The world will never see another generation like mine.
They call us “Baby Boomers,” we who were born in the wake of World War II. That circumstance, alone, makes us unique. Many of us are the children of children of the Great Depression and of combat veterans of WWII.
We were steeped in a brand of stoicism, rigid disciplines and moral values largely unseen in later generations. We were imbued with an unquestioning work ethic, respect for our country and a reverence for God. We were taught to respect our elders — especially our parents, our teachers and others in positions of authority. When once I called one of my dad’s friends by his first name, I was sternly advised to never do so again. I didn’t.
We are, however, a generation of extreme contradictions. The same post-war America that bred patriots, scholars and geniuses of the computer age also produced violent war protests, draft dodging, race riots, the “hippie” movement and many other manifestations of civil unrest.
One thing all we “Boomers” have in common, though, regardless of race, social status, political views, religious persuasion or anything else that may have divided our ranks — we are the first generation raised on television.
Television has been the common denominator in all our lives since the early 1950s. I was reminded of its impact on our lives while watching a segment of the “Today” show’s 60th anniversary program.
I remember Dave Garroway and every “Today” show anchor since. We didn’t often watch the show when I was a boy — we didn’t even have a TV when it debuted in 1952 — but I remember Garroway, who hosted the show until 1961.
I was in the second grade at Nixa when we got our first TV. We didn’t watch it much, because there wasn’t much to watch. By third grade, though, while we were living at Republic, I was hooked on Howdy Doody, Mighty Mouse and other Saturday morning shows.
At about the same time I became a big fan of Davy Crockett, as played by Fess Parker, on the Walt Disney series. By then the values embodied in TV shows were becoming ingrained in my own moral fiber.
Davy Crockett reinforced the lessons taught by my parents. Parker’s character in the Disney series embodied virtues of honesty, truth, courage, duty and valor. One of his maxims I cite to myself even today, “No offense meant, none taken.” It seems particularly appropriate in this age, when folks seem to go out of their way to be offended by innocent comments.
Not only did television underpin the ethics of our generation, through the examples of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and other Western heroes, it introduced us to worlds unknown here except through books. Indeed, it inspired me to read and learn more about knights after I watched “Ivanhoe” one Saturday afternoon.
Likewise, “The Vikings” inspired me to draw countless sketches of longships with dragons carved on their bows.
More than entertainment, television became our window to the world in a way no previous generation had ever seen it. We watched the integration of schools in Little Rock, freedom marches for racial equality in the South, bloody riots in Detroit, President Kennedy’s assassination and funeral, our classmates dying in Vietnam and the fall of Saigon.
No generation ever before had its conscience assaulted or its social and civil consciousness affected by so vivid a medium as television.
We — the Baby Boomer generation — have witnessed television at its best and its worst, from the virtuous role models of our youth to the scandalous and often profane personalities of today.
We have seen it serve both as a valuable source of news, information and inspiration and as a vapid “boob tube,” as it’s often called.
No matter the programing or its impact, however, one truth remains for all of us: We are the first generation raised in front of a television set. None like us went before, and none will follow.
Our children and grandchildren face a new age of wonders. They have their own history to write, just as the world around us wrote ours.