Jun 15 • 1HR 6M

The Boomer Ballast effect, with Kevin Munger and Joshua Citarella

Living in the shadows of the richest and most powerful generation in U.S. history is pushing youth politics into strange new shapes.

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Hey pals. We’re going to kick things off today with a quote from the great Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

Gramsci was describing the political situation in Italy and Europe a year into the Great Depression. But his words also sum up the subject of political scientist and friend-of-the-pod Kevin Munger’s new book: Boomers, their unceasing grip on American politics and culture, and why it’s so difficult for them to understand what us young people are going through. 

His book, Generation Gap: Why the Baby Boomers Still Dominate American Politics and Culture, explores the confluence of factors that led the Baby Boomers to become the richest, the most powerful, and the most populous elder generation in American history — and how the concentration of so much power at the top of the age pyramid is shaping, or perhaps stunting, the ability of Millennials and Gen Z to come into their own as a political power base. 

Borrowing a metaphor from the nautical world, he calls this phenomenon Boomer ballast. “Our ship of state has more ballast” – or weight  — “than ever before,” he writes, “rendering us unusually stable or slow to adapt.” Think: The fact that members of the Boomer Generation and the Silent Generation jointly still hold more seats in Congress than any other age group. (Kevin has written an article on this). And how rare it is to see real, material progress when it comes to the problems that impact young people the most, such as climate collapse, student loan debt, and decades of stagnating wages

Today, we’re diving deep into the Boomer generation, how their lived experience has shaped their view of the world, and the long legacy of the cultural and political currents they’ve embraced. (For example, the hippy movement of the ’60s and ’70s, segueing into the Randian individualism of the ’80s and ’90s.) We’ll be exploring why our own experiences, and priorities, are so different from theirs, and how our inability to achieve our own political aims in the face of so much entrenched institutional power — and the internet — is pushing Millennial and Gen Z political behavior into strange and surprising new shapes. 

Kevin Munger, left. Joshua Citarella, right. Images courtesy of our guests.

To do that, we enlisted the brains of two of our favorite thinkers on all things related to generational political self-expression: Kevin himself, an assistant professor of political science and social data analytics at Penn State University; and Joshua Citarella, an artist and researcher who studies political subcultures online. Josh is also the founder of Do Not Research, a Discord community, publication, and arts institution focused on documenting aesthetic culture and memetic influence on the internet. 

Did you know that the Boomer generation once appeared as “the person of the year” on the cover of a certain high–profile American magazine, simply by virtue of being born? Ever wonder why some young people on the Internet seem to be politically self-identifying in ways that completely explode the left-right, Democratic-Republican binary? Want to hear the story behind “How to Plant a Meme,” Josh’s experiment in using “Capitalist Realism” memes to try to covertly steer radical meme accounts toward more productive ends? Buckle up, because we’ve got a wild show for you all. 

Follow Kevin on Twitter

Buy Kevin’s book

Read Kevin’s blog

Follow Josh Citarella on Twitter

Buy Josh’s book, Politigram and the Post-Left

Read more by Do Not Research

Become a member of Do Not Research 

 You are listening to the free version of The Culture Journalist. For the full version of this episode and others — plus essays, monthly culture recommendations, and more — sign up for a paid subscription.