Across the Great Generational Divide

There are some things that you begin to realize as you gray. For example, the youngsters that you work with no longer “get” your cultural references. And you start to feel like Grandpa Simpson droning on about things that make no sense to the people around you.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

Soon I will be a 50-year-old man. So I am dreading the impending arrival of my AARP card.

Oh, well, as they say, growing older beats the alternative.

But there are some things that you begin to realize as you gray. For example, the youngsters that you work with no longer “get” your cultural references. And you start to feel like Grandpa Simpson droning on about things that make no sense to the people around you.

Case in point. A few weeks ago I made the comment to Police’s senior editor Melanie Basich that with the results of the Minnesota senatorial election, it’s now the “Al Franken decade for real.”

Mel, who is almost a generation younger than this soon to be fogey, responded with silence to what I thought was a really funny joke.

OK. Anyone under the age of probably 45 is wondering what the heck is the Al Franken decade. Here’s my quick explanation:

Back in 1980 when “Saturday Night Live” was actually funny, Al Franken was a writer for the show. And the funniest bit he ever did on camera was an editorial comment on the show’s news parody “Weekend Update.” Here’s the bit:

Jane Curtin: Well, the 1970s are in their final month, and with some thoughts on this decade and the one we're about to enter, here's Weekend Update's Social Sciences Editor Al Franken.

Al Franken: Thank you, Jane. Well, the "me" decade is almost over, and good riddance, as far as I'm concerned. The ’70s were simply 10 years of people thinking of nothing but themselves. No wonder we were unable to get together and solve any of the many serious problems facing our nation. Oh sure, some people did do some positive things in the ’70s—like jogging—but always for the wrong reasons, for their own selfish, personal benefit. Well, I believe the ’80s are gonna have to be different. I think that people are going to stop thinking about themselves, and start thinking about me, Al Franken. That's right. I believe we're entering what I like to call the Al Franken Decade. Oh, for me, Al Franken, the ’80s will be pretty much the same as the ’70s. I'll still be thinking of me, Al Franken. But for you, you'll be thinking more about how things affect me, Al Franken. When you see a news report, you'll be thinking, "I wonder what Al Franken thinks about this thing?", "I wonder how this inflation thing is hurting Al Franken?" And you women will be thinking, "What can I wear that will please Al Franken?", or "What can I not wear?" You know, I know a lot of you out there are thinking, "Why Al Franken?" Well, because I thought of it, and I'm on TV, so I've already gotten the jump on you. So, I say let's leave behind the fragmented, selfish ’70s, and go into the ’80s with a unity and purpose. That's what I think. I'm Al Franken. Jane?

Jane Curtin: Thank you, Al. That's the news. Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

That may be the only thing Al Franken ever did that made me laugh out loud.

I guess you’re wondering what this has to do with law enforcement.

It’s really not a dead-on fit, but there is something here that veteran officers should remember: Younger officers don’t have the same cultural references as you do. And that really makes it hard sometimes for you to communicate with them.

We have this problem here at POLICE Magazine quite often. An older writer will use a reference that younger readers can’t relate to. For example, recently a freelancer insisted on referring to the current American population as the “me generation.” What that writer didn’t understand is that the term is no longer in wide use, and it would draw blank stares from anyone under the age of 40. So I used my veto power to change it.

As police officers you have to communicate with younger cops and with younger civilian contacts. Do your best not to end up shouting over the generational divide.

Because here’s the sad truth, my fellow “Baby Boomers.” We have been the cultural movers and shakers of America for all of our lives, but we will soon be culturally irrelevant as a generation. Most kids (anyone under 30) today have as much interest in The Beatles and The Rolling Stones as we did in Perry Como and Bing Crosby. And the TV networks and movie studios couldn’t care less what we like. They are chasing that 18 to 35 market that we once ruled.

Time marches on.

And now we are on the other side of the generation gap, which is apparently growing. 

Almost eight in 10 people believe there is a major difference in the point of view of younger people and older people today, according to the independent public opinion research group. That is the highest spread since 1969, when about 74 percent reported major differences in an era of generational conflicts over the Vietnam War and civil and women's rights. In contrast, just 60 percent in 1979 saw a generation gap.

The other side of the generation gap is not a comfortable place for a Baby Boomer to be. But we are almost all now on the back side of 50, so we are no longer hep or hip or cool or dope or phat or whatever.

Oh, well, we’ll live. Hopefully for many more happy years. Maybe even long enough for today’s kids to go kicking and screaming into fogeydom.

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