The Baby Boomers At It Again

The Baby Boomers At It Again October 26, 2012

First, watch the Obama campaign ad that has everyone so worked up.  Then keep reading.

Apparently, a bunch of white men got upset over nothing.  At least that’s what The Atlantic Wire claims:

The outrage is ridiculous. The ad is aimed at people who are between 18 and 22 years old, people who are young enough to have not voted in the last election but who are eligible now. People who probably know who Lena Dunham is, because she’s basically the voice of every Millennial ever, didn’t you know? But these men, these old, grey-haired men, are upset because sex and voting are not the same thing, and, and think of the children!

Well, they are right about one thing: that the ad is aimed at a young generation of supposedly liberated men and women.  The rest they have wrong: the outrage is not ridiculous.  And not because voting is compared to sex.  The outrage is ridiculous because it whitewashes my generation with the same bloated optimism towards sex as the Baby Boomer generation.  And one of the clever dystopian actresses representing my generation, Lena Dunham, is co-opted into once more regurgitating the Baby Boomer Dream, that dream that ended in a dystopian present.

Ross Douthat was one of the first to tweet this appropriate reaction:

In the distant future, students of ‘Girls’ will marvel that the creator of the Obama era’s defining dystopia cut an ad in support of Obama.

Why is that?

Because anyone who has ever watched the HBO drama “Girls” would clearly recognize it as a dystopia.  Or maybe not everyone.  But I would hope most.  Whether intentionally or not, it makes many of the same points that Mary Eberstadt’s new book, “Adam and Eve After the Pill” makes, i.e, that the sexual revolution did not follow through on it’s promises, and that women in particular were the most harmed.  That one day, as Douthat also explains, “contemporary defenses of unrestricted abortion as absolutely necessary to female advancement will eventually read like Victorian-era defenses of child labor as absolutely necessary to capitalism.”

But, though you might get that message from Lena Dunham’s show, you won’t get that message from the ad.

From the ad, instead, you’ll get the message that contraception has solved all of women’s problems.  From the ad you’ll get the message that generation Y still views sex as the great transition from girlhood to adulthood.   But wasn’t that the baby boomers?

Your first time shouldn’t be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great guy.

Does that sound like our generation?

My first time voting was amazing. It was this line in the sand. Before I was a girl. Now I was a woman.

It’s a message for the wrong generation.  It’s insulting to women.  It reduces womanhood to beautiful first encounters with men.  But the present dystopian generation doesn’t think that way.  So we should all be insulted.

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  • Julia Smucker

    A good critique, but this ad isn’t worth much more than an eyeroll, in my opinion.

    • Have to disagree about this ad’s signficance. I think it represents an effort on the part of the political left to identify with and to celebrate a mindset that is very harmful to our society generally and to our young people in particular. Christina Martin explains it very well here:

      • Omg it’s a joke! Do you people really not get jokes???

      • Julia Smucker

        Ron: yes, that’s exactly what it is, and it’s self-defeating, as Nathan has pointed out well. My response to it is a resounding “whatever.”

  • I may be forgiven for taking this too literally, but I think it is consistent with the notion of replacing different relationships, in particular relationships with family and with the Church, with relationship with the state.

    The Church and the type of men who would want to get married are sexist, controlling jerks who think that rape is a blessing. Don’t commit to them. They want to keep you from having birth control.

    Instead, commit to the benevolent government of the Democratic Party. We won’t order you around or tell you what to do, at least as far as things like contraception go. We’ll take care of you ( Oh, and don’t forget, we killed Osama bin Laden. That’s right.

    This message has a certain appeal to certain people. I guess we’ll find out soon whether it’s as many as some people think.

  • You’re probably right. I just got really annoyed.

  • David Nickol

    It made me think of this.

    Warning! NSFPWASOH (Not Safe For People Without A Sense of Humor).

    The point is, they are not talking about sex.

  • No. The outrage IS ridiculous. The JOKE of the ad, the gimmick, is that you THINK she’s talking about sex (and, when someone phrases things like that in our culture, you assume they’re talking about sex, even if you disagree with the statements) BUT then it turns out she’s only talking about voting. It’s sorta clever and funny actually. The inclusion of the thing about birth control taints it politically and confuses the humor (though, hey, that’s what the president and his constituency support) but otherwise outrage over the premise of this JOKE is absurd.

