Boomer iconicity

by | Boston, USA

Friday, 4 November 2011

tags: americas, contributions from, culture, disciplines, emergence, header navigation, lateral navigation, making sense

A while back, while working on a side project — an eccentric re-periodization of the Anglo-American generation schema promulgated by pseudo-sociologists and lazy journalists — I realized that Lucy Van Pelt, the crabby "fussbudget" character in Charles Schulz's long-running "Peanuts" comics strip (1950-2000), is a Boomer icon.

How can a fictional character who remained a young child for half a century belong to one particular generation? My reasoning is as follows. The Boomers were born between 1944 and 1953, according to my schema. (True, the demographic post-WWII baby boom began in 1946 and ended in 1964; but I'm talking about a cultural generation.) Lucy's "birth" as a character, in "Peanuts," took place in April 1952 — she was a toddler, at first. Schulz allowed her to rapidly age until she was about eight; by November of '52, Lucy was pulling the football away from Charlie Brown. In the following strip, published in 1962, when the oldest Boomers were 18 years old, notice what Lucy's demand is.

Many of the other "Peanuts" characters (Charlie Brown, Shermy and Patty, Violet, Schroeder) were already eight when the strip began, in 1950-51 — so they're not Boomers, they're members of an older generation. Meanwhile, Sally and other characters who appeared after 1953 are members of a younger generation; they're in the same generation as Douglas Coupland and Billy Idol, so let's call them members (like Coupland and Idol) of the Original Generation X.

Linus and Pig-Pen are the strip's only other Boomers. However, unlike Lucy, who was blessed in the cradle with her cohort's self-absorbed complacency, Linus and Pig-Pen are weirdos, square pegs in round holes. Like a tiny minority of un-self-satisfied real-life Boomers (including Andy Kaufman, Fran Lebowitz, Gary Panter, Hakim Bey, Iggy Pop, Joey Ramone, John Waters, Kathy Acker, and Richard Hell), they don't fit into their own generation. Instead, they belong to a crypto-cohort, which Hell named, in the title track of The Voidoids’ 1977 debut album, the “Blank Generation.”

Back to Lucy, then. In what ways is she an icon of the Boomer Generation?

Pundits — beginning with Christopher Lasch — have described the Boomers as a “narcissistic” generation, and if Lucy is known for anything, its her self-importance, egotism, and vanity. She is constantly demanding that Schroeder or Charlie Brown tell her that she is pretty, and woe to them if they fail to do so. Also her selfishness; she demands to be the center of attention, at all times: "Thank you, dear sister, greatest of all sisters, without whom I'd never survive!" is what Linus must say before she'll give him a piece of toast.

Also like the Boomers as a cohort, Lucy rejects the authority of her immediate elders (hence the football-pulling prank she plays on Charlie Brown) and also sneers at her immediate juniors, of whose creativity and youth she is jealous. Her tremendous self-satisfaction is what Schulz is lampooning in those strips where Lucy sets up a psychiatrist's booth; everyone else, it seems, has a problem that only she can diagnose and fix.


As the Boomer cohort, now aged 58 to 67, faces the question of aging, who better to represent their situation than Lucy Van Pelt? After all, the retirement of millions of Boomers will leave the US economy in ruins. We need advice!

In the MetLife (Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.) advertisement shown above, the fictional Lucy gives her real-world, 60something avatar a pep talk. Her message? No matter what the cost to others may be, never release your grip on the football of financial security. Thank you, dear Boomers, greatest of all cohorts, without whom we'd never survive!

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