Portrait of a Generation: The Rolling Stone Survey
From the start, they were a generation to which much was given, from which much was expected. Born in the decades following the end of World War II, they were brought up to feel that they were the chosen generation – something new and promising under the sun. They were, literally, the future for which the war had been fought.
As they began coming of age, they challenged virtually all the social mores and political values that had come before. With them emerged a radical new musical form, new roles for women, a sexual revolution, unprecedented drug use and extraordinary social and personal upheaval. The old rules were thrown out, but that didn’t matter. Affluence and a sense of unlimited opportunity filled this generation with confidence, even self-righteousness, as it headed into uncharted territory.
As the youngest members of this generation reached adulthood and the oldest became candidates for midlife crises, the editors of Rolling Stone decided to attempt a group portrait that would bring into focus the values and lifestyles of Americans aged 18 to 44 and, in doing so, determine where this group might be taking the culture as a whole. The magazine commissioned Peter D. Hart Research Associates to conduct a survey probing the attitudes of these people about many aspects of their lives. In RS 523 their views on political and economic matters were explored. In this issue social and personal areas will be covered.
This generation is defined by more than age; both the younger and the older members are united by certain common experiences that shaped their lives. As reported in RS 523, two such events were the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War – even for those born too late to have participated in protest marches or served in combat. The first established in them the ideals of tolerance and equality; the second was the catalyst for the isolationist views they hold today. Two events that crippled their idealism were the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, who, the poll shows, are this generation’s most admired public figures of the last 20 years.
A crucial element in how this generation experienced key events is television. No previous generation had experienced its milestones in such an immediate and collective way. This is the world’s first television generation. They have spent as much as a third of their waking hours in front of a tube, hypnotized by images of war casualties and the Beatles landing upon American soil and Americans landing on lunar soil. Their prime source of news was a six-inch-high figure named Walter Cronkite, sponsored by Pepsi and Handi-Wipes. A prime source of their values was the homilies of families called the Nelsons, the Cleavers, the Petries, the Bunkers, the Ewings. The tube both expanded and defined their world.
And it was television alone that could enable them to experience the event they said had more effect on them than any other: the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Thirty-two percent selected it as the event of the past 20 years that had the greatest impact on them personally, placing it ahead of the Vietnam War, the AIDS epidemic and the holding of the American hostages in Iran – the second, third and fourth most frequently chosen events.
It is possible that they selected the Challenger disaster because it occurred more recently – January 1986 – than most of the other events on the list. And the dramatic television footage had unforgettable impact. But additional factors probably added to the significance of this event. With Christa McAuliffe on board – the first average citizen to be sent into space – the Challenger exemplified the nation’s optimism that technology would make accessible new frontiers of knowledge and space exploration. The disaster occurred when the nation was perhaps at its most hopeful point since the election of John F. Kennedy. Ronald Reagan had begun his second term as president the year before, after being reelected by an overwhelming majority. Economic indicators were relatively healthy. After more than a decade of America-bashing at home and abroad, the Challenger was an important symbol – a national slap on the back confirming that America was still on top. The explosion burst the bubble of national optimism. Since that disaster, the nation has witnessed the decline of the Reagan presidency, the Iran-contra scandal, the worst stock-market crash since the Depression, the plummeting of the dollar and an uninspiring presidential race.
Remarkably, those polled expressed a strong sense of personal contentment. Sixty-one percent said they are quite or extremely satisfied with their lives. The vast majority of them – regardless of race, age, sex, income, marital status or political ideology – said, to varying degrees, that they are optimistic. They also said, through their responses to questions about tolerance and openness and ideals, that they are at heart an ethical generation – and that their values will prevail.
Tree of Life Mass Shooting Trial Begins With Victim's 911 Call
- Tree of Life Shooting