Momentous Monday: Advice to Boomers and Millennials from Gen-X, part 1

A Gen-Xer tries to help Boomers and Millennials understand each other. Wish me luck!

Well, this wasn’t supposed to get as epic as it did, but apparently there’s a lot to explain to Boomers about Millennials and vice versa, starting with an explanation of what each generation actually is. This is the first of multiple parts — although I have no idea how many there will be. As a Gen-Xer, I’m writing from the perspective of someone who has watched both groups from the outside (or from the middle, really) and can see all their foolishness.

I do get tired of Boomers and Millennials sniping at each other for a few reasons. First, because it’s a generational battle that’s gone on since forever on a sliding scale. Once upon a time, today’s Boomers were the stinky, useless, lazy youth (“hippies”) looked down upon by the generation that mostly fought in World War II — the end of which defined the beginning of the Baby Boom generation.

Or, in other words, Boomers were to the Greatest Generation what Millennials are to them now. Incidentally, the generation between the Greatest and Boomers were known as the Silent Generation — the exact analog to Gen-X today in more ways than one.

The second thing that bothers me is that neither generation exactly gets the terms right. Half the time, when Boomers bitch about Millennials, they’re really talking about youth today — i.e. Gen-Z, or Zoomers. And when Millennials complain about Boomers, they tend to bitch about anyone over 50 which, surprise, is about half of all Gen-X by now.

Kind of ironic, considering that the oldest of the Millennials have been slamming into 40 for the last year or two.

So, from a Gen-X perspective, here’s some advice for each generation in how to deal with the other.

Get the definitions right

Leaving any identifying labels out of it, here’s how things generally go, with the caveat being that during the 20th and 21st centuries, a lot of people have chosen to either start families and have kids later, adopt or foster them much later in life, or not have them at all.

Personal anecdotal evidence on the change in timing. My mother’s mother had her first kid when she was barely 18 and her last when she was almost 45. She had 13 in total, and my mom came fairly close to the end of her fertility cycle, but was pushing thirty when I was born.

So… I was born about six months before by mom’s mother turned 61 which, oddly enough, put her right in typical grandparent, aka Boomer to Millennial range.

Numbers without personal anecdotes: Barring teen parents or viagrafied old men who knock up 20-something trophy brides and rounding off, the general pattern has been this. The parents have kids starting at around twenty, although this is closer to thirty and then mid to late thirties as the century grinds on.

The kid window seems to shut from around forty to forty-five, or it did. Again, in modern times, medicine has made it possible and normal for people (read “mothers”) to have kids into their fifties.

But we’ll set the window at one generation to the next at 30 years, keeping in mind that this just accounts for breeding. Social generations are entirely different, which I’ll get to below.

Now, if the twenty through fifty pattern holds, this means that the kids will start popping out babies when their parents are anywhere from forty to seventy, and keep on going until their parents are seventy through dead. Well, a hundred, but Betty White couldn’t pull that off, so why expect that it’s possible for mere muggles?

And what about those kids’ grandparents? Do the math, and it means that most people with kids can expect to become grandparents at around sixty but at any time up to eighty. Or beyond.

What’s the important bracket here, though? Twenty years-ish. Twenty-one if you’re being pedantic. Why? That happens to be how long it takes a human to reach adulthood in terms of physical growth.

Oh, it’s not sexual maturity — that probably happened around 13 for boys and a bit earlier for girls. And it’s not mental maturity, because that probably doesn’t happen until at least 25 — hey, there’s a reason you can’t rent a car or run for Congress before that age.

But, at 21, all your long bones have fused, all of your cartilage that wasn’t going to stay that way has become bone, your brain is pretty much adult size even if it still has a shit-ton of connections to make, you’re not going to get any taller, your voice isn’t going to get any deeper, and your dick or tits aren’t going to get any bigger. Sorry.

Physically, you’re an adult. And in strictly biological terms, here’s what this means. You are now a direct threat to the other mammals who became adults… well, look at that — twenty-one years before you were born. But you’re also now a threat to all the babies popping out of wombs you didn’t put them in.

Sure, this is the simplistic biological description of it and ignores that fact that humans are actually pretty good at ignoring all of these biological imperatives — but, deep down, we don’t. We just sublimate that shit. Freud may have been full of it in a lot of ways, but his whole “Oedipal Complex” concept touched on exactly this.

