To see how entrenched historical amnesia has become, consider this remark made by a member of Generation Y, those born between 1980 and the mid-1990s, in the Guardian this week: ‘My parents’ generation [the Baby Boomers] was luckier… they were able to go straight from university and move to London and afford their own flat.’
Excuse me? Whose parents went to university? Mine didn’t. I can’t think of a single kid at the Catholic comp I attended in the 1980s and early 1990s whose parents ever darkened the door of a university. As to that earlier generation, the Baby Boomers, buying flats in London — what are you talking about? I remember being surrounded by renters when I was a kid. You’d hear snatches of conversation about cobbling the rent together, keeping the council off your back, etc. Where is this generation, these Boomers, who all went to Uni before waltzing into a secure job and slapping down a few grand on a mortgage man’s desk and saying: ‘Gimme that apartment’?
It doesn’t exist. It is pure myth. And it’s a pernicious myth. There are many ugly things about the new generational politics, or what some refer to as the ‘generational jihad’ of Generation Y in particular, many of whom now devote great energy to slamming those born between 1946 and 1964, the Boomers, whom they accuse of having had such plush, resource-sucking lives that there is now no money left for the new generation to buy homes or be happy. But perhaps the ugliest thing is its mythmaking, its promotion of the utterly false idea that an entire generation, the Boomers, had it good. This is a slander on those born between 1946 and 1964, the vast majority of whom struggled. Has history ever been so casually rewritten as it is being today by Generation Whinge?
The occasion for the latest outpouring of generational angst, of youngish fury with the alleged comfort and wealth enjoyed by uppity old folk, is the publication of new economic data collated by the Guardian and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. They claim that Generation Y is having a really rough time. Apparently they face ‘far greater hurdles to establish themselves as independent adults than previous generations did’. This is historical illiteracy. It is historical amnesia, fuelled by a wilful and self-serving ignorance of the trials of earlier generations — yes, including the Boomers.
It’s now commonplace to hear commentators, especially middle-class ones in their thirties peeved that their lives aren’t quite as fabulous as their middle-class parents’ lives were, talk about the Boomers as one big, lucky, indistinguishable blob. Generational jihadists claim the Boomers were the ‘fortunate generation’. A writer for the New Statesman says this generation was ‘richer and freer… than any generation this country has seen’. A Guardian columnist said new generations deserve to enjoy what ‘their parents’ — all their parents, apparently — enjoyed: ‘education, housing, steady income.’