Monday, September 16, 2019

Jennie Bristow's "Stop Mugging Grandma"

Jennie Bristow is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University, an Associate of the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, and a writer and commentator on the new generation wars.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Stop Mugging Grandma: The 'Generation Wars' and Why Boomer Blaming Won't Solve Anything, and reported the following:
From page 99:
‘[U]ntil the election of Bill Clinton as President of the United States, the sixties generation promised only to disappoint on the playing field of politics’, began a lengthy editorial in the Guardian in 1992. The editorial argued that ‘[n]o other generation had, in its youth, wrought such a profound change on the cultural landscape of the western world’ – that was partly to do with ‘sheer numbers’, and partly to do with its ‘remarkably radical and innovative’ ideas:

This was the generation that gave sudden birth to the first serious critique of the post-war welfare society – to gender politics, to personal politics, to environmental politics, and to generational politics as well.’

Clinton’s election marked the point at which generationalism became institutionalised, as a way of discussing political problems and solutions. Until the 1990s, the impact of the Sixties generation had been mainly cultural; it came to be known for pursuing its vision of a better world through cultural institutions of education and the arts, as ‘[t]he revolting students of the 1960s’ became the ‘revolting teachers’ of the 1980s, ‘reproducing themselves by teaching as received wisdom what they furiously asserted against the wisdom received from their own teachers’. Believing that ‘the personal is political’, the radicals of this time sought to change ideas and conventions through their actions and behaviour in society, seeking a ‘permanent fusion of the everyday and history’ that stood in stark contrast to the aloof institutions of representative democracy.

When Clinton came along, generationalism suddenly shifted gear. His election in 1992 was reported far and wide as symbolising a new generation in politics; a time of ‘Woodstock in Washington’, when ‘the baby-boomers’ coming of age is being proclaimed everywhere…
Page 99 begins a discussion of ‘generation as a political identity’, looking at its emergence in the 1990s through the election of Bill Clinton as US president. I argue that this was the point at which the idea of generation first became politicised, via the notion that that the Baby Boomers (as the ‘Sixties generation’) represented a distinctive set of new values and ideas, represented by the Clintonite ‘Third Way’ – and later mimicked by the Blair election in the UK. This was, at the time, widely seen as an excitingly radical departure from the left/right politics that had previously characterised the 20th century.

The politicisation of generation has come back to bite the Baby Boomers, as they are now blamed for – among many other things – the failure of Third Way politics. Yet the construction of political identities in generational terms has become increasingly dominant as a way of explaining and expressing differences of outlook. Divisive events, such as the Brexit vote in the UK and the Trump election in the US, are routinely presented as clashes of Boomers versus Millennials, or young versus old – a reductive response that ignores the wider context of these events, and the fact that generations do not actually vote as a homogenous bloc.

Part of my motivation in writing Stop Mugging Grandma was to challenge the shrill, brittle, and dishonest framing of politics as a clash between old and young, and to warn of the dangers arising when an obsession with generation collides with the logic of identity politics. Two chapters are devoted to this theme later on: ‘“Youthquakes” and the politicisation of generational identity’, and ‘“Democratic deficits” and the tyranny of ‘“future generations”’. As such, browsers of the book will find the page 99 test an excellent signpost to the overall themes.
Visit Jennie Bristow's website.

--Marshal Zeringue