The Garrulous Generation
From the Jan. 27, 2014, issue of NR



The striking thing about this entertaining and informative book is how often it disappoints. O’Rourke seems to know it, to judge by his response to the charge that Boomers carry things to extremes. “In fact, we’re a generation that carries things as far as we want to, until we get tired of carrying them, then we drop them on the rest of you.” He starts, and then stops, a comparison of the Boomer era with the 19th-century Romantic movement, deciding that the Romantics did not have a big enough cohort waiting in the wings “to make it stick.” Then he combines Lord Byron’s “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” image with his fight for Greek liberty to create a poet-patriot ideal; but Byron’s incestuous relations with his half-sister give O’Rourke pause, so he puts it aside with the curious observation that “medical science has cured the club foot.” He could actually have found some interesting parallels between the Boomers and the Romantics, especially if he had brought in the logorrheic Jean-Jacques Rousseau; this would have made Boomers seem less of an anomaly.

Making sex funny is the pinnacle of wit, and O’Rourke has proved himself in this art many times before; but testosterone measured in cohorts is an overdose. The F-word is only to be expected nowadays, but O’Rourke also uses the MF-word as blithely as the customers in Detroit’s Hardcore Pawn reality-TV show. But worst of all, incredible really, is his parody of New Testament verses: “So faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is a b***j*b.”

He also commits stylistic faults that I don’t remember from his previous books, e.g., overuse of parentheses: “We’re as proud as our parents of knowing right from wrong (and think our knowledge is superior).” He combines this fault with a frantic section of overwriting that sounds like an analogyesistic hemorrhage of the metaphor gland: “In the California King–sized bed of the ego, on the four-hundred-thread-count sheets of pleasure, we like the honest embrace of vice better than the sanctimonious pillow talk of virtue. (Although we’re quick enough to jump out of the sack, lock vice in the en suite bath, slap on some lip service, run a brush through our sophistry, and wrap ourselves in floor-length false piety if one of our kids shows up without warning.)” Would you believe he follows this with yet another parenthetical sentence, this one indented and standing alone? Here it is:

“(And let’s not confuse personal honesty with anything we do at work or on the Internet.)”

Finally, he commits the favorite fallacy of the lazy, the ad hominem attack, e.g., Ayn Rand was “a loony old bitch.” I could hear Cyrano’s “Oh, sir, what you could have said.”

All that aside, the best parts of this book are O’Rourke at his best, his glass always reassuringly half-empty: Jaws is the movie that destroyed cinema. Now that “felony indictment” has become a sports statistic, does anyone still think that football builds character? Philistine parents do the best job of building a child’s self-esteem because their unwavering response to modern art is “My kid could paint that.” Boomers care about education. Proof? Their parents let the PTA alone but Boomers picket it, sue it, and post anonymous abusive tweets.

Except for that, though, they wouldn’t hurt a fly, because they were so coddled and protected that they want to make everyone wear hockey helmets to play checkers. Their safety hysteria, especially when combined with their vanity, makes Boomers the most unthreatening people the world has ever known. They will never become suicide bombers, he attests, because strapping on explosive vests would make them look fat. History is full of bad things that Boomers would not dream of doing. They would never have become barbarian hordes either, because galloping across the Mongol steppes triggered all their existing allergies and added a new one, to horse dander. They could not have “lived off the fat of the land” because they were trying to cut down on fats in their diets. As for pillaging, how could they carry the pillage away without wheelie bags?

No. They won’t hurt us. They’ll just talk us to death, as they are already doing.

This article appears in the Jan. 27, 2014, issue of National Review. Florence King can be reached at P.O. Box 7113, Fredericksburg, VA 22404.