Heed the Occupy-Wall-Street Message: We Boomers Don't Get It

Ads Glorifying Success and Perfection Won't Fly With a Younger Generation That Feels Angry and Betrayed

By Published on .

This Halloween, I didn't need a costume. All I had to do was roll out of bed to be one of "The Walking Dead."

That's how the 20-something Occupy Wall Streeters see me and my Boomer peers. They have been inspired by the turbocharged ascendancy of AMC's "Walking Dead" series -- a gorefest-with-thought that follows the survivors of a zombie invasion -- to stage "zombie walks" across the country. For them, members of my aging generation are literally the walking dead, having depleted their generation's natural resources and squandered their financial futures.

They're not wrong. We raised our Millennial progeny telling them they could do -- and be -- anything they wanted. We gave them trophies, showered them with tutors, surrounded them with soccer, ballet and piano lessons, got them into the right schools. It's not so much their sense of entitlement that accounts for their anger toward us, as many say, but their sense of betrayal. We raised them to feel their success was inevitable. And then we blew it with credit-swap derivatives, hyper-inflated property values and crazy-ass Ponzi schemes.

Now, they blame us, their parents, for their inability to get a job. In the "Walking Dead" story notes online, Andrew Lincoln, who portrays the anti-zombie hero Rick, draws the connection. "[The show] is about what happens . . . . when everything is stripped away." IronE Singleton (T-Dog on the show) compared the zombie apocalypse to growing up in the projects of Atlanta.

Even the show's plot lines hint at what we're now telling our kids: "Don't count on us." The perfect metaphor for our dilemma occurs when a hunter mistakenly shoots Rick's son while trying to pick off a deer for dinner. See, we just can't help it, even when we're trying to make things better. We are the enemy within, and we're eating ourselves alive.

Mind you, this generational conflict is a different breed from the now seemingly innocent youth rebellion that we Boomers went through. Gen Y is literally fighting for its future in the anti-Wall Street movement.

Max Brooks, son of Mel and author of "The Zombie Survival Guide" and "World War Z," wrote that zombies "reflect our very real anxieties of these crazy scary times." Brooks thinks the genre's popularity will boost the economy to the tune of $5 billion, but you can bet that the only pockets getting lined will belong to one generation –- mine. With Boomer life expectancy forecast to outpace all previous generations, we owe it to ourselves to understand the frustrations of the Millennials we've let down -- and pave the way for the rise of a new world that outlives even them.

We Boomers should stop criticizing Millennial "whining" and admit that their generation is facing adult problems of our making. For the advertising industry, this means not trying to impose Boomer values –- success, perfection, consumerism, aspiration -- but understanding that our point of view is out of touch with a generation that's merely trying to unwind the chaos we've wrought. By partnering with them to empathize and find solutions, we can help ensure their future -- and ours -- is a shared one that they can lead.

LINDA ONG is president of Truth Consulting.
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