Without the niceties of human culture and civilization, there’s really nothing preventing every 21-year-old boy from immediately killing his own father, fucking his mother, and becoming the new father figure to all of his siblings. (And, sadly, doing exactly what you’d think to each of them, depending on biological sex.)

Nasty? Yes. Illegal? Of course — but that’s one of the things preventing it. An explanation for why frustrated young men go nuts every now and then? You do the math.

Now, as for defining the generations from Boomer onward, it really comes down to a matter of a defining event which is imprinted on the memory of each generation. Remember the event, you’re part of that generation. Don’t remember it? you’re not.

So… Boomers don’t remember VJ Day even though they were born before it happened. Likewise, no one from Gen-X remembers JFK’s assassination. Millennials have no memory of the assassination of John Lennon, and Gen-Z kids don’t remember 9/11. Truth to tell, 1/6/2021 will probably be the marker for the start of whatever comes after Gen-Z. Gen Omicron?

But look at the dates again, and it almost comes down in 20 year chunks, especially if you make the Boomers’ unremembered event Pearl Harbor. Otherwise, it’s 1945 (probably late, actually) to 1960; 1960 to 1980; 1980 to 1998; 1998 to maybe 2018? And there a lot of 18s and 20s in there.

Changing worlds

For both Boomers and Millennials, the world has gone through enormous changes in their lifetimes, and I’d even argue that Millennials have seen even bigger changes in theirs because the pace of development in technology increases exponentially, and the internet has eliminated the delay in news getting around the world and opinion about it propagating.

When Boomers were born, it was in the wake (literally) of the latest technological advancement of the age — the atomic bomb — and this was actually a big part of where the “boom” in “boomer” came from. It wasn’t just the increase in birth-rate once all those American GIs came home and started taking advantage of government benefits.

But, for the most part, things stayed pretty much the same except for the rise of television when they were kids — the internet of their day — and the creation and advancement of the middle class.

Most of their parents and grandparents had either grown up in crowded apartment blocks in cities or in rural areas, many of them on farms. Their parents (well, mostly their fathers) went off during the war and saw the world. They also saw what America did, along with the UK and USSR, in kicking the ass of fascism and saving the planet.

And then, suddenly, cities were expanding and creating these new “suburbs,” some of which had sprouted up to support aircraft plants and other wartime industry — q.v. Van Nuys, California — and others of which were part of a post-war building boom.

Hey — they had to do something with all of that surplus materiel, right? I currently live in a place that was built in 1947, and every kitchen countertop is made of stainless steel left over from aircraft plants. Likewise, the original building colors, which have been preserved, came from tons of surplus military paint originally used on battleships, aircraft carriers, military housing, and so on.

So their childhoods were full of huge social changes, but the technology came much more slowly. The transistor radio was invented in 1947 but not really commercialized on a massive scale until the late 1950s (thanks to SONY) and becoming ubiquitous in the 1960s and 1970s. Prior to digital broadcasting and the like, most car radios were actually transistor radios.

Remember the word “transistor.” It was the shrinking of those down to microscopic size that eventually made the computer revolution and the information age possible, but the Boomers were all becoming parents by then, and other big changes were coming.

The most noticeable was the Space Race and humankind eventually landing on the Moon in 1969. It was a vindication of America’s place internationally post WWII, as well as a big win in the Cold War. But there were societal changes as well, beginning with the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-60s, the Gay (later LGBTQ) Rights Movement exploding after the Stonewall Riots the same year but a month before the Moon landing, and the Women’s Rights Movement, largely focused on passing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

The world of their childhood was rapidly evolving. A lot of Boomers, especially the younger ones born in and after the mid-1950s, adapted to it and embraced it. A lot of the older Boomers did not.

Remember this, kids. It’s an important distinction.

So, summary: Some slight tech changes visible on the consumer level up to 1980, including a pretty big change in how home phones worked — the main ones being touchtone (or digital-ish) dialing instead of rotary (or analog); phones no longer being owned by the phone company, hard-wired into the wall, and rented by the consumer; new features like call waiting, caller ID, and the infamous *69 to ring back on a missed call.

