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Mind the Generation Gap

Are parents and children destined to feud simply because they don’t share the same generational perspectives on the ever-changing world around them???

I wonder this a lot whenever I find myself staring down the stereotypical Conservative Uncles arguing with their Liberal Nephews on Facebook … admittedly because often times I’m the one in the so-called liberal nephew seat! It’s hard not to notice the line drawn in the sand when so many comments focus on one’s own perspective with little regard for where the other may be coming from, especially taking into account the decades of history that may divide the two…

An example I’d like to look at because it’s the one that actually stirred this debate is this classic Pecos Bill cartoon created by Disney back in 1948:

It’s a true piece of animation history from back when the Walt Disney Company was really starting to pick up speed and cartoons in general were becoming more accepted as a legitimate medium, and yet in today’s context it’s also a bit controversial because in many scenes throughout this tall tale we see our hero (narrated by Roy Rogers himself) rolling up and comically smoking a cigarette as he goes about his extravagantly heroic ways!

Now, to put it in proper context, smoking was viewed very differently back in the 1950s – Hollywood truly glamorized the act of smoking with stars like James Dean and Audrey Hepburn never without a cigarette in their hands, roughly 50% of the US population smoked, and even doctors promoted cigarettes as safe and healthy with iconic sponsorships for their preferred brands dominating the advertising landscape…

…but a lot has changed since then – today less than 20% of the population smokes, those iconic advertisements turned into not only legislation banning television and radio ads featuring smoking but later the prohibition of pretty much all tobacco sponsorships across the board, and you’re more likely to hear swearing on primetime as smoking and tobacco use on screen have become somewhat of a social taboo.

Also, over 20 million people have died from smoking and it’s estimated that another 443,000 Americans will die from smoking each year, so there’s that.

But my point is, are Baby Boomers “wrong” for looking back at that Pecos Bill cartoon nostalgically as a fun and whimsical memory from their childhoods??? No.

In that same vein, however, are Generation X’ers and Millennials “wrong” for being shocked that a children’s cartoon would make light of an act that we were actively taught to avoid throughout school because it could result in cancer and even death??? No.

Neither generation is “wrong,” per se, for basing their opinions on their own unique perspectives – it’s what we all do everyday – but where I think we get into trouble is when we automatically discount the other’s view simply because their perspective is different … sometimes drastically different generationally … than our own.

When the Baby Boomers were growing up watching Roy Rogers and pretending to be cowboys, cigarettes were cool because they didn’t know any better. All of the positive influences around them supported smoking, so why wouldn’t a fictional cowboy hero on TV light up a refreshing smoke after roping a twister or throwing another gang of bad guys behind bars?!

It makes sense given the context, just like now some sixty years later given everything that’s changed in our social landscape around smoking tobacco, an adverse reaction is all but expected when you’re looking at a medium aimed primarily at children who despite the decline continue to try smoking younger and younger. The gap between generations doesn’t have to divide us – in fact it can be an opportunity to both learn from the history of our predecessors as well as consider the new context that has formed in modern society as a result of that history.

What’s important is that we don’t fall back on comfortable labelings like “political correctness” or “generational apathy” as excuses to discount or invalidate either’s perspective because all that leads to is more stalemate arguments on Facebook and more angst around the table at Thanksgiving, neither of which either generation really wants. A debate when neither side actually considers the remarks of their opponent isn’t really a debate at all – it’s just two people yelling their opinions emphatically at one another, or typing emphatically in terms of social media!

Even into adulthood, children still have a lot to learn from their parents, and very much also vice-versa as children form their own opinions and perspectives on the world around us. Being of different generations just gives us another angle to understand these things that surround us all everyday … as long as we don’t allow the gap to divide us instead.

Media Credit: © monkeybusiness / Depositphotos