I recently participated in a series of leadership conferences where you go through all kinds of self-evaluation exercises, listen to leadership gurus, find out what your personality type is and then, imbued with these newfound insights, in a perfect world, implement all this wisdom knowledge and become a Zen-like master of management.
Whether all this knowledge and wisdom will worm their way into my frontal lobes is probably still up for debate, but during one of the most recent segments of this conference my co-attendees participated in something called “inter-generational management.” Like cattle, we were selected out of the herd and put in pens based on our membership in one of three main generational groups: Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y.
I discovered to my delight I reside in a subset of the Baby Boomer generation known as “Boomers II or Generation Jones.” We were like the second wave of this singularly largest generational grouping in the country.
I think I may have included that information just to make myself feel a little better as I am not as old as some white-haired pony-tailed Woodstock refugee.
Once we were in our three distinctive groups, we were asked to jot down the kinds of television shows were important to us as kids and then as young adults. The results were instructive as to understanding how people who report to me who may be of a different generation view their world, and it gave me the idea for my next article in The Tidings.
When Baby Boomer II’s like me were still not quite teens, television was dominated by shows like “The Wonderful World of Disney,” “Hogan’s Heroes” and cop and western shows like “Ironside” and “Gunsmoke.”
Not high art but indicative of a time that even when the culture outside was radically transforming itself, via the absolute social — political — cultural spasm that was 1968, television remained a kind of “safe” zone where stories were resolved, bad guys got what was coming to them and we all went about our business the next day talking about it because at the time there were only three networks to watch anyway.
When my generation was coming of age, in the early 70s, things began to change and it was reflected by this group claiming shows like “All in the Family.” Yet, television even then was still dominated by safe shows like “The Waltons,” “Mission Impossible” and as I was a little shocked to see in my research for this, Lucille Ball was still on the air in 1973.
When it was time for the Generation Xers (those born after 1966) to approach the white board in this leadership exercise, the television shows that meant something to them when they were children in the mid-70’s were “Chico and the Man,” “Happy Days” and “M.A.S.H.”
A little edgier in some respects, but still living in the bubble. But when we fast-forward this generation to television when they were young adults, the landscape begins to tilt, with shows like “Married with Children,” “Hill Street Blues” and “The Golden Girls.”
More than half the shows on the schedule were still pretty much pre-70s middle of the road stuff, but as these three shows indicate, things were not as easily buttoned up anymore and characters acted in ways that were not in comportment to sound Catholic moral teaching. The same can be said for “The Iliad” — the difference is that now television was telling Generation X this was a good thing.
When Generation Y, those born after 1977 (two years after I graduated from high school … ugh), were pre-teens, television was waiting for them with offerings like “The Simpsons,” “Seinfeld” and “Friends.” When they were in their early 20s, they were fed with “NYPD Blue,” “Murphy Brown” and the proto-reality show “Cops,” which was one of the first examples of television treating humans like so many animal case studies.
Artistic sensibilities and sometimes dubious taste aside, I liked “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld.” But when they came around I was better equipped internally and had been taught the difference between right and wrong enough to know that when a given television program started to veer too far away it was time to veer away myself.
When this leadership exercise was done and we three different generational gaps stared at the whiteboard with all those different television shows, it was a bit of a head scratcher for me. With few exceptions, the older television got, the more sophisticated and well done it became.
“Seinfeld” actually is a little bit funnier than “Gilligan’s Island.” But as the exponential scale of quality ascended, another scale was moving in a different direction.
I can only imagine what the writer’s room on “Seinfeld” would have done with a format requiring seven cast members being stranded on an island with no means of escape. It probably would have been very funny, but I doubt it would have been all that wholesome.
There is prevailing television mindset that to be edgy is to be artistic. In a meeting with artists in 2009, Pope Benedict urged a different take:
“Faith takes nothing away from your genius or your art: on the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them, it encourages them to cross the threshold and to contemplate with fascination and emotion the ultimate and definitive goal.”
Pope Benedict also spoke of the “myth of progress.” If you wonder what he meant, you should have seen our white board.