The first cordless phones — not to be confused with wireless — came out in 1980, and they changed everything. Now, instead of having to sit or stand in one spot to talk on the phone because of that cord connecting it to the base unit stuck on the wall or sitting on a nightstand, people could now, for the first time, pick up the handset and walk around with it, unencumbered.

It was a far cry from home phones as Boomers had known them as kids, if their earliest homes even had them at all in the 1940s. And their parents either may not have had them at all, relying instead on the common phone in their apartment building lobby, payphones in the pharmacy or shop on the first floor of their building, or the public phone at the rural post office/general store.

A lot of those folk also got to experience “party lines,” which was a common residential phone number shared by multiple households, with each one distinguished by a particular ring pattern of long and short bells. For example, the ID for the party line could be two to four digits long, with the ring pattern made up of first long tones, then short.

Operators referred to them as ID + R + ##, where ID was the code for the main party line, “R” indicated “Ring Code,” and then the numbers indicated how many long and short rings. A typical reference might be something like “46R37,” which meant that the call was going to the Party Line 46 (within the local exchange), and the ring code was three long rings and seven short.

It got trickier outside of the exchange, but this is what phone prefixes were for. For example, if the exchange was “DIamond” (34), an operator would ask for a number like “Diamond 5250R42.”

It had faded away going into the 1950s and beyond with automatic switching and increased capacity eliminating the need for party lines in most places, so it was a childhood relic most Boomers were happy to be rid of. By 1980, most party lines in the U.S. were a thing of the distant past.

The development of telephones, the evolution of television from tiny little low-res black and white screens in furniture that weighed a ton to full-color large-screen self-contained sets with monoaural audio, space probes heading to other planets, the revelation of the (still future) Space Shuttle program, more people of color living near and working with white people (with the illusion of equality, of course), LG and maybe B people (but not yet TQ+) becoming more visible if not more accepted, and women finally dumping relics like not being able to have credit cards in their own names, adapting the term “Ms.” as an equivalent of “Mr.” that did not indicate marital status, and having been given the right to abortion in the early 1970s, the times, they were a-changing — although nowhere near as fast in the first 20 to 35 years of their lives as they would for Millennials.

And I’m leaving out a lot of developments, although many of them were just of the “Will you look at that?” kind of story on the news that had no immediate effect on most people, like the first heart transplant, the cardiac pacemaker, IVF Fertilization (the first test tube baby was a Gen-Xer born in 1978), and so on.

The comparable Millennial timeframe for 1945 to 1960: 1980 to 1995-ish, although Millennials were probably done being born around 1998.

The obvious thing is that the internet was just starting to become a thing as the last of the Millennials were being squeezed out, although the oldest of them met it in middle school, and so were the last generation to really remember and deal with both worlds. This gave them all a huge advantage — although it’s comparable to Gen-Xers, who pretty much met home computers on the same schedule and so were also primed to accept and adapt to the internet when they were much older than their Millennial counterparts.

In short order, Millennials blasted through their childhood media formats — vinyl LPs and cassettes — which rapidly became legacy items as CDs came onto the market in 1982 and dominated by the 1990s. By the early 2000s, CDs were fading out as MP3s and other digital formats took over.

Ironically, this was also when older Millennials began to feel that nostalgic itch, with vinyl eventually making a comeback, despite it being as environmentally unfriendly as CDs — and one has to wonder why it was vinyl only and never cassette.

Meanwhile, on the phone front, the first mobile network, 1G, was pretty much meant for big, clunky car phones and never hit with consumers — but 2G did, and from about 1993 on was when people first started carrying around those tiny flip phones that couldn’t do internet or data but could send SMS and make phone calls.

Within five years, these phones could receive media content, like ringtones, make mobile payments, and so forth, but pretty soon it would be time for the marriage that would change the world.

That would be the advent of 3G, cell phones being able to access the internet and so become smart phones, with the first commercial 3G network being launched on October 1, 2001. Ironically, this was when phones started to become bigger instead of smaller. Gone were the days of flip phones that shut up into key-chain size devices less then three inches tall. Now, it was the era of hand-filling devices with huge HD screens.

Then again, by now we were all basically carrying around computers in our pockets that replaced so many former devices that it was ridiculous — digital camera, video camera, music player, photo album, address book, telephone, email, gaming console, video streaming device, message and memo center, voice recorder, and so on.

