Boomers look more like a bust in 'Life' list

June 05, 1996|By Mike Littwin

IT'S ONLY Life magazine, I keep telling myself. But if you're a baby boomer, and chances are good that you are, you may find the current Life cover story more than a little disturbing.

What Life has done is compile a list of the 50 most influential boomers -- derived from those 76 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964.

The list is frightening. And not just because scare-master Stephen King is ranked No. 30. What's scary is that he's the only novelist on the list. What's scarier still is that it's hard to think of an American novelist currently under the age of 50 who actually belongs on the list. Not Pynchon; he's too old. So are Irving, Tyler and Morrison. Ann Beattie is the best I can come up with. (Nominations are welcome.)

Wait, it gets worse.

Life wants us to believe that Oprah is No. 5. Roseanne is No. 10. John Belushi No. 12. Madonna No. 14.

I'm not kidding.

If Oprah is truly the fifth (or even 500th) most influential person of her generation -- where do you think she would rank in the generation of the Founding Fathers, before or after, say, Madison? -- it brings up at least two questions:

How come Rikki Lake gets shut out?

And, what the hell happened to the rest of us?

Of the Big 50, 19 come from TV, movies, radio and popular music. Two more from the sports world. Two more from the funny pages. This is who we are?

I get a chill -- a big chill -- thinking that it might be.

Demeaning the boomers, while dismissing the '60s as a sophomoric romp through a decade of self-indulgence, is very nearly the national pastime. But this is not Life's game, Life being a magazine not given to cynicism or, for that matter, any of your major isms. This was meant to be a celebration of a generation. Unfortunately, it's a generation whose foremost political presence is Bill Clinton (No. 3). Is there any boomer who looks at Clinton and doesn't shudder in self-recognition?

I like some of the listings. Springsteen is No. 18. (Dylan is too old for the list. So is Gloria Steinem. Also, both Woodward and Bernstein. In fact, most of the boomer icons -- is it too late to say goodbye to Timothy Leary? -- are pre-boomer.)

I like Garry Trudeau (No. 20), David Mamet (No. 37), Spike Lee (No. 39), Tony Kushner (No. 49).

I'm down with Letterman (No. 29), but I wonder if Carson makes his generation's top 50.

They put Ed Witten (No. 6), the Baltimore-born physicist, on the list because they figured they had to put one legitimately smart guy in the top 10.

On the other hand, though I like Ben and Jerry's ice cream, I'm not sure co-founder Ben Cohen is No. 16. Is Cherry Garcia that good?

And then there's O.J. (No. 35). I wonder where Lizzie Borden would have ranked.

You want to know who's No. 1, don't you? You can't imagine who would top this list, can you?

It's not Michael Milken. He's No. 4. No, I can't begin to explain that, either.

It also isn't Bill Gates, the Henry Ford of his generation, who is unaccountably No. 7. He didn't invent the computer, but he made the software that convinced everyone to buy one.

Our generation's gift to history is the information age. Ted Turner, too old, gave us all news, all the time. But Bob Pittman, (No. 8) gave us MTV. Somebody else gave us the Home Shopping Network. And the home computer meant we never had to leave the house.

So it's only natural that Steve Jobs would be No. 2. He is, you'll recall, the man from Apple who put the personal in personal computers. If Jobs or Gates were No. 1, I'd have no problem, although neither exactly puts you in mind of, for example, Jonas Salk or Thomas Jefferson.

So, who is No. 1?

It's not, thankfully, Rush Limbaugh (No. 11) or Howard Stern (No. 44). Yes, Howard Stern.

And it's not Oliver Stone (No. 33), the prince of paranoia and would-be poet laureate of his generation, of whom it was once famously and correctly said that he's a first-rate director but a third-rate intellect.

No, our No. 1 influential boomer is -- drum roll please -- Steven Spielberg. Life calls him "our Homer." At first, I thought they meant Homer Simpson. Spielberg makes popular entertainment, including four of the top 10 grossing movies. That makes him rich. I don't know if it makes him influential.

I loved "Jaws," thought "E.T." was mawkish, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" overrated, "Jurassic Park" awful and "Schindler's List" truly wonderful. But the most influential person of his generation? It doesn't exactly put us in the land of giants. Ask yourself, would John Ford beat out FDR?

And, fellow boomers, ask yourself this, too: What's this say about our g-g-generation?

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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