The Media and Baby Boomers: Joined at the Hip


  • newswise-fullscreen The Media and Baby Boomers: Joined at the Hip

    Baby Boomers and the Media

  • newswise-fullscreen The Media and Baby Boomers: Joined at the Hip

    Credit: University of Maryland

    Prof. Douglas Gomery

Newswise — Which came first? Baby boomers or the media? It's hard to separate the two - especially when you're talking about television because each grew up with the other. "Everything the baby boomers did was based on what they saw on television," says University of Maryland Journalism Professor Douglas Gomery. A media expert who is currently the resident scholar at the Library of American Broadcasting on campus, Gomery has been growing up with the baby boom generation and following it closely.

Gomery says the boomers will continue to drive the media into the next two decades. As the largest demographic group, he says, "there is no historical model for the impact a group of people like the boomers (from 1946 to 64) have had and will have though 2020 or so."

In fact, he says it's because this group is so large and wealthy that the media must continue to take notice. "Baby boomers have the greatest concentration of wealth in history," says Prof. Gomery. "For example, DVD sales -- never well publicized as this is Hollywood's leading source of money -- are driven by the boomers staying at home and getting Netflix or Blockbuster."

Newsdesk recently interviewed Prof. Gomery at length about the impact baby boomers have had on the media, and impact the media has had on them.

A Conversation With... Prof. Douglas Gomery

Q - How did baby boomers shape the media - and how has the media helped shape baby boomers?

Everything the baby boomers did was based on what they saw on television. They grew up as television grew up, and each had an impact on each other. In the 1950s it was kid's shows like Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo and Disney's Davy Crockett . When they were teens, it was American Bandstand and Ed Sullivan presenting the Beatles. TV coverage of Vietnam helped push many into the streets to protest.

Boomers were the first generation where a large number went to college, so they are highly educated and knowledgeable. They helped make Walter Cronkite "the most trusted man in America ," for example, and became used to seeing live TV events like space missions and coverage of the Kennedy assassination and Nixon resignation. In the 1980s, they embraced cable and many of the channels you see are based on the interests of boomers.

Today, boomers are content to watch "Law and Order," "CSI" and other detective shows. It's interesting to note that these programs are shot a lot like MTV but are about investigations - as a form of science. Producer Lou Wasserman had tried similar shows in the 60s that didn't work - he had to wait for the boomers to grow up to accept them.

Q - Do baby boomers still have an impact on the media today? What about the future?

Yes, media planners have been struggling with the graying of America for more than a decade. Baby boomers have the greatest concentration of wealth in history. For example, DVD sales -- never well publicized as this is Hollywood 's leading source of money -- are driven by the boomers staying at home and getting Netflix or Blockbuster.

This is a group of individuals who spend money on their kids like crazy and still goes to Mick Jagger concerts.

The boomers will continue to drive the media into the next two decades. Everyone knows it is happening, but no one is really sure how to deal with it. There is no historical model for the impact a group of people like the boomers (from 1946 to 64) have had and will have though 2020 or so.

Q - You say that after World War II, baby boomers actually helped to kill movie attendance. What happened?

Parents stayed home and took care of their baby boomer kids rather than go to movies. They were also in new suburbs -- far from movie theaters in the city. Indeed radio boomed for five years after World War II as they stayed home and listened to radio -- instead of going to the movies. In the mid-1950s cames movies on TV and later HBO and its like.

Q - Did baby boomers kill film as an art form as well?

Actually they were responsible for pushing film as an art form in the 1960s. I know because I was there. By 1970, in fact, there were 26 active film societies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison alone.

Film classes did not exist; so we started film societies and educated ourselves. We discovered the Citizen Kanes and Casablancas -- not for sale at $10 -- then only available for rental on 16mm.

Q - In your mind, what is the legacy of the "Baby Boom Generation?"

The legacy is that demography is an under appreciated part of historical change. A group like this has never been dealt with before or since.

Q - What's the key to looking at baby boomers and the media?

The key thing to remember is that this group is between the ages of 42 and 60 now. What are they up to? At the top end, people (like me!) seek to be active but in a limited way. It's the old "use it or lose it" allegory. So Dolly Parton is turning 60, and when I saw her in Las Vegas live, she did 95 minutes -- no breaks, just 2 glasses of water. She is smart and calculates what she can do and loves it. And how do you explain Mick Jagger at 64 still touring with the Stones and appearing in the Super Bowl halftime show?

Thirty years ago, 60 year olds were in wheelchairs. Today's 60 year olds are the new 40 year olds. The symbols are starting to fade, but they're not gone yet!

Experts at: http://www.newsdesk.umd.edu/experts

See this University of Maryland release on the web at:http://www.newsdesk.umd.edu/culture/release.cfm?ArticleID=1217

Our "Baby Boomer Generation" Expert's List on the web at:http://www.newsdesk.umd.edu/experts/hottopic.cfm?hotlist_id=29

Our List of all features about baby boomers:http://www.newsdesk.umd.edu/culture/2006/bboom/babyboomdir.cfm

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