Add some apps to that, and you could make it do a lot of other things — and the computing power in a typical modern smart phone exceeds even the most top-end gaming rig from the turn of the century.

All of this happened in just under 30 years if we start at 1993. Otherwise, telephones had remained mostly unchanged until the introduction of those cordless units back in 1980. The first small subscriber phone exchanges were started in the 1880s, but until cordless models freed us from being wired to the wall a century later, all phones basically did the same thing.

That 30-year figure is really a defining difference between Boomers and Millennials, though. For the Boomers, those 30 years came after all of them had already turned 30. For Millennials, those 30 years came starting from about puberty — or a bit after for the precocious ones.

That kind of timing can make for a huge difference in perception in of the world, but since this piece has already gone on longer than a Boomer’s current life, I’m going to break here and show how those perceptions have created two different worlds in a subsequent installment.

Image source: Nuclear bomb test, 1952, The Official CTBTO Photostream, (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday Wonders: Adding depth

In April, 1953, the first-ever experimental broadcast of a TV show in 3D happened, via KECA-TV in Los Angeles. If those call letters don’t sound familiar to any of my Southern California audience, that’s because they only lasted for about the first four-and-a-half years of the station’s existence, at which point they became the now very familiar KABC-TV, the local ABC affiliate also known as digital and broadcast channel 7.

The program itself was a show called Space Patrol, which was originally a 15-minute program that was aimed at a juvenile audience and aired daily. But once it became a hit with adults, ABC added half-hour episodes on Saturday.

Remember, at this point in television, they were at about the same place as internet programming was in 2000.

By the way, don’t confuse this show with the far more bizarre British production of 1962 with the same name. That one was done with marionettes, and judging from this promotional trailer for a DVD release of restored episodes, it was incredibly weird.

Anyway, because of its subject matter and popularity, it was a natural for this broadcast experiment. This was also during the so-called “golden age” of 3D motion pictures, and since the two media were in fierce competition back in the day, it was an obvious move.

Remember — at that time, Disney didn’t own ABC, or anything else. In fact, the studios were not allowed to own theaters, or TV stations.

The original 3D broadcast was designed to use glasses, of course, although not a lot of people had them, so it would have been a blurry mess. Also note that color TV was also a rarity, so they would have been polarizing lenses rather than the red/blue possible in movies.

Since it took place during the 31st gathering of what was then called the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (now just the NAB) it was exactly the same as any fancy new tech rolled out at, say, CES. Not so much meant for immediate consumption but rather to wow the organizations and companies that could afford to develop and exploit it.

Like pretty much every other modern innovation in visual arts and mass media, 3D followed the same progression through formats: still photography, motion pictures, analog video and broadcast, physical digital media, streaming digital media.

It all began with the stereoscope way back in 1838. That’s when Sir Charles Wheatstone realized that 3D happened because of binocular vision, and each eye seeing a slightly different image, which the brain would combine to create information about depth.

Early efforts at putting 3D images into motion were akin to later animated GIFs (hard G, please), with just a few images repeating in a loop.


While there was a too-cumbersome to be practical system that projected separate images side-by-side patented in 1890, the first commercial test run with an audience came in 1915, with  series of short test films using a red/green anaglyph system. That is, audience members wore glasses with one red and one green filter, and the two images, taken by two cameras spaced slightly apart and dyed in the appropriate hues, were projected on top of each other.

The filters sent each of the images to a different eye and the brain did the rest, creating the illusion of 3D, and this is how the system has worked ever since.

The first actual theatrical release in 3D premiered in Los Angeles on September 27, 1922. It was a film called The Power of Love, and it screened at the Ambassador Hotel Theater, the first of only two public showings.

You might think that 3D TV took a lot longer to develop, since TV had only been invented around this time in 1926, but, surprisingly, that’s not true. John Logie Baird first demonstrated a working 3D TV set in 1928. Granted, it was an entirely mechanical system and not very high-res, but it still worked.

Note the timing, too. TV was invented in the 1920s, but didn’t really take off with consumers until the 1950s. The world wide web was created in the 1960s, but didn’t really take off with consumers until the 1990s. You want to get rich? Invest in whatever the big but unwieldly and expensive tech of the 1990s was. (Hint, related to this topic: 3D printing.)

