All Together Now : A Unifying Love of the Past Is Closing All the Generation Gaps

NOSTALGIA FOR THE 1950s and 1960s, we are told by Langer Associates, one of those marketing research firms that are always explaining us to ourselves, is bringing the older and younger generations together.

According to the Langer Report, a newsletter published by the firm, this trend began about 1983 with "The Big Chill," a movie about the reunion of a group of former college radicals, and should continue until at least 1993.

I don't know how anyone can predict how long a trend will last, but I suppose that is a part of the mysticism of that business.

I'm not sure either what they mean by the "older" and "younger" generations. I might have thought that by the older generation they mean those of us who were young in the 1940s and 1950s, and by the younger generation they mean our children--the so-called baby boomers.

I must admit that this definition fits my wife and me and our two sons, one of whom was born five months before the end of World War II, the other 15 months after.

For my generation, the most powerful nostalgia is for the war years. If you want to turn us on, play an old recording of Jo Stafford singing "I'll Be Seeing You."

But Langer evidently means that the baby boomers are now the older generation, and the younger generation is their children. That leaves my wife and me out of it. We're the super older generation.

Judith Langer, president of the firm, points out that rock music divided my generation from our children, but today's baby-boomer parents and their children both grew up with Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and both share in that nostalgia. "Rock now brings generations together," Langer says.

Today's parents and their children also enjoy watching reruns of "The Mickey Mouse Club," "Leave It to Beaver" and other old TV series, Langer adds.

Her firm also notes that both parents and children yearn for what seem now to have been a simpler time and a more secure life style (with togetherness and the nuclear family), coupled with a lack of excitement about our times: "Technology no longer appears to be the savior people once expected it to be."

Alas, we never watch reruns of "Have Gun Will Travel" and "Gunsmoke" together, but I suspect that my sons and I could feel very nostalgic about those shows if we were to see them again. We watched them on Saturday nights, back to back. They were highly moral: The bad guys almost always got shot, but they deserved it. Justice triumphed. The good guys won. Those shows were our children's Sunday school.

Rock music never completely divided us, either. We parents were charmed by the Beatles, and even Elvis was appealing, though his gyrations disgusted some of us. It was only when rock turned hard, mean and obscene that it turned us off.

Technology, it seems to me, has brought three generations together. Our sons and their children understand computers and VCRs and their other electronic gadgets and often help us when we are baffled by ours.

How can we forget 1960, the year the Pirates won the pennant? Our younger son was such a Pirates fan that when the Pirates were winning, he would sit immobile in his chair, not daring to change his position for fear of breaking the spell. When the Pirates beat the Yankees 10-9 in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series on a home run by Bill Mazeroski, we were both profoundly gratified.

How about the Dodgers of 1988? Their victory over the Mets in the playoffs and then over the Oakland A's in the World Series encompassed all three generations. My older son saw Kirk Gibson hit that electrifying home run. He was there. I saw it on TV in our New York hotel room. We will always share that.

Outside of a few high points, the '50s and '60s weren't especially enjoyable. We went to war in Korea. We tested a hydrogen bomb. The Soviets tested a hydrogen bomb. The Berlin Wall was erected. We went to war in Vietnam. John F. Kennedy was shot. Watts was torn by race riots. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Robert F. Kennedy was shot. And over all hung the cloud of the Cold War and nuclear annihilation.

But it wasn't all bad. Color TV came in. Joseph Stalin died. Earl Warren was named chief justice. Ed Murrow denounced Joe McCarthy. Bill Haley and the Comets recorded "Rock Around the Clock." The Warren Court ordered schools desegregated. The Beatles invaded America. Twiggy helped popularize the miniskirt. Men walked on the moon.

Certainly that's enough for two generations to remember, and I don't expect the '90s to be any less horrid or exciting.

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