    • I have to disagree with you.

      • But how? The ad is a joke that invokes “common” cliches about sex and virginity-loss in our culture (albeit liberal cliches) but then is humorous by disrupting them and making it about voting.

        The important thing to understand, is that in itself, such a joke intends no endorsement of the cliches themselves, it merely invokes the contextual expectations we have associated with them.

        Humor is amoral; the specific content doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter, as humor lies in the contrasts. Objecting to a joke because it is “racist” or “immoral” misses the point of humor; it depends on expectations or prior associations, and the very fact that you “get” the joke proves that you have such associations, and that the joke was thus valid in successfully exploiting them, even if you do not agree or believe in them.

        It is this dissonance that I think many of the humorless or politically correct are disturbed by in such jokes; they don’t like the fact that they “understand” the association, that they do, in fact, have the expectation the joke disrupts! In this case, it seems like humorless conservatives dislike the fact that they were “revealed” to assume statements (at the start of the ad) were about sex and have those expectations in spite of their disagreement.

        But that’s sort of like wanting to deny reality, like sticking your head in the sand and trying to wish away the fact that these attitudes ARE in our culture (and thus create linguistic expectations) by pretending that they’re not, or flagellation oneself for having been corrupted by such attitudes.

        But having the association or expectation is NOT the same as being corrupted by the attitude. That’s the distinction: having an expectation or association about certain things is amoral. If I laugh at a joke that relies on exploiting the image of blacks as lazy, or priests as pedophiles, it doesn’t mean I AGREE with that assessment or actually use it in my own interactions. It just means I know the conceptual association exists, and it is that association that humor exploits, and merely having knowledge that evil exists is amoral.

        Now, liberal democrats probably do believe some of the cliches this ad plays with (though not all; I’m sure many would be very wary of the “sex makes you a woman” idea among teenagers)…but then again, I’m not sure lots of conservatives would object to the idea that losing ones virginity should be done with someone special (they’d just believe that special someone should be a spouse.)

        Some of the specific political content (birth control funding, gay agenda) might be obviously objectionable to conservatives, but I don’t see how anyone with a sense of humor can object to the joke-comparison FORMAT of the ad; that’s just how humor works.

  • Mark Gordon

    I have to say that the outrage this ad has generated escapes me. As ‘A Sinner’ notes, it’s a joke, a double entendre, not a profound statement – implied or explicit – about the moral condition of America’s youth. At least that’s the way it strikes me. Many years ago, a young priest in my parish had this whole Austin Powers thing going with the kids in the youth group. They had developed alternatives to many of Austin’s rather ribald bon mots, such as “Do I make you holy, baby?” and “Oh, be saved,” and a bunch of other ones. People were outraged because the comic context for the original versions was seduction and fornication. But Fr. Taillon had found a way to connect with kids on the level of popular culture, capture a little piece and turn it to his purposes. And it worked. He went on to be chaplain of the largest Catholic high school in the diocese, vocations recruiter and vocations director. He had a knack, but he also had the experience of ten years as a lay professional and dating bachelor before deciding to become a priest.

    The parallels aren’t exactly the same, and certainly the purpose is much more dubious, but it seems to me that that’s what this ad is all about. Like it or not, the “first time” is a big deal to young people, including Catholic young people, and certainly in popular culture. The ad borrows the lexicon of that reality and turns it to the purposes of a political campaign. Do I wish the “first time” wasn’t that big a deal to kids, that they would all wait for marriage before having intercourse? Well, yeah. I kind of wish I had waited, too. And I wish my own twenty-something children had waited, too. But we didn’t, and neither did millions of other young people. The ad is merely tapping into that shared experience and concern.

    • As I also said (in a response that hasn’t been posted yet), conservatives assumably want a person’s first time to be with someone special too, let’s remember; they just want it to be with a spouse (and I know many conservative Christians who marry at college age).

    • @ Mark —

      Yours is a very reasonable reaction to have towards this ad, which merely deals with the reality of young peoples’ lives in an effective and humorous way calculated to encourage them to get out and vote–for Obama.

  • crystal

    I too think the ad is just a joke and nothing to be upset about.

    And wow I really disagree with the conclusions you and Douthat come to …

    – Why s “Girls” a dystopia?