That 30 year repeat happens in film, too. As previously noted, the first 3D film premiered in the 1920s, but the golden age came in the 1950s. Guess when 3D came back again? If you said the 1980s, you win a prize. And, obviously, we’ve been in another return to 3D since the ‘10s. You do the math.

Oh, by the way… that 30 year thing applies to 3D printing one more generation back as well. Computer aided design (CAD), conceived in the very late 1950s, became a thing in the 1960s. It was the direct precursor to the concept of 3D printing because, well, once you’ve digitized the plans for something, you can then put that info back out in vector form and, as long as you’ve got a print-head that can move in X-Y-Z coordinates and a way to not have layers fall apart before the structure is built… ta-da!

Or, in other words, this is why developing these things takes thirty years.

Still, the tech is one step short of Star Trek replicators and true nerdvana. And I am so glad that I’m not the one who coined that term just now. But, dammit… now I want to go to Tennessee on a pilgrimage, except that I don’t think it’s going to be safe to go there for another, oh, ten years or so. Well, there’s always Jersey. Or not. Is Jersey ever safe?

I kid. I’ve been there. Parts of it are quite beautiful. Parts of it are… on a shitty reality show. Pass.

But… I’d like to add that 3D entertainment is actually far, far older than any of you can possibly imagine. It doesn’t just go back a couple of centuries. It goes back thousands of years. It also didn’t require any fancy technology to work. All it needed was an audience with a majority of members with two eyes.

That, plus performers acting out scenes or telling stories for that audience. And that’s it. There’s you’re 3D show right there.

Or, as I like to remind people about the oldest and greatest art form: Theatre Is the original 3D.

Well, nowadays, the original virtual reality as well, but guess what? VR came 30 years after the 80s wave of 3D film as well, and 60 years after the 50s. Funny how that works, isn’t it? It’s almost like we’re totally unaware that our grandparents invented the stuff that our parents perfected but which we’re too cool to think that any of them are any good at.

So… maybe let’s look at 3D in another way or two. Don’t think of it as three dimensions. Think of it as two times three decades — how long it took the thing to go from idea to something you take for granted. Or, on a generational level, think of it roughly as three deep: me, my parents, and my grandparents.

Talk about adding depth to a viewpoint.

Image licensed by (CC BY-ND 2.0), used unaltered, Teenager wears Real 3D Glasses by Evan via flickr.

OK, Boomer

I’m tired of the constant bitching from Baby Boomers — and even from some of my fellow Gen Xers — with which they deride Millennials as a useless, entitled, whiny generation.

For one thing, they really aren’t referring to all Millennials. Remember: the oldest members of Gen X turn forty in 2020, and the first of the Millennials will start to turn forty the year after that, so they’re not exactly kids. Even the youngest of them are generally out of college unless they’re in grad school if we go by 1996 as the cut-off year. The generation after that, often referred to as Gen Z, are currently 22 and under.

For another thing, they like to conveniently forget that the Millennials are the kids and grandkids of Baby Boomers, and the kids of Gen Xers, so if there are any flaws in upbringing, guess who caused them? Not to mention that it was mostly the Baby Boomers (and the generation before them) who created the very flawed world the Millennials (and a lot of the Gen Xers) found themselves growing up in.

So the first part, demonstrating cherry picking, means that what Baby Boomers are bitching about are not traits unique to a particular generation, but rather traits specific to people of a certain age regardless of generation.

Lazy, entitled, self-centered, and disrespectful? That’s not a description of Millennials. That’s a description in general of people in their teens and early twenties. Y’know what, Boomers? In the 1960s and 70s, your grandparents, the so-called “Greatest Generation,” were saying the same thing about you, what with your rock ‘n roll music and long hair and hippie protests. And their grandparents were saying the same thing about them in the 1920s and 30s, what with their decadent jazz and bootlegging illegal drugs and flappers and scandalous motion pictures. Those grandparents? They got to be born during the U.S. Civil War. And so on, down through all time.

There’s a famous quote, frequently misattributed to Socrates or Plato, phrased thusly:

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

Sound familiar? Of course it does. And it shouldn’t take anything away from the universality of this statement to learn that it was not uttered in ancient Greece, but came from a student dissertation by Kenneth John Freeman, written in 1907 at Cambridge. However, his dissertation was a summary of complaints made against young people in ancient times, so the concept expressed is accurate and ancient, even if the words are more modern. Well, relatively speaking.

