and your safety. A false move could cause a few broken bones. You can have sex with a man you don't trust, but you can't jitterbug with him. You simply cannot doubt a man if you are going to swing dance with him.
The man has his role too. He has to support the woman, literally as well as figuratively. He has to lend her his strength and his ability. He can't let her down when she needs him. If he falls, she falls. If he loses his grip, she could break her neck. In swing dancing, a woman needs a man. She depends on him and he has to like being depended on. You can't be an "independent" swing dancer. He needs her and she needs him. If the dance is going to come off right, there can be no rivalry or distrust between the man and the woman.
Feminists wouldn't even like the slang of the 1940s, swing and retro culture movement. A man is a "hepcat". What is a woman? Why, a "hepkitten" of course. Men are called "Daddy" and women are called "baby". How demeaning! How subservient! Well, they wouldn't like the other retro terms for a member of the female gender either. How about "doll", "dame", or one of my favorites "Angelcake"? Beautiful, huh??!
The retro kids of today are drinking the martinis, scotch and sodas, and Old Fashioneds of 1940s movies. They even care about drinking it out of the right glass. They are smoking cigars (the very symbol of the rich patriarch the boomers taught the world to hate). They even smoke cigarettes sometimes, and with cigarette holders silver lighters and cases too. We are taking the clothes, the music, the food, the culture, of the 1940s (Yes, of the boring, square, fuddy duddy "Establishment" the boomers spent their youth hating and rebelling against) and we are reviving it and making it our own. We are making sure the 40s lasts long after the 60s are dead. Remember, Glen Miller is just missing in action. Jim Morrison is dead.
Yes folks, the Gen Xers are embracing the culture of the world that the boomers swept away. No, we are saying to the boomers, your Dad's music wasn't square. It was a heck of a lot cooler than yours. No, your mom wasn't repressed abused victim of the patriarchy in her party dress and heels. In fact, she looked rather pretty, and hey, could we borrow that dress? There's a swing dance night we want to go to on Saturday night.
This article copyright © 1999 by Dana Sherman and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.