    – Women are not harmed by having access to contraception. The only “promise” made, if there was one, was that women who use contraception (as it is meant to be used) will have a better chance of deciding if and when they want to have kids.

    – I don’t think there was ever any assumption that legal abortion would take away all women’s problems …. the hope was that contraception would make abortion less necessary. Douthat is creating a straw man (straw woman?) on the abortion issue.

    – And I don’t think the ad is insulting to women. I first saw it at a feminist website, actually. But leave it to men to tell women what’s insulting them 🙂 The ad simply says that being a rresponsible voter, like being a responsible sexual person, is better than not being responsible, I think.

    • crystal

      Sorry – thinking more about my comment above, I shouldn’t have written leave it to men to tell women what’s insulting them. Your opinion is just as worthwhile as anyone else’s, woman or man.

      • Thales

        Some of the women I know find the ad insulting because it implies that the only thing that is important to women is getting free contraception and having sex without responsibility. It’s the whole “voting with your ladyparts” idea, which seems (to me at least) to demean women.

        • That’s only one of a few issues she mentions; besides, the ad doesn’t imply these are the “only” things important to women, just that they are one issue that some women care about. But, in an ad which is reminding that constituency of pelvic issues, it makes sense that sex would also be the joke-metaphor.

        • crystal


          I think the reason the ad is a sexual innuendo is that the HHS contraception mandate and the perceived Republican ‘war on women’ have to do with gender/sex. I don’t think the implication is that all young women think about is having sex but that sex is both a normal part of life and also a big issue in this election. The availability of contraception has to do with the whole of women’s lives, their economic opportunities, the way they plan their families, their health, their education, etc.

  • Thales

    Omg it’s a joke! Do you people really not get jokes???

    Well, it’s not just a joke. It’s an ad put out by the President.

    Look, I’m not “outraged!” by the ad. But isn’t it unseemly, crass, and beneath the dignity of the presidential office? This might be appropriate for Saturday Night Live; but it seems to me too crude and inappropriate to be made by a president or presidential candidate.

    Second, setting aside the “joke” aspect of the ad, it’s still objectionable for the sexual-license-without-morality perspective that the ad takes. A caring guy is a guy who cares that you get birth control? Ugh. I know that the society we live in believes in this lie, but it should bother us to see the lie getting perpetuated because it is just another cultural moment that normalizes the lie.

    • brettsalkeld

      I haven’t had time to weigh in on this, but Thales has basically captured my own initial response here. I’m certainly not outraged, but I am disappointed. It is a pretty low rung in the descent of American electoral campaigns. *Shakes head* would seem the appropriate response. Conservative groups expressing their outrage are probably doing more harm than good.

      • So politicians can’t be hip or funny now??

        • brettsalkeld

          I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that. I didn’t find the ad all that hip or funny myself.

          I’m not against a good sex joke, but this one struck me as trying a bit too hard and quite possibly lacking in self-awareness, both of which are poor qualities in a comedian.

  • Thales

    But, in an ad which is reminding that constituency of pelvic issues, it makes sense that sex would also be the joke-metaphor.

    And my point is that some women find the pelvic-issue pandering to be demeaning.

    So politicians can’t be hip or funny now??

    I think you’re missing the point. Of course some people think that joking about having sex and being promiscuous is funny and hip. Of course some people think dropping the f-bomb or being crude is edgy and cool. Of course some women are only concerned about getting their contraception paid for and other pelvic issues. Of course some constituents are motivated by only a purely emotional appeal to their ladyparts and are proud of that fact. So? It’s still demeaning for a presidential candidate to pander to these mistaken and misguided constituencies in a way that is not consistent with authentic human dignity.

  • Ronald King

    “And one of the clever dystopian actresses representing my generation, Lena Dunham, is co-opted into once more regurgitating the Baby Boomer Dream, that dream that ended in a dystopian present.”
    Nathan, I am a boomer/post WW2 person. Our dream was primarily to form a peaceful loving world. We were born into an environment of fear and violence. We did not want to be indoctrinated into a violent dehumanizing system, which, I think is a dystopia. The American dream was a fabrication to create a social trance used to control the values and belief systems which benefitted those in power. We wanted freedom from these demagogues, Without God it just became the freedom to pursue enjoyment of the senses, but, it was a start. Contraception was about the “freedom” to be safe from the control of males, in my opinion, because it has been and continues to be males who create the violence in this world.