One can only think that perhaps Mr. Freeman wrote his dissertation as an Edwardian Era college student because he was tired of having people born in the 1840s, right at the start of the Victorian Era, put down him and his friends. One can also hope that he wasn’t saying the same things about young people in the 1920s, but he probably was.

So, when it comes to generalities, the complaining Boomers don’t really have a leg to stand on. And I can verify, since I know a hell of a lot of Millennials and Gen Zs, that pretty much almost all of them defy every single stereotype that the old farts would throw at them.

Which brings us to the second part, and the most common complaints Baby Boomers have about Millennials. I’m not going to get into elaborating much on them here, because others have boiled it down to five things, but the key point is that Millennials only have these traits because they were taught them by the people who created the educational system they grew up in and who raised them, principally the Boomers.

Here is the bullet point version of trait and cause.

  • Millennials are entitled, and have a bit of an attitude. Thank you, helicopter parents.
  • Millennials are lazy, don’t work and won’t “pay dues.” Part one: boomer parents micromanaged them and did way too much for them; part two: growing up in a digital world has taught them to hate stupid and inefficient ways of doing things. They aren’t taking shortcuts, they’re innovating, so they get more done in better, faster ways.
  • Millennials are too casual and informal. Yeah, why is this a bad thing? Again, it was their parents who taught them to speak up and speak out, so don’t complain when they do it.
  • Millennials need constant affirmation. No, they don’t. You just treated them like they did growing up and still think that’s true.
  • Millennials don’t take work seriously. Short version: define “seriously.” Millennials would rather actually be doing work at work, even if that means not working as many hours, rather than having to punch in and out for the usual 8×5 week, but spend plenty of legitimate downtime pretending to look like they’re working.

Side note, and a great quote from the article linked above: “General Patton once said, ‘Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what needs to get done, and they’ll surprise you with their ingenuity.’” I couldn’t agree with this more, especially since I work with mostly Boomers, most of whom are cool, but one of whom has an annoying tendency to try to tell me how to do a thing rather than just tell me what needs to get done.

Especially fun when that someone doesn’t understand computers at all but tries to tell me how to do something on, well, you know… the computer. Sigh. And I’m the entitled one with the attitude? Nope. At least I’ve learned the magic defense. Start to explain the intricacies of whatever Excel formula or website navigation I need to do to do what I know how to do without help, and they nope right on out.

But there is one thing that Millennials excel at, and it’s delivering devastating comebacks to Boomers who try to criticize them. I leave you with an extensive and funny compendium of “Millennial Replies to Stupid Shit Boomers Post.” Enjoy!

Photo credit: Author’s collection; picture of his paternal grandfather’s family, with his great grandparents and the four out of six sons who lived to adulthood. Year unknown. His great-grandfather was an emigrant from Germany. His great-grandmother was descended from people who arrived here not long after the Mayflower, with a long Welsh ancestry eventually going back to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. And at every step of the way, the older generations bitched about the younger and vice versa.

Icons passing

One sure sign of incredible talent is becoming a cultural icon. What defines a cultural icon? Somebody who is famous for generations after they’ve actually done their final work. One of the major examples in the Western World is, of course, William Shakespeare. You know his name. You know his plays. All of this even though he died 408 years ago, which is 287 years before anyone now living was born. Yes, you read both of those numbers correctly.

Closer to home, though, there are names of people I can mention who did their final work and/or died long ago that are still known to all current living generations, right down to Millennials, and probably even Gen-Z: Jimi Hendrix. Jim Morrison. Marilyn Monroe. James Dean. The Marx Brothers. Charlie Chaplin. Buster Keaton. I mean, just the fact that every one of those links goes to an official site for the named person should tell you a lot, considering that they all died before the internet was officially born.

It can go back even further — Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante, Aeschylus. And if you throw in political leaders like presidents and monarchs and emperors, the list gets really long. In your own lives, it includes your parents and grandparents and, if you’re lucky, maybe even at least a great-grand round, if not great-great.

So when we lose true icons during our own lifetimes, they become a matter of mass mourning across generations, and we lost two of them this week. I’m referring, of course, to Doris Day and Tim Conway. It’s a perfect example of how humans are naturally drawn to contrasts — it is far more tragic when comedic actors pass away.

