Yesterday I accused boomers of being out of touch with contemporary culture. I am right in this accusation, but I am wrong to be scornful.
The fact of the matter I am a boomer and I would be out of touch were it not for the fact that I am an anthropologist charged with the study of contemporary culture.
For some (and only some) purposes, we are most sentient about contemporary culture in our teen years. Not me. No, I managed to pass through my adolescence without learning very much about contemporary culture at all.
Oh, I had heard popular music and I watched TV And I had one friend who was a gifted blues guitarist and another who started one of Vancouver’s early Punk bands. But somehow none of this made much of an impression.
It was as if I was living in a bubble. I am not sure what I was thinking but I was not thinking about culture. (I do remember complaining to the blues guitarist that contemporary music didn’t have enough words.)
It wasn’t until I took a job as the Director of the Institute of Contemporary Culture that I began to get a clue. It was clear that I couldn’t run an ICC unless I had one, a clue that is. Research assistants Jeff Brown and Nick Harney, sat me down and took me through the culture of the moment. Together we created an exhibit on teens called "Coming of Age in the 1990s.
This means that I began to know about culture because someone paid me to learn it. This has not happens, I dare say, to many other boomers, so they can be forgiven having lost touch. They should be expected to have lost touch.
Since then I have studied culture for my own purposes and for various clients. Mark Earls and I did a fantastic ethnography of "cocktail culture" in Boston and New York. A great florescence has happened here and I have missed it entirely had a spirits company not paid me to go have a look. I have interviewed factory workers in the deep south, construction works in the North east, amateur investors in Kansas City, new media users in San Francisco, bar patrons in Chicago and London, photographers in Paris and Moscow, and householders in Belgium, China and Singapore.
I spend my professional life being pushed out of ignorance and being forced to notice that the world has changed. For a guy who came of age in a bubble, it’s been a really useful experience.
So I am wrong to sneer at boomers. I am wrong to be accusatory.
And this raises the question: how to get boomers back in the loop.
We are adding a new name to our blog roll. Please welcome Ruby Kariela. Ruby is 10 and I believe this makes her the youngest ethnographer working today. I like to think of her as "reporting from childhood" but she will have her own way of describing what she does. Please visit her blog at here.