Hile Rutledge
Trainer, author

Hile Rutledge

CEO and owner of OKA (Otto Kroeger Associates), a training and consulting firm specializing in leadership and team development.

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Wisdom at the cineplex

Q: Parents, a Wall Street Journal article says, have become cool. On TV, at least. After years of shows about youthful rebellion, teens are bonding with their fashionable and understanding parents. It might be so in real life, too. One study says 75 percent of teens get along with their parents. Is this necessarily a sign of a successful family? Or are some parents overplaying the "friend" card with their kids?

A recent study shows us that 75 percent of kids today get along with their parents, which seems to be a marked change from the anti-authority stance many Baby Boomers took with their parents and a contrast from the distant and disconnected relationship many Generation Xers had with their parents. A lot of this change in attitude -- parents now being cool again -- is an interesting byproduct of natural generational shifts in values.

I teach a course on generations in the workplace that explores the differences and dynamics of the four generations now active in the workforce (Traditionalists born between 1920 and 1945, Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964, Generation X born between 1965 and 1980 and Millennials born between 1981 and 2000). An interesting exercise I do in this workshop is to take a sampling of popular movies (money makers and award winners) from the heart of each generation to see what themes might be present -- as if these movies were a mirror held up to the time that each generation came of age.

What we find in this analysis is that each generation develops a set of values that both reflect and are rooted in the current events of the time, values that also develop in contrast to what are perceived to be the excesses or failings of the generation that came before it.

A sampling of the movies from this exercise tells the tale. Among the most popular movies released between 1942 and 1954 (when Traditionalists were coming of age) were "Casablanca," "It's a Wonderful Life," "High Noon," "Rio Grande," "Singin' in the Rain," "Hamlet" and "Key Largo. These movies have many things in common -- they are all about white male adults and each tells a version of a classic heroic tale in which the hero does the right thing, even in the face of suffering and difficulty. These are all qualities held dear by the conservative, "father knows best" generation, the Traditionalists.

When the Baby Boomers were coming of age, the corner theater was showing a very different kind of movie. Among the big ones released between 1965 and 1975, when the Boomers were coming of age, were "The Graduate," "Easy Rider," "Midnight Cowboy," "Godfather I" and II, "Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid," "Bonnie and Clyde," "Chinatown" and "Jaws." Distinguishing themselves from the top-down, hero-focused storylines of the previous generation, these movies question authority and even celebrate the anti-hero with a grit and intensity that certainly signal a changing of the cultural guard.

As Generation X was coming into its own, the corner cineplex featured movies that were showing a very different set of cultural values -- now reflecting a contrast from the hard working, career focused intensity of the Baby Boomers. From 1983 to 1992, as the latch-key generation's values were forming, the following movies were hits: "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Big," "Look Who's Talking," "Honey I Shrunk the Kids," "Home Alone," and "Breakfast Club." A common thread in these movies is kids without guidance, parents too busy or self-absorbed to engage in their kids' lives, parents asleep at the switch.

The movies most popular from 2001 to the present yet another big cultural value shift --the Harry Potter series, "Monsters Inc.," "Spiderman" 1, 2 and 3, "Star Wars" episodes 2 and 3, "Finding Nemo," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Cars," "X-Men" 1, 2, 3 and 4, "Ironman 1" and 2 and "Twilight." These movies are all about and for children, and the children for whom they were made have, in general, experienced families, schools and a marketplace more oriented to their affirmation and engagement than any generation to date. Following Generation X, the generation of latch-key kids, who tend toward cynicism and relational skepticism, come the Millennials, a generation indulged and buttressed with parental involvement and self esteem, not necessarily connected to personal performance -- the generation that got trophies just for showing up.

So we see in a recent study that parents are cool again and that 75 percent of kids today get along with their parents. If it is true that some of our generational values come from a collective reaction against the attitudes and behaviors that came before us, it makes sense that periods of anti-authority, distrust and disconnection would be followed by periods of more connectivity and parental trust.

When the generations in a recent study were asked who their heroes were, the most common single answer from Generation Xers was "no one" (they had no heroes), but the most common answer from Millennials was "my mom" or "my dad."

As a student and teacher of generational theory, I find the logic and predictability of this kind of pendulous movement comforting. As a parent of two Millennials, I'm just glad I might turn out to be cool.

By Hile Rutledge  |  May 10, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  family and friends Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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When are we going to stop clumping people together using arbitrary dates of birth and calling them a "generation"?

It is ridiculous to assert that people born in 1964 had the same formative experiences as those born in 1946. Case in point: if you were born in '64, you weren't even alive yet when JFK was shot, but if you were born in '46 you were the very formative age of 17 years old. How can people born in these two years possibly be the same generation?

If a "generation" is defined by common cultural and formative experiences, than the categories that are commonly used (in this article and elsewhere) fail miserably. But then, if a "generation" is not defined by common formative experiences, then what is the point of such categories in the first place?

For generational theory, to use the author's term, to have any real meaning, the categories of what constitute a "generation" must be changed so they are not nonsensical.

Posted by: tomguy1 | May 12, 2010 1:09 PM
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