It’s also very telling that their deaths blew up social media.

I saw posts from people of all generations about both of them, even though Day was 97 and Conway was 85. She made her last two films in 1968, then went on to focus on animal welfare, only coming back to do a brief TV talk show in the 1980s, most notable for her interview of previous co-star and good friend Rock Hudson, who was visibly emaciated due to AIDS. He would die because of it a year later — the first high-profile public figure to be outed in this manner. Ironically (because he’d always been closeted until then), this was a big impetus for the whole gay rights AIDS treatment/ACT UP movements. Doris stuck by him through it all and all the way to the end, which says a lot about her character. This also made her a gay icon, more on which below.

Her film career and music career almost completely overlap — 1948 to 1968 for the former, and 1945 to 1967 for the latter.

As for Conway, although he kept working into this century, after doing one episode of 30 Rock in 2008, he only made two more appearances in 2013 and 2015 on TNT and the Hallmark Channel. Arguably, though, he is probably most well-known for his role in The Carol Burnett Show from 1975 until it ended in 1978 — kind of surprising, really, since the show actually ran for eleven seasons, beginning in 1967, and yet he is mainly associated with it. The big reason that Conway became iconic for those three years is because the show was syndicated and, like I Love Lucy, has been rerun almost continuously since it went off the air.

There’s another icon for you. Lucille Ball. When Gillian Anderson popped up playing her in American Gods, you didn’t need any explanation no matter how young you are. See how that works?

For me, I first saw a lot of those classic Doris Day films in the 80s and 90s thanks to the miracle of video rental. And, by that point, since we all knew that Hudson was gay and he was dead, it made those rom-coms they made together in the 50s and 60s all the more… interesting. She always had this reputation as being virginal and he’d always had the reputation of being homosexual, so they were sort of the perfect couple. Toss in Tony Randall — who was the prissiest straight man on the planet — and it became really entertaining high camp.

There’s a reason that Doris became a gay icon, at least in WeHo in the 80s and 90s, and a lot of that had to do with a place called Video West — sadly, another victim of the internet and streaming. They had all of her movies, and I think they might have even had a Doris Day section, so the old queens who ran the place passed the torch to us twinks who were renting.

And so on.

But she also became an icon to everyone else for very similar reasons. She did the right thing when it was necessary, and she made some really entertaining films over the course of only twenty years. Imagine that for a second. Her film career was only about one fifth of her life.

As for Conway, as I mentioned above, he  actually benefited from the internet, because so many of his clips from The Carol Burnett Show wound up online thanks to that show being replayed constantly, and a YouTube search for “Tim Conway Carol Burnett” will turn up a treasure trove of clips. (Currently, of course, it will also result in a lot of news stories lamenting his passing, but that’s just how it works.)

One thing I loved about Tim was that he could make anyone else on stage with him crack in a heartbeat while keeping a straight face, and one of the most famous moments in which he did that is his “Elephant Story” from a “Mama’s Family” sketch on The Carol Burnett Show. Here it is:

If this one doesn’t make you fall on the floor laughing, you have no soul. He’s clearly making it up on the fly, so he’s an improviser after my own heart, but the more sincerely he does it, the harder he makes it for everyone else not to just lose it. This is comedic brilliance, it is why Mr. Tim Conway is an icon, now and forever, even if you were born two or three decades after he last appeared on Carol’s show. (And Vicki Lawrence is no slouch for having added the button to the scene that kills everyone.)

As for Doris, let me leave you with this — one of her most famous songs in a famous Hitchcock film, Que Será Será from his second version of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

By the way, she really nails the Spanish pronunciation, too. In context, she’s singing the song in order to send a signal to her kidnapped son that Mom and Dad are here, which makes the lyrics even more meaningful near the end. This is basically a woman with a metaphorical gun held to her head trying to put on a brave face, and Doris nailed it.

So there you go. There are reasons that people become icons, and Doris and Tim definitely earned that status. The Earth is a sadder place for them having left it, but we are fortunate that what they left behind is so damn wonderful. Search them up, watch their stuff, and enjoy. They’d like that.

Who are your favorite icons who died long before you were born? Share